The Camas gymnastics team pulled off one of its greatest stunts to date last week, winning the 4A state meet for the second consecutive year and earning one of the top three scores in Washington state history at the state gymnastics championships, held Friday, Feb. 22, at Sammamish High School in Bellevue.
In addition to the team win, with a third-best state score of 184.825, Camas also dominated the individual all-around competition with sophomore Shea McGee winning top honors with her score of 31.75.
“It’s really nice to have a team to support you, and it feels really good to know I worked that hard to get where I’m at,” said McGee, who started gymnastics at the age of 2.
Sophomore Alyssa Shibata also was on the platform at the state finals, with a sixth-place finish, and said the team’s 2018 championship win gave the gymnasts an edge going into this year’s championship meet.
“We came in with more confidence than last year knowing we could do it, so it made it more fun,” Shibata said. “There wasn’t as much stress.”
Also scoring high in the all-around competition was freshman Peyton Cody, who finished eighth in the state.
“It was so exciting and uplifting,” Cody said. “I love competing.”
Sophomore Lili Ford finished 11th in the all-around.
The Camas gymnasts also shined in the individual finals, held Saturday, Feb. 23, with McGee finishing second and Peyton Cody fourth on bars; Shibata finishing second, McGee third and Ford fourth on beam; McGee coming in third in the floor exercises; and Ford tying for third and McGee coming in eighth on the vault.
Freshman Olivia Bane injured her knee while warming up for the finals on the bars and was not able to compete.
“My hand slipped on the bar, and I hyperextended my left knee,” Bane said Monday. “I’m having an MRI tomorrow.”
The tough break didn’t damage Bane’s spirit, though.
“Being a part of this team is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” she said.
Superhero capes work for young team
When the Camas gymnastics team made its first trip to the state tournament in 2018, coach Carol Willson said few people knew anything about Camas or even where to find the town on a map.
After the girls shocked gymnastics fans by beating Woodinville, the perennial powerhouse in the world of Washington state gymnastics, and winning it all, the local gymnasts made a name for themselves — and for Camas.
The Papermakers received a rock star’s welcome at this year’s state tournament, and Camas coaches tried to pump up the girls’ confidence even more.
“We gave them a big pep talk at the hotel. And then gave the girls Superman capes, and told them to enter the tournament like superheroes,” Willson said.
Carrying roses inside big rolls of paper towels, the Papermakers walked into the tournament with confidence and caught the crowd’s attention.
The team goal was not only able to remain confident, but to perform a perfect routine, which in gymnastics means no falls or obvious mistakes during all four team events — bars, beam, vault and floor.
With six athletes performing in each event, they would have to go 24 for 24 to reach that lofty goal of a perfect routine, something the team had never before achieved.
Standing in the way was the beam, an event in which falls are common and can spread like wildfire. Typically, a team’s top-ranked athlete goes last in that particular event, but the Camas coaches decided to flip things around on the beam and have McGee, their best beam athlete, go first.
“Some girls get more nervous when they see someone fall,” Willson said. “So going with the strongest first worked, even though no other team does that.”
The young Papermakers took their coach’s superhero capes to heart, not only avoiding falls on the beam, but going 24 for 24.
“I was so happy for them,” Willson said. “I knew they could go 23 for 24, but they even topped that. They were amazing.”
Team building pays off
When Willson started coaching the Camas High gymnastics team in 2014, six athletes turned out.
Today, 40 athletes are on the team and nearly all of the Papermakers’ top gymnasts are sophomores and freshman.
Most of the girls have known their head coach since they were young children, practicing in local gymnastics clubs. But Willson said being part of a high school team is much different than club gymnastics where the focus is mostly on the individual.
All season, the Camas coaches have asked their gymnasts to work together, incorporating fun team-building exercises like “snowball dodgeball” to accompany the more challenging tasks, like asking the entire team to somehow fit on a small piece of carpet.
“Everyone had to fit. We were hugging and piled on each other’s shoulders,” Shibata said, laughing at the memory. “It really brought us together.”
For many on the championship team, gymnastics is a year-round sport, and they will continue to train and compete in gymnastics clubs after their state championship win.
For senior Joy Marsh, being a part of a team that has clinched state two years in a row has been the highlight of her high school experience.
“It’s been a crazy experience, to see the growth from that first year with six athletes to 40 today,” Marsh, who now coaches young gymnasts at Vancouver Elite Gymnastics Academy, said. “It’s helped me learn to be a leader.”
Freshman Peyton Cody also competes in year-round club gymnastics, and said there’s something very special about being a part of a high school team, especially one that has just earned its second state title.
So what are Camas gymnasts thinking now that their season has ended on such an incredible high?
All-around champion Shea McGee said she has her eye on next year’s program and a third straight state championship.
“I’ve learned that teamwork can go a long way, and it’s really special to have a group of people that supports each other,” McGee said. “I’m coming back next year to win again.”