Back from knee injury, Mitchell's Kyanna Gropper returns to Kernel gymnastics to provide a late-season boost

Feb. 7—MITCHELL — Fewer than six months after a serious knee injury, Kyanna Gropper is back for the Mitchell Kernel gymnastics team.

With the state meet this weekend, that's perfect timing for the Mitchell High School junior.

Since tearing her anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee last summer, Gropper got back to competition at the Eastern South Dakota Conference meet at the end of January and posted a qualifying score in the uneven bars, allowing her to compete at the state competition this weekend in Pierre.

"It would have been great to get her on four events, but I will take her on bars," MHS coach Audra Rew said with a laugh. "She was cleared on Tuesday to do the bars landing and then competed on Saturday. Avera Orthopedics did a great job helping her recover and it was 5 1/2 months from when her surgery happened to when she was able to compete. It was pretty remarkable."

That's the only event she will take on this high school season, but Gropper said she's glad to be back.

"At the beginning of the season, I was just ready to get back and start competing," Gropper said. "Now that I'm back, it feels really good to be back and be part of this team again because I know I've worked hard, and I want to be a part of that team score at the state meet."

Gropper said she learned in December that she would have a good chance to return in time for the state meet if her recovery continued to progress well.

"When I got fitted for a brace, I felt pretty confident that I could be able to compete at some point," Gropper said. "That first day, I started swinging on the bars. I couldn't do dismounts, and then when I could start doing dismounts, the first one I landed was perfect and it felt really good from there. It didn't feel like I skipped six months."

More than anything, she said, she was competing with the nerves of being back in the competition at the ESD meet.

"I was confident that I could do well but I was nervous because I hadn't competed in a long time. I knew I could stay on the bars, and once I landed, I was just so happy and relieved," she said.

While the focus has been on Gropper's recovery and rehabilitation, she potentially could provide a boost for the Kernels in what is expected to be a tight Class AA team competition. Her score of 9.425 ranks fourth-best in Class AA. Along with Bentley Bates, Olivia Prunty and Abby Helleloid, the Kernels have posted four of the top-five scores in the event this season in Class AA, making it their strongest discipline.

"I'm really excited," Gropper said. "I think we can pull through and win a championship but we have to stay calm and stay focused."

Rew said Gropper won't compete in club gymnastics this spring and summer but will keep strengthening her knee ahead of her senior season of high school gymnastics in 2024-25.

"I expect her to be back in full force because she's not one that will give up on her dreams," Rew said.