The who, what, when and where of sports are easy to discover by glancing at box scores, rosters and schedules. Why an athlete is drawn to her sport, why she excels can be less obvious.
But Olympia High School’s junior all-around gymnast Makayla Waggoner can articulate the reason she loves her signature event, the vault.
“I feel like I’m flying,” she said after her 9.7 vault lifted her to second in the all-around at the West Central District qualifying meet to help the Bears advance as a team to the Class 4A state gymnastics championships Friday and Saturday at the Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall. “I’m more of a powerful gymnast than one who relies on finesse.”
Yet, when Waggoner nailed a double pike to help her record a 9.5 in floor exercise at the qualifying meet, another “why” was revealed.
“Floor is an event where you can really let loose and involve the crowd and the people surrounding you,” she said.
Her coach Brandi Embrey sees both sides of Waggoner.
“She is very graceful,” Embrey said. “She says she’s not, but she’s a crowd pleaser.”
A few years ago, there was no guarantee gymnastics fans would have a chance to appreciate Waggoner’s talents. Burned out on club gymnastics as a child, she returned to the sport in high school after watching a friend compete.
“The meets seemed a lot more fun in high school than club,” she said. “Plus, gymnastics is the only sport I’ve ever really excelled in.”
Her first two high school seasons weren’t blessed with perfect health. A back injury limited her as a freshman and last January, with the postseason looming, Waggoner was forced to undergo an appendectomy.
Her return appeared seamless as she claimed the vault championship at the district meet and moved on to state where she finished seventh in the vault and 27th in the all-around, but Waggoner has noticed a difference.
“This year there hasn’t been anything to take me out of practice,” she said.
Her coach sees that as a plus for all the Bears, who are headed to state as a team for the first time since 1998.
“We like having her around,” Embrey said. “She’s a goofball. She keeps a lot of positivity in the team. They goof around but know when it’s time to get serious.”
A new sense of seriousness has also come over Waggoner as she plans her future in the sport. Olympia practices at Black Hills Gymnastics’ facility and early in her time as a member of the Bears, Waggoner was rediscovered by the club world.
She now competes at Level 10 of USA Gymnastics Junior Olympics Program, the highest level.
“The coaches at Black Hills believe I have a lot of potential,” Waggoner said. Her club coaches, school coaches and parents Chad and Rebecca Waggoner are supporting her bid for a college scholarship.
“It’s great to see how involved her parents are,” Embrey said. “She’s definitely got big goals.”
Gymnastics State Championships
Where: Exhibition Hall in the Tacoma Dome.
Friday: Class 3A/2A/1A individual rotations are 8:30 a.m.-12:10 p.m., and team rotations are 12:45-4:25 p.m. Class 4A individual and team rotations are 5:50 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
Saturday: All-classification event finals are 11:20 a.m.-2:15 p.m.
2015 team champions
2015 returning individual winners
4A: Anna Olsen, Skyline (beam).
3A/2A/1A: Elena Fowler, Holy Names Academy (vault).
Class 4A: Can any challenger derail Woodinville’s high-flying act? It would be a long shot for the two-time defending champions from the KingCo to go down this weekend, especially after the scores the Falcons have been putting up. In their past four state title-winning trips, they have eclipsed the 180-point barrier, including a state-record 184.225 points last season. And in this postseason, they tallied 186.825 at the KingCo championships, and backed that up with a 185.325 in the District 2/4 meet last weekend. Marisa Savage, Paige Hirata and Alli McManus are all state all-around contenders and likely top-five locks. … The West Central District should be well-represented with Puyallup’s Kate Jacobsen (beam), Mount Rainier’s Naleia Gomes (floor) and Olympia’s Makayla Waggoner (vault). All enter state as district champions.
3A/2A/1A: Since 2011, only two-time defending champion Kamiakin (also won in 2011) or Enumclaw (2012-13) have won the team championship. The Braves still come in as the favorites to repeat after claiming their fourth consecutive regional title last week in Spokane — and certainly have the depth to win again with Saige Polanik (regional runner-up) in all-around, Abby Winstead (vault) and Piper Polanik (uneven bars). Metro League and SeaKing District winner Holy Names Academy might be Kamiakin’s biggest threat, especially with Fowler as an all-around threat. With back-to-back weekends with scores of 9.75, she is the heavy favorite to defend her vault crown. … Auburn Mountainview’s Kayla Porter came so close to upending Sammamish’s Nykaela Dodson for the state all-around title last season. Porter comes in with the highest score (38.275) from any of the regional meets. … Ninth grader Makayla Hui is vying to become the first Southridge all-around champion since Kiya Bjorge (2012). Hui won the regional all-around crown (36.95) in Spokane.
Single day: $16 for adults, $11 for students/senior citizens. All-tournament: $24 for adults, $17 for students and senior citizens.
Todd Milles: firstname.lastname@example.org