Top-ranked North will be at home for Section 2AA meet

After completing an undefeated run through the South Suburban Conference, Lakeville North now will turn its attention to defending its state gymnastics championship.

The Panthers are favored to do just that. They are first in the state coaches association Class AA rankings with an average score of 148.767, almost two points ahead of No. 2-ranked Sartell-St. Stephen.

While coaches and athletes often will say rankings don’t matter, they’re often difficult to ignore. Technical glitches can be cleaned up even this late in the season, but the emphasis now is on preparing the gymnasts mentally, North coach Teri Homan said.

“One of the big things is not letting the kids put too much pressure on themselves,” said Homan, who coached Lakeville North to Class AA championships in 2017 and 2019. “Our kids have been in enough big meets to know how costly a mistake can be. But they also know they’re on a team, and if one gymnast makes a mistake, somebody else could be there to cover for her.”

Lakeville North hit a season-high score of 150.15 in a non-conference victory over Owatonna on Tuesday. The Panthers scored 149.55 in winning their own invitational in January and hit 149.025 in a South Suburban Conference victory over Lakeville South on Jan. 28.

It would seem there’s not a lot of room for improvement before the Feb. 14 Section 2AA meet, but Homan said that’s not the case.

“There are still some things we can clean up, and we have the potential to score higher,” she said.

Lakeville North will go to Park of Cottage Grove on Thursday for the final test run before the section meet at Lakeville North High School. Eden Prairie and New Prague, ranked 16th and 17th in Class AA, appear to be the Panthers’ top competition in Section 2.

Another point in North’s favor is the Panthers are healthy. In gymnastics, it’s a given that everybody will be dealing with some aches and soreness at the end of a long season of meets and training, but the Panthers’ full lineup now is available with the return of Ashley Goodlund, who missed some time because of a concussion.

With seniors Goodlund, Anna Altermatt and Rachel Steiner, and sophomore Kaitlyn Nguyen, Lakeville North has four gymnasts who have scored 36.0 or higher in the all-around this season. Altermatt and Steiner have scored above 38.0, significant in a season where Class AA individual championships appear to be up for grabs. Three-time defending Class AA all-around champion Chaney Neu of Champlin Park is recovering from a knee injury suffered in May 2019 and is questionable at best to compete this season. Neu also placed first in all four individual events at the 2019 state meet.

Altermatt has top scores of 9.85 on vault and 9.75 on uneven bars, putting her second om the metro-area honor roll in both events.

Altermatt, Steiner and Nguyen swept the top three places in all-around in the Lakeville South meet.

Sophomores Abby Kvale, Abbey Sherman and Steph Merli have contributed strong scores on varsity rotations, particularly while Goodlund was out of the lineup.

Lakeville South, Bloomington Jefferson/Kennedy, Chaska/Chanhassen, Prior Lake and Waconia also will compete in the Section 2AA meet Feb. 14, which will take place in the Lakeville North High School main gym.

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