The look of focus and determination on Katie Stewart’s face said the Lee gymnast knew what was at stake. Stewart, competing in the vault portion of the Patriot District championships on Feb. 3, balked on her first attempt. She had one more try to get it right and, after significant miscues on beam and bars, Stewart needed a strong effort to have any hope for a top-four finish in the all-around competition.
The junior sprinted down the runway and executed a Pike Tsukahara vault, receiving a mark of 9.15. The score earned Stewart a third-place finish on vault, but would it be enough to help her in the all-around?
Lee sophomore Leah Michetti placed second in three of four events — vault, bars, floor — each time finishing slightly behind Lake Braddock’s Caitlin Liberatore. However, Michetti finished first on beam by a wide margin. Would it be enough to place her atop the all-around standings?
Stewart and Michetti each faced obstacles during districts. Each responded by assuring the Lancers would be well represented at the all-around award presentation.
Michetti captured the all-around championship with a score of 37.05, holding off Liberatore by eight-tenths of a point, and Stewart finished fourth (33.125). A top-four all-around finish at districts qualifies a gymnast for regionals in each event.
After a fall on beam led to an eighth-place finish for Stewart and a miscue on bars led to her not placing, Stewart didn’t expect a top-four finish in the all-around. However, a fourth-place finish on floor (8.9) and her clutch performance during her final vault attempt did the job.
"I was kind of surprised, actually, because today wasn’t my best meet," she said. "I wasn’t doing as well as I’d hoped. It was a good surprise."
While Michetti finished behind Liberatore in three of four events, the difference in score was minute enough to allow the Lee sophomore to gain separation with a strong performance on beam, where Michetti finished first with a 9.425. West Potomac’s Marien Voorhees placed second with an 8.65 and Liberatore tied for fourth with an 8.4 — more than one point behind Michetti.
"Leah was just solid tonight," Lee head coach Val Taguding said.
Michetti was limited in competition during her freshman year due to a back injury, but she put in the work to get back for the 2010-11 campaign.
"It was really hard," she said. "It took a lot of training and a lot of perseverance, but it’s coming back and it’s getting better. … I wasn’t sure how [the all-around standings were] going to turn out until the end. I knew that it was one of my better meets but I wasn’t sure exactly how well I did."
Lake Braddock won the team title and Woodson finished runner-up, but Lee proved to have the strongest pair of individuals.
"It was really exciting because it’s the first year I’ve had somebody with me up there," Stewart said. "Last year, [Michetti] had a back injury, so it was a lot of fun to be up there with one of my teammates."
Michetti and Stewart are standouts on a Lee gymnastics team in its third year of existence. This is the first season the Lancers have fielded a full team, but seven of 10 members are cheerleaders who are new to the sport of gymnastics.
"Lee does not have clubs within shouting distance of the school, so we have to develop our gymnasts," Taguding said. "It’s very difficult, especially when you have that many beginners. … It’s like you have to take three steps back to take two steps forward. The first thing you have to do is you have to get them feeling comfortable on the equipment. Then you have to start with zero skills and put in skills before you can even do a routine. It takes the entire season to get them where they are."
Taguding said the Lancers have made progress, improving their team score by 40 points from their season-opening meet to the district championships.