When Melissa Baker walked into her first practice after taking over as Newport’s gymnastics coach, she had no idea what to expect.
She didn’t know if she was looking at one of the worst teams in the league or the best.
Turns out she was looking at the best team in the state.
Newport rallied from an early deficit to win its 11th state gymnastics championship with a 174.0 point performance at the Class 4A state meet on Friday at the Tacoma Dome, beating out Todd Beamer of Federal Way, which scored 173.45.
“That first day, first practice, I didn’t see it; I had no idea,” said Baker, who took over from former coach and alum Farrah Griffin this season after moving from her native Minnesota. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be coaching the best team in the state. I was shocked. What a season.”
The Knights trailed by eight points after their first two rotations – the bars and the beam. Baker said the team wasn’t that worried, because of their strength in the floor and the vault.
“To be honest with you, we never keep track [of the score],” Baker said. “I will say that those are always our lowest-scoring events. It was kind of a rough start to the meet.”
But Newport, paced by eventual all-around champion Kristine Wong, stormed back. Wong, a junior, overcame a early fall on the bars to score a 9.45 on the beam (the highest score of the meet) before posting a 9.75 on the floor, which was also the highest score on the day.
Wong’s 9.35 mark on the vault propelled her past then-leader Sami Jo Martin of Union, who fell twice on the beam, for the all-around title. Wong’s 37.3 bested second place finisher Cadie Pratt of Mead’s mark of 36.825.
“Because [Wong] fell on the bars, she had to be extra good on the other events,” Baker said. “But I wasn’t surprised because Kristine is always giving 110 percent. She’s the best girl I’ve ever coached, and not because of her ability but because of her mentality.”
The other two-thirds of Newport’s “triple threat”, freshman Candace Ho and junior Malie Fujii, also scored well for the Knights. Ho scored a 36.6 to take fourth in the all-around, while Fujii tied for 11th.
The Newport gymnasts continued to find success on Saturday in the individual competition. Wong placed second on the floor and fourth on the beam, while Ho placed third on the bars with a 9.35 and tied for fourth on the floor routine. Fujii finished third on the beam with a 9.325.
The state title is the school’s first since moving up to Class 4A in the 2008-2009 school year. Baker credits her team’s hard work throughout the season, as well as the busload of supporters who made their way to the Tacoma Dome, for the win.
The Knights should be in a good position next season, as Wong, Ho and Fujii all return to the squad.
“The other teams are coming after us, so we’re going to have to go harder next year,” Baker said. “This year was just survival mode. Now that I have the coaching thing figured out, we can up the ante.”
NOTES: Bellevue’s Jackie Hamilton tied for second on the beam (9.4) and placed third in the bars (8.9) in the 3A/2A individual gymnastics meet on Saturday…Sammamish High School coach Jerry Penney was recognized as the Class 3A/2A Coach of the Year during the post-meet award ceremony.