VALPARAISO — Few athletes get to experience the atmosphere of the state finals once, let alone three times.
Most don't know the thrill of winning a state title for their school either.
Then there are Valparaiso seniors Rachel Moneta and Jenna Algozine, who have been part of two titles and a runner-up finish with sights on a third crown.
"It just makes you really grateful to be able to say that you've been a part of this team and the state championships," Algozine said. "It's sad because after this year, we're done. Rachel and I are going to do our best so we can go out with a bang."
"Not everyone experiences winning state," Moneta added. "It means so much to be a part of this program, and I'm proud to be on this team. It's a great facility, great coaches and I have great teammates around me. It's been unbelievable."
Algozine and Moneta are the lone seniors on a group of 19 gymnasts. While Valpo doesn't name captains, the pair each lead in their own manner.
Coach Lorie Cook says Algozine is someone who is really good at seeing when teammates need to be pushed or need a sympathetic ear.
"I've had my fair share of frustrating moments so it's easy to spot seeing someone else that may be struggling at a practice or meet. My best remedy is to make them laugh," Algozine said. "I've always been a little more vocal as my family tends to not be too shy, so I love that role."
On the other hand, Moneta leads by doing, someone who will come in, work hard and get her workouts done in a timely manner.
"I tend to lead more by example, but I'm working on being more vocal," Moneta said. "We not only want to push ourselves every day but also our teammates."
While it's always team first at Valpo, the duo has enjoyed plenty of their own success.
Algozine has medaled at state every year starting when she was a freshman, when she tied for fourth in the all-around and took second on bars. Last year, she tied for third on bars and was third on floor, taking sixth in the all-around. She was also the regional all-around champ.
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"She's a really strong all-arounder," Cook said. "She has good technique, form, presentation and a high level of difficulty. She's learned some skills over her high school career which have helped her continue at the level of difficulty she's at. Her presentation has gotten better as she's felt more confident and comfortable in competing."
Moneta competed at state as a freshman and sophomore, but didn't break through on the medal stand until last season when she won state on floor and was fourth in the all-around. She was also fourth in the all-around at regionals, with firsts on vault and floor.
"She didn't have as many skills as Jenna coming in but she's learned more skills and came into her own more that way," Cook said. "She's a much better competitor and wasn't as confident as she is now. She works hard during the season and we continue to see the improvement. She's a really nice tumbler, so it was great to see her win on floor at state."
To no surprise, Moneta's best event is also her favorite. She's also made her state-winning floor routine even more difficult.
"I feel like I've progressed on every single event but floor has always been my best," she said. "My difficulty level on my floor routine has definitely increased as I've added a double at the end. I'm never just going to settle for easy and I want to keep pushing myself."
Algozine singles out bars as her favorite and best event.
" ... I just know not a lot of other people can do my routine difficulty wise, it's challenging," she said. "I've added skills to my other events, too, though, like harder tumbling passes on floor and an upgrade to my dismount on beam."
As both have enjoyed extensive success, they also appreciate how the program has helped them with not only in gymnastics, but more importantly, life.
"I've gained so much confidence in myself in and outside the gym," Moneta said. "The coaches have helped me understand that if I can do it in practice, then I can do it whenever. I've not only grown as a gymnast, but as a person. I've learned so much about myself since I began here."
The same goes for Algozine.
"I've learned how to stay calm in sticky situations in and out of the gym and a lot of other life skills," she said. "Competing as a freshman with those seniors, it really taught me how to handle things and how to act under pressure and that helped me grow up a little faster than anticipated. I really have to thank the coaches for turning me into the person I am today."