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Raiders finish 5th at state with one more record-breaking day

The Medford Co-op gymnastics team spent February stacking up successes with each meet, so the Raiders were confi dent good things would happen as they went into WIAA Division 2 state competition in Wisconsin Rapids.

That confidence was jolted by one big moment very early on in Friday’s team competition and it set the tone for the most satisfying weekend yet in a season that’s had plenty of them.

Sophomore Makala Ulrich, who missed last year’s state meet due to a knee injury, nailed her second vault attempt in a do-or-die situation in Medford’s first event of the day, setting the foundation for a day where the Raiders got better with each event and wound up breaking the school record for the third time in five weeks with a team score of 134.901.

That put them in fifth place out of 10 Division 2 teams, exactly where head coach Steve Cain felt the Raiders had the potential to be, and put the perfect exclamation point on what undoubtedly will go down as the best season in program history.

“It felt super cool that we’re all at state with the hardest scoring judges and we beat our record again,” sophomore Brooklyn Bilz said. “You can’t top a season better than that.”

“I said this before every meet, ‘what’s your goal?’” Cain said. “It was a season of just, ‘what is your goal?’ It was kinda funny because it got to be where it was more of we want to break the team record score. What can we do for the team score? Every one of them definitely knew where they were at themselves and wanted to get personal records. But it was always to break that score as a team.”

Having done that on Friday, the five Raiders who competed in Saturday’s individual meet could’ve relaxed. But that’s not in their DNA and there were several instances where their scores were higher than the day before.

“It was a phenomenal year,” Cain said. “With every meet, it was set a goal, we got the goal, now let’s move on to the next one.”

Team competition

It’s not often in a sporting event that the turning point happens almost immediately. But that was the case for Medford in Friday’s team competition.

The Raiders started on vault and Bilz got a strong score of 8.5 to open the rotation. Up next was Ulrich who, after blowing out her knee just before last year’s sectional, was making her state debut. Ulrich had completed her first tsuk vault in a competitive setting since the injury at the Feb. 28 Antigo sectional. On her first attempt Friday, she fell on the landing.

While she got a respectable score of 7.967, the question became would Ulrich play it safe on her second attempt or go for the tsuk again.

“I knew,” Cain said. “I just looked at her and I thought her second one always is better. The first one was just a warm up. With vault it’s the best score out of the two (attempts). We had to count on that second one and she knew that. She had to nail it and she did.”

Ulrich’s score on that second vault was a team best 8.617, not far from the 8.725 she got at the sectional and it was joined by an 8.2 from Kate Malchow, an 8.1 from Anna Wanke and a 7.733 from Kennedy Bilz. Brooklyn Bilz’s 8.5 tied her season-best mark.

“For me personally, once I stuck my tsuk that just boosted my confidence a lot, and I feel like that boosted my confidence for the team a lot more too,” Ulrich said.

“We were all really nervous before vault,” junior Megan Wanke said. “Everyone was really nervous I think for Makala more than anything. When that happened, when she stuck that, we all just calmed down.”

While the team’s vault score of 33.417 was a little off Medford’s best scores of the season, it was a start that assured Cain, who had gotten sick during the week and barely had a voice the entire weekend, that the team was going to be just fine on the big stage.

“Basically it was our base to start out with,” he said. “I say that because I’ve been to a few state meets now and I know what could’ve been a bad day at state. This is not a bad day. Kennedy felt like she could’ve done better, but I told her, ‘Kennedy you made it to state. You competed at state. You did great at state. This is your warm-up. State is your warm-up for next season. Look at it that way. Do not look down at what you did. Look at what you contributed to the team.’ Then, of course, Kate and Anna just held it there. They held it there to make a good base for the start of the meet.”

Medford moved to the uneven bars and got season-best scores of 8.217 from Ulrich and Brooklyn Bilz, strong scores of 7.867 from Anna Wanke and 7.833 from Malchow and a 7.65 out of freshman Avery Purdy that was a mere 0.025 points off her season-best.

“On bars, everybody got what they wanted to get,” Cain said. “We’ve gotten higher scores, Not a ton higher, but we’ve gotten higher. But again, I have to remind everybody this is state. ... We were still up there close to the eights. We had two eights. Two that were not far from eights. So I was not worried. They did a great job. They got what they wanted to get. They gave it 110%.”

Things really started to take off for Medford on the balance beam where not one of the Raiders fell and the team scored a season-high 34.217 points. Ulrich was spot-on with a personal-best 8.933. Brooklyn Bilz registered an 8.667, Anna Wanke set a personal best with an 8.55, Malchow earned an 8.067 and Purdy got a personal-best 8.033.

Purdy didn’t know she was going to compete on beam until mid-week.

