By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
While last year’s MHSAA Gymnastics Team Final featured a group of veteran contenders rising as expected to the top, Friday’s season finale could be one of the most wide-open in some time.
Two-time reigning champion Rockford has surged again with a mix of old and new contributors, and looks like a favorite once more. So too does 2014 champion Canton, and Farmington has an opportunity to win in a way that definitely is rare; more on that below. Brighton and Forest Hills are among contenders seeking to win an MHSAA title for the first time.
Individually, there are guaranteed to be new champions both in Division 1 and 2 – but with some high placers from the last few seasons hoping to top the podium.
Team competition begins at 2 p.m. Friday at Plymouth, with the final rotation scheduled for 6:40 p.m. Individual competition in both Divisions 1 and 2 begins at noon Saturday.
Read on for a glance at a number of contenders with high hopes this weekend, and click for rotation schedules for both days of competition.
Brighton – The Bulldogs have finished seventh, eighth and 10th over the last three seasons, respectively, but have a great chance to contend Friday coming off a Regional title won with the third highest score in the state last weekend, 144.600. Seniors Courtney Casper and Hannah Bracken took first and second in the Division 1 all-around at the Regional, and four gymnastics earned all-around places in Division 2.
Canton – The Chiefs finished fifth last season after five years coming in either first or second, but they’re poised to return to contention coming off a Regional win (143.425) and runner-up finish earlier at their prestigious Canton Invitational. Junior Victoria Faber was the individual Division 1 champion at the Regional, while teammates Kelsea Kernosek and Jana Hilditch took fifth and seventh, respectively, and Katie Dickson was 11th. Rachel Socha was third in the Division 2 all-around. Hilditch, Dickson and Kernosek placed among the top 15 in Division 1 at last season’s Individual Finals.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills United – Forest Hills earned its first top-two finish ever last season, coming in runner-up and 1.25 points behind Rockford/Sparta. Forest Hills finished behind Rockford by 3.425 at last week’s Regional but posted a score of 144.375. Senior Christine Byam was Division 1 individual runner-up last weekend – she took sixth at last season’s Finals.
Farmington – After moving up from fifth in 2015 to third last winter, Farmington might be the favorite with the second-highest Regional score last week (146.225) plus first places earlier at the Canton Invitational and Rockford Invitational. A championship would truly be impressive – Farmington has a stellar group of Division 2 gymnasts, including three who have qualified for the Individual Finals all-around, but none competing in Division 1. Junior Elisa Bills and senior Jacquelyn Farquhar were second and third, respectively, in Division 2 at last season’s Finals.
Rockford – The Rams graduated two of the state’s best of the last few seasons last spring coming of their second straight team championship. But they’re right back in the mix after scoring a state-high 147.800 to win their Regional last week. Seniors Nicole Coughlin, Carly Coughlin and Kaitie Killinger all contributed at last year’s Team Final and took first, third and fifth, respectively, in Division 1 at last week’s Regional as the Rams also took three of the top four all-around places in Division 2. They were third at the Canton Invitational and second at their own, but won the Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills Invitational.
Hannah Bracken, Brighton senior – She finished second to teammate Casper at their Regional with an all-around 35.800 and was top four on every apparatus. She finished 20th all-around in Division 1 at last season’s Finals but took second on vault (9.675).
Christine Byam, Forest Hills United senior – After finishing sixth all-around at last season’s Finals, Byam could make a run at the top spot after finishing second but only a tenth of a point out of first at her Regional with a 37.300.
Emily Caragay, Plymouth junior – She set her school’s all-around record earlier this season of 37.250 and was second at her Regional last weekend with a 36.575.
Courtney Casper, Brighton senior – She’s won Kensington Lakes Activities Association and Regional championships ahead of some of the others on this list, last week earning her championship with a score of 37.375 and first places in three of four events.
Carly Coughlin, Rockford senior – Although she did not contend for the all-around at last season’s Finals, she was sixth on floor and tied for 11th on beam, and she should be in the all-around mix this time after posting a 36.775 to finish third all-around at her Regional.
Nicole Coughlin, Rockford senior – She’s finished fifth and third all-around, respectively, over the last two seasons and should make one last run at the title. Coughlin edged Byam to win their Regional with a 37.400, and she’s also the reigning Division 1 Finals champion on beam.
Victoria Faber, Canton junior – Faber won a strong Regional by 25 hundredths of a point over Caragay, with a score of 36.600 and a first place on bars. She also won bars at her team’s Canton Invitational.
Kaitie Killinger, Rockford senior – Killinger was in the team mix last season, competing on two apparatuses as her team won the title, but she could make an impact in Saturday’s individual competition after posting a fourth-place 36.675 at her Regional.
Erin McCallum, Northville junior – McCallum won vault and finished third all-around (36.200) behind Faber and Caragay at their Regional, and she should take a big jump this weekend after tying for 17th all-around a year ago.
Isabelle Nguyen, Grosse Pointe United senior – Nguyen added a Regional title (37.400) to her Canton Invitational win earlier this season, and she’s arguably the favorite in Division 1 after finishing fifth, second and second all-around, respectively, at the Finals the last three seasons.
Brianne Smith, Port Huron sophomore – Smith finished second to Nguyen at their Regional for the second year in a row, this time posting a 36.550. She placed 12th at last season’s Finals, tying for second on beam, and could climb this weekend.
Karmen Anderson, Lowell senior – After competing at the Finals in vault and bars as a junior, Anderson is contending for a top all-around finish in her final high school meet. She won beam on the way to the all-around title at her Regional (35.650).
Elisa Bills, Farmington junior – Bills finished seventh in Division 2 as a freshman and second last season only three tenths of a point off the lead. She won last week’s Regional (37.375) with firsts on floor, vault and bars.
Jacquelyn Farquhar, Farmington senior – Like her teammate Bills, Farquhar has continued to climb from ninth in 2015 to third last winter, and she finished second to Bills at the Regional (36.900) while winning beam.
Afton LaFrance, Grand Ledge senior – After finishing fourth on floor at last season’s Finals, LaFrance looks to contend all-around coming off a Regional title (36.100) and a floor win last week.
Kennedi Seals, Farmington senior – Seals finished third of four teammates and third overall all-around at their Regional (35.850) and should be in the mix with them again.
Alyssa Walker, Howell senior – Walker has finished fourth all-around two seasons in a row and will try to finish strong again after taking second all-around at her Regional (35.750) but with a win on beam – which she also won at the Finals last season.
Jessica Weak, Livonia Blue senior – Weak jumped from 18th as a sophomore to tie for fifth last season, her second top-eight finish at the Finals, and she’s in contention to end her career number one. She won her Regional (35.650) and is the reigning Finals bars champion.
PHOTO: Rockford is shooting for its third straight MHSAA team championship, led by sisters Carly and Nicole Coughlin.