After a third-place finish at the state meet two years ago, and with a majority of its athletes returning, the Park gymnastics team's hopes were high entering the 2011-12 season.
A number of injuries derailed the Wolfpack's dreams of a state championship, but Park pulled itself together and mustered enough strength to finish in fourth place at last year's state meet.
This year, Park is hoping for smooth sailing and hungry for more.
"This could be another strong year for the Wolfpack, but it all depends on how bad the team wants to get back into the postseason," longtime Park head coach Mark Sikich said. "I have always said the team with the least amount of tape on them at the end of the season is the one that has the best opportunities to go further in the playoffs."
At last year's state meet, with a number of Park's large contingent of fans wearing green MASH shirts in homage to the Wolfpack's health issues this year, Park scored a season-high 147.3 as a team, just back of their 149.825 from the year before. Roseville won the Class AA state championship with a score of 149.325. Park last won a state championship in 2004.
The Wolfpack will no doubt be one of the favorites to win a state championship this season.
Under the direction of Sikich, who is in his 21st season as head coach, and third-year co-head coach Terry Hardy, Park brings back a number of top-flight gymnasts this year.
Nine gymnasts who were on last year's state meet roster are returning. However, Park said goodbye to seniors Hannah Schroeder, Hayley Van Pelt, Jordan Arganbright and Baylee Erickson.
Like last year, leading the way this winter will be Kasondra Tulloch and Rachel Deephouse.
Last year Tulloch and Deephouse fought through injuries and earned individual medals at the state meet. Tulloch placed second and Deephouse earned sixth place in the floor exercise. Tulloch scored a 9.725 and Deephouse scored a 9.625 in the event. Eden Prairie senior Mackenzie Dent also scored a 9.725 but won the championship over Tulloch with a tie-breaker.
Two years ago, Tulloch and Deephouse took second and third place, respectively, in the all-around competition, becoming the first Park gymnasts to medal at the state meet since the 2006-07 season. Last year, though, injuries slowed the two powerhouses' progress. Deephouse was out two months with a back injury and Tulloch missed a month with a shoulder injury. Both gymnasts were icing the injuries throughout the individual competition, after helping lead Park to a fourth-place finish in the team competition the night before.
Other top gymnasts expected to make huge impacts on the Wolfpack this season include: seniors McKayla Dickmeyer, Morgan Schank, Mckay Zurn; juniors Sarah LaBrosse, Allie Minogue and Michaela Thielfoldt; and sophomores Sarah Schank and Carlee Washenberger.
Last year, Tulloch and Deephouse weren't the only Park gymnasts in the individual state meet. Sarah Schank placed 18th in the state uneven bars competition with a career-best 9.025. She also missed a large portion of the year after she discovered a fracture in her knee at the start of the season and was out from November to early January. In the team portion of state, Zurn turned in a 9.425 in the floor exercise, while LaBrosse scored a 9.275 in the vault and Thielfoldt scored a 9.050 in the vault to help Park take fourth place.
Tulloch, Morgan Schank and Zurn were elected team captains this year.
After winning the Suburban East Conference championship in the 2010-11 season, Roseville took the title back last year as Park went 6-3.
The battle for the SEC title is expected to be between Park, Roseville, East Ridge and Stillwater. The most likely teams standing in the way of a third-straight Section 3AA championship and state meet for Park are expected to be East Ridge, Rosemount and Farmington.
Park begins the season at Hastings on Thursday, Nov. 29. Its first home meet is Thursday, Dec. 6. Other meets to watch are the Brainerd Holiday Invite on Saturday, Dec. 22; the Lakeville Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 12; and the Wolfpack Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 19. The Section 3AA meet will be held at Eagan High School on Friday, Feb. 15.