BY DAN STICKRADT
ROCKFORD — Could a three-peat be in the works?
In a year where there is no heavy favorite to win the MHSAA team open class state title in girls gymnastics, two-time defending state champion Rockford is right back into the mix.
Rockford, which also won a state title back in 1989, has as good a shot as anybody to claim another title and carry the prestige of a 3-peat program.
“I think we have enough talent to qualify again and hopefully be up there in the top five. Anything is possible,” said second-year coach Alyssa Burke. “We graduated a very good group, but we have a talented senior class and some nice newcomers (in the mix).”
Rockford, which has qualified in five of the last seven seasons, placed 11th in 2010 and 13th in 2011 before missing the cut in 2012. The Rams returned to place seventh in 2013, but were absent from the state finals in 2014.
Rockford has some large invitationals coming up on the docket during the month of February before the state tournament begins in March.
The Rams have already posted a 144.900 team score this season and is climbing fast. They finished second at the Rockford Flipside Invitational to open the season, but came back to win the Lowell Invitational in mid-January.
In contrast, Rockford posted a 146.350 at the state finals this season. The Rams are not too far off that championship pace.
Senior twins Carly Coughlin and Nicole Coughlin (third in state all-around last season) are the leaders of this 14-athlete squad. Senior Danae Lokers and sophomores Chantel Lokers, Reagan Ammon and Taylor Cullen are also back, along with seniors Kaitie Killinger and Claire O’Neill.
“We have a nice mix of seniors and some youth,” said Burke. “The Coughlin sisters are looking tough. They should be up there amongst the (state leaders). I think as the younger girls get a few meets under their belts, we’ll hopefully start to see some higher scores.”
Freshman Ashley Faulkner leads a strong contingent of newcomers, while Lexi Kaser, Morgan Case, Elise Kinlaw and Nicole Curtis are other ninth graders which will help build a strong nucleus for the future.
Morgan Korf (fifth in state last season), Made Myers, Megan DiLeo, Ally Case and Ashleigh Willman all graduated. Case is serving as an assistant coach this season.
Burke does not expect there to be any surprises this season.
“I think it will be the same teams as last year,” noted Burke. “(Grand Rapids) Forest Hills (Unified) is always tough, so is Farmington (Unified), Canton, Howell … Livonia (Unified-Blue) has had some really good teams lately. It will be a lot of the same teams as last year.
“I would like to think that we’ll be up there again,” continued Burke. “I think it’s very wide open. All of the top teams lost some gymnasts. But we’ll see which (programs) have the most talented newcomers. We’ll just keep working hard and hope for the best in the end.”