VALPARAISO | As if she weren’t already in the air enough Friday night, sparkling Morgan Twp. freshman Kylee Maxwell was also floating through the hallways at Valparaiso High School.
Supporter after supporter — some 30 or 40 family members, teachers and administrators from the small rural school — either hugged Maxwell and lifted her off the ground or at least congratulated her excitedly.
Moments before her closest friends and family proceeded to hug her they were upstairs cheering vehemently after the phenom from the school with absolutely no previous tradition in the sport turned in an amazing bars routine at the 41st annual Valparaiso Regional.
“It was a moment of happiness,” Maxwell said. “I got the nerves out last week, but the crowd here is still really big.”
Maxwell, the first gymnast representing Morgan Twp. in the school’s history, won the bars with a 9.8, edging all-around champ Morgan Algozine of Valparaiso. She also tied for fifth on the balance beam (9.35) and tied for fifth on vault (9.45) and qualified in the all-around with a sixth-place score of 37.4.
Two slips and a fall on the floor exercise had Maxwell discouraged early, but she rebounded on the vault and had full confidence for a career-best bars routine. Coach Lisa Pozniak told Maxwell to forget about the fall quickly.
“She has a great personality and has talent to do anything,” Pozniak said. “This is great for our program; now maybe other girls can join.”
Crown Point’s Best effort: Setting aside additional puns on her last name, Crown Point freshman Hannah Best was her team’s top gymnast on a night full of close races.
Best was part of a three-way tie for fifth place in the floor exercise with a career-best and automatic state-qualifying 9.55, earning her team’s lone state berth. She was ninth in the all-around, a few deductions short of automatic qualifying there, as the Bulldogs took third as a team behind powerhouses Valparaiso and Portage.
“It feels pretty good to go to state as a freshman,” Best said. “I landed my front full, and I was showing off my routine better than I ever have.”
Crown Point scored abnormally low on the vault to start the meet, and coach Ami Pysh had to rally her team to regain confidence, including Best.
“She had to show her confidence and artistry, and she did,” Pysh said.
“She saved the best for last.”
C.P., making its fourth regional appearance as a team, was third at conference, sectional and regional.
“You’ve got to be realistic when Valpo and Portage are scoring 112s and 113s,” Pysh said. “Taking third proves we do belong here, and most of our kids will be back.”
The pack is strong: Four little girls were running around the upstairs at Viking Gym wearing T-shirts adorned with glitter glue and the phrase “Ashley’s Wolf Pack.”
Michigan City sophomore Ashley Koza did not disappoint her fans. She placed fifth on the bars with a score of 9.3 to make next week’s state finals at Ball State.
“I’ve been working hard all week and glad it finally paid off,” Koza said. “I fixed my release move from past weeks, and making my entire routine is always a reason to be really excited.”
Raising the bar: With Maxwell, Koza and Chesterton’s Brandi Tuzinski qualifying for state on bars, the region swept the event.
Tuzinski, who was fourth with a 9.4, suggested an unofficial state bars team consisting of her, Koza and Maxwell. Nervous until the results were final, Tuzinski is returning to state.
“I did my giants a lot better and kept my momentum,” Tuzinski said.
“It feels great to go back to state. I’m really excited and looking forward to Friday.”