Alison Kestle has eight-year-old twin girls. But her top two Mount Rainier High School gymnasts are like daughters to her, too.
That’s why she became so filled with joy when Karissa Saelee and Naleia Gomes tied for the top score in the floor exercise at the 4A state gymnastics championships on Friday.
And why she became so heartbroken after the day’s final event by the final gymnast.
Saelee, a wowing freshman, had the state all-around title all to herself with a half of a round remaining until perennial-power Woodinville sent senior Allie McManus to the uneven bars — where she earned the top score of the day and edged Saelee, 38-37.95 for the all-around crown in one of the more thrilling finishes the Tacoma Dome’s Exhibition Hall has seen.
Saelee, in her first state championship competition, had to settle for second place.
“I want them both (Saelee and Gomes) to be at the top so bad,” said Kestle, Mount Rainier’s 15th-year coach. “It’s heartbreaking. That’s the love-hate part of the sport — you’re on top and then you’re down just like that.”
McManus, who finished second behind teammate Marisa Savage for the all-around title last year, scored a 9.475 out of 10 on the uneven bars in the final event of the day to surpass Saelee by half of a tenth of a point for the title.
And McManus’ effort also helped Woodinville claim its fourth consecutive 4A team title with 180.225 points.
“Bars is one of her favorite events,” Woodinville coach Kathie Koch said. “She just knows how to hit those handstands and she hit just about every handstand she did.
“She knew it was really close and she knew he needed to hit those handstands and that’s what I told her right before: It’s going to come down to that.”
Emerald Ridge earned the fourth-place trophy with 170.225 points, led by Kelly Richardson’s 14th-place finish in the all-around.
Saelee had dominated from the outset of the team competition. She opened with a 9.625 on the balance beam — the top score of the day — and followed with a 9.55 in the floor exercise, which Gomes tied right after her for the day’s best score.
“I was really nervous,” Saelee said with a laugh as she held back tears. “The whole time.
“This was one of my best meets. I was feeling really good, really in the zone. I was pushing myself and I knew I was really nervous but I was hoping to do really good.”
It was still good from there. Saelee scored a 9.55 (seventh-best) in the vault and ended her day with a 9.225 on the bars (sixth-best).
The all-around title is the combined scores from the uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise and vault.
Saelee hid behind the bleachers as Woodinville competed in its final round. She asked one of Mt. Rainier’s assistant coaches to check on the final performance.
“I know they (Woodinville) are a good team — I had a feeling,” Saelee said.
Gomes finished ninth all-around with with a score of 36.55 after placing fourth last year behind three Woodinville gymnasts.
Auburn’s Ali Tate, the reigning 3A/2A state all-around champion didn’t compete in Friday’s 4A all-around because she didn’t qualify for the district championships in the vault in her sub-district meet because she sprained her ankle on her second attempt.
She advanced to Saturday’s event finals with her 9.05 on the balance beam, placing 16th. The top 16 in each event advanced to Saturday.
“I was just surprised I made it,” Tate said. “Because all these girls in 4A – a 38 in the all-around is crazy.”
Tate won the 3A/2A all-around title last year with a 37.225.
Auburn Moutnainview’s Kayla Porter, a senior, placed second in the 3A/2A all-around two years ago and tied for fourth last year. She finished 12th in her first go at the 4A all-around with a score of 35.55 and qualified for Saturday’s balance beam finals – and event she is the two-time reigning 3A/2A state champion in.
“4A is tough,” Porter said. “Definitely different than 3A – I’m not going to lie. A lot different. But I’m excited for tomorrow.”
She, Tate and Tahoma’s Tenley Mjelde were paired in the same group when each of them fell off the top of the uneven bars during their routines in unison. All said the bars were slippery and different from what they were used to practicing on.
“Bars were a mess,” Porter said.
Kestle said her gymnasts deal with the same issue when they hit the bars, Saelee scoring 9.225 and Gomes hitting 8.45.
“They were bouncy and they didn’t feel the same as the ones we had in the practice room,” Kestle said.
Which made what McManus did in the last go-around on those bars maybe all the more impressive.
Saelee will have a chance to compete for titles in all four events on Saturday and Gomes qualified in three events.
“I told them we can still win tomorrow,” Kestle said. “It’s going to be a fresh game. We’ll be tired, but it will be a fresh game.
“I get it, I would cry it out tonight, too. But then we’re coming back and we’ll be ready.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
Team: 1. Woodinville 180.225, 2. Camas 175.425, 3. Bothell 172.775, 4. Emerald Ridge 170.225, 5. University 169.650, 6. Kentlake 167.400, 7. Sumner 163.725, 8. Mt. Rainier 160.675
All-Around: 1. Alli McManus (Woodinville) 38.000; 2. Karissa Saelee (Mt. Rainier) 37.950; 9. Naleia Gomes (Mount Rainier) 36.550; 12. Kayla Porter (Auburn Mountainview) 35.550; 13. Elise Dunning (Enumclaw) 35.125; 14. Kelly Richardson (Emerald Ridge) 35.050; 16. Cassie Padilla (Kentlake) 34.950; 16. Bailey Miller (Emerald Ridge) 34.950
Uneven Bars: 1. Allie McManus (Woodinville) 9.475; 4. Kelly Richardson (Emerald Ridge) 9.300; 6. Karissa Saelee (Mount Rainier) 9.225; 10. Emi Bacha (Sumner) 8.675; 15. Cecelia Loudermilk (Kentlake) 8.475; 16. Naleia Gomes (Mount Rainier) 8.450
Balance Beam: 1. Karissa Saelee (Mt. Rainier) 9.625; 4. Naleia Gomes (Mt. Rainier) 9.450; 7. Kayla Porter (Auburn Mountainview) 9.325; 9. Catherine Huynh (Decatur) 9.275; 13. Bailey Miller (Emerald Ridge) 9.125; 16. Ali Tate (Auburn) 9.050
Floor Exercise: 1. Naleia Gomes (Mt. Rainier) 9.550; 1. Karissa Saelee (Mt. Rainier) 9.550
Vault: 1. Zella Conley (Mead) 9.725; 2. Allie McManus (Woodinville) 9.700; 4. Emi Bacha (Sumner) 9.600; 4. Cassie Padilla (Kentlake) 9.600; 7. Karissa Saelee (Mt. Rainier) 9.550; 12. Madison Blanco (Sumner) 9.450
*Top 16 in bars, beam, floor and vault advance to Saturday’s finals