'Going out with a bang': Senior-dominated FMOW gymnasts win third state title

March 4, 2013

The senior-dominated Franklin/Muskego/Oak Creek/Whitnall (FMOW) girls gymnastics team bounced through floor exercise, their last event, light as a feather in the WIAA State Team competition Saturday in Wisconsin Rapids.

They had fun, they laughed and they hit "five for five" yet again, meaning that all five performances were as good as they could be.

It was an abundance of excellence and an exclamation point for a good story now finished.

And like all good dramas, this third straight WIAA State Division I team championship had a beginning, a turning point, a breakthrough and a happy ending. They all featured the consistency, depth and passion that FMOW has become known for in recent years.

The beginning was the vault, as Jessica Kossoris (9.33), Becca Teska (9.31), Sammie Olson (9.31), Sam Balcerak (9.63), and Lauren Zurowski (9.433) laid the groundwork for the success to follow.

The turning point was the uneven bars, as Alyssa Behrendt (8.98), Teska (8.86), Balcerak (9.2), Paige Schreiber (9.41) and Olson (9.53) took advantage of a Burlington mistake and put FMOW ahead for good.

FMOW then put the hammer down with the breakthrough, the balance beam, as Behrendt (9.38), Zurowski (9.58), Kossoris (8.86), Balcerak (9.46), and Olson (9.46) kept the pressure on season-long rival Burlington and made it almost impossible for the locals to lose.

Which fed right into the happy ending of the floor exercise, which was a celebration of all the good things that the team had worked for over the last three years, culminating in one last joyous outburst of skill.

This included Rachel Tillman's 9.25, Pearson's 9.21, Balcerak's 9.41, Shannon Hein's 9.46, and Zurowski's 9.63.

Stating their performance

This veteran team - eight seniors, with a smattering of juniors and sophomore and one very talented freshman (Balcerak) - actually didn't know how close they were to a new state record, another state title. But because they had had the good fortune of being able to follow just behind Burlington on every event, their coaches could compare what was going on.

And though the coaches could barely contain their glee, the individual team members weren't completely certain that they had accomplished all they had set out to do until after the floor exercise.

"They didn't know that we were that far ahead," said head coach Katie Moore, "so they just went out there and killed (the floor exercise) anyway and our crowd just went crazy."

After that, there was still one rotation to go in the competition and the now-done FMOW girls could decompress a little. It was then and only then that their coaches could let the cat out of the bag, that everything had indeed been accomplished.

"We took them outside (of the main competition area) and talked about the goals we had set at the start of the year and what we worked for. The third championship in a row. The state record. It was a good 10 minutes to process everything that had happened and it really allowed the girls to savor the moment," Moore said.

After that 10 minutes was up, they went back in, waited for their name to be called, climbed to the top of the podium yet again and celebrated a little history.

Three-time WIAA champs with a new state record of 150.516 points, with a very healthy margin ahead of their three-year rivals Burlington (148.001).

"We weren't really sure until the meet was done," said Olson of Muskego, one of the eight seniors. "The simple fact was … we didn't want to face the fact that we were done, that it was over. That time on the podium was incredible.

"We had worked super hard to get to this point. We wanted to do two things all year. Win another state title and break that state record. It was such a great finish."

And a major relief.

"I think this just showed that all the hard work, dedication and commitment had definitely paid off," said Pearson, another senior out of Franklin. "It showed how team-oriented we were and how motivated. From the first day of practice it was all about setting a state record, winning another state title."

Preparing as a team

These girls drove each other to the practice center at Altius in Franklin, the upperclassmen showing the younger girls the route so when they get older and get their driver's licenses, they too can help show other freshmen and sophomores the ropes.

Even individual floor exercise champion Zurowski of Whitnall understood that. From time to time, she helped cart teammates over to the weight-lifting sessions at Franklin High School that were held during the week.

It all helped develop a sense of team, a sense of unity from four different points on the geographic map that caused the individual school colors to melt away, meld into one true color: gold.

"This was definitely done as a team," said Zurowski. "We didn't just have to depend on any one individual. We all contribute equally and that makes us a better team. It's an intense environment in practice, but not a bad one either. Everyday someone is struggling with something, but when that happens we all know that we can help one another."

The ultimate payoff

All that work became a big deal after the second event, the bars, for both FMOW and Burlington. Burlington, which had been so spectacular in the individual championships the night before ("We absolutely expected that," said Moore. "We weren't intimidated in the least."), suddenly proved to be mortal.

They had to count a 7.76 (each team performs five and counts four towards the team score), turning in a team score of 35.517, while FMOW had three nines, led by Olson's 9.53 with its lowest counting score being Behrendt's 8.98.

The local co-op, which outscored Burlington in three of four events, had gained a pivotal 1.616 points as they turned in a mark of 37.133.

Still, beam was next and all season long, Moore and the coaches had emphasized the fact that though they couldn't necessarily win a meet with a good performance on the event, they could certainly go a long ways towards losing one with a poor effort.

"We're a great beam team," Moore said, "but still it is only four inches wide and one small error can lead to one big disaster."

There were no disasters, with four high nines leading to a 37.9 team total. Burlington performed well itself with a 37.33 total, but actually lost ground.

"Coach always said that we had to stick the beam," said Olson, who also had three individual seconds in the meet. "So it was our main focus for a lot of the year. A lot of time spent on the beam, and then we went out there and got one hit after another."

And that in turn led to the fun that was the floor exercise.

"We just wanted to go out with a bang," said Zurowski.

There was only slight doubt that this could happen again, despite the fact that Burlington had beaten FMOW in the sectional the week before.

"We knew that wasn't our best meet," said Moore of sectional, "and that things could get better. We went in confident of what we could do. Burlington is a great opponent. Yes, we were a little nervous (especially with all the seniors), but I think most of that was because we were just wanting to win so badly."

Moving forward

These seniors will now go on to do other things.

Olson said she might participate in gymnastics at Whitewater next year while she majors in speech pathology, while Pearson will head off to Western Illinois to major in nursing while on a diving scholarship.

Zurowski, who finished her career with two individual titles (she actually tied for her crown on Friday night with a performer from Burlington), said she will definitely continue her gymnastics career at Eau Claire. She is undecided on a major but wants it to be something in the medical field.

Other seniors included Behrendt, Hein, Schreiber, Teska and Tillman.

"Beyond the athletic ability, they're all such great people, said Moore. "I think they all have great futures."

But for now, they're just thinking about the present and the piece of history they all share.

"I think in our heads, if we had our best meet and still lost, it might have been all right," said Olson, "but it was much better to go have gone out with our best meet and won. … Every state title meant a little more than the previous one, but because we're almost all seniors, this one felt even better."

FMOW wins again

Third title in a row

TEAM SCORES (top five): FMOW co-op 150.516, Burlington 148.01, Homestead 141.3, Arrowhead 141.135 and Grafton/Cedarburg 140.7.

INDIVIDUAL RESULTS: All-around-Olson, second (37.817). Balance beam-Olson, second (9.53). Uneven bars-Olson, second (9.56). Floor exercise-Zurowski, first (tie 9.6); Hein, fourth (9.38).

QUOTE: "…They're amazing. I'm happy for her (Moore) and the team, especially considering they have such a senior group. And in the case of combined schools like that, you really don't think about the school you're from, you're just one team." -Retiring Menomonee Falls/Germantown coach Tracy Howard on FMOW

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