MILFORD >> There wasn’t much mystery heading into Friday night’s Southern-Connecticut Conference gymnastics championships.
After watching conference powerhouse Hand of Madison knock down every opponent twice during the regular season without a loss, there wasn’t a soul inside the Jonathan Law High School gymnasium that didn’t think the Tigers were going to walk away without another title.
The only question was, how decisive would Hand’s victory be?
With an all-around title by senior co-captain Stefani Taschner and a new SCC championship meet record for team score, the answer ended up being: landslide.
Taschner edged out senior Meghan French of Shelton to win the all-around title with a score of 35.95, winning gold medals in the floor, bars and vault. Hand also had four of the top six individual finishers to set an SCC meet record with 141.45 points, turning the medal ceremony into a black-and-gold fiesta.
North Haven was a distance second with 123.25 points while host Jonathan Law (117.95) was third.
Hand, which went 11-1 overall in head-to-head action this season with its only loss coming against Glastonbury, has now won six SCC titles in a row.
The victory was especially sweet for Hand’s seniors, who took hold of the SCC trophy four years ago and never let go.
“It’s real nice to know as a team we can come out here for four years straight and take home an SCC title,” Taschner said. “We’ve been doing that since 1996 or 1998. So it feels good to come out and keep winning.”
Hand went into the SCC championships on quite a roll having posted a new program record for points (142.95) during a home victory against Law on Tuesday. That gave the Tigers all the confidence they would need to take down the old SCC championship meet record of 139 points set in 2006 by, of course, Hand.
“They had some momentum from Tuesday and they had some confidence,” Hand head coach Kelly Smith said. “They knew what they were capable of and they knew that 139 was within reach. They certainly wanted to get that new record.”
Hand had the most talented gymnast in Taschner, but it also had great depth with Abby McGuirk finishing third in the all-around with 35.65 points followed by Kendall Jerzyk in fourth with 35.55 points and Erin Maxwell (33.7) coming in sixth.
Jerzyk tied for first place on the floor with Taschner and placed second in the beam with a 9.1.
“We have a 24-person team and every one of them can compete in at least two events,” said Taschner, who is considering Towson or Air Force for college. “And that’s amazing.”
Taschner, who lost seven months of training during the off-season due to injury, was easily the most consistent performer, scoring a 9.45 on the vault, a 9.0 on the bars and a 9.2 on the floor. Taschner had some trouble in her third event, falling off the beam twice on moves she typically handles with ease, finishing 10th with an 8.3.
But Taschner, who finished second in the all-around last season, didn’t let it faze her. She got up and did a near-flawless routine on the floor.
Hand showed its resilience as a team as well, putting just two gymnasts in the top-3 in the beam then bouncing back to sweep the floor behind Taschner, Jerzyk and McGuirk.
“I’m very happy with my performance,” Taschner said. “I didn’t think it was going to be that amazing. There was one little bump, but it was nice to know I could come back and do a good routine.”
Shelton only brought three gymnasts to the meet, and couldn’t compete as a team, but still proved tough individually behind French, Fallon Berry and Julia Lindberg. Berry placed eighth in the all-around while Lindberg tied for 10th with Lauren Macolino of North Haven.
“We compete really well as a team,” French said. “I wish we could be an actual team because we would be very successful.”
French was neck-and-neck with Taschner all night, placing first in the beam with a 9.35, fourth in the floor with a 9.0 and third in the vault with a 9.1. But French went into the final rotation feeling a little too much pressure and placed third in the bars with an 8.3, ultimately putting her two-tenths of a point away from winning the all-around.
“I felt like I did really well, then the last event comes around and I over-thought it and fell on the first trick,” said French, who placed third as a junior. “I feel like I had an opening. All I had to do was have a clean routine on bars and I would have had it. The same thing happened to me last year. The pressure got to me.”
Almost as important as winning the meet was for Hand, it was equally important to continue to improve on their scores while maintaining the momentum it has built during the season. The Tigers are hoping to keep climbing in that positive direction when they look to defend their Class M state title on March 1 at Pomperaug in Southbury.
The State Open is scheduled for March 8 at New Milford.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Smith said. “We had a great night overall as a team. We did wonderfully. We have some areas we need to improve upon when we go up against some of the best in the state. Hopefully if we can make the state open and New Englands, we’re going to have to stay on the beam. We’re going to have to improve our form on the bars. Those are the biggest areas of concern, but overall we’re going in the right direction.”
1. Hand (141.45, meet record); 2. North Haven (123.25); 3. Law (117.95); 4. Foran (104.75); 5. Hamden (95.5).
All-Around: 1. Stefani Taschner (Daniel Hand), 35.95; 2. Meghan French (Shelton), 35.75; 3. Abigail McQuirk (Daniel Hand), 35.65; 4. Kendall Jerzyk (Daniel Hand), 35.55; 5. Cynthia Lerman (Branford), 34.55; Beam: 1. Meghan French (Shelton), 9.35; 2. Kendall Jerzyk (Daniel Hand), 9.1; 3. Erin Maxwell (Daniel Hand), 9.0; 4. Julia Lindberg (Shelton), 8.7; 5. Cynthia Lerman (Branford), 8.65; Floor: 1. Stefani Taschner (Daniel Hand), 9.2; 1. Kendall Jerzyk (Daniel Hand), 9.2; 3. Abigail McQuirk (Daniel Hand), 9.15; 4. Meghan French (Shelton), 9.0; 5. Maria Iennaco (Daniel Hand), 8.75; Vault: 1. Stefani Taschner (Daniel Hand), 9.45; 2. Marie Facin (North Haven), 9.2; 3. Meghan French (Shelton), 9.1; 3. Cynthia Lerman (Branford), 9.1; 5. Kendall Jerzyk (Daniel Hand), 9.05; Bars: 1. Stefani Taschner (Daniel Hand), 9.0; 2. Abigail McQuirk (Daniel Hand), 8.9; 3. Meghan French (Shelton), 8.3; 4. Kendall Jerzyk (Daniel Hand), 8.2; 4. Cynthia Lerman (Branford), 8.2.