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Top 100: Sarah Spring, The Vault Queen

The 1999 Lake Braddock graduate won three straight state titles in vault competition.

Sarah Spring, 1999 graduate and gymnast from Lake Braddock, is remembered by a number — the number 10.

Spring, a 1999 graduate of Lake Braddock, won three consecutive Virginia High School League AAA state gymnastics championships in the vault from 1997 through 1999. She scored a perfect 10 in one competition — a first and still a rarity for Northern Region competitors.

"She was such a hard worker, and she was always the one pushing herself to the limit and beyond," said Nicole Bascope, a 2000 graduate of Lake Braddock and Spring's Bruins teammate. Bascope won the state championship in floor competition in 1998.

"Her form and technique were always perfect," said Bascope.

Spring also finished second in all-around state competition in 1998 and 1999. In her senior year, she missed out on the individual all-around title by .125 points, losing 39.1-38.975 to Michelle Pearson, a junior from Edison. Lake Braddock, meanwhile, won five consecutive state championships in girls gymnastics (1995-1999) and finished second in the state in 2000. On top of those five state titles, Lake Braddock earned six district and five regional titles when Mike Cooper was in charge as the head coach from 1988 to 2000.

"[SPRING] SHOWED total commitment to both her club and high school teams," said Cooper. He added that when he first saw Spring perform, he knew she would be a good team competitor, but did not realize how well she would do individually. Keith Naquin, the gymnastics head coach at Herndon and Chantilly, and a high school coach since 1980, said he remembered Spring as a high caliber gymnast and one of the best during her time. "She was very dynamic," he said. Cooper compared Spring and Pearson, and said that Pearson was a step above all other competitors except for Spring. He said Spring was a finesse athlete, while Pearson was stronger than any athlete around. He said the two complemented each other.

SPRING WENT on to perform at Ohio State University. As a freshman, she competed in all but one meet. She was a finalist for the Big Ten Freshman-of-the-Year award, and recorded her first collegiate first-place finish with a 38.9 all-around score. As a sophomore, Spring recorded a 9.9 score on the uneven bars, and a 9.85 score in the vault. Both years she was an academic All-American. Her junior year, Spring tied the Ohio State floor exercise record at the time with a 9.95 score. Her senior year, the Buckeyes finished with a 10-4 record, finishing fifth at the NCAA regionals. After returning from OSU, Spring became an assistant coach for Cooper, who is now in charge of Oakton, Fairfax and Woodson gymnastics programs. Spring is currently a medical student.

MEANWHILE, HIGH SCHOOL gymnastics continues to evolve. Cooper, a head coach in the area since 1988, and a former high school gymnast at Annandale High School, said gymnastics has changed since he started coaching. He said the equipment used in gymnastics is getting better, and because of that, athletes are performing tougher routines. For example, he said, the introduction of spring floors allowed gymnasts to incorporate more flips into their routines. He also added that gymnasts today have more opportunities to practice outside of high school. He said there are more clubs, allowing the athletes to practice year-round. Naquin said he is concerned about the shortage of qualified gymnastics coaches in Northern Virginia, which is responsible for him coaching two schools and Cooper coaching three. He hopes the sport can keep the momentum and not fold, like boys gymnastics did in the mid-1990's.

Sarah Spring is 100 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.