NEW MILFORD >> Next weekend at the New England championships, Hand senior gymnast Stefani Taschner will have some company.
The Tigers scored an impressive 142.700 to finish in second place on Saturday afternoon at the CIAC State Open championships and qualify for New Englands for the first time since 2006. It will be Hand’s first trip under head coach Kelly Smith.
Last year, Taschner was the lone Tiger who advanced past the State Open.
“It’s really special,” Taschner said. “Actually having gone my junior year myself, just me and my coach, you don’t know anyone and it’s really lonely. It’s hard to compete that way. I’m excited that we can go as a team and cheer each other on.”
Woodstock Academy completed the three-peat with a staggering score of 150.500. Woodstock Academy’s Paige Stuyniski won the all-around title (38.350) and set a state record on the beam (9.850).
Southington finished third (137.650) and also advanced to New Englands.
“That’s actually pretty impressive knowing that the only team that is out there (better than us) is Woodstock,” Taschner said. “It’s good to know that we’re up there.”
According to Smith, second place is good for Hand’s best performance ever at a State Open.
“I feel good,” Smith said. “We had a great day. We just wanted to come in and have as good of a day as we had last week (Class M state champs), and we had better. We’re really happy.”
The Tigers took care of business right from the start, but set themselves apart on the beam. Hand tallied 36.275 points, led by Taschner and Maria Iennaco, who both finished with a 9.200.
“That’s never happened before,” Taschner said of staying so consistent on the beam.
Taschner finished fifth in the all-around (36.950).
Haddam-Killingworth/Hale-Ray/Old Saybrook’s Samantha LeMire finished third in the all-around with a score of 37.350. Her performance was all the more impressive considering the senior competed with an injury.
“I slipped on black ice (last week) and ended up pulling my calf and hamstring,” LeMire said. “I tried to push through the pain. I really wanted to compete. I’m very happy with the way I performed.”
Going into next Saturday’s event at Algonquin Regional High in Northborough, Mass., the goals are still the same. The Tigers want to maintain the same level of consistency.
“I think this is the team that should go,” Smith said, “because this is the most talented team we’ve had coming through in the last few years.”