Tumbling together: Trio of Sequim athletes find solidarity, success in cross-peninsula gymnastics squad

That cross-peninsula rivalry doesn’t apply here. In Sequim purple or Port Angeles green, they are enduring the twists and turns of the prep gymnastics season together.

Because Sequim High doesn’t offer gymnastics, Sequim youths — this year, a trio, including a junior, sophomore and freshman — are allowed to compete alongside student-athletes with the Port Angeles High team.

“There’s a lot of team bonding,” says Sequim’s Elizabeth Sweet, a junior. “We challenge each other but I don’t feel like we’re two different teams.”

On the contrary, the combined squad of Olympic Peninsula athletes practice and compete as one over the three-month-long season — until sub-districts, districts and state, however, when the Wolves represent their home district.

Last season, Sweet and Lesea Pfeffer, now a sophomore, earned berths in the state 2A/3A meet in the floor exercise.

This year they are joined by freshman Emma Sharp, who comes into her first high school season with eight years of youth gymnastics experience.

“I did soccer for two years when I was little. (While) everyone else was playing, I was doing cartwheels and not paying attention,” Sharp recalls.

But by second grade, Sharp says she was following in her mom’s footsteps and getting into gymnastics. She’s been involved since.

“I like having something to do and it teaches how to work through things,” Sharp says.

Sweet was also involved in soccer but found gymnastics to be a bit more interesting.

“Soccer was more about conditioning and running form,” Sweet says. “Gymnastics is much more versatile. I liked that.”

Pfeffer says she was encouraged by her mother to get involved in some sort of activity after the family moved to Sequim from Alaska when she was 7, so she joined up with Aspire Academy of Expressive Arts. Pfeffer found she didn’t take to the dancing activities, but did enjoy the acrobatics.

“I like learning new skills, flipping through the air,” she says.

Pfeffer and her Sequim teammates found that in Port Angeles, where they join about 15 Roughriders in meets featuring four event disciplines: balance beam, bars, vault and floor exercise.

All three Sequim athletes list the floor exercise as among their favorites.

Excelling in the gym

While the three Sequim youths each have their own strengths, they each have the make-up to be successful at high school gymnastics, says Port Angeles coach Jackie Mangano.

“My Sequim girls are some of the hardest working (athletes) as well as being good students,” she says at a recent practice.

Sweet is very focused and serious, Mangano says. “She wants to, and has, improved so much.”

The Sequim junior who placed 65th in the floor exercise at last year’s state finals says the discipline and skills she uses in gymnastics has certainly helped with her spring sport of track and field — specifically, pole vault — and vice-versa.

One of her goals this winter is to stay injury-free so she can reach new heights in the pole vault; she placed ninth at the state 2A meet as a freshman and won the sub-district title last spring before injuries ended her season.

“I’ve had issues with shin splints before,” Sweet says.

Mangano says Pfeffer’s strength is exactly that: raw strength.

“She’s capable of anything,” the Port Angeles coach notes.

Pfeffer says she simply hopes to do better this season than last year, when she placed 80th in the floor at state.

“I did not think I would make it (to state last year).” And this year? “I have better skills.”

And then there’s Sharp, who despite her relative youth has more experience in the sport than her Sequim teammates.

“She’s extremely graceful,” Mangano says of Sharp. “She’s probably the best (of them) all around, at this point.”

That showed at a meet on Jan. 10 against North Kitsap, when Sharp edged Port Angeles’ Cassidy Tamburro for most all-around points. On Jan. 15, she placed fourth in individual scoring in a four-team meet that saw PA teammate Cassii Middlestead take second.

Sharp says she has plenty to learn.

“I always struggle with flipping backwards: back handsprings and back tucks,” she says.

While the Roughriders will look to come close or improve upon their strong finish to the 2016-2017 season — they placed sixth at state as a team — Sequim’s trio will be on their own for postseason meets.

Mangano expects Pfeffer and Sweet have a good shot at state berths in the floor and beam, and possibly more event.

Sharp, however, will miss a chance at state, as she will join her family this week on a church mission trip to the Philippines.

“I would love to go to state, but I’ve got three years beyond this season,” Sharp says.

And anyway, the mission — an annual trip for her family (her father is pastor at Fairview) — is important to her.

“It gives you a super perspective each time you go,” Sharp says.

Mangano says she can see room for even more Sequim athletes on the cross-district gymnastics team in 2018-2019, as this year’s team has nine seniors.

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