MUNCIE – As Makenna King waited to climb on the balance beam, her final event in Saturday’s state gymnastics meet at Ball State’s fan-free Worthen Arena, the South Central sophomore and her coach, Christine Garcia, shared a pleasant exchange, smiled, fist bumped and hugged.
“I just told her, you did it, you made it here, go out with a bang, stay on the beam, show the judges what you can do,” Garcia said.
Garcia knew what King needed to score to win the all-around title. So did her mom Corey. But there was no point to adding to the existing pressure by putting numbers in the gymnast’s head.
“It was heart-warming,” Makenna said. “(She told me) squeeze it, square it, stick it. They knew (what I needed), but they wouldn’t tell me. I didn’t need to know. I told myself before I went on there, it’s me and the beam, me and the beam. I was staying on that beam, no matter what happens.”
She did, pulling out of a major wobble to avoid a fall. It was enough to earn her a 9.425 that secured a second-place all-around finish, an excruciating .075 behind Richmond’s Elizabeth Ruger with a 38.15.
“She deserved it,” King said. “I hit all four (events). That’s the best I can do, recovering from strep. If the scores were there, the scores were there. This is state, this is where the good people are. I was happy with that.”
A week after an eye-popping performance at the regional, King ceded some tenths of points here and there that spelled the difference between a champion’s all-around medal and the runner-up’s.
“We always have this joke when she loses by very little, ‘Kenna, why didn’t you point your toe?’” Garcia said. “She had hopes of coming in and winning, and she fought for it. I’m proud of her regardless. To place top six at state is amazing, let alone getting second. She just had one too many little errors. You get down here, it’s hard competition. She’s got her little steps that she took. She was worried about falling so she did some decent-sized steps to make sure she didn’t fall.”
King was deducted a tenth twice on uneven bars for stops, a point of contention for Garcia.
“It’s the judges’ discretion that she took a long enough pause going from the low bar to the high bar,” Garcia said. “You could say that cost her. She had one big step on vault, one step on her dismount.”
Despite the modest blips, King narrowly missed earning a medal in all four events in addition to the second all-around. She placed second on bars (9.55) and fifth on both vault (9.675) and floor (9.5) and was one spot off the podium (top six) on beam.
“All-around, to me, as a coach, is the prestige,” Garcia said. “I could care less how you place on an individual event if you’re up there in all-around.”
Though she came up an eyelash shy of becoming South Central’s first female state champion, King did become the school’s most decorated female athlete all in the course of one afternoon. She said she was ‘proud of what she could offer,’ even though the postponement of school due to corona virus concerns delays any kind of celebration there for at least four weeks.
“No one else does gymnastics in our school besides little girls,” she said.
For Garcia, the return to coaching was an enjoyable one.
“I missed coaching a little bit,” she said. “I thought about going into judging. I’m not sure she’s going to do it next year, but if she does, I’ll be right here with her. It’s up to her, her parents. If she’s going to do (Level) 10, go on to college, she may need to focus. It doesn’t boil down to high school being bad, she just has to be in her private gym more. We’ll see. She plays softball. A decision may have to be made there, too. I know her mom wants her to do it again, too. I foresee her doing it. We’ll see.”
Chesterton won its third straight team state title, topping Duneland Athletic Conference neighbor Valparaiso, 112.25-111.55.