Northfield's gymnasts find their calm before the state meet storm - Northfield MN: Sports

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Northfield's gymnasts find their calm before the state meet storm

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Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 7:18 pm | Updated: 12:22 am, Sat Feb 23, 2013.

For a team just 72 hours away from stepping onto their sport’s biggest stage at the state meet, the Raiders looked very relaxed on Tuesday as they warmed up for their second-to-last practice at their home club. Girls joked around, pushing each other around the mat between tumbles to the opposite side.

Simply put, Northfield looked like it had been through this before. The clearest reason: it’s because they have. The Raiders are set to make their fifth straight trip to the state meet on Friday and look repeat 2010 and 2011’s championships.

“We’re really excited,” sophomore Christy Anderson said. “It definitely helps to know what we’re going into, and we have a lot of experience on the team even being a young team. It’s great to have that.”

Northfield’s coaching staff is leaning on that same level of experience, giving the buildup to the state meet a measured approach that can only come from familiarity.

“It’s a lot of fine tuning,” coach Melissa Bernhard said. “Mentally, it’s sending a lot of positive messages. We try to catch them doing things well and try to verbalize that to them to build their confidence.”

In a sport that’s completely reliant on putting out your own best team efforts at the same time, on cue, confidence is one of the biggest weapons a team can go into the state level with. There’s also the weapon of having the capability to put out 150-plus point performances.

“They love the opportunity to thrive [at the state meet],” Bernhard said. “They just go after it.”

Part of getting to go after it is having the control to scale things back during the week leading up to Friday. Outside of encouraging proper hydration, sleep, and not putting anything in their body “unless it has a healthy purpose,” Bernhard said keeping the Raiders healthy during practice is key.

“It’s more about quality than quantity,” Bernhard said of practice repetitions. “We’re asking them to give everything they have, as far as their form and technique goes, in small numbers so we can get in and out of here.”

“It’s just cleaning up those little things,” Anderson said.

Really, there’s not a lot of big things left for a team that posted a 149.9 during last Friday’s Section championship. To prepare the Raiders to post that same kind of number at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion, Bernhard said the team will continue to work on team-specific drills to simulate the actual meet.

“We’re first up on the beam at state…so we march in, the time starts, we have three minutes and then compete. This week we’re mentally challenging them with actually doing that [exact process],” she said. “Also on the bars, we don’t know how they will be angled. Every single day this week we’ll work with the bars at different angles…so they’re not anxious about what they see.”

As tempting as it is with those kinds of drills to look ahead just to the state meet, Anderson said the Raiders are doing everything they can to soak in their time together leading up to it.

“We’re definitely enjoying every minute we can with this last week and having a lot of fun,” she said.

On Thursday morning the Raiders will head to Minneapolis and start to take in the entire state meet experience. Everything they’ve done this season will lead up to 6 p.m. on Friday, when they will be announced and take their place back with the state’s elite gymnastics talent.

“We never take it for granted,” Bernhard said. “Just making it there is a big deal.”

Reach Sports Editor Jordan Osterman at 645-1111, or follow him on Twitter.com @NFNJordan.

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