ELKHORN — When Jessica Hill returned to coaching in 2003 after nearly a decade-long absence the Platteville co-op gymnastics team was a second-place program living in the shadow of perennial SWAL powerhouse Southwestern/Cuba City.
In the 10 years since her return Hill has transformed the Platteville/Belmont/Lancaster team that casts a pretty big shadow of its own.
The Hillmen have won four consecutive conference titles becoming perhaps the best program in this corner of the state and the tradition is only growing stronger.
Saturday Hill’s Platteville co-op team finished second at the WIAA Divison 2 Elkhorn Sectional to Mount Horeb, but in the process earned a fourth consecutive trip to this weekend’s D2 Team State Championships in Wisconsin Rapids.
“Making it to state is really what we work for every year,” said Hillmen coach Jessica Hill. “Our team had more depth this year so I was not worried about the team making it, but that doesn’t make the sectional meet less stressful. There were some strong gymnasts on all of the teams and our girls knew they would need strong routines to qualify on individual events.”
Led by a talented senior quartet of Haley Hentrich and Brianna Gardner of Lancaster, and Jackie Runde and Courtney Bowen of Platteville, the Hillmen posted a team score of 137.40, just 1.5 points behind sectional champion Vikings (138.90). Milton was a distant third at 130.90.
Platteville juniors Brooke Groom and Danielle Jentz, and freshman Jenna Phillips rounded out the Hillmen lineup.
“We started out solid on beam and that always is a confidence builder for us,” said Hill. “Our second event was floor. All five gymnasts had excellent routines and scored well.
“Vault was our third event. This is not our strongest event but it continues to improve. We struggled bars on Saturday. Four of the five girls had errors that usually don’t happen. We will be looking to improve our bar scores on Saturday.”
The State Team Championships will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High School.
“There are four teams that stand our this year [in Division 2],” said Hill. “Rice Lake, River Falls, Mount Horeb, and P/B/L. With our level of skills and depth we will be an exciting competition.”
The Hillmen finished fifth at last year’s State Team meet.
River Falls finished second and Mount Horeb third behind Whitefish Bay.
The State Individual State Championships will be held Friday beginning at 5:45 p.m. in the same venue.
Hentrich will be competing in her fourth straight individual state meet, while Runde will be making her third individual state appearance and fourth overall. She along, with Hentrich, was part of P/B/L’s state team lineup as a freshman in 2010.
Hentrich tied for second in the all-around (36.0) and qualified for state in all four events.
She won the sectional title on the floor (9.250), finished third on the vault (9.250), fourth on the beam (8.850) and sixth on the bars (8.650).
Meanwhile Runde placed fifth in the all-around (35.550) and qualified for state in bars, beam and floor.
She won a sectional title on the bars (9.050), placed second on the beam (8.90) and finished fourth on floor (9.050). Runde tied for 10th on the vault (8.550), but did not qualify individually in the event.
At last year’s state meet Runde placed 13th in the all-around, while Hentrich was 15th.
Runde’s top individual finish was a seventh-place on the floor. Hentrich’s best finish was a sixth-place performance on the same event.
WIAA Division 2 Elkhorn Sectional
(from Saturday, Feb. 23 @ Elkhorn)
Team Scores — 1.Mount Horeb 138.90, 2.Platteville/Belmont/Lancaster 137.40, 3.Milton 130.90, 4.Elkhorn 124.10, 5.Whitewater 119.850, 6.Southwestern/Cuba City 112.175, 7.Jefferson 109.625, 8.Dodgeville/Mineral Point 107.575.
All-around — 2(tie).Haley Hentrich 36.00, 5.Jackie Runde 35.550, 10.Courtney Bowen 33.550.
Balance Beam — 2.Runde 8.90, 4.Hentrich 8.850, 9(tie).Bowen 8.250, 12.Jenna Phillips 7.825, 23.Brooke Groom 6.975. Floor Exercise — 1.Hentrich 9.250, 4.Runde 9.050, 6.Bowen 8.80, 11(tie).Groom 8.50, 14.Phillips 8.250. Vault — 3.Hentrich 9.250, 7(tie).Bowen 8.70, 10(tie).Runde 8.550, 14.Danielle Jentz 8.350, 21.Brianna Gardner 8.00. Uneven Bars — 1.Runde 9.050, 6.Hentrich 8.650, 14.Bowen 7.625, 17.Jena Phillips 7.625, 21.Gardner 7.375.