The Highland Park High School gymnastics team got a good taste of the postseason when it went to state for the first time ever in 2020. This winter, the Scots are hoping for a repeat performance as the section meet approaches.

Highland was tied for first in the Saint Paul City Conference with a 3-1 record after battling Central/Como twice in the span of a week. The Scots won the first contest on January 25, with Highland junior Nuria Rodriguez-Foster and Central/Como’s Szofia England tying in the all-around with 31.65 points.

Central/Como then topped Highland during the Best of the Twin Cities meet on February 1 in Minneapolis. Rodriguez-Foster was out sick in that contest and the Scots had to bring up two JV members to compete. Highland senior Kylie Peterson took the all-around for Saint Paul teams with a 31.5.

The Scots were dealing with a few other injury problems, including freshman Ellie Pavlis with a knee issue, but coach Kathy Balzart-Price likes her club’s talent base and work ethic. This, she said, bodes well as her team heads into the Conference Meet on February 10.

“We all support each other. We all pat each other on the back,” Balzart-Price said. “We all rally around each other. Each one of our girls has a goal going into every meet.”

“We all support each other. We all pat each other on the back,” Balzart-Price said. “We all rally around each other. Each one of our girls has a goal going into every meet.”

Making it look easy

Highland’s lineup is paced by Rodriguez-Foster, the team’s top all-around gymnast. She started out the season by claiming the all-around title with a score of 31.2 to help Highland win the conference preview on December 2. That included placing first on floor with an 8.2 and on bars with a 7.6. She also won the all-around with a 30.7 in a dual-meet victory over Johnson on December 7.

Rodriguez-Foster counts bars as her best event, and her coach agrees. “She makes it look so easy,” Balzart-Price said. She added that Rodriguez-Foster is “shooting for an 8” in upcoming bar competitions, which she thinks is highly doable. “It’s all about timing and momentum,” the coach said.

Peterson provides good support for Rodriguez-Foster with her excellent balance beam work. She usually scores between 8.5-8.7 in this event. Sophomore Thea Berg provides strength on the bars, while Pavlis provides good backup in the all-around, habitually scoring in the 30s there. Senior Emily Rademacher also provides strength on the beam and floor exercise.

Freshman Claudia Rodriguez-Foster (Nuria’s sister) adds depth on the bars. Balzart-Price likes the way the two sisters support each other and especially enjoys watching Claudia’s continued growth. “She could be as good as her sister in a few years,” the coach said.

Postseason approaches

The City Conference Meet is scheduled for February 10 at Highland, with the Section 4A meet on February 18 at Roseville followed by the state meet on February 24-25 at Roy Wilkins Auditorium.

Balzart-Price said a return trip to state would be most welcome, since the one in 2020 took place when COVID was exerting its grip and the gymnasts had to spend so much time apart.

“There’s been a lot of team building since those times,” she said.

The coach knows how much of a positive it would be for Highland to get back to state. She also is thankful that her squad routinely draws 15-25 gymnasts for its varsity program. Balzart-Price said there appears to be little possibility that Highland will merge with any other prep programs, as has happened with Central and Como Park.

“If a team is struggling and only has two or three players, it (becoming a co-op) makes sense,” she said, “but our varsity gets good numbers.”

— Bill Wagner


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