THORNTON — The first time doing anything is usually difficult, but that wasn’t entirely true for the underclassmen-heavy Niwot Cougars at the Class 4A state gymnastics team championships.
Sophomore Maeve Flentie, who finished eighth overall, was Niwot’s top all-around scorer on Friday (35.725) while freshmen Lilly O’Neill (35.600) and Kylee Schlepp (35.350) took 10th and 13th, respectively. Led by those three, the young Cougars left Thornton High School with a third-place finish in Class 4A at 176.525.
Palmer Ridge took second and for the fourth straight year, Elizabeth won the team title with its season-high of 182.005.
Everything came together for Niwot in its last event. Niwot head coach Marisa Purcell said that her girls wanted to finish strong in floor not only for themselves but for their lone competing senior, Nia Terrell. Niwot delivered with O’Neill, Flentie and sophomore Claire Vardas all scoring above a 9.0.
“I’m speechless,” Purcell said. “It has taken a long time to get here. This was a young team; it mostly consists of freshmen and sophomores. We obviously needed (Nia) Terrell, who’s a senior. The girls said that in floor they wanted to go out there and we did it all for Nia tonight so that she could leave having this great experience.”
Wiping away the tears following her final high school event, Terrell was both equally proud and impressed by her teammates.
“It feels amazing because for me, it means a lot to be one of their leaders,” said Terrell, who scored an 8.550 in floor. “We had a super young team this year. It meant a lot to me to watch them grow, to watch them get better, to guide them to their best and to be able to watch them at their best. It was the best feeling going out with a bang.”
Niwot’s team-best score was 9.400, courtesy of Schlepp in the vault. After struggling to complete the Yurchenko layout at regionals, her improved skill was a hit with the state vault judges.
“It didn’t go great at regionals, so to watch her be able to come back as a freshman and put that in at a big meet like state and be able to execute it the way she did, I couldn’t be any prouder of her,” Purcell said.
Vardas led Niwot in both the beam (9.125) and the floor (9.250) while Flentie cruised in the uneven bars (9.025).
Niwot returns to Thornton on Saturday for the individual state championships, which begin at 1:30 p.m. O’Neill, Schlepp, Flentie, Vardas and Isabella Foster will be competing for the Cougars.