For the longest time, the four seniors on the Manitowoc Lincoln gymnastics team thought tonight would never arrive.
But after years of seeing teammates come and go, it’s finally Senior Night for Alyssa Krajnik, Randi Levendusky, Kera Nett and Morgan Stokes as the Ships host the Oshkosh North/West/Lourdes co-op at 6:30 p.m.
“Being on the team for so long, I never really thought this night would come,” said Levendusky. “It is going to be a sad night. We will be happy but sad too. It will be bittersweet.”
Stokes echoed that sentiment.
“I think (tonight) is going to be a shock to us because, being in the sport for so long, it doesn’t really hit you until someone points out to you that it’s almost done,” Stokes said.
Undoubtedly the foursome has changed over their three years together. Lincoln’s 17-year gymnastics coach Jacque Bartow still remembers how timid and shy they were, as Stokes and Krajnik joined as freshmen and Levendusky and Nett as sophomores. Bartow notes Stokes hardly said a word early on and that Nett has morphed into the group’s tension-breaker.
“They are like daughters to me,” Bartow said. “I am so full of pride and so excited by how far they have come, not even ability wise, but maturity wise and how they have grown into young ladies. I take pride in watching them grow as people, not just gymnasts.”
“I think we have all grown a lot, not just as gymnasts, but as people,” Nett added. “We have all matured a lot.”
Part of the maturation process was becoming the face of Lincoln gymnastics early on in their careers. After four Ships graduated in May 2010, Megan Bertsche became the team’s only senior for the 2010-2011 season. This put the spotlight on the four, who relished the opportunity and met the challenge head on.
They helped out pre-high school gymnasts at camps and meets held at the Manitowoc-Two Rivers YMCA. They never batted an eye when asked to help set up and break down equipment — which typically takes an hour and a half Bartow said. They never complained when required to attend 7 a.m. practices on Saturdays.
“They just, every year, come out and show they have the tenacity to keep going in such a difficult sport where so many kids get burnt out,” Bartow said. “They are such great role models for little girls. I look at them and think, if I didn’t have them, I don’t know that I would have younger people who would want to come and be on the high school team.”
But for the girls, the pleasure has been all theirs.
“That’s a huge honor to me (to be considered the face of Lincoln gymnastics),” said Krajnik, the team’s captain as voted by her teammates who has been coached by Bartow since sixth grade. “I want to do anything to help this team get better. A lot of emotions will be running through my head (on Senior Night). Knowing this has been my last season, being able to compete with the best team I have ever known has been amazing to me.”
The hard work and dedication has paid off for the Ships, who are experiencing their best season since the girls came together. In their sophomore and junior years Bartow said the team typically scored in the range of 129 to the lower 130s. But now Lincoln has broken the 131-mark four times and is 4-1 in dual meets.
“I think we’ve all had our ups and downs as a team and individually but overall I think this year we are really jelling as a team and we get along and we all love each other like sisters and teammates,” Nett said.
“I think the things we have done on this team, as a team and not just as seniors, are huge,” Levendusky said.
But Senior Night doesn’t mark the end of season for the Ships. They will be at the Whitefish Bay Invite on Saturday and then host the Eastern Valley Conference Meet on Feb. 16 and sectionals on Feb. 23. The State Meet is March 1 in Wisconsin Rapids.
“I have goals I want them to hit, but if we don’t come out winners I am not going to be disappointed,” Bartow said. “I want my girls to be able to compete and be competitive.”
When the season is over, Lincoln will be left with one senior — junior Danielle Carle.
“Whenever you lose four seniors that creates a really big hole, but it also creates neat opportunities for kids,” Bartow said. “The four seniors graduating will give (Carle) an opportunity to become the leader I know she can be.”
Carle said that over the years she has learned a lot from the seniors. She added that support from her underclassmen next season will help her in a role that previously has been foreign to her.
“I am kind of nervous (for next season), but I know I will have support. (Sophomore) Sloan Tackett will be helping me out a lot,” Carle said. “I’ve been with (the seniors) for three years. We have all become more close, not only as a team, but as a family. It will be heartbreaking to see them go.”
Joining Carle and Tackett in competitions will be freshmen Alyssa DeZeeuw, Samantha Hacker, Jasmine Klein and Cassidy Mrotek. The freshman have earned rave reviews from Bartow. Levendusky said she sees them as being untouchable as seniors. Nett said the places they could take the team are endless.
“I see potential with them next year. We were strong this year, but with their potential, they could get even stronger than we are now,” Stokes said of the underclassmen. “We have some very good freshman. They have no idea how much potential they have yet. It has yet to be discovered, but it’s there.”
But for now, the team, Bartow and the four seniors are just focused on getting through Senior Night and competing the way they know how.
“I am hoping (the four seniors) look back on this as something to be proud of and that they are proud of their accomplishments,” Bartow said. “I always go back to the idea that they aren’t just gymnasts, but that they are great people.”