VALPARAISO -- For the last three years, Whitney McKeon has been delivering results for the Valparaiso gymnastics team.
McKeon has three top-six all-around finishes at the state meet to her credit, including a fifth-place finish last year as a junior. McKeon has shined on the beam, as she tied for first with a personal-best 9.7 at the state meet last year and she also had top-six finishes on vault and floor.
Back as a senior, the experienced McKeon is still delivering results for the Vikings as she led Valparaiso to a win at the Viking Pairs Invitational on Saturday afternoon, but she is now dispensing wisdom to the next wave of gymnasts.
“It’s definitely different being a senior this year,” McKeon said. “I’ve always been the kind of person that tries to lead by example. I’m not the most vocal, but I try to show people how things are done and lead them by doing it.”
Even if McKeon doesn’t use her words often, her performance is enough of a guide for a team that is hoping to get back to its winning ways at state. Valparaiso won the 2017 state title before falling to rival Chesterton last season. It’s become the driving force for McKeon this season.
“I do use that as motivation,” McKeon said. “It’s something that I want to work up from. The goal every year is obviously to win state and that’s what we’re focused on this year.”
There’s a long way to go until the state meet and that gives McKeon plenty of time to focus on her leadership skills, particularly when it comes to freshman Lexy Malamatos. The latest in a long line of talented Valparaiso gymnasts, Malamatos took third on bars (9.3) and seventh on beam (8.55) Saturday. This comes two days after the freshman scored 37.375 points in all-around in a season-opening victory over Crown Point.
“It’s been an amazing start,” Malamatos said. “My teammates are so supportive. Whitney is a very big role model for me and she’s helping me do the best that I can.”
McKeon, who won the all-around pairs title along with Sydney Volom, has now become something of a big sister to the younger Vikings. Much like former Valparaiso gymnasts Sydney Intagliata and Jenna Algozine helped guide McKeon when she joined the team in the fall of 2015, McKeon is now doing the same for Malamatos.
“She reminds me a lot of myself when I was a freshman,” McKeon said. “I do try to take her under my wing. I’m excited for her future.”
McKeon’s experience and leadership means a great deal to the Vikings this season and it’s part of the core philosophy that longtime Valparaiso coach Lorie Cook uses in her program.
“The kids that have been in the program the longest are the ones who have that experience,” Cook said. “The expectation is that every athlete we have here knows what it is expected of them and of their teammates. The reality is that all of them should be leaders to one another.”
The Vikings nearly made a clean sweep of the top three all-around awards. McKeon and Volom took first place while Sabrina Falk and Jade Verschure (35.8) took second place. Falk scored a 9.3 on the vault while Verschure notched an 8.9 on the floor. The Vikings won the team title with 26 points.
Malamatos and Sami Bluhm took fourth place in the All-Around, finishing just .05 points behind Lake Central’s Gabrielle DeVries and Maddie Bugg (35.20). DeVries finished first in the floor (9.2) and third on the vault (9.2).
McKeon took first place in the bars (9.6) and the balance beam (9.55).
“I spent the offseason perfecting all of the skills that I have and I spent a lot of time trying to add some new skills that I’ll show later in the season,” McKeon said.