By PATRICK SLACK
A day after climbing the medal stand at state, Rachelle LeBlanc handed her mother and co-head coach Shelley LeBlanc a sheet of paper.
Things to improve on for next year.
With that attitude and work ethic guiding her, the Little Falls junior put together a third-place all-around total of 37.425 in the Class A state gymnastics meet, Feb. 23, held at the University of Minnesota’s Sports Pavilion.
Included in that were a third-place balance beam routine with a score of 9.55 and a fourth-place floor exercise routine of 9.5, along with a ninth-place finish on bars and 20th-place performance on vault.
“Rachelle competed beautifully on Saturday, we couldn’t have asked for a much better meet,” Shelley said. “We knew she had the chance to be on the podium for three of the five events, but it really depended on how she did and how well the others did.”
LeBlanc entered her third trip to state in a row fresh off a school-record all-around performance at the Section 8A meet.
So naturally, she tried to keep her routine similar.
“Going into the state competition I treated it like sections,” Rachelle said. “Sections went pretty well so I wanted to have the same mindset.”
“I tried to only think of tricks I was doing right at the moment during the state meet,” she said. “I tried not to think to much and I prayed a lot. God definitely took away my nerves and I was just so calm during all my events.”
“Being there twice before was a definite help,” she said. “I wouldn’t say it was less stressful but I knew this year how to perform on the equipment and when to catch my breath before I competed.”
LeBlanc opened on vault, opening with a score of 9.175 on her first attempt before trying a more difficult trick on her second, finishing in 20th.
“Overall, I was very happy with my routines on each event,” Rachelle said. “Vault I would have liked to go better but I can’t complain, I didn’t fall.”
After vault it was on to bars, where almost everything went right except for the final score.
“Bars was awesome, but my bar score was lower than I anticipated,” Rachelle said. “During warm-ups for bars, my bars were set wrong so I warmed up on the wrong bar settings and I landed on my back on my dismount, so that was a challenge to get over, but I shut it out of my mind.”
“She had an almost flawless routine,” Shelley said. “It was beautiful. If there was an event I thought she was scored low on, this was it. I believe she should’ve had another two tenths, but that’s the way this sport is, you take what they give you unless it’s way out of line.”
Midway through the competition, an unexpected delay was dealt to LeBlanc, as the competitor before her bled on the balance beam.
Others may have been thrown by the wait, especially on the event where a slight bobble can lead to a fall.
But after practicing her routine repeatedly leading up to the meet, LeBlanc was not to be deterred, turning in her top finish by placing third.
“Beam was a dream come true,” she said. “I had done so many beam routines earlier in the week and for once in my life I was sick of beam. I’m so happy all that practice paid off, I have never completed a beam routine like that.”
“She performed perhaps the best routine she’s ever performed in competition, only one slight bobble after her cartwheel,” Shelley said. “The rest was rock solid.”
“She throws a lot of those types of routines in practice, but to be able to do that under the pressure of state competition, well, it’s something to witness,” she said. “Both coaches just shook our heads, we were so amazed.”
LeBlanc’s final event was floor exercise, the event she had struggled on the most in her two previous state appearances.
“It was her goal to do her ‘normal’ routine, which is usually clean and entertaining,” Shelley said. “She’s had one ‘mishap’ each of the past two state meets, so she wanted a clean floor routine this time, and she had an almost flawless one. It was fun to watch.”
“Floor was very fun this year,” Rachelle said. “My goal was to not have any major mistakes like the years before and I succeeded. My passes were great that day.”
LeBlanc ended in fourth place on floor, leaving her to wait for the top-six all-around placers to be announced.
Unlike fans keeping track in the stands, LeBlanc prefers to remain in the dark as to her scores during competition.
So after she wasn’t announced as receiving sixth or fifth place in the all-around, she assumed she wasn’t going to medal.
“Once they called sixth and fifth for all-around, I ‘knew’ I didn’t place,” Rachelle said. “But when they called fourth, I saw my mom make a bee line for the podium and I knew I placed and they called my name for third.”
“I was just so surprised and happy,” she said. “I did my job that day and it paid off greatly. Being in the top three this year only makes me want to train harder and become better for next year.”
LeBlanc also honored with spot on all-state elite team
Before the state competition began, LeBlanc was already assured of bringing home some hardware.
At the state banquet, Feb. 21, she was honored with one of only five spots on the Class A all-state elite team, selected by averaging the top-six all-around scores throughout the season.
“It is a huge award,” Shelley said. “There are so few that attain it. The ability to hit 4-for-4 routines meet after meet is so difficult. Injury and illness also make it all the more difficult to keep the scores up.”
“One of her best meets of the year was at Alexandria,” she said. “She had an awful cold and headache but wouldn’t step out of competing. Three weeks of bronchitis followed and with inhaler in hand, she managed to get through her floor routines, but had an awful time breathing. Most kids would call in sick.”
The last Flyers gymnast to receive the honor before LeBlanc was Danielle Atkinson in 2005.
“A few coaches and judges have commented on how consistent and dependable she is and has asked how she does it,” Shelley said. “I tell them that one, God made her that way, two, she has a gift of tremendous drive and determination and three, she drives herself to do many more routines than most, and she does them almost exactly the same every time in order for her muscle memory to kick in.”
“Rachelle is driven,” Little Falls co-head coach Kent Gomez said. “In my 32 years of coaching gymnastics, I have only had one other gymnast that focused and determined. She is a wonderful young lady and a true pleasure to coach.”
LeBlanc state individual placings and scores
Vault—20th, 9.175. Bars—Ninth, 9.2. Beam—Third, 9.55 Floor—Fourth, 9.5 All-around—Third, 37.425.