“Steve sat down and told us the lineup and he said I was on beam,” Purdy said. “I was surprised that I was on that. Then I asked him about it and he said Megan had dropped it to give someone else a chance, which I was really grateful for. I was really terrified for beam, but it ended up that that was the best beam routine I’ve ever done. That was my first eight I’ve ever gotten in high school. I was so excited I almost started crying.”

“With the issues I’ve had with my hips, I just thought going into this I’d rather just focus on floor and not have to do that,” Megan Wanke said. “Avery is such a strong competitor that I didn’t think it really made any kind of difference me versus her competing. For her to go out there and do that good it was awesome. I was so proud of her.”

The Raiders finished things off by rocking the floor exercise with a seasonbest score of 35.133. Anna Wanke led the way with a personal-best 9.133. Ulrich got a personal-best 8.767. Malchow was a tenth off her personal best with an 8.6. Bilz earned an 8.633 and Megan Wanke got a solid 8.45.

“When we started we were super nervous right away, and then we just got more and more confidence, and I feel like by the time we went out on floor, we just had an amazing floor rotation,” Anna Wanke said.

“They had fun on the floor,” Cain said. “Back in the Marshfield meet (Dec. 19), Anna did not get a 9.0 on floor. It was a non-conference dual, but I thought she should have. She had a really nice routine. So that was the theme every meet. Are you going to get your 9.0? That was the thing that she was wanting to get, a 9.0. So what does she do? She goes and gets a 9.133. So she breaks her personal record.”

While all-around scores aren’t officially compiled in the state team meet, Ulrich’s 34.534 total points for the day were, by far, a personal best and Anna Wanke set a new high with 33.65.

Mount Horeb won the Division 2 team championship with 143.216 points to knock off defending champion Whitefish Bay (142.666). It was close after that with Elkhorn (135.601), River Falls (135.416), Medford (134.901), Sparta (134.333) and the Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau Co-op (133.366) finishing third through seventh. Waupun (128.983), the Platteville Co-op (126.551) and Ashland-Mellen (125.734) rounded out the field.

“Fifth place, that’s huge,” Cain said. “First and second place are honored at state. We’re not far away. Next year we have the potential to be even better. It’s almost surreal.”

Individual meet

The Raiders had at least three competitors in each event in Saturday’s individual meet.

Starting on vault, Bilz placed 23rd with her 8.467, Anna Wanke improved from Friday and got an 8.2 that was good for 25th place while Ulrich stumbled on her landing on her first vault and finished 27th at 7.967. Those three gymnasts competed as all-arounds in the meet but had also qualified for state on vault with top-five sectional finishes.

The uneven bar routines were solid for a second straight day. Bilz led the way with a 13th-place score of 8.35 that was more than a tenth better than Friday. Ulrich was close to her Friday score with an 8.167. Anna Wanke was 19th with an improved 7.983 that just missed her season- best score of 8.0. Malchow was 20th at 7.8, almost identical to Friday’s score. The four scores would’ve added up to a season-best team score of 32.3.

The Raiders had another big day on the balance beam with their four scores adding up to what would’ve been a season- best 34.5 points. Bilz got her best score since she set a school-record of 9.2 back on Dec. 14 with an 8.867. Malchow officially finished 13th despite having the team’s only fall of the weekend with her score of 8.65. That meant without the fall, she might’ve been looking at a 9.1 or better.

“I was very surprised,” Malchow said. “I figured it’d be a lot lower.”

Ulrich’s 8.65 was her second-best score of the year and Anna Wanke was 20th with an 8.333.

Ending the meet and the season on the floor, Wanke placed 19th with her 8.7 and Megan Wanke tied for 23rd with an improved 8.467. Bilz got an 8.55 and Ulrich earned an 8.533.

Bilz wound up 16th among 26 allaround gymnasts with 34.234 total points for the day. Ulrich was 21st at 33.317 points and Anna Wanke was 22nd with 33.266.

“It was more stressful today because yesterday if you fell on something or whatever happened, you could depend on your team to make up for your fall,” Ulrich said.

“Saturday was icing on the cake,” Cain said. “Saturday I felt they should just bask in it because not many kids get the opportunity.”

As the meet concluded, the gymnasts said they were sad this year’s run was over, but with Kara Hudak being the only graduating senior on the team and more potentially strong additions in next year’s freshman class, there will be higher goals to set and achieve next year.

“All of us have all been close before and have known each other for a long time,” Brooklyn Bilz said. “So to be on a team with all your best friends, all your close friends from the past is really cool to all be together finally. Honestly, we’ve done really, really good this year. All of us have made improvements. There’s been minimal injury. It’s been a good season. We hope to build from here.”