GRAND LEDGE – Duane Haring came into this gymnastics season with both uncertainty and excitement.
The 13-year coach had a roster of three juniors, five sophomores and one freshman looking to maintain the dominance Grand Ledge’s gymnastics program has sustained for nearly the past decade.
The Comets fell short of a state title, but to the surprise of many — including Haring — finished third at the state finals.
“When we took third place — walking in with this young of a team — to me, that was like winning a state championship,” said Haring, the Lansing State Journal coach of the year. “Just to watch how they developed throughout the year … When we took third I had tears in my eyes. I couldn’t believe this young team made a state meet.”
The Comets almost missed the finals.
After finishing fourth in their regional — top three teams advance — they earned the wild card position. The wild card goes to the fourth-place regional team that has the highest all-around score in Division 1.
Tears of distress quickly turned into tears of joy.
“When we heard we got the wild card, it was like they were reborn. It was like we had a second life,” Haring said. “I told them ‘let’s make it worth it.’ And they did.”
Haring knew to get the most out of this group he would have to assert more discipline than in years past.
He believed the talent was always there to make a serious state title run, but it was a matter of making them believe it.
“I thought we had a team that could score a 144.8. We never hit that — we hit 143-something,” said Haring, whose team went undefeated in the CAAC. “I was just waiting for them to step up to the plate.”
After struggling on the balance beam for most of the year, the Comets fixed their troubles at the most critical time of the season. And it was a big factor in their third-place finish.
“Some of our beam skills weren’t as high as they should have been,” he said. “I changed things a week before states — if they fell on beam they had a penalty they had to pay.
“It worked out because all five beam gymnasts stayed on (at states). It was the first time all year. I was so proud of these young ladies.”