NEW ULM - Getting ready for a new season is tough in every sport.
With all of the different movements involved in the sport of gymnastics, however, returning to practice is often quite the jolt to the system.
The New Ulm gymnastics team got to relearn that fact when they began their practice schedule on Monday.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Emily Gulden, Kim Berg and Michaela Otterstatter are the tri-captains for the New Ulm gymnastics team.
"It's all over - it's muscles you haven't used for six months," Eagles senior Michaela Otterstatter said.
Otterstatter and fellow captains Kim Berg and Emily Gulden know the feeling well, having all been involved with the sport from a very young age. After five days going through the rigors of training, however, so far the team's oldest members have been holding up quite well.
"I was expecting it to be a lot worse for some reason, which makes it seem a lot better," Berg said.
The positive returns in the team's early practices are encouraging, especially considering that the Eagles will have only two more weeks until their first meet, which will be held at home against Redwood Valley on Nov. 30.
"We just need to get our routines down and work on our skills again, gain our endurance back," Gulden said.
Otterstatter and Berg are the only two seniors on this year's team, with Gulden one of only three juniors. The rest of the squad is largely rounded out by younger gymnasts, including an unusually large number of seventh and eighth graders.
"We have a lot of young talent, and we obviously have a lot of older girls as well that bring a lot of experience, so that's nice," head coach Ariel McFarland said. "It's been a long time since we've had seventh and eighth graders that are varsity athletes, so it's just really good to have a young advanced team and an older advanced team, it just makes an all-around good team."
With the 2012 Summer Olympics in London once again bringing gymnastics back into popular consciousness, we were reminded that gymnastics is a young person's sport.
Although New Ulm's older gymnasts still have a long way to go until they fit the definition of what we may think of as "old," they are learning what it's like to enter the twilight of their high school gymnastics careers.
"Younger kids are more fearless, for sure," Otterstatter said. "Seventh graders, they just want to try everything. I get bruises or other things reoccurring... We've just come back so many more years, every year just seems to get tougher."
"It feels weird being the oldest ones here, because I don't feel that old," Berg added.
McFarland will be relying on her captains to set the example for the team's younger gymnasts, such as passing on "the experience of things that you don't just get overnight."
"Kim, Emily and Michaela have been working for years on perfecting certain things, so it's nice for the younger girls that are doing the same things to be able to see what it looks like perfect," McFarland said.
As with most seasons, the team will put extra emphasis toward improving on the balance beam this season, an event that can often make or break a good team score. McFarland mentioned that the team won't overlook the other three events, though.
"Beam is always important, because beam is a hit or a miss," McFarland said. "It's either you're good and you nail it, or it fell apart. Floor is something we always focus on - we tumble every day, and we will continue to tumble every day the whole season."
It is too early in the season for the team to think about where it will finish in the South Central Conference, but there are certain goals that McFarland is already setting her sights on for the team.
"Having All-Conference athletes is always a goal, and we have six conference meets, so that's always a big one for us," McFarland said. "We would like to get multiple conference athletes to be recognized. Individual state is important for us, it's been a while since we've sent somebody to state, so we would definitely like to do that - that's a goal every year. We have a tough section, so it's hard to go as a team, so if we could send somebody individually, that would be great."
None of the team's current members have ever qualified for the state meet. Although this season is the final chance for the team's seniors to do so, they are taking a philosophical approach to the matter.
"I just really want to be happy with every meet," Otterstatter said. "You have goals to make it to state, but if I feel good about the season and I don't make it to state, that's alright, I guess."
Before any of the New Ulm gymnasts can even think about participating in meets at the end of the season, however, they have to get over the hurdle of competing in their first meet.
"It normally goes better than you think," Otterstatter said. "I know I freak out, like, all day, I'm a wreck all day. You've just to get the first one done, because then you remember how to compete."
At least the Eagles have the benefit of being at home for the meet, which is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.
"Thanks goodness they get their own equipment is all I have to say," McFarland said. "It's always a plus."