Arthur McIlravy didn’t have much in the way of gymnastics experience when he stepped in as head coach for Wall/Kadoka Area/Philip last fall.
“I’d seen it on TV once in a while,” the former basketball and wrestling coach deadpanned before adding with a laugh: “Other than that, none.”
McIlravy, whose brother Lincoln won five state wrestling titles at Philip before taking home bronze in freestyle wrestling at the 2000 Summer Olympics, became involved in gymnastics when his daughter, Anna Belle, decided to switch from basketball to gymnastics as an 8th grader.
With the three schools already in a co-op for wrestling, McIlravy inquired about having Philip join Wall and Kadoka Area for gymnastics, as well. The partnership was approved and Anna Belle began competing for the newly-minted Wall/Kadoka Area/Philip gymnastics team as an eighth grader.
The extent of McIlravey’s involvement that first season was just driving his daughter to practice and events. A year later, he was tabbed to join the staff as an assistant coach.
As McIlravey puts it, Heidi Coller did most of the coaching those two seasons, but when she retired last year and the search for her replacement came up empty, Wall superintendent Cooper Garnos reached out to McIlravy.
“He said if we don’t have a coach, we won’t have a program,” McIlravy recalled. “So I drove to Wall that day and signed a contract.”
It was a unique set of circumstances that led to the Eagles landing their new gymnastics coach, but they have found success in his rookie season.
Last week, Wall/Kadoka/Philip qualified – as a team – for the state meet, posting a score of 118.575, 0.15 points ahead of Sisseton for the ninth and final team berth.
“I didn’t expect to qualify for state as a team,” McIlravy admitted. “I didn’t know what to expect from the girls and from me and from the other coach (Sorrel Muscat), and then we also have a very, very, very young team.”
With no club teams in the area and the nearest practice facilities located in Rapid City, high school gymnastics has been the first taste of the sport for most of McIlravy’s gymnasts. Since their first forays into gymnastics have been limited to the high-school season, their experience is gauged in four-month increments, rather than years.
Sophomore Karlie Dartt, whose 9.350 on vault at last Saturday’s state qualifier was not only a school record, but also tops in Class A, has only been competing for four months, according to her coach.
Their most experienced competitor, freshman Abby Moon, started in gymnastics as a youngster, but stepped away to play basketball before returning as a seventh grader.
As for nerves, the first-year coach admitted he’ll be a little nervous – as he has been ahead of almost every meet, game and match he’s ever coached – but he is not overly concerned about his team’s composure.
“I’m hoping they don’t walk in there and become intimidated,” he said. “But they’ve beat people they weren’t supposed to beat this year and they’ve beaten teams they weren’t supposed to beat.”
Madison looks to continue dominance
New year, new location, same team to beat heading into the Class A state meet.
In search of its fourth consecutive title and 20th since 1995, Madison enters this year’s season finale ranked No. 1 after earning a total score of 140.700 at last week’s qualifier.
“There’s always pressure, but I think that’s what keeps you motivated,” coach Maridee Dossett said. “Every time they compete, they look back at what they’ve done and find ways that they can increase their difficulty or skills with less execution error. They’re definitely a group of girls that push each other and push themselves.”
Leading the way for Madison is junior Jenni Giles, who cleaned house last year to push her individual title count to 10. Another sweep of this year’s five events would put Giles within reach of Sam Wiekamp’s state record of 19 individual titles (Deuel, 2008-13).
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Madison’s Giles the class of ‘A’
“She is a perfectionist,” Dossett said of Giles. “That definitely works in her favor in gymnastics. She just does everything very clean and is a good, self-motivated athlete.”
In the all around, freshman Morgan Hansen and junior Shania Schwebach have been steadily improving this year, but have been more consistent as of late, according to Dossett, who’s looking to the pair to help lead the team in all around.
“We really just fill in the gaps with the rest of our competitors just competing in an event or two,” Dossett said. “The girls we have competing have been a steady four, five and six for us all year.”
Hot Springs takes aim at getting back on the podium
For the first time in a few years, Hot Springs qualified for the state meet as a team.
After becoming something of a fixture on the podium at the state meet, coach Dana Nachtigall’s team has gone through a rebuilding phase as they work to bring the younger girls up to speed.
“It’s kind of tradition, the older girls who have graduated are still very involved with our program,” she said. “I think that that helps feed into the younger girls just how important it is to get to the state meet as a team. This year they’ve really risen to the occasion.”
The team’s four juniors – Shelby Roda, Sara Wilde, Josie Haden and Diamond Miller – are looked to for leadership, but it’s sophomore Tierra Schroeder who has been the team’s leading scorer through much of the season.
“We have these little ones who are working their fannies off and they’re pushing the older ones,” Nachtigall explained. “It’s a fun little team where they’re all pushing each other and have that friendly competition amongst themselves, but still stay focused on the whole team aspect of it and what their part in that is.”
Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen.