VALPARAISO | A year ago, Valparaiso punctuated a regional crown with a strong finish.
Friday, the top-ranked Vikings blazed the competition with a quick start. Led by junior gymnast Morgan Algozine's 9.9 on vault, host Valparaiso led from start to finish en route to their fifth consecutive crown.
"That definitely set the tone," said Algozine, who also won all-around (38.975), beam (9.725) and floor (9.8). "I really like the Olympic rotation (vault, bars, beam, floor). I could start with something powerful, and I didn't have to conserve energy."
Teammate Allyson Kraft was second (9.6) as the Vikings were never headed after starting with an impressive 28.5 on vault.
"We just gained more confidence for the rest of the meet," Algozine said.
Algozine (9.55) and teammate Hannah Erwin (9.5) finished second and third, respectively, on bars. The Vikings posted four 9.0 or higher scores on beam. Erwin was second on floor (9.7). The Vikings didn't match last year's 29.4 on floor, but they were awfully close (29.025). The four-time defending state champions finished with a season-high 113.9, besting last year's team score by almost a point.
"It's such an amazing feeling; my teammates did so well," said Algozine, who finished for the team on every event. "I just went out with no pressure. I just went for it. That's what I did all day."
Portage broke a long streak with its second-place finish, advancing to Saturday's state meet in Muncie as a team for the first time since their lone state crown in 1975.
Mackenzie Barcelli led the way by finishing second in all-around (37.5). She also tied for fourth on both vault (9.2) and bars, and she was fifth on both floor (9.6) and beam (9.35).
"Our motto was 'state takes a team effort', which spells out STATE," said Barcelli, who was an individual state qualifier the last two seasons. "I'm just so excited to be going down to state with all of my teammates. It feels awesome."
Sophomore Danielle Solis was fifth in all-around (36.675), including tying for fourth on vault (9.2) and finishing sixth on beam (9.3).
"It wasn't about winning (Friday)," said Portage coach Karen Barcelli, Mackenzie's mother. "We did our best to make it to state.
"It's kind of exciting because we don't know what to expect next week. The kids are acting like they're in a candy store."