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Atholton girls roll to 4th straight county gymnastics title


Atholton's girls gymnasts copped a fourth consecutive county championship Thursday in a meet at Oakland Mills High School.

Atholton's domination is a bit remarkable, because none of the team members belongs to a year-round private team, like some other high school gymnasts.

"This is strictly a two-month-a-year operation in which we pull it all together," Atholton coach Terry Smith said. "It's a real team sport at our school, so we have depth and consistency."

The championship positions Atholton for the state meet at Oakland Mills High School, beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

The two team captains, senior Meredith Monroe and Lisa Lotkin, lead a talented group that includes twins Heather and Shannon Mennell and Michelle Benson.

Monroe was Atholton's top all-around performer, finishing fourth. Shannon Mennell finished sixth in all-around.

"Meredith is really coming on strong for us," Smith said. "Last year she did the same thing and had a great state meet, and I think she'll do better next week than she did today."

Monroe took fourth in vaulting, fifth in bars and third in floor exercise.

Shannon Mennell was second on bars, fifth on beam. Heather Mennell was fourth on bars and sixth on beam.

And Michelle Benson overcame injuries from early in the season to compete.

"Michelle was injured the first half of the season and didn't want to do the all-around [competing in all four events: bars, beam, vault and floor exercise], but she did it anyway for the team," Smith said.

Atholton wasn't the only happy team at the county meet.

A year ago, Wilde Lake didn't even have a team because it couldn't find a coach. Then Wildecat star gymnast Lisa Lee, who belongs to the Hill's Angels private gymnastics club in Gaithersburg, coaxed Angels coach Chiquita Haldemann into taking the job.

On Thursday the Wildecats finished second to Atholton, 131.20 to 125.35.

Wilde Lake hasn't done so well in at least a decade. In the 1970s, Atholton and Wilde Lake often battled each other for the title.

Wilde Lake hadn't won a dual meet in five years before sweeping all of its meets this year except the one against Atholton.

"We're really happy to finish second," said Lee.

Lee finished first in all-around with 36.15 points, nipping Lori Jackson of Oakland Mills, who had 35.75 points. Betsy Schmid of Mount Hebron, the all-around champ two years ago, finished third at 34.45.

Lee, a senior and one of five Marylanders who will compete in a national championship meet later this month at the University of Maryland, displayed extraordinary athleticism, winning the floor exercise, vault and bars. She was second in the beam competition.

And the state relaxed its rules for participation on non-school teams this season, so Lee could miss practice at Wilde Lake in favor of Hill's Angels practices.

By finishing second, Wilde Lake qualified its entire team for the state championship next week. The top two teams and the top six finishers in each event qualified.

Other top Wildecats included talented underclassmen Jane Wettstein, Sara Irwin and Mandy Kirschner.

Wettstein finished fifth in vaulting, fourth on beam, sixth in floor exercise and fifth in all-around.

Adding a lot of excitement to Thursday's competition was Lori Jackson of Oakland Mills. She performed a balance beam routine in near-flawless fashion and won it with a 9.4 score. Lee scored a 9.25 in that event.

Jackson has been hampered for the past three years by a broken ankle that has required five operations. But that didn't stop the junior from finishing second all-around two straight seasons.

"I was disappointed with my bars, but my beam went well, and I had a good time this year," Jackson said. "All the teams got along well this year." She is a member of the Fairland Athletic Complex in Laurel.

Last year Jackson missed winning the all-around by two-tenths of a point to Terri Bradley of Howard.

In addition to winning the beam, Jackson was third in vaulting, third on bars and second in floor exercise.

Oakland Mills coach Bonnie Taylor was disappointed with her squad's overall performance and third-place finish.

"We were going for first place, but didn't do as well on the bars as we hoped," Taylor said.

Kelley Callaway tied for sixth on bars for Oakland Mills and her teammate, Shannon Knapp, finished fourth in floor exercise.

Schmid of Mount Hebron finished third in vaulting, tied-for-sixth on bars, third on beam and fifth in floor exercise.

Team standings: 1. Atholton, 131.20; 2. Wilde Lake, 125.35; 3. Oakland Mills, 124.90; 4. Mount Hebron, 104.75; 5. Howard, 95.70; 6. Glenelg, 93.10; 7. Centennial, 85.20; 8. Hammond, 44.85.

All-Around: 1. Lisa Lee, Wilde Lake, 36.15; 2. Lori Jackson, Oakland Mills, 35.75; 3. Betsy Schmid, Mount Hebron, 34.45; 4. Meredith Monroe, Atholton, 33.90; 5. Jane Wettstein, Wilde Lake, 33.05; 6. Shannon Mennell, Atholton, 33.00.

Vaulting: 1. Lisa Lee, Wilde Lake, 8.8; 2. Lori Jackson, Oakland Mills, 8.75; 3. Betsy Schmid, Mount Hebron, 8.70; 4. Meredith Monroe, Atholton, 8.50; 5. Jane Wettstein, Wilde Lake, 8.45; 6. Jen Jackson, Howard, 8.25.

Uneven Bars: 1. Lisa Lee, Wilde Lake, 8.60; 2. Shannon Mennell, Atholton, 8.25; 3. Lori Jackson, Oakland Mills, 8.20; 4. Heather Mennell, Atholton, 8.00; 5. Meredith Monroe, Atholton, 7.90; 6. (tie) Betsy Schmid, Mount Hebron, and Kelley Callaway,

Oakland Mills, 7.65.

Floor exercise: 1. Lisa Lee, Wilde Lake, 9.50; 2. Lori Jackson, Oakland Mills, 9.40; 3. Meredith Monroe, Atholton, 9.00; 4. Shannon Knapp, Oakland Mills, 9.00; 5. Betsy Schmid, Mount Hebron, 8.95; 6. Jane Wettstein, Wilde Lake, 8.90.

Balance beam: 1. Lori Jackson, Oakland Mills, 9.40; 2. Lisa Lee, Wilde Lake, 9.25; 3. Betsy Schmid, Mount Hebron, 8.9; 4. Jane Wettstein, Wilde Lake, 8.80; 5. Shannon Mennell,Atholton, 8.70;

6. Heather Mennell, Atholton, 8.55.

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