DARKE COUNTY — A record three Darke County gymnasts will compete at the state meet this weekend, including the two who started the high school gymnastics program in the county.
Ansonia senior Samantha Shook, Greenville senior Paige Keller and Versailles freshman Jenna Frantz all qualified for the Ohio High School Athletic Association state gymnastics meet. It’s the most gymnasts Darke County has had at state in the four years of the program, beating last year’s record of two with Keller and Shook.
Darke County coach Jackie Briscoe said it’s been exciting to see the program grow from its beginnings with Keller and Shook as freshmen to now having eight girls, three of whom are competing at state.
“I think it’s a great accolade for the girls,” Briscoe said. “I’m really excited for the girls. You work hard all year for one qualifying meet and you have to perform well on that day to advance to the state meet.”
Briscoe said she’s proud of all eight county gymnasts who represent Ansonia, Arcanum, Franklin Monroe, Greenville and Versailles. They’ve improved by leaps and bounds, she said.
Keller and Shook, who were the founders of the program, both are making their third trip to the state tournament.
Shook will compete in the all-around. She also qualified for state in the bars and beam and is eligible to place in those events as well.
This will be Shook’s final gymnastics meet of her life, she said, and her focus is simply on having fun.
“It’s very strange to think that I’ve been doing something for so long, and it’s finally coming to an end,” she said. “If I have a bad meet, I have a bad meet. I’m just going to take it as it is.”
Keller will compete in two events — vault and bars.
The Greenville senior was pleasantly surprised that she made state in bars. Vault is her speciality, and she placed fourth at state last year in that event so she hopes for another strong showing this year.
“That’s always been my main event,” Keller said. “I’m really excited to compete in vault and just see how it goes.”
Frantz made state in the floor competition. She said she was surprised to have made it but is excited as it will provide an opportunity to prepare for the future when she tries to make it back to state in even more events.
“I was just completely surprised and purely excited for this weekend,” she said. “I just hope that I can go out there and have fun and not be too nervous.”
All three girls have the skills to score well, Briscoe said, but they’ll be facing tough competition from the best gymnasts in the state. This year will be especially hard to predict because the OHSAA now allows gymnasts to use all skills and no longer caps the threshold for what they can attempt to gain points, she said.
“All I can ask them to do is their best,” Briscoe said. “I just want the girls to go out and do the best routine they know how, and that’s all we can ask for.”
None of the girls said they have any goals for what score or place they’re trying to achieve. Rather, they’re just enjoying their opportunity to compete together.
“It’s a really good opportunity, and I’m really excited to go back with Sam this year for our senior year,” Keller said. “It’s a really great opportunity because not many people get to experience that, so I’m really happy to end on a good note like that.”
Having competed together for years, the Darke County girls have become like a big family, Shook said.
“It’s exciting (to go back to state), and it’s even more exciting that I get to do it with Paige and now Jenna,” Shook said.
Briscoe said Keller and Shook have done a great job of creating a legacy in Darke County and creating an opportunity for other gymnasts such as Frantz and the other county gymnasts.
The girls had no idea what would happen when they began this journey, Keller said, but it’s been a great four years.
“It’s crazy to think that it was just four years ago that we were just starting out, and we had no idea what were jumping into it,” Keller said.