By Ashley Hocking
For the third year in a row, the gymnastics program has a new head coach. Brooke Kissinger replaced Jessica McMurray.
“We’re really afraid every year that the program is going to get cut because we can’t find a coach,” senior and team captain, Allison Williams said.
But unlike her predecessors, Kissinger intends to coach the gymnastics team long-term.
“I’ve coached for the past nine years at various gyms and now I’m here,” Kissinger said. “I was ready to take on a new school.”
With a more permanent coach, the gymnasts let out a sigh of relief.
Junior Elizabeth Harms begins her second year on the team embracing the new leadership.
“She’s a teacher at the school, so she’ll be around for a long time,” Harms said.
First-year teacher Kissinger teaches Geometry and Algebra II.
In addition to teaching and coaching, she is the head coach for the Free State gymnastics program as well. For many years, the teams have practiced together.
“Most of the girls on the Free State team are girls I did club gymnastics with, so we’ve basically been a team since we were 8 years old,” Williams said. “It’s not that different from club gymnastics. But, we’re separated by schools, so that’s kind of hard.”
For Kissinger, it is not a challenge to coach both high schools’ programs at the same time.
“It’s not really any different than coaching one high school. The only thing I have to pay attention to is when I make lineups. I have to pay attention to what school the girls go to,” Kissinger said. “For practices and stuff, it doesn’t really matter if there’s two schools or one.”
When the fall sports season began, many familiar faces from the gymnastics team were no longer on the lineup.
Three state-level competitors from last year’s team chose not to continue with the program. To take their place, nine new athletes have joined the gymnastics program this year.
“We’ve gotten a lot of new gymnasts and we have a full JV squad this year, so we’re a lot bigger of a team,” Harms said.
To accommodate for the spike in participation, LHS added a junior varsity team to the program. Now, 11 out of the 13 schools in the Sunflower League have a JV gymnastics team.
“It’s pretty cool because we’ve never had enough girls to have a JV team,” Williams said. “I don’t think a lot of schools have a JV.”
With a new arsenal of gymnasts, the Lions confidently competed at their season opener on Sept. 12.
As a team, the varsity gymnasts received a third place trophy. Additionally, Williams secured four medals.
“I wasn’t expecting to have such a good first meet. It was amazing to place so well at home,” Williams said. “It makes me excited for the season and what’s to come.”
Junior Heather Wisbey and sophomore Ashley Ammann each medaled once.
“I think that we’ll improve every meet and place higher and higher,” Ammann said.
At the Shawnee Mission North Invitational on Sept. 14, the varsity team received ninth place.
“Once we get some of our skills back and the season starts to progress, I think we’re going to get some new skills. It’ll be awesome,” Kissinger said.
The team placed sixth at the Olathe East Invitational on Sept. 25. Williams, who received a third place medal for her beam routine, was the only gymnast to place at the meet.
Regardless, the team has high hopes for the remaining meets left in the gymnastics season.
“I think we’re working well as a team, but we definitely have a lot of room to improve and get better, which is always a good thing,” Williams said. “It’s better to start at the bottom and work your way up than to have to start at the top.”