Several signs of spring hit the Augusta area this time of year. The annual Masters Tournament and a bout of unpredictable weather are just a couple.
Another traditional sign is also taking shape: state and regional success for the Haydens Gymnastics team.
Each year the local gymnasts head off to state competition in March. As has been the case in years past, the 2007 team found success at the USAG Georgia State Championships.
Five of Haydens' level-8 gymnasts qualified for regional competition after the team placed fourth overall at the state competition. Taylor Blanton, a 14-year-old Aiken Preparatory School student, took first place overall, beating out 163 girls for the top prize. Blanton earned first-place points in the vault, bar, beam and floor events in the senior A division to lead her team at the state competition held in Roswell.
"You really have to hit every routine and have no major mistakes," Blanton said. "I'm nervous on the way to a gymnastics meet, but once I get there I'm OK with it."
Riverside Middle School's Sydney Umstead placed first in the floor event at the state competition in the junior D division, while Greenbrier Middle's Kelsey Custodio took fifth place in the floor event in the junior B division. Greenbrier Middle's Rita Payne finished third in the beam in the senior B division, while Evans High School's Jasmine Brown placed second in the floor event in the senior C division.
Blanton and her teammates, who qualified for the regional meet on April 21-23 in Raleigh, N.C., had some help in their training for state competition. While part of the level-8 team were making their first trip to the state meet, they got some advice from those who had gone before them.
Megan Mashburn, a senior at Greenbrier High School, has been in their shoes. Now a level-10 gymnast, Mashburn breezed through the state and regional meets last year to reach national competition. This year's level-8 girls benefitted from Mashburn's experiences.
"I just told them to have fun and do the best they could do," she said. "It is nerve-wracking, but they'll do fine."
Mashburn and teammate Jackie Dillon also turned in strong performances at the level 10 state competition. Mashburn took first place in the vault in the senior B division and Dillon claimed the top spot in the balance beam in the senior A division. Both girls earned a spot at the regional meet in Tupelo, Miss., on April 20-22.
Dennis Hayden, the owner of Haydens Gymnastics and the coach of the level-8 and -10 girls, said he and fellow coach Craig Kirby are proud of this year's talent.
"I think they show very good team unity, which is very important," he said. "We're going for an all-around championship (at the level-8 regional competition). They work hard, about 18-20 hours of practice each week, and they've already accomplished one of their biggest goals just by getting this far."
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