For the past eight years, the Southern Connecticut Conference gymnastics landscape has seen Hand High School on top of the mountain and the rest of the field still hiking up.
The 2017 SCC championship meet Saturday at Law High at 2:30 p.m. is expected to continue the trend of the Tigers living in the castle on top of the hill while the four other teams and many individual competitors look up to the longtime tenants.
But for the first time in a while, there might be a team able to put some pressure on Hand.
“The other team to watch will be Mercy,” Law gymnastics coach Pat Simon said. “They’ve been very close to Hand and it will be very interesting to see how things turn out there. It could come down to tenths of a point.”
Since 2009, the closest a second-place team has come to Hand was in 2010 when Foran scored a 129.15 to the Tigers’ 132.75. And the last time a runner-up scored in the 130’s was 2007 when Law edged Foran 133.65 to 133.20.
But this year, a young Mercy team may have what it takes to put some pressure on the queens of SCC gymnastics.
“We have a good team,” Mercy coach Monica Bauer said. “They’ve been averaging in the low 130s.”
This will be Mercy’s second season with a full team at the SCC championship meet, but despite the relative unfamiliarity with the big competition, Bauer believes her team is ready.
“They’re nervous going into it,” Bauer said. “But they have solid routines. They’ve been hitting their routines all week. What’s surprising is how well they’ve adapted to high school routines and the different requirements.”
Mercy will put a lot of stake in freshman Mia Lawrence and junior Ella Gibson on Friday.
Lawrence has improved greatly as the season has progressed, according to her coach, and has increased the difficulty in her routines to get higher start values and bonuses so she has a chance to be near the top.
Gibson is currently the 15th ranked all around gymnast in the CIAC state rankings with an average of 33.9375 and has experience from last year.
But when it comes to competing with and beating Hand, the rest of the teams know just how tall a task that really is.
“It will be a very interesting meet,” Simon said. “It depends on who’s healthy and who can go. If Hand has all of their girls and they’re all healthy, they could easily win.”
But mistakes are also possible.
“Everybody has to hit,” Simon said. “I hate to say if Hand makes a lot of mistakes and somebody else comes in perfect, yeah, there’s a chance (for another team to win).
The meet will also be full of returning champions. Melanie Coleman of Law is the defending champion in the bars event. Sara Rodia of Shelton won the vault and Noelle Bergere of Hand won the balance beam. The only event without a returning champion is the floor exercise won by Sacred Heart Academy’s Madison Clark — who also won the all around title.
That leaves the door open for a new all-around champion this year.
Coleman currently has the highest average of any SCC competitor in the all around competition at 35.4000, but Eric Naclerio (34.9375) and Lily Spencer (34.4250) – both of Hand – sit right behind her and could pose a threat to not only the individual title, but also help the Tigers retain the championship for an eighth straight year.