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After going through the wringer, Bay gymnasts perform cleanly

State title in sight this weekend

March 4, 2014

It was a test that none of the members of the Whitefish Bay girls gymnastics team wanted to take.

But it was one that veteran coach Mary Liniewski felt the Blue Dukes had to pass in order to see if they had the right stuff for a run at another WIAA State Division 2 championship.

So at practice on Feb. 26, Liniewski brought in all her athletes, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents and family and then put her team through its paces at a somewhat more intense practice than usual. The parents served as judges and in short, everyone was a critic.

Senior state all-around favorite Lily Hayes, who has been squeezed through every kind of pressure cooker possible in her four-year, three-sport athletic career at Bay, understood why her coach did what she did, but never wants to go through something like that again.

"It was much more nervewracking than any other meet I've ever been at," she said. "She (Liniewski) figured that if we could perform well there, just six feet in front of all the people who make us really nervous, then we should be just fine in front of two 60-year old judges (at the state meet).

"We're glad she did it."

Working for a title

Sort of, in a manner of speaking.

Because it does look like the Blue Dukes do indeed have the right stuff. They roared to the title in their own WIAA sectional Friday, blowing away their own school record that they just set this year by around four points, with a state D2 best of 149.0.

They will enter Friday's 2 p.m. WIAA State D2 Team competition in the Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln field house as prohibitive favorites, several points ahead of the nearest competition and in search of their eighth overall title and their fourth since 2009. The individual competition begins at about 11:10 a.m. Saturday.

Liniewski believes her attention-getting practice will pay dividends this weekend.

"I tried to put every bit of pressure I could on them," she said. "I actually thought the parents were fabulous as judges. They were actually very close (to correct scores). We were shouting 'Don't screw this up!' We were trying to psych them out every way possible."

In light of that, the sectional was a walk in the park.

"After that, we went into the meet and our first event we went something like 9.35, 9.45, 9.6, just boom, boom, boom, one hit after another," Liniewski said.

Bay finished more than 15 points ahead of runner-up and fellow state team qualifier Waterford (133.15) in the eight-team field. The Blue Dukes dominated the individual qualifying, earning 20 of the 25 individual spots and earning one through four sweeps on balance beam, floor exercise and all-around and a one through five sweep on uneven bars.

Hayes won all events except for the beam and turned in an amazing score of 38.475 in claiming the all-around. Her score on vault was a 9.525, on bars 9.65, and on floor exercise 9.75. She turned in a fine 9.55 on balance beam but lost out to teammate Lucy Anzia, who hit a 9.6.

Hayes happy with decision

On the verge of state team and individual titles, the senior Hayes is happier than ever with her decision to come out for the high school gymnastics team for the first time this season after a long career in club.

"I wasn't thinking about state titles when I did this," she said. "I made the decision because to me there was no point in quitting the sport at this time (she will participate in track when she heads to Brown next fall). I just wanted to take it a little higher and still have fun."

But what if all those state titles were to fall into her and the Blue Dukes' laps this weekend?

"Obviously that would be incredible," she said, "beyond anything I would ever think to experience, but we can't get ahead of ourselves. We have to hit."

If it sounds like she's falling into coach speak, it's not by accident. Hayes is interested in coaching in the future and loves her work helping out Liniewski with young kids in the Bay recreation program.

And Hayes herself led a broad-based and sweeping effort at the sectional as in the all-around, everyone for Bay turned in a best effort as Aly Yurkowitz was second (37.375), Mary Claire Potter third (36.65) and Anzia fourth (36.45).

Senior qualifies for state

The finest moment Liniewski said came when senior Paris Limberatos qualified as an individual on bars with an 8.25 effort. Limberatos had missed out on a state berth on vault by just .025 of a point and really wanted to advance to state in an individual event in her last year.

"And she didn't think that her score would stand up on bars (to qualify) but it did," Liniewski said. "Both she and her dad, who is such a stoic, were just in tears. It was such a terrific moment."

Liniewski thought it was a grand day overall.

"I told them that we were a much better team than we were showing," she said. "I told them that we needed to hit on three events (to have a good day) and then they went out and hit on all four. We hit on balance beam and then went from there.

"We got all our bonuses and performed very cleanly. One judge told me 'That's what makes judging fun (watching performances like that).'"

She shouldn't have been surprised, given what she put the team through a few days earlier at the special practice.

"After the conference meet, the girls had a lot of confidence," she said, "but there (at that practice) we gave them every chance to crumble....But for them to be that focused, to be so very composed, that should give them even more confidence."

It probably will.

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