By LAUREN READ
ESSEX — At the start of the 2019 Vermont high school state championships on Saturday, Essex found itself in unfamiliar territory. After 12 straight years as the state champion, the Hornets were dethroned last season. Then the Hornets reminded everyone exactly why they are the preeminent program in the state.
Essex beat rival and No. 1 seed Champlain Valley by just over a point (137.625 to 136.275), avenging last year’s finals loss, to win the state championship.
“The girls went into the state meet wanting to create a new ending to our story,” said Essex coach Mary Krug. “They were determined to be successful and they all had the same goal: to be state champions.”
It was an overall team effort for the Hornets, who had three gymnasts finish in the top eight in the all-around competition but did not win any of the four events. Livia Ball, on the bars, was the team’s only apparatus runner-up, but an array of good scores and places throughout the competition did the job.
Ella Lesney led the way for Essex, coming in second in the all-around. Lesney finished third on the floor exercise, fourth on the beam, fifth on the uneven bars, and tied for eighth place on the vault.
“I’m very proud of Ella Lesney, who had the meet of her life,” Krug said. “She performed to the best of her ability on every event.
“Ella is known for her grace and her clean lines. She was a strong vault, beam, and floor competitor for us last year. This year we added bars to her repertoire. She learned three new skills on bars, which helped put her less than 0.2 points away from being a state champion in the all-around. She has shown tremendous growth since her freshman year on the team and I’m excited to coach her for one more year.”
Senior Abigail Gleason, who tied for fifth in all-around, finished eighth on the vault, seventh on the bars, and fourth on floor exercise to help the Hornets recapture the crown.
“We couldn’t have had the success we did without the strong leadership from our captains Abbey Gleason and Kiki Keenan,” Krug said. “They led the team all season with their hard work, dedication, commitment, and love for their teammates.
“Abbey Gleason is the core of our team. Her consistency, leadership and calm presence kept our team focused and composed on Saturday.”
Ball ended up seventh in all-around, thanks to her runner-up effort and a seventh on the beam. And sophomore Abby Brooks finished off her four-event day with a flourish, picking up the meet’s artistic performance award for her floor performance.
“Abby Brooks is the spirit of the team,” Krug said. “She had consistent performances in the all-around and motivated her teammates with her support and humor.”
Krug cited another trio for providing the depth that paid off so well Saturday: Emily Moll-Celis, fifth on beam; Gabriela Schmida, eighth on beam and sixth on vault; and Claire Emery, sixth on bars.
“Claire Emery has been a strong competitor on bars fnd Floor all season but she had the best bar routine of her life yesterday, scoring an 8.15,” Krug said Sunday. “She has shown a lot of growth this season.
“Gabby Schmida has always been a strong vault competitor, but in the past couple weeks she has really been working on cleaning up her form in her front handspring vault. That paid off yesterday; she was the top vaulter for our team with an 8.375, just higher than Ella Lesny and Abbey Gleason. Gabby also had a great beam routine. scoring an 8.75.
“Freshman Emily Moll-Celis competed in vault and beam. She was our first competitor on beam and she was chosen for that spot because of her consistency and ability to perform well under pressure. She played a crucial role in our success on beam when she led the team with a stuck beam routine and a score of 8.9.
“From there we were able to cruise through beam with no nerves, wobbles, or doubt.“
That calm start led 2 1/2 hours later to the excitement that was missing a year earlier, and another first-place trophy.
“I knew we’d have to have our best day to edge out CVU so we prepared to have a confident, clean meet,” Krug said. “The girls did just that.”
Photos by Josh Kaufmann, The Essex Reporter