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Originally published Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 8:02 PM

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Five Things to Watch in gymnastics this season

Two teams each from the talent-rich KingCo and SPSL leagues could advance to the 4A state meet for the first time.

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1 Only two state-qualifying meets for 4A schools. The talent-rich KingCo and SPSL leagues now might be able to advance two teams each to state.

In the past, three meets determined the four state-meet team qualifiers — District 2 (KingCo schools), District 3 (SPSL) and a "regional" for Spokane, Tri-Cities and Vancouver schools (Districts 4, 5 and 8). Based on a two-year rotation, either the KingCo or SPSL meet would get two state berths, the other league just one.

But Richland in the Tri-Cities has dropped the sport, and Rogers in Spokane reclassified as 3A. So, for 2013, the WIAA has assigned 4A schools to two districts: KingCo and Vancouver-area schools in one, SPSL and Greater Spokane League teams in the other. The top two teams in each meet advance to state, meaning two KingCo 4A and two SPSL 4A teams could both advance to the same state meet for the first time.

Historically, Puget Sound 4A schools rule at state. A KingCo team has won the state title eight of the past 10 years. Last season, three SPSL schools posted lofty district scores of 175 or more points in a battle for one state berth.

Yet, Mead of Spokane surprised the field last season by becoming the first team east of the mountains to win a 4A state crown. But with 170-plus scores traditionally scarce in the east, Mead coach Laurie Chadwick concedes a rougher postseason road lies ahead.

"To have team representation at the state meet from outside of the Tacoma-Seattle area will be a much more difficult task," she said.

Why not add more 4A teams? Rotation overload. Because more 3A/2A schools sponsor gymnastics, eight 3A/2A teams are invited to state. With 12 teams and dozens of individual qualifiers, the one-day state team competition is already a 14-hour event. Somebody, it seems, has to be left out, and the WIAA has chosen 4A bubble teams.

The downside: Talent-rich 4A schools are denied trips to state. Example: Only one of eight 3A/2A schools at state last year scored above 168. Meanwhile, 4A Jefferson placed second at its district meet with 176.275 points but could not advance to state because its district was allotted just one berth to state.

2 Woodinville, Emerald Ridge look strong in 4A. Woodinville, a four-time state champ (2007-10) and Emerald Ridge of Puyallup have posted scores of 171 this season.

Woodinville coach Kim Smotherson, expecting her first child on New Year's Eve, has a deep squad paced by senior Madison Engel (10th in all-around at state last year, fifth on bars) and sophomore Emily Paratore (second on beam).

Emerald Ridge coach Bobbi Jones anchors her squad with seniors Elizabeth Clemens (2011 state beam champ; third last year) and CaroLyne Schmidt (fourth on vault last year).

"Keep an eye on us," Jones said.

3 Can anyone catch Enumclaw in 3A? Bainbridge, the third-place 3A state finisher, returns its top scorer, sophomore Sarah Rice (ninth in state 3A all-around). Mount Si, fifth at state last year, is led by Jenn Rogers (fifth on floor and seventh on beam at state). Highline has senior Kristen Rodal (defending state beam champ, second on floor, eighth in all-around) and adds Mia Alvarez (eighth in all-around in 2011) after she devoted last year to club gymnastics.

4 A gymnastics/ wrestling combo plate. Roosevelt will host Woodinville on Jan. 25 in the state's first gymnastics/wrestling combo dual meet. Roosevelt coach Bettie Kibala says the schools are dubbing it the "Beauty and the Beast" meet.

5 Gymnastics coaches: Built to last. Debbie Hunter stepped down at Jefferson this season after 37 years of coaching, but a few others have serious tenure.

Colleen Davis is in her 34th season at Nathan Hale. Cindy Guy (Bainbridge) and Mitch Craig (Bothell) are in their 33rd seasons, and Lenny Lewis is in his 25th at Mercer Island.

The dean, though, is Jerry Penney of Sammamish, in his 43rd season. He coached Guy at Sammamish (1972-75).

Penney says he's doing his best to keep pace with young talent on his team, such as Nkaela Dodson, a level-10 club performer.

"Nowadays they have to give me a head start when I spot tumbling," he joked.

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