PORTAGE — In 47 years of coaching, Diane Roberts has seen thousands of gymnasts.

She’s taken 14 Merrillville teams to the state finals, winning two titles among 11 top-three finishes.

Suffice it to say, she knows unique ability when she sees it.

“She ranks up there in the top five, no doubt about it,” Roberts said of Makenna King as the South Central gymnast received a standing ovation during awards at Saturday’s Portage Regional. “To me, she’s second to none. Everything is just perfection at the highest level.”

A meet judge when she isn’t coaching, Roberts didn’t know anything about King as a high school or club gymnast when she first saw her last year.

“I was like, wow, where did she come from?” Roberts said. “I recognized she was at the top of our sport in terms of ability, but she was very, very nervous.”

Those nerves got the best of the then-Satellites freshman last year in the Valparaiso Regional, where she failed to qualify for the state meet after winning the Chesterton Sectional. Her second time around, she rose from those proverbial ashes to dominate the best regional in the state with a record 39.125 all-around score.

“She learned from that,” Roberts said. “Makenna seems to have that in-borne talent of knowing exactly where she is when she’s upside down and has absolutely no trouble landing things. When she competed today, it was the same absolute perfection. It was nice to see her hit her beam and floor routines.”

After King’s vault, Roberts raised five fingers on both hands, letting everyone know what she thought the score should have been. Instead, it was a 9.9. Earlier in the season, Roberts sat at the judging table for King’s meet with Chesterton and Hobart when she marked a 10 on her tally sheet.

“It was so well-deserved,” Roberts said. “I said that was absolute poetry in motion.”

To Roberts, the best part about it is King makes it easy for everyone to cheer for her.

“She’s so unpretentious,” Roberts said. “She is such a sweetheart. She’s kind to everyone, she cheers for everyone. My (assistant) coach went up and said how great she looked on bars, and she was like, me? thank you for thinking that I’m good. Even her coach will say she doesn’t realize how good she is. We all see it and are happy for her when she does what she is capable of doing.”

Roberts has her own gymnast, Brianna Thomas, competing on floor exercise in Saturday’s state meet, but when she’s watching her, she’ll certainly be rooting for King.

“I hope she can keep it up for state because she has an opportunity to win it all,” Roberts said.

Email: jparodi@thenewsdispatch.com. Twitter: @jack_parodi

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