With a state title on the line, 'winning was the only option' for talented Kernel gymnastics squad

Feb. 10—PIERRE — Harley Goldammer was on the top step of the podium, championship trophy in hand.

She was surrounded by her teammates for the celebratory photo. And then when they walked away, it was just her and she took a moment to raise the trophy above her head again to elicit more cheers.

On a Mitchell High School gymnastics team loaded with talent, Goldammer was the only senior. It was an emotional and joyous celebration with friends and family, fighting back tears.

After the competition, she spoke about the team "burning the boats," the idea being that the Kernels were going into the state meet and giving it their all with no turning back.

"Burn all other options," Goldammer said. "First place, winning was the only option. We just saw it that way and we competed and didn't hold back."

Rew credited Goldammer as one of the unsung heroes in Friday's state championship, school-record effort, with Mitchell scoring 151.444 points to best second-place Harrisburg (149.995). In the Kernels' opening rotation on uneven bars, Goldammer went last of the five competitors, despite having the team's fourth-best score in the event coming in. Typically, teams will close with their highest scorer in a rotation.

"We knew this competition was going to be about stealing two-tenths of a point wherever we could get it," Rew said. "We wanted to go 4-for-4 and that would free up Harley to go compete and do her best with the pressure off. ... We did our job on bars."

That decision paid off nicely for the Kernels, as Goldammer scored a 9.216, bumping up the Kernels' score by almost three-tenths of a point. In a meet decided by 1.4 points total, Mitchell had the largest margin over Harrisburg in the uneven bars, an edge of 0.966 points. It was the only event Goldammer competed in during the team competition.

"I'm very proud of myself," Goldammer said. "This is what I've been working for, this is what our team has been working for all season. It's a dream come true to end the season like this."

Mitchell's team members were so excited after a successful run on bars that Rew made the team take a quick break during the rotation change. Because they were going to the balance beam, she made them close their eyes and slow their heart rates so they could focus on what was next. She also sensed the team was hungry, so the team had a quick snack of cheese sticks.

"We were excited, we were on fire. I could tell the hearts were racing," Rew said. "We knew we had to get our heart rate down for beam, and so I told everyone to sit down and close their eyes. We calmed ourselves down and I think that really made a difference."

Mitchell performed well on balance beam, led by Bentley Bates' 9.783 routine. That ended up being a virtual tie between Harrisburg and Mitchell, separated by a single thousandth of a point (37.966 for Mitchell, 37.965 for Harrisburg). But at that point, even with two rotations remaining, Rew felt good.

"After we did well on beam, I knew we were unleashed as a team," Rew said, with a smile.

And with Harrisburg usually outperforming Mitchell on floor exercise, the Kernels excelled there too, outscoring the Tigers by three-tenths of a point. Compared to the Eastern South Dakota Conference meet, it was a swing of 0.825 points.

In all, this was not a season in which the Kernels were always firing at their best during the season, and back-to-back state titles was not a sure thing. Gymnasts were injured or sick and missed meets. In the heart of its season, MHS missed three meets due to weather or scheduling issues. The team seemed out of sorts at times.

But a performance like Friday was always possible, and the Kernels made it happen when the pressure was on.

"We've won in the past by just a few tenths, and maybe weren't expecting to win. Those championships were sweet too," Rew said. "But knowing that we didn't have our best performances all season and we could hit when the pressure was really on and when we needed to, tells you how impressive and amazing this team is."