Superior gymnastics team healthy, focused and ready to competeTape is a gymnast’s best friend. Broken fingers, disjointed toes, strained wrists and rolled ankles — all are common hazards, and all were seen on the Spartan gymnastics team.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
Tape is a gymnast’s best friend. Broken fingers, disjointed toes, strained wrists and rolled ankles — all are common hazards, and all were seen on the Spartan gymnastics team.
When the varsity season began in December, the Superior High School gymnasts had already worked through many rolls of tape. Whitney Podgorak, one of the team captains this year, sported a lime green cast on one hand.
“It kills me because in my four years on the team, I’ve never missed one meet,” the senior said. “I was watching them all and I was like, ‘I want to be up there.’ It’s upsetting.
“Even when I sprained my ankle at sectionals and I couldn’t compete on floor, my coach let me compete on bars.”
Most of the Spartans, including Podogorak, have recovered from their early season injuries now and are in peak form.
Leading Superior this year is a new head coach — George Deppa. He was familiar with the team from last season. Deppa coached the Superior girls at their sectional meet when their former coach was unable to attend. When the position opened up this year, he took over as head coach.
“They’re hard-working this year,” Deppa said of the Spartans. “They’ll get better by the end of the year, and I’m hoping a few of them will make it to state.”
So far Deppa says he’s gotten along well with the Spartan team, and the girls rave about his coaching style.
Podgorak, who has been on the Spartan gymnastics team for four years now, said Deppa has a less rigorous approach to coaching than the previous coach. He leaves it up to the athletes to challenge themselves and set their own goals.
“It’s more personal goals this year instead of point-wise,” Podgorak said.
“I just treat everyone as equals and give them self-motivation,” Deppa said. “It’s more about making them believe in themselves, not real pushy. I let them advance as far as they want to advance on their own.”
The Spartan girls have set the bar high for themselves so far this season. In Superior’s meet last week, eight gymnasts combined to set 16 personal event records. The Superior gymnasts will be in action again Saturday when they travel to River Falls to compete.
Team captains this season are Laura Schwartz, Shana Soul and Podogorak. Schwartz and Podogorak are seniors, and Soul is a junior.
Most of the Spartans on the team have past experience, but about four or five gymnasts are relatively new to the sport this year. Among them is senior Haley Johnson.
“Everyone else has done it, and this is my first and last year,” Johnson said. “But I’ve been picking it up.”
Last week, Johnson set a personal record in the floor event, and she said her goal is to compete in the all-around by the end of the season.
According to Podgorak, Johnson has come a long way in a short time.
“When Haley first came, she couldn’t do a cartwheel. Now she is pretty close to having them on beam,” Podgorak said.
Johnson’s development as a gymnast hasn’t come without a few falls. She overextended an ankle practicing a one-handed cartwheel and picked up a few bruised learning new skills, but Johnson was actually the only of the four seniors on the team this year to begin the season without an injury.
She was drawn into the gymnastics by her friend and fellow senior, Schwartz.
Schwartz considered herself “pretty healthy” at the start of the season, despite a bad case of shin splints.
She began gymnastics when she was seven and continued until she was 13. Schwartz then dropped the sport for four years before rejoining the team at 17.
This year, she decided to remain with the Spartans because of the Deppa’s coaching.
“We all clicked with him right away,” Schwartz said. “He knows what he’s doing and he pushes, but he doesn’t push too hard.”
The vault is Schwartz’s favorite event. Part of the allure, she admitted, is the potential for danger. One wrong move and a gymnast could be out for the season.
“I think it makes it more fun just because it’s more intense,” she said.
Podgorak was on the beam practicing back walk-overs when she suffered her injury.
“I did like six of them and it started hurting,” Podgorak said, motioning to her wrist. “The last one I did, it like popped and went all the way up through my shoulder.”
Podgorak had suffered injuries before, so she didn’t think her mishap was serious. She delayed going to the doctor, and when she finally arrive she got some bad news.
“He told me that I tore all the cartilage in my wrist, and because I kept practicing on it, that my bones were grinding together and that one of them got shaved down.”
Podgorak was out for about a month because of her injury. She hopes to make it to the state meet this year but knows she has a difficult road ahead of her.
“At this rate, I’m going to have to work my butt of when my cast comes off,” Podgorak said.
Stephanie Caldwell, the final senior on the team, was surprisingly upbeat about her condition in December. She missed her junior season due to injury, and when she began practice this year, she carried over a few “mementos” from the swimming season.
“I just came out of a diving injury, head and hand, and I just broke something in my toe,” Caldwell said with a shrug. “But I’m good. I can still move.”
Any more injuries and Caldwell would have been tied up tighter than a mummy. She already had tape wrapped around her right hand, left foot and both wrists.
From her diving incident, Caldwell tore ligaments in her hand, broke a knuckle and sprained a finger. She also had four staples in her head from the same diving mishap.
But none of her injuries could keep Caldwell from gymnastics. Once she was given the green light, she was hard at work on the mats, broken fingers and all. Little did she know she would soon add a broken toe to her list of ailments.
“I finally got cleared, and when I got cleared I was doing a bunch of jumps and I came down on my toe,” Caldwell said. “I’m kind of a mess. That’s OK though; it happens.”
Even with the injuries, Caldwell said gymnastics helps her blow off steam and relax.
“We have a motto: Leave your attitude at the door,” Caldwell said. “We just come here, have fun and yet try hard. And that’s what we all do.
“We are all friends and we all are high energy. I think it’s because we might have hit our heads too many times.”
Superior Gymnastics Roster
Whitney Podgorak Sr.
Stephanie Caldwell Sr.
Laura Schwartz Sr.
Haley Johnson Sr.
Shana Soul Jr.
Ayla Ranta Jr.
Aili McCumber So.
Abbie Bronson So.
Ronnie Markley So.
Stacy Tribby So.
Carissa Welch Fr.
Jessica Engstrom Fr.
Kyleen Oswskey Fr.