BY DAN STICKRADT
GRAND LEDGE — For 10 straight years, Grand Ledge has proven to be one of the state’s most dominant girls gymnastics programs.
The proof is in the pudding.
The Comets have posted 10 consecutive top-10 state finals finishes and have qualified for state in 12 of the previous 15 seasons under veteran coach Duane Haring.
“We’ve had a great run,” said Haring. “I am proud of everything we have been able to accomplish. We don’t have a (gymnastics) gym right in Grand Ledge. The nearest one is Twistars over in Diamondale. But we’ve been blessed with a lot of very talented gymnasts over the years.”
After finishing ninth at state in 2002 and second in 2003, Grand Ledge disappeared from the state scene for three years. In 2007, the Comets again qualified for the state finals to finish in the runner-up slot. From 2008 through 2013, Grand Ledge captured six straight open class state titles — an MHSAA record for consecutive state championships and overall state crowns.
Holland is second with five overall titles, while both Ludington (175-78) and Holland (194-97) have posted four straight state championships at one point.
“We’ve had an amazing run if you think about it,” said Haring. “It’s not always easy to make it to the state meet. To be there as many years in a row as we have and to win all of those titles is amazing.
“We have won every conference title but one since I’ve been here,” added Haring, whose squad is 3-0 atop of the Capital Area Athletic Conference. The Comets have won 13 of the past 14 league titles.
“That is something to be proud of,” added Haring. “We didn’t win in 2008, Holt came in and won it. But we have won just about every conference since I’ve been here, and we’ve won a bunch of regionals, too. That is a tribute to the kids and all of their hard work.”
Although Grand Ledge boasted squads of 20-plus athletes a decade ago, there are only eight members on this year’s team.
Seniors Afton Lafrance and Janelle Hall, juniors Samantha Hetzer and Ariana Guerrero and sophomore Maggie Mullins are the leaders of this small bunch.
“I still think we can qualify for the state again and finish in the top 10 in the state again,” said Haring. “But with only eight gymnasts, we are one serious injury away from not making it. We don’t have the depth like we’ve had in before. With a team our size, I don’t expect to win a state title this year, but the goal is to (qualify) and finish as high as we can.”