by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
Last season, the Hudson gymnastics team figured to begin a long rebuilding project to regain its status as a state power.
It's safe to say that rebuilding project never existed.
The Lady Explorers are back at the Division I state meet after a one-year hiatus. Hudson finished third with 138.325 points at a district meet Feb. 23 at Riverside High School in Painesville.
Brecksville-Broadview Heights won the competition with 147.675 points and Strongsville placed second with 140.45 points.
After finishing third at the state meet in 2010 and second in 2011, the new-look Lady Explorers fell just short of reaching the state meet last year.
They didn't fall short this time.
"We couldn't be more pumped," Chepke said. "Our focus this year, as it is every year, is the team and getting the team that coveted trip to Columbus."
Three Lady Explorers also qualified as individuals. Senior Logan Custer and sophomore Mackenzie Miller reached the state meet for the second year in a row. Custer advanced on the bars and floor exercise and Miller qualified on vault and bars.
Junior Riley Skinner is making her first trip to the state meet after advancing on the balance beam.
"The individuals placing ... well, that's just the cherry on the cake of a very dramatic day," Hudson head coach Randi Chepke said.
The state team competition is set to take place March 1 at Hilliard Bradley High School. The action is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m.
The state individual competition is set to take place March 2 at noon.
Skinner gave the team a huge spark on the beam. She placed sixth with a season-high 9.075 points and earned all-district honors.
"Riley was solid, fluid and confident," Chepke said. "Beam is definitely her finest event and I'm glad she was able to put it all together and post her season-high score.
"We couldn't be more proud. She's worked hard for it, doing big repetitions every day, and her consistency in practice certainly paid off big time."
Also contributing to the Lady Explorers' team score on beam were Teghan Piper (8.825), Megan Urbanic (8.35) and Custer (8.225).
"It's tough to start a big meet like districts off on beam," Chepke said. "It's the most mental apparatus to begin with, so it definitely added pressure right off the bat.
"Teghan and Megan both managed to keep their nerves in check and stay on the beam. Overall, it was not our best team performance here, but the damage wasn't so great that we couldn't overcome it. Our team's attitude was to leave it behind and focus on the next event -- one step at a time."
Hudson made up for a so-so performance on beam with a stellar performance on floor -- even though the scores didn't necessarily indicate it.
"We had six great routines," Chepke said. "Each of the six girls gave it 100 percent and then some. Unfortunately, scoring throughout the day was very tight and we didn't get the big numbers we managed at sectionals."
Custer finished 15th with a score of 8.875 to advance as an individual. The top 17 individuals in each event qualified for the state meet.
"Things got a little tense while we were on floor because we felt there was a discrepancy with Logan's start value," Chepke said. "We challenged, but in the end, the judges didn't alter her score. We're just thrilled she made it out alive. She'll get one more run at that podium."
Piper, who had to be scratched from the individual competition, according to Chepke, led the way on floor with a score of 9.075. Also contributing on floor were Mackenzie Miller (8.75) and Skinner (8.575).
Mackenzie Miller finished 11th with a score of 9.025 on vault to lead the Lady Explorers.
"Mack led the way in what was probably our best showing on vault," Chepke said. "We've struggled here all season, but after weeks and weeks of drilling during practice, we finally managed to get a few more flips to our feet."
Other Hudson vaulters who fared well were Piper (8.725), Jenni Spencer (8.725) and Custer (8.425).
Mackenzie Miller finished 14th on the bars with a score of 8.675 and Custer placed 16th (8.6). Rounding out the bars' team scores were Piper (8.25) and Jordan Miller (8.15).
"Ending the meet on bars is kind of anticlimactic for us," Chepke said. "We're not huge, but we are fairly consistent. This event is never going to win a meet for us, but if we deliver what we're capable of, it will keep us competitive. Luckily, the girls delivered just enough to secure third place."
As far as the state meet goes, Chepke hopes her team and her three individuals have a strong performance.
She also knows they've had a very successful season regardless of what happens in Hilliard.
"Nothing will really change this week," Chepke said. "We'll drill, we'll pressure-set and we'll prepare the best we can.
"Our goal for the team part of the state competition is to improve upon our success at districts -- either by increasing our score or improving our place. Either way, what these girls have already accomplished is impressive enough."