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Gymnastics: New attitude in Portage after finals appearance

Danielle Solis junior warms up uneven bars during gymnastics practice Portage High School Portage Ind. Thursday December 20 2012.

Danielle Solis, a junior, warms up on the uneven bars during gymnastics practice at Portage High School in Portage, Ind. Thursday December 20, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 27, 2013 6:29AM



PORTAGE — There’s a different mindset in the Portage gymnastics room these days. After years of steady improvement, the Indians finally reached the state meet last year for the first time since 1975.

Everyone in the program relished the opportunity to compete with the state’s best, but a fourth-place finish just wasn’t satisfying enough.

“It left us feeling a little bit empty,” said head coach Karen Barcelli. “We did achieve a lot of the goals that we set but it left us wanting more.”

And that’s how the change occurred. Reaching the final competition is no longer the ultimate goal — a better performance than last year now is.

“We want to live up to what we did last year, but we also want to go beyond that,” said senior Mackenzie Barcelli, Karen’s daughter and one of the Indians’ top competitors.

“Now we know that we can get there,” added junior Danielle Solis, another Indian with state experience. “But we want to place higher than we did last season.”

One benefit of last year’s success is that building confidence will no longer be as much of a burden.

“It took probably half of the last season for them to realize that they were a contender,” said Coach Barcelli. “I think they know, now, that they need to go out with more confidence. They need to realize that they belong there.”

Portage rolled through its early regular season schedule last year, winning nine straight meets. They even set a new school record with a team score of 112.25 against Lowell. But, just before the postseason, the team hit a late-season slump—especially on the beam.

Those issues were corrected just in time for a postseason run, but Coach Barcelli is already taking time in practice to eliminate any competitive nerves.

“I change it up all the time,” she said. “I’ve thrown different situations at them all the time on beam so that nothing will rattle them.”

Practice routines and postseason goals may have changed for Portage’s gymnastics program, but one constant has remained—the girls’ ability to have fun.

“We do like to joke around a lot,” Solis said before exchanging a quick glance with Barcelli and then laughing.

“I think our practices are only productive if we’re joking around,” Barcelli said before laughing some more.

“They’re definitely a goofy team,” Coach Barcelli said, with a laugh of her own. “That comes from knowing each other so well. But they do know when it’s time to get serious and buckle down. If they’re always stressed, though, I don’t think that’s a good environment from them.”

Plenty of familiar names and faces dot the Portage lineup again this year. Along with Solis and Barcelli, Lyndsey Cunningham and Madison Kurtz each bring the experience of competing in last year’s state finals back to the team.

Freshman Krystal Fitchett is one of the new gymnasts expected to add depth.

Said Coach Barcelli: “I think you’ll see more of a group effort than just a few standouts, which is what we’ve been trying to do for a long time.”

As has been the case for every season in recent memory, the ultra-competitive DAC will provide Portage with plenty of challenges in the regular season.

“It makes us work really hard,” said Solis, “but it’s so much better for us because, once we get down to state, we already know who’s there and we already know what we’re getting ourselves into.”

Added Barcelli: “We know that there are going to be some teams out to beat us this year so that they can be the ones who get that third spot to regionals or that second spot to state.”

Portage opens the 2012-13 season on Jan. 8 with a dual meet against Lake Central.



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