SOUTHBURY -- Was there every any doubt?
After dominating squads all season long, the Darien gymnastics team won the Class M championship convincingly with 138.7 points on Saturday at Pomperaug High School, easily outdistancing second-place and host Pomperaug (132.975) in the eight-team field.
Not only did Darien win but it had the most points of all state champions (Class L champion Southington had 137.725 points and Class S champion Valley Regional had 136.95 points) and scored its most points at a championship team since the 2002 team tallied 138.95 points.
Junior captain Charlotte Morgan said, "I'm really, really excited and I'm happy for the girls on the team. I owe it to the support of the girls. We really bonded together this week."
Darien was tops on all four events and especially excelled on the uneven bars with 35.5 points and on floor exercise (35.15). The Blue Wave also had enviable scores on the balance beam (34.5) and on vault (33.55).
Junior Morgan Whitehead, a Level 10 gymnast who performs for the Darien YMCA as well, led Darien and was the top all-around scorer for all three meets with 36.675 points.
"We all worked hard in practice and made sure our skills were clean," Whitehead said. "I guess I was on the money."
Moreover, Whitehead turned in a commanding performance despite experiencing back pain, which somewhat affected her in previous meets.
"My back was bothering me but all the excitement helped me overcome it," Whitehead said. "I was happy about the meet and I forgot I was sick."
Tavella said, "Morgan is a fantastic kid and pulled it together when I needed her too. I love that kid."
She had her highest score on floor (9.5), the team's last event of the meet, and combined power, grace and poise in turning in a command performance, starting by sticking her first tumbling pass, a back layout, full and a half twist. Her second tumbling pass consisted of a roundoff back handspring, back handspring, back tuck and her last pass was a layout double twist.
"I was so happy to do well at the meet and I was ready to wrap it up," Whitehead said. "Charlotte gave me a hug before floor and I was ready to do my best for her. I thank my teammates for cheering for me during my last pass on floor. I was tired but hearing them cheer was exciting and it spurred me on."
Although floor yielded her highest score, she was equally dazzling and enthralling on bars (9.375), in which she adroitly performed a shootover, which is going from the high bar to the low bar (only the top gymnasts typically do this type of routine). She performed like an elite gymnast before closing it in commanding style with a double backflip dismount.
"The coaches changed my routine and I was more comfortable with it," Whitehead said. "I tried to keep my legs tight and I worked hard on perfecting it."
On beam (9.0), she maintained perfect balance despite performing a complex routine. She showed her prowess in sticking her back tuck, wolf jumps, wolf and quarter jumps, back handsprings, switch leaps, split and a quarter jump, full turn and full twist back tuck dismount.
"I was really on the money and comfortable on beam, which gave me confidence," Whitehead said. "My teammates were great in that they cheered for me, which helped."
For most gymnasts, an 8.8 would be their highest score, but for Whitehead, the 8.8 she got on vault was her lowest. Nevertheless, she was stellar on it as she stuck her suke in combining power and grace in executing it.
"I relied on the support of having both coaches there and my teammates," Whitehead said.
Morgan was second for the Blue Wave with an all-around score of 34.925, improving by more than a point from the 2009 Class S meet (33.8) when she was Darien's leading scorer (Whitehead wasn't on the team and Tavella wasn't the coach in 2009).
"I've been working hard for the last couple of weeks and I attribute my success to the team support," Morgan said. "We cheer for each other and it's a fun environment."
The captain had her highest score on floor (8.9).
"I'm very happy with my performance on floor," Morgan said. "I wanted to show off my choreography and powerful tumbling."
Bars (8.825) was her second best event and she was strong on it. She deftly connected her free hops to handstand on the lower bar, giants on the high bar and closed out well by sticking her layout flyaway dismount.
"I definitely think it was because of the momentum of the team," Morgan said. "Everyone performed me performed great routines on bars and we continued the momentum all the way to Morgan [Whitehead]."
Vault (8.75) was her third best event as she stuck her front handspring, full twist vault.
"I've been very consistent on vault this year and I focused my power and energy on the two vaults I performed," Morgan said.
On beam (8.45), she gracefully executed her Russian mount and stuck her back walkover, back handspring, switch leap, wolf jump and front tuck dismount.
"I focused on each connection and on each skill," Morgan said.
Sophomore Katie Southworth was third for Darien with an all-around score of 33.45 and improved by more than a half a point from the 2009 Class S meet (32.7). Southworth's best performance came on bars (8.55), where she stuck two free hips to handstands, two giants and a layout flyaway dismount.
"I really wanted to do well on it and it was my best routine of the season," Southworth said. "We all wanted to do well, especially on bars."
Southworth was masterful on floor (8.5) in executing her roundoff, back handspring, back layout with a half twist to start the routine. She continued to dazzle when she stuck her second tumbling pass, a front tuck, step out, roundoff back handspring, back tuck and her third pass, a front handspring, front layout.
"Floor is always exciting for us as a team because we cheer loud for each other and it gives us adrenaline," Southworth said.
On beam (8.4), she's been perfect all year when it came to staying on and Saturday was no exception. She stuck her back walkover, back handspring, switch leap, split jump and front tuck dismount.
"Right after mounting, I was focused on doing one skill at a time," Southworth said. "I haven't fallen on beam this year and I wanted to maintain the consistency."
Southworth also scored an 8.0 on vault. Sophomore Katherine Mosher had an all-around score of 32.1 and three of her scores counted towards the team total. Mosher was fifth for Darien in the all-around category but would have led four of the teams at Class M in the all-around.
"I focused as if it was a regular meet and I worked to the best of my ability," Mosher said.
Mosher had her highest score on bars (8.75) where she stuck her kips, free hips, giants and layout flyaway dismount.
"The regular practices make a difference and I worked hard to nail my giants," Mosher said. "The team support helped a lot too."
Floor (8.25) was her second best event. Mosher tallied an 8.0 on vault and a 7.1 on beam.
Although freshman Lauren Medwid had only one score count toward the team total, her 32.25 was the Blue Wave's fourth highest all-around total. Similar to Mosher, she would have been the top scorer for four teams at Class M.
"I was excited going to States and I was confident we'd do well," Medwid said. "It's nice to know that even if I mess up [which she rarely, if ever, does], my teammates will pick me up. It was nice to know that my scores were better than girls from the other teams."
Tavella deflects credit on the team's depth.
"That's the Y program behind them and credit should go to them," she said.
Medwid's best performance came on beam (8.65) where she had no falls and connected her front walkover, back handsprings and cartwheel, back tuck dismount.
"I really worked hard in practice to prepare for states and my teammates cheering me on, helped," Medwid said. "I had a lot of confidence as well because I did well on beam in the last two meets. We saw the equipment beforehand, which was helpful."
Medwid had a 7.95 on vault, a 7.85 on bars and a 7.8 on floor.
Sophomore Kiriko Masek competed on vault (7.9), beam (6.6) and bars (6.3) and junior Elsa Imbimbo competed on floor (8.15).
Darien is the top seed at State Open this coming Saturday at New Milford High. The top six teams from the three state meets qualify as teams and many individuals from various teams compete at Opens. Last year, the Blue Wave finished fourth at Class S (130.375) and didn't qualify for Opens. Tavella's goal is to win it and qualify for New Englands (top two teams make it).
"I think if we work hard in practice and maintain the momentum we have now, we'll do a great job at State Open," Morgan said.