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February 17, 2011 at 7:10 PM

Enumclaw — 3A/2A gymnastics’ Best New Artist

By Terry Wood

Special to The Seattle Times

At the Grammy Awards each year one act is honored as Best New Artist. If a similar award existed at the state gymnastics meet this weekend at the Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall, it would go to Enumclaw. In a landslide.

The Hornets enter Friday night’s 3A/2A team competition with the second-best qualifying score (170.325) of eight state competitors. Only Kamiakin of Kennewick comes in with a higher total (173.6). The competitive landscape evens out Friday when both teams, along with defending champion Auburn Mountainview (163.475) and 2009 champ Columbia River (169.675), all perform for the same judges at the same meet. Anything is possible.

Enumclaw coach Ben Skipworth, the owners of the gymnastics club where he works (Peak Gymnastics in Enumclaw) and numerous Enumclaw parents all believed it was possible for the school to sponsor its first-ever gymnastics team. When 28 girls showed up for the initial tryout, Skipworth knew the dream had potential. When the Hornets posted a score of 166.7 in their debut meet on Dec. 1, he suddenly had a state contender.

“All the girls were really motivated to be involved,” said Skipworth, who coaches the Hornets, plus two girls from Buckley who form the White River gymnastics team, at Peak Gymnastics. “These last few weeks they’ve been working really hard. They’re super-excited.” (Note: Kelly Coyle of White River qualified to compete individually at state in three events.)

Enumclaw’s top performer is freshman Olivia Bannerot, who won the 3A/2A West Central District all-around title last week with a score of 36.775. She was joined in the top 10 by teammates Kelsey Messer (34.925), Molly Mattheis (34.1) and Sarah Lurry (33.025).

“They see their scores and say, ‘We can do better than that,’ ” said Skipworth. “It’s cool when I don’t have to push them because they’re pushing each other to work hard. They’re real easy to coach.”

In 4A, meanwhile, another coach is hoping for a first-time win for her school. Only Debbie Hunter has been at it a bit longer than Skipworth. Hunter is in her 34th season at Jefferson.

Twice named a WIAA coach of the year, Hunter took her first team to state last year. This year she enters with the second-best qualifying score (170.7) of four 4A teams. What would a win mean to her?

“I wouldn’t know what to do,” she said. “We have just run a program that we think is good for kids, and it’s been through a lot of lean years. So it’s nice in the ‘twilight’ of your career to get to this point. To have a team that actually has the ability to really compete and possibly win is exciting. It would be fun.”

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