MUNCIE – Before the awards ceremony at the state finals gymnastics meet got underway at Ball State's Worthen Arena on Saturday afternoon, the announcer paused to congratulate the gymnasts – and it was almost entirely gymnasts in the room – on a "fun, full and unique afternoon," pausing before "unique."
"You can tell your grandchildren about this one."
And when Bishop Dwenger's Emma Doyle tells the tale of the 2020 state championships, where she and her Saints teammates placed third in front of an empty arena on a day when just about every other sporting event across the state was called off due to the spread of the coronavirus, she can also mention that she pulled off the best performance of her career.
"We just came into this meet trying to do our best, we didn't expect anything, we just wanted to perform and have fun, because there is no crowd," Doyle said.
Chesterton won its third straight team title with a score of 112.250, and Richmond sophomore Elizabeth Ruger was the all-around champion with a score of 38.225. Homestead freshman Gina Zirille was the top local finisher at 38.000 and took fourth place.
Doyle said it had been an emotional few days leading into the meet, as she and her teammates learned that their parents and friends wouldn't be allowed to attend as a safety precaution. They also learned that their head coach Rosemarie Nix, who recently underwent treatment for breast cancer, decided it was wisest for her not to attend the meet, and instead watch the broadcast of her team's performance at home.
All of that emotion was released when the judges posted Doyle's balance beam score of 9.575 and the Saints erupted in the stands. The junior's score tied her for second place in the event with Emily Moore of Columbus North. Catie Smith of Northwestern won with a score of 9.625. It also ensured that she would score a personal-best 37.600 in the all-around, where she finished in sixth place.
"That was higher than I expected, I was thinking like 9.3," Doyle said. "As I was doing my routine I felt shaky. They might not have seen it, but I felt shaky."
Zirille's Spartans had a particularly inauspicious start to the championship. Aside from the Coronavirus-related limitations that affected every team and their fans, Homestead's first stroke of bad luck came in warmups when freshman Abigail Mathison injured her foot on the vault and was unable to compete on the beam and floor as planned.
Homestead's first rotation of the day was on the balance beam, and two of the four Spartans fell during their routines.
"Considering that was how the meet started, we were a little flustered," Homestead coach Jodi Hardwick said. "Beam is always the most nerve-racking event, so I was glad we had that first, get it done and over with and move on. And the rest of the meet we'll be relaxing, and that's what they did."
Next came the floor routine, where sophomore Jillian Wohlwend filled in for Mathison. Wohlwend's music cut out midway through her routine, and though she completed her routine she and the coaches decided to take the opportunity to re-do her routine, scoring a 9.100.
As has often been the case this season, Zirille had a big day for the Spartans, placing in the top six in every event aside from the beam, where she finished tied for eighth with a score of 9.400. Her best finish was on the floor routine, where she was second with a score of 9.550.
"She had a gorgeous beam routine," Hardwick said. "No fall. It's just that it's tough when you're up first in an event. She went fourth out of the entire meet, so it's hard. The scores start out low and then they build as they go, so it's tough that she didn't get to place. I'm still so proud of her, placed in everything else."
The Spartans finished sixth of out nine teams, and Carroll, which also started the day with several falls on the beam, took eighth. Julia Goodine was Carroll's lone placer, finishing tied for third on the bars with Zirille and Emily Moore of Columbus North.
During the third rotation, Wayne's Erica Xayarath became the first gymnast to land a full twisting tsuk vault at the IHSAA championship. She hit the vault almost perfectly, stuck the landing and then rushed to embrace her coach. She had one more vault attempt to go, which she hit just as well as the first. She finished fourth we a score of 9.725.
"I changed my vault the week before sectionals, so to land it, it feels good," Xayarath said. "I definitely had nerves, but it's my last year. I had to leave it all out there."