Victoria Strickland's early childhood memories of gymnastics have come full circle.
"I wanted to do a back tuck (on the balance beam) when I was 5 years old," she said. "I'd the watch the older girls do back tucks and back handsprings."
The Boone Grove sophomore gymnast has used both moves on her routines these first two seasons, switching to the back tuck this winter. She's made strides on every apparatus through the years.
Strickland was 17th on floor (8.825) and vault (8.8) at last season's Chesterton Sectional. She finished 23rd in all-around (31.75).
In her first meet this season at the Vikings Invitational on Jan. 12, she placed fourth in all-around (34.075). In the process, she pulled off her back tuck on beam.
Two weeks later at the Pirate Pride Invitational at Merrillville, she placed fourth on vault (9.1).
"I think I've improved a lot," Strickland said. "I'm a lot more confident than I was last season.
"Last year helped me realize what it takes to compete at a high school meet."
Strickland prefers high school to club meets.
"I just feel like I have more freedom to do what I want (in an event)," she said. "There's more stuff I'm able to choose to do."
Strickland has added a few more jumps and the back tuck to her beam routine, while fine-tuning her moves on the other events.
Strickland will compete in six events before the postseason, which is believed to be one more than a season ago. In the first two events, she competed against state No. 1 Valparaiso, No. 2 Portage, No. 7 Columbus East and No. 9 Merrillville.
This schedule gives Strickland a taste of the postseason competition she'll face while also giving her plenty of practice to time to work on her skills.
"The biggest competition is against myself," she said. "I don't totally feel that different."
But a few things have changed this season. Holly Strickland, Valerie's mother, is the new head coach. Teammate Taylor Cain injured her back in the offseason and will miss this season. Freshman Jessica Stahl is now Strickland's lone competitive teammate this season.
"My mom has always been there, and I've worked with Jessica before," Valerie said. "I don't view it as much of a change."
The goal now is to work toward the postseason, and try for a regional berth.
"I think she is a lot more confident about her abilities," Holly Strickland said of her daughter. "She needs to be more well-rounded. Her beam is really evolving. She's picked up more skills, and she's done really well so far."