GYMNASTICS: Schmitt reaches state in her return to sport

Mar. 7—When Taylor Schmitt is performing a gymnastics routine, moments present themselves that are unlike any others.

"I'd say I like the skills where you put a lot of power into it and get a lot of height out of it," the Northwestern junior gymnast said. "Like on floor, when you get a lot of height and float through the air, that feels really cool."

That's not the only rush. It's also a thrill to get completely vertical on the uneven bars and make the bar bounce. And then when a routine is almost over, there's another opportunity for a rush.

"And any time you stick a landing you're like, 'OK, that's actually good. You're doing something right,'" Schmitt said.

Schmitt gets one last opportunity this season to feel the thrills of slipping gravity for a moment and landing perfectly when she competes in the IHSAA Gymnastics State Finals on Saturday at Ball State's Worthen Arena in Muncie. The opening ceremonies are at 11 a.m. with competition to follow at 11:30.

Schmitt qualified for the state meet with a strong set of performances last Saturday at the Valparaiso Regional. The top six in each event, or all-around, qualify, as do those who meet a state cut score, and well before her day was finished, Schmitt already knew she'd booked a spot at state.

"I knew after my beam routine. I knew what the state cut was," Schmitt said. The state cut for balance beam is 9.225 so any score that hits or betters that mark automatically gets a spot at state in that event. "I did my routine and had done it cleanly like I had at previous meets, so I was very hopeful, but as soon as they turned the score around, I knew and was jumping up and down celebrating."

Once the meet was over, Schmitt had placed in the regional's top six in three events, as well as in the all-around competition. Even if she hadn't qualified all-around, she'd have scored state spots in three disciplines.

She scored 9.425 on beam to take fifth, 9.200 on the floor exercise to take sixth, 8.450 on vault, and 9.000 on uneven bars to take sixth. As the results rolled in, the good news kept coming, even in events she doesn't feel the most confident in.

"They announced sixth place at a 9.0 [on bars] and I turned to my teammates and my jaw dropped," Schmitt said. "That was the one that took me by surprise, but good surprise."

Once the meet finished, Schmitt's total score of 36.075 was sixth in the all-around and gave her the opportunity to tackle each discipline at the state meet.

"That was definitely very exciting," Schmitt said.

Qualifying for the all-around competition was a major achievement for her.

"I knew it was more of a longshot, but through my entire gymnastics career I've always wanted to be an all-around gymnast and show that I'm well-rounded across all events," Schmitt said. "In high school, vault and bars are my weaker events, but they're also harder for other gymnasts to get their degree of difficulty up."

Schmitt was second in the Lafayette Jeff Sectional the week prior to the regional and led Northwestern to its first sectional title since 2003. Over the winter, she's found events she can count on in her return to gymnastics as a junior.

"I'd say my two strongest events have been floor and beam, and most consistent. I know I can usually rely on those to trust myself and my body to take over," Schmitt said.

Schmitt is enjoying a productive return to gymnastics. She started as a 22-month-old in a mommy-and-me class and progressed up through Level 9. But the former Kokomo Flipster decided to hang up her tumbling career in 2022. Last year, as a sophomore, she participated on the Northwestern swim team as a diver and continued diving this season while returning to the mat at the same time.

"Mostly I missed it, and the time with the teammates and relationships that I've built, and the feeling of having something to work hard at physically and mentally, as well as the success once you overcome an obstacle or challenge," Schmitt said of getting back into gymnastics. And she had missed "just having that adrenaline or feeling from it."

Schmitt was busy this winter, but could rely on teammates who understood the challenges of participating in two sports during one season. Schmitt, Emma Baker and Lauren Fischer each dove while also competing in gymnastics.

"It took some getting used to in the beginning of the season, but having the teammates to experience it with made it easier, and we've carpooled place to place to make it easier," Schmitt said.

In diving this winter, Schmitt took fifth at the Noblesville Sectional to post the best result of all Kokomo Tribune-area divers at the meet.

On Saturday, she'll take the mat at state for the first time.

"My biggest goal is to go out and have fun and be proud of any accomplishments, because the opportunity to do gymnastics again and be with so many of my friends and teammates has been great," Schmitt said. "[I'm] thankful to the coaches for giving me the opportunity."

At state she hopes to "do my routines like I know I can do in practice, and I want to be able to finish my routines and be able to put my best foot forward and see what happens."