Papermaker gymnasts, coach reunite

Fifteen freshmen join a program filled with upstarts from VEGA gymnastics academy, in Camas

Ashley Carter showcases style and grace on the balance beam for the Camas High School gymnastics team. She is one of 15 new freshmen to join the program. Buy this photo

Carol Willson helped many of these Camas High School gymnastics find their footing in this sport.

After taking some years off to adopt and raise a child, Willson was hired as the new head coach for the Papermakers just as these girls reconnected as sophomores and freshmen in high school.

“It’s like a family reunion,” Willson said. “I met all of these girls when they were first-graders. It’s fun to see them now as young ladies.”

These young Papermakers are on a mission. They have a chance to become the first gymnastics team in school history to qualify for state. This elite honor only goes to the winner of the regional meet Feb. 15, in Spokane.

“Camas has always had a few athletes make it to the state meet every year, but never an entire team,” Willson said. “I believe this could be the team to make it happen.”

There is a tidal wave of gymnasts arriving in the high school program from the VEGA academy, in Camas. Fifteen of the 27 girls on the team are freshmen. Eight freshmen have already cracked into the varsity lineup.

If the Papermakers don’t make it to state as a complete unit this year, Willson said it is only a matter of time before they do.

Camas is off to a thrilling start. On Dec. 7, the Papermakers scored 158.9 points to defeat Mountain View, Evergreen, Fort Vancouver and Ridgefield in a five-team meet at Northpointe, in Vancouver.

Caleigh Lofstead racked up 33.5 points to finish in first place in the all-around competition. She placed first on the floor (8.6), second on the beam (8.8), fourth on the bars (7.9) and seventh on the vault (8.2).

“It felt good to win the all-around. I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Lofstead said. “I was just trying to help the team win our first meet. It just turned out that way. It was a nice surprise.”

Freshmen Ashley Carter and Alexis Sabatini showed their ability right off the bat.

Carter finished in fourth place in the all-around with 31.8 points. She took second on the floor (8.5), third on the vault (8.4), sixth on the beam (7.6) and sixth on the bars (7.3).

“I started out in the little classes,” Carter said. “There’s all these unique flips and awesome experiences that you get to have. It’s such a fun sport to do.”

Sabatini earned fifth place in the all-around. She finished fourth on the floor (8.1), fourth on the beam (8.0), fifth on the vault (7.5) and ninth on the bars (8.15).

“I just loved it from the first time I started, when I was 8-years-old,” Sabatini said. “I still can’t get away from the gym because I love it so much.”

The Papermakers racked up 162 points to sweep Heritage, Columbia River and Evergreen Dec. 14, at Northpointe.

Carter clinched first on the beam with a score of 8.45 points. Sabatini followed in second place with 8.4 points.

Lofstead earned second place on the bars with 8.2 points. Carter took third on the floor with 8.8 points.

Camas scored a season-high 163.35 points to beat Union and Columbia River Saturday, at Northpointe.

Ashley Carter earned third place in the all-around competition with 33.35 points. She finished second on the vault (8.9), third on the floor (9.4) and fourth on the beam (7.95).

Shannon Ross won the vault with a score of 9.0. Gabrielle Bird grabbed fourth place in the all-around (32.9).

Lofstead is the only gymnast on the team with state experience at the high school level. She wants to go back to the Tacoma Dome with her teammates by her side.

“Going to state as a freshman was such a great opportunity. I know these girls would love it,” she said. “But I know from my own experience that it takes a lot of hard work. Even though we won our first three meets, we still have a lot to do if we want to make it to state as a team.”