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Southington gymnasts defend class crown

SOUTHBURY — The Southington gymnastic team was not at its best on Saturday night. All the same, the Blue Knights persevered like the champions they are.

The Knights overcame some bumps, bruises and a few falls to claim their seventh state championship and second in a row at the CIAC Class L meet at Pomperaug High School.

“We survived: That’s how I like to look at it,” Southington coach Kaitlyn O’Donnell said. “We have a lot of injuries and we are changing things around here and there, and I think that showed. But we made it through. We were just a little off. Nothing huge, just little bobbles.”

The Blue Knights scored a 138.375. They built a four-point lead after three events and cruised to the title with a 35.25 on floor.

Southington sophomore Victoria Castillo had the meet of her life and carried the Blue Knights to the title, putting an exclamation point with a 9.05 on floor.

“I was really proud. I have never scored a nine before in a high school meet and I had two (Saturday), so I was really excited,” Castillo said. “I didn’t change my routines. I just hit them.”

Despite some flaws, Southington had the top score in all four events. The Blue Knights started with a stout 35.925 in vaulting. Marilyn Sporbert led the way with a 9.2, followed by teammates Lexi Rothstein (9.150), Kayla Nati (8.8) and Victoria Castillo (8.75).

Castillo was tops for Southington on bars with a 8.8.

“It was flawless,” O’Donnell said of Castillo’s routine. “She has nice lines and she always hits her handstands and her toes are always pointed, and I think that makes her stand out. She doesn’t do the hardest routine, but she performs it so good that it looks impressive.”

Taryn Meenan (8.350), Nati (8.0) and Sporbert (7.950) led the Blue Knights to dominance on the event, scoring a 33.100 as a squad.

Castillo had a strong beam routine that netted her a 9.225, one of the top scores of the night in the eight-team meet. Rothstein (8.650), Sporbert (8.60) and Nati (8.350) each were also strong as the Blue Knights put up a meet-best 34.825.

Castillo is 4-foot-8 and said she uses her height to her advantage.

“I think things really came together for her,” O’Donnell said. “She didn’t let her nerves get the best of her and she performed to the best of her ability.”

Nati said team chemistry during the tough times was the main reason the Blue Knights earned their second consecutive Class L crown.

“We had a rough meet, but we tried our best,” the senior captain said. “Last year was even worse. We had 13 falls on beam alone. This year we had falls on all events, but it was a bigger improvement than last year. Every one is there for each other.

“This is such a great achievement,” Nati added. “Knowing my two seasons as captain and that this is my last state meet is such a great feeling. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

O’Donnell has won two state titles in her two years at the Southington helm.

“We worked hard this season and having two undefeated regular seasons put the icing on the cake,” O’Donnell said.

Trumbull finished second in Class L with a 135.325, followed by Fairfield Ludlowe (133.45) and Glastonbury (133.275).

Earlier on Saturday at Pomperaug, Daniel Hand won Class M with a 142.72 and a talented Woodstock Academy earned a Class S crown with a robust 150.20.

Southington, Hand, Trumbull and Woodstock Academy will compete at the State Open Saturday, March 8 in New Milford.

“I’ve seen them both. Hand and Woodstock compete. For us, we just have to hit,” O’Donnell said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s about who is going to hit the best.”

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