All season, Camas High School’s lone senior gymnast, Jacqueline Purwins, encouraged her talented younger teammates to never stop believing they would win the school’s first-ever state title in gymnastics.
Her optimism worked.
On Friday, Feb. 16, at the state championships in Tacoma, the Camas gymnasts edged out a powerhouse Woodinville team that has won a remarkable eight state titles since 2007, including the past four.
“It still hasn’t quite hit me,” said Jacquelin Purwins, also known as “Jax” to her teammates. “We worked so hard this entire season, I still can’t believe we actually did it.”
Purwins suffered a back injury right before the district meet, but managed to practice and compete through the pain. Her conviction and dedication helped inspire her younger teammates.
Coach Carol Willson has been working with several of her top athletes since they were 4 and 5 years old, learning basic tumbling skills at local gymnastic clubs. She has been the Papermaker head coach for five years, and said she is thrilled, but not surprised, about the local gymnastics program’s rise to the top.
“We now have the depth — 16 of our kids can perform all-arounds, which means they can compete in any event,” Willson said.
The Papermakers needed every bit of that depth on Friday, as the Woodinville gymnasts were in their typical top form.
The Camas girls started the competition on the balance beam, where freshman standouts Shea McGee and Alyssa Shibata scored impressive scores of 9.475 and 9.35. Junior Madison Martin came through with one of her best beam scores of the year at 8.7
“Nobody fell on the beam and that is a big thing for us,” Willson said.
Next came the floor exercise, where Purwins led the way with a score of 9.55, and where McGee, Shibata, Joy Marsh and Lizzy Wing all put together impressive performances.
“We were all just having fun on the floor, showing off our tumbling and dancing skills,” McGee said.
The vault event was a big concern for Coach Willson, since no one could stick their landings during the Camas gymnasts’ practice.
“The girls were very nervous about the vault going in,” Willson said.
Even so, the Camas girls came through in the clutch. The team’s top three gymnasts — McGee, Purwins and Shibata — all landed their vaults when it counted the most. Then it came down to Sienna Brophy, who needed to score at least an 8.5.
Willson almost went with another gymnast but said Brophy told her: “Coach, I can do this, trust me.”
Brophy went on to land one of her highest scores ever: an 8.645. It was a moment Brophy said she will never forget.
In the end, the state championship came down to the bars and, again, to the team’s top three gymnasts.
The girls’ parents were keeping close tabs on Woodinville and figured Camas’ top three athletes would each need to score at least 9.5 on the bars to win the state championship.
The pressure on the Camas team had never been more intense than that moment. Perwins scored a 9.475, then McGee followed it up with an impressive 9.6. It all came down to freshman Alyssa Shibata, who finished with the highest bar score of her career, a 9.725.
“When Alyssa hit that 9.725, everyone started crying, because they knew it, they knew their goal of winning the state championship was really going to happen,” Willson said. When the performances were all tallied, Camas had edged out Washington’s perennial state gymnastics champions, the Woodinville Falcons, 181.200 to 180.125.
“It was such a great day. I’m kind of speechless,” said Alyssa Shibata. “Jax helped all of us throughout the season to stay focused and in control. She just knows how to calm all of us down, and I’m so thrilled to see her finish her high school career on top.”
For Shibata’s father, Alan, it was an exceptional moment, seeing his daughter come through in what may prove to be the biggest gymnastics meet of her career.
“I’m so proud of her,” Alan Shibata said of her daughter, Alyssa. “From a family perspective, you spend so much time and dedication, to watch her study in the mornings, go to school and then sometimes spend six hours a day in the gym, eating dinners at 9 p.m. — all that work led to this amazing moment.”
Alan added that the meet was bittersweet without Alyssa’s mother, who died a little more than two years ago.
“Camas Gymnastics has been (an) oasis for Alyssa the past few years — a place (where) she can be with friends and focus on positive things, a really amazing escape for her,” Alan said. “She has never once complained about any of it.”
On Saturday, Feb. 17, gymnasts competed in the individual competitions. Freshman Shea McGee was the lone Camas athlete in the prestigious all-around competition. She nearly won it, finishing second to Lexi McNight from Kentridge High School in Kent, by just one-tenth of a point.
“Shea could have so easily won the all-around,” Willson said.
In their individual events, Alyssa Shibata won state on the bars. Her fellow freshman teammate Shea McGee placed second, Jacqueline Purwin finished in sixth and Madison Martin came in 24th. On the beam, McGee finished second and Shibata sixth. On the floor exercise, Purwins finished sixth, McGee ninth, Joy Marsh 19th and Lizzy Wing 25th. On the vault, it was McGee finishing in fifth, Purwins in eighth, Shibata in 17th, Marsh in 21st and Brophy in 30th.
“It’s so amazing because pretty much everyone except for Jax (Purwins) is coming back next year, plus we have verbal commitments from a few of the top girls in the area,” said a beaming Willson.
McGee said she can’t wait for next year: “We won the first one for Jacqueline, who is such an amazing person and we will do whatever it takes next year to stay on top.”