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Gymnastics: Merrillville, Taylor Woods hope to get on a roll

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Updated: March 26, 2014 6:27AM



MERRILLVILLE — Taylor Woods was still in middle school the last time a Merrillville gymnastics team advanced past the sectional round.

But she can still remember a lot about that 2008-09 Pirates squad due to one of its gymnasts: Taryn Woods, Taylor’s older sister.

As she watched that team reach the regional, Woods said she had one recurring thought: “That was what I wanted to do,” she said. “I wanted to get a team to regionals.”

In Woods’ high school career, the Pirates have not been able to match that accomplishment, but they’ve come painfully close.

Merrillville was a sixth-place finisher at the 2011 Chesterton sectional, Woods’ freshman year. The top three teams at the sectional meet qualify for regionals, and in each of the last two seasons, the Pirates have finished fourth. They were 1.55 points behind third place in Chesterton in 2012, and 1.25 points behind third-place Crown Point in 2013.

But this year, Merrillville has one of the best collections of talent during Woods’ career.

“It feels like there’s a lot of pressure,” Woods said, “because now we actually have such a good chance at going and that’s been our main goal.”

While no Merrillville team has been to regional in four years, multiple individual gymnasts have, including Woods, who qualified on beam, and teammate Kristina Goodman, who qualified on floor.

“That gave them a special insight into the atmosphere that’s present at a regional meet,” said Merrillville coach Diane Roberts, “and they’ve been talking about it ever since the end of last year’s season with the kids on this year’s team.”

But individual accolades won’t be enough for Woods and the rest of the Pirates this postseason, especially with a regular season performance that has Merrillville tied for the No. 3 ranking in the most recent state coaches’ poll. Merrillville’s team score of 110.45 in a dual meet with Crown Point on Saturday is the state’s fourth-highest score this season.

“It’s been really exciting,” Woods said. “People used to think of us as the underdogs and now we’re the ones that are coming out on top.”

The postseason run begins with the DAC Championship Meet this Saturday at Crown Point. While it’s not an elimination event, this competition will assemble one of the biggest collections of gymnastics talent in the state. Six of the top nine teams in the state coaches’ poll will be at this meet, including top-ranked Valparaiso.

“It’s an extremely important meet. We put a large importance on it: it’s round one, and sectionals is round two, and we go from there,” Roberts said. “When you go head-to-head with those teams, on the same day, in the same gym, on the same equipment, with the same set of officials, anything can happen.”

But, as Woods explained, this Merrillville squad is used to that type of pressure thanks to their high demands in practice. “There is the same amount of pressure put on us to do well in practice. Our coaches always tell us to practice like you play.”

The conference championship is still four days away, but if Woods had it her way, she might request that the competition would happen tonight. “I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store for us.”



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