Family and teammates of Frosh. Stephanie Lebster sat tightly packed in the Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek. They were quite literally on the edge of their seats. Their eyes were constantly shooting back to the scoreboard to see where Lebster stood in the rankings. After the third event, the scoreboard suddenly ceased to operate. Almost instantaneously, phones were out of pockets, and the live scoring appeared on their screens. Others had their calculator app open, crunching the numbers to see what score Lebster needed to advance to the level nine national championships.
There were many sighs of relief when other gymnasts’ scores rolled in at what seemed like a snail’s pace, but Lebster still needed to secure her national’s spot with her vault. “I was very nervous because she was having a really good meet. She only needed to land one more vault to make it,” teammate and sister Genna Lebster said. “I knew she just needed to calm down then she would be fine.”
Lebster stood patiently, yet anxiously, at the end of the vault runway, waiting for the judge’s hand to raise, signalling permission to perform her vault. Thoughts raced through Lebster’s head at lightning speed. She knew she had been near the top of the standings for most of the competition based on the screen with live scores, yet had to push that thought away as she visualized her corrections from the less than ideal warm-up just minutes earlier. She heard distant cheers from parents, siblings, and teammates in the stands, but she knew this moment was all on her.
She finally saluted the judge and began to sprint toward the vault. Those watching held their breath out of nervousness, and her sister gripped the sides of her seat, but Lebster knew she was in control and had confidence that she would make her vault.
She saw her feet hit the mat, and could not hold back her smiles. She and everyone close to her knew that with that one skill, she had secured her spot at the national championships. It was confirmed by the cheers from the stands as the final score came in. Despite a slow start to the season due to a back injury, Lebster’s hard work had led to the ultimate reward.
Entering the competition, Lebster knew she had potential to make nationals, so her goal for the meet was simple: do not fall. The first event, bars, was easy. “It wasn’t my best routine, but I did not fall,” Lebster said. She had to save a handstand on the high bar before her double back tuck dismount, but still managed to achieve her second highest score of the season.
Beam was the real challenge. “I was definitely the most nervous for beam. I had already fallen two or three times during the season,” Lebster said. Luckily, she was successful in this routine, nailing her round-off back full dismount. After beam, Lebster was ready to dominate. “I knew I wouldn’t fall for the rest of the meet after that,” Lebster said.
Floor was the third event and also Lebster’s best routine of the day. With just vault remaining, she thought that she had secured her position, but she had to fight for it. “The warm-up and my first competition vault were a bit of a trainwreck,” Lebster said. “I was able to make my last vault, and I was so happy after that. I knew when I saluted I had made it [to nationals].”
Lebster finished third on the vault, bars, floor, and all-around out of 28 gymnasts in her session from five states. She will move on to the Eastern National Championships on May 11 in Kissimmee, Florida where she will compete against the top level nine gymnasts from 26 states.
Lebster was not the only West Ottawa student to advance to the national championships. Frosh. Sarah Moraw also achieved great success at the regional competition; in fact, she won her age division.
Many expected that Moraw would advance to this year’s nationals. At last year’s regionals, her performance earned her second place in the all around, and at nationals, she took fourth on vault. “Obviously there are nerves going into the meet, but you have to ignore them to have a good meet,” Moraw said. She certainly succeeded.
Moraw began her competition with a strong vault, which is one of her best events. “It was really nice to start on vault,” Moraw said. “We had a great group to rotate with so it was a great, stress free environment.”
The second event was Moraw’s biggest worry. She has a major skill, a jaeger, in her routine that is new this year and has caused some struggles in competitions. A jaeger involves releasing the bar, completing a full flip, then regrasping the bar. “I just had to tell myself to go as hard as I can and that whatever happens is what happens,” Moraw said. Apparently, her advice worked. Moraw earned the highest score on bars of her level 10 career. After that event, Moraw knew her chances were good to continue to nationals. “I was really relieved,” Moraw said.
Moraw then headed to her best event: beam. After a relieving bar routine, she knew she could dominate, and she did. “It was probably one of the best beam routines I have done this year.” Moraw did not wobble through the entire routine, including on her back handspring layout series and her front aerial.
Moraw ended on floor, but not before glancing at the standings: “I saw I was in second place, and I had to remind myself to stay calm and in control for one more routine.” She did just that and made all of her passes in her final routine, which featured two double backs. “After I landed my last pass, I was really happy with how the day turned out.”
Moraw is now the regional champion in both the all around and beam. She managed to pick up a silver on the vault as well. Moraw is thrilled to compete at nationals again, but is equally as excited to reunite with the region five team from last year, which is composed of gymnasts from Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky. “I’m so excited to become closer with my region five teammates. The coaches and gymnasts all have a special bond that is unique to our region,” Moraw said. “You feel like you are competing as a team, not an individual.”
As for Moraw’s own goals, she obviously wants to make all of her routines, but something else is in the back of her mind too: “I think it would be really cool to win beam at nationals.”
Moraw will compete representing region five in Indianapolis on May 18.