11/14/2017 7:27:00 AM T-Bird gymnasts kick off grueling preseason
Nick Sabato/Lakeland Times
Lakelands Julie Neuberg works on the parallel bars during gymnastics practice on Thursday, Nov. 7.
Nick Sabato/Lakeland Times
Lakeland head coach Laura Hayes helps junior Morgan Kurth work on her vault technique during practice on Thursday, Nov. 9, at in the Lakeland Union High School all-purpose room.
The Lakeland Union High School gymnastics team has begun its season in what is one of the more physically demanding sports.
The Thunderbirds must complete 20 practices per WIAA rules before competition, which gives them some time to allow new gymnasts to get up to speed.
In the early portion of the season, Lakeland will focus on skills and ironing out routines in preparation for the schedule ahead.
"We're working on a lot of skills and a lot of new routines," LUHS head coach Laura Hayes said. "We have a lot of new gymnasts this year so we need to develop a lot of new routines and figure out which skills work with them."
Lakeland is at a disadvantage compared to other Great Northern Conference teams at the start of the season.
Many of the top teams in the conference have feeder programs or club teams. Lakeland has middle school teams, but a it is a considerably shorter season.
"Most of the programs we compete against have a feeder program or clubs or YMCA's or another program that the girls can attend before they get to high school," Hayes said. "We have our middle school programs which helps considerably, but it's a very short season. It's like two months. So, they really come in at a disadvantage. They have to work really hard to get up to par to be competitive in the conference."
Lakeland has attempted to offset that by hosting open gyms during the summer and leading up to the start of the season.
Gymnastics encompasses a variety of different skills, so the Thunderbirds spend much of the preseason preparing athletes to be physically in-shape.
"I try doing open gyms all summer, but unfortunately summers are very busy so I didn't get the attendance I was hoping for," Hayes said. "We just try to work really hard. We do a lot of weight lifting and conditioning this time of year to get their bodies ready for it and work hard on the skills."
The first couple of weeks are the most difficult as the girls get back into the swing of things.
If a gymnast isn't able to compete or train outside of the season, the first few weeks can lead to soreness and injuries.
"The first couple weeks are brutal on their body - a lot of pain, a lot of injuries, sore muscles - which sets us back every year," Hayes said. "Most of these girls in here are athletic girls. They're in other sports so it doesn't take too much to get these guys going."
Lakeland has seven gymnasts this year, which means there won't be a JV squad this season, but three of the seven return.
Kaitlin Hayes returns after finishing second in the conference in the vault and Lexie Tiffany is also back after placing second in the balance beam for a team that went 2-2 in the GNC, good enough for third in the Small Division standings.
Julie Neuberg also returns, while junior Morgan Kurth is back after her season was cut short due to an injury a year ago.
"I think we're probably going to be pretty close to last year," Laura Hayes said. "The other teams lost a lot too so I think we're probably going to be about in the middle of the conference again."
Lakeland begins its season on Dec. 9 at Rhinelander's Snowflake Invitational.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SabatoNick.