It's been nearly 10 months since the Indians took everyone, including themselves, by surprise with a state championship.
Portage finished second behind Valparaiso in the sectional and regional before finally edging its Duneland Athletic Conference rival by half a point at state.
The moment the scores became official is one that junior Madison Kurtz will never forget.
“It was unreal to find out our hard work to just keep getting better and better … paid off,” Kurtz said. “That rivalry we had with Valpo was so intense. We accomplished exactly what we wanted to do in the meet. The day was probably a perfect day for our team.”
While Portage's win caught everyone off guard, Kurtz also surprised everyone, including herself, with a seventh-place all-around finish. She placed in the top six in three events: uneven bars (fifth); vault (tied, sixth); and floor exercise (tied, sixth).
“I would have never imagined I’d get that far,” Kurtz said. “We wanted to win, but we also just wanted to do the best that we could."
As a new season begins, the Indians are looking to Kurtz after graduating all-around state champion Mackenzie Barcelli and Lyndsey Cunningham.
“She’s been an all-arounder for two years,” coach Karen Barcelli said. “Now she’s an upperclassman and I think the leadership role she’s taking on might put a little more pressure on her but I don’t think it’ll make her more nervous. I think she’ll step up because there is more pressure.
“We’ve never been a team that’s had a lot of seniors, so our juniors have often taken a leadership role. I think Madison’s welcoming that.”
As a leader on a young team, Kurtz will look to match or improve upon last year. Balance beam is a focal point after finishing 36th at state.
"A lot of the problem on beam for a lot of gymnasts is just to stay calm and not get the mental worry that you’re going to fall," Kurtz said. "You have to be more positive and know that you can do that skill, that you’re going to make them because you’ve been doing them all season and know how to do them. I just need to be more confident in myself.”
Barcelli believes Kurtz is ready to take the next step.
“I’ve known all along that she’s talented enough,” Barcelli said. “The thing that high school gymnastics has, I think, helped her with is learning how to calm her nerves in competition. Skill-wise, she’s been there all along.”
With Kurtz leading the way, the Indians are hoping for another postseason run.
“I just know all of us are going to have to step up and do what we can to kind of make up for that loss,” Kurtz said. “I think we can do it, as long as we keep working together, staying positive as a team and keeping our mindset on the goals we have for this year.
“I know this whole season we’re kind of taking it day by day... We’re just hoping for the best and pushing for another state return this year as a team.”