Hand’s Stefani Taschner has the ultimate comeback story. And it’s one the senior standout gymnast is still writing.
The two-time Register Area MVP, who coach Kelly Smith said “leaves as one of the top athletes to come through the program” battled almost her entire high school gymnastic career with nagging injuries.
Taschner explained she has torn the tendons in both of her ankles, but it was the right one that kept tearing, forcing her to finally deal with it last spring.
“The last time I tore it I ended up chipping a piece of the bone off, so my orthopedist said he really needed to fix it,” Taschner said. “So May 8 of last year, he went in and drilled two holes in the bone, put in two steal pins and shortened the tendons, then attached them to the pins.”
As painful and grueling as the description reads, the end result was worth it.
Taschner worked hard during the off-season so she could come back even stronger and compete in her final high school season.
This past winter Taschner led the Tigers to a Southern Connecticut Conference team championship and a school-record 15th state title. She guided Hand to a State Open runner-up finish and a fifth-place showing at the New England Championships.
“Knowing that I could come back from such a serious injury and surgery, I was very excited to go back to high school gymnastics and compete better than all of the previous years,” Taschner said. “I knew I was capable of doing everything better, adding difficulty, and perfecting old skills so I could score well and contribute to the amazingly talented team we had this year.”
Her list of individual accomplishments is just as impressive.
She was the SCC all-around champion, winning the vault, bars, floor and all-around title. She tied a school record of 9.4 on the bars and finished fifth at the State Open in all-around and third on floor (9.450) at New Englands.
She was All-SCC, first-team, All-State and named to the Senior National squad. And the scary thing is, Taschner is capable of so much more.
“Stef has shown this year that she has not reached her peak yet and still has many things she can achieve in gymnastics,” Smith said. “She’s powerful — helping her excel on vault and in her tumbling — but she also has beautiful form and lines.”
Smith said with such a solid and athletic individual like Taschner, she didn’t have a weak event, which made her even more versatile.
She was a standout in all events, which was evident as she was the SCC Gymnast of the Year. She scored an impressive 37.575 at the Class M meet in all-around to lead Hand to a second consecutive state title
Even more proof was she was named Elite All-American on the vault and floor and All-American on the beam, bars and all-around.
“It was not uncommon for her to get 9s on every event this year,” Smith said. “Stefani still stood out as the team MVP and as the gymnast who would anchor three out of the four events for us. She’s been such a strong competitor all year and the last few years.”
Yet aside from the personal accomplishments, what made this season so special for her were the team highlights.
A year ago she was the only Hand gymnast to qualify for New Englands. This year, the Tigers sent the entire squad, something Taschner said was a unique experience. It was also the first group under Smith to qualify as a team.
“The one thing that sticks out for me from the past four years at Hand is that each and every year, we have such an amazing group of girls that make up our team,” Taschner said. “We are all so close every year, and everyone has such character to add to the team.”
With her injury and surgery, Taschner missed the recruitment period, which meant she missed the opportunity for a scholarship. But she hasn’t looked as that as a setback. If anything, it’s made her journey even more gratifying.
She recently committed to Towson University, where she’ll continue her gymnastics career. Smith said Taschner is the first athlete in her coaching tenure at Hand to compete at the Division 1 level.
Taschner said after training and possibly competing during her freshman season, she will then be prepared for a scholarship.
“I know that even though she has already has a long list of accomplishments, she’s capable of much more in gymnastics in her future,” Smith said. “We’re excited to follow her career to the next level.”