Jenn Rogers took several deep breaths. She was nervous as she began her bars routine.
But the junior could hear a group of graduated Wildcat gymnasts in the stands, encouraging her and cheering her on.
"When you hear that people believe in you, that's when it's a lot easier to compete," she said.
Rogers' confidence paid off big last Thursday, Jan. 9, when she led all gymnasts with the best scores of her career in Mount Si's dual with Juanita.
She earning first on beam with a 9.6, first on floor with a 9.6, first on bars with a 9.3, and delivering a 8.5 on vault that was good for fourth.
"It feels so good to work so hard and get improvement," said Rogers, who works and coaches young gymnasts at the Mount Si Gymnastics Academy.
She also works out at Snoqualmie Ridge Crossfit, and credits that hardcore training with her improving physical strength.
Rogers' face lights up during her floor routine, which she performs to a jerky, robotic song called "Tat." It's clearly her favorite, and Thursday's performance saw her net her best scores yet.
She briefly considered a new song and routine this year, but realized the song and moves are hers now.
While she may add different tumbling passes, "I feel like this music is a part of who I am. I can't change it."
"I have so much fun," Rogers said of the sport. "Of course, I'm going to work as hard as I can. I'm so excited to see where this season goes."
With only a small number of returning veterans, and a lot of newcomers, this might have been a rebuilding year for Mount Si gymnastics.
If things keep going the way they did last week, it's clear that it certainly is not.
Mount Si used what has become a very talented core and several promising young athletes to dominate in its first home meet, with a score of 170.6, which is just below last year's highest meet score.
Senior team co-captain Carissa Castagno tied for second on vault, after Juanita's Kayla Dimico, with an 8.7. Hailey Johnson was fifth with an 8.5, Samantha Holmes was sixth with an 8.4, Mackenzie Brown was seventh with an 8.35 and Maggie Kenow tied for eighth with an 8.3.
On bars, Mount Si swept the top four, with Brown, Johnson and Kenow taking second through fourth, respectively, with scores of 8.2, 7.4 and 7.3. Holmes, who is the younger sister of 2013 grad Elizabeth Holmes, took sixth with a 6.8 and Castagno was seventh.
In the beam event, Mount Si's Hailey Johnson took second with an 8.7. Castagno, Kenow and Brown followed. Holmes was tenth.
Castagno was right behind Rogers on the floor, with a 9.55 that was good for second. Holmes was fourth with a 9.25, Kenow had fifth with a 9.1, and Johnson was at sixth with 8.9.
In combined scores, it was Rogers, Johnson, Kenow, Castagno and Brown in a top five sweep. Holmes was eighth.
Thursday was senior night, and Mount Si honored seniors Castago and Brown, and their families, after the meet.
Castagno has helped foster the connection with younger athletes—"they're so cheerful, always full of energy. I really love them," she says.
"She has an undying love for the sport," Easthope praised the senior. "I don't have to push her. She pushes herself. As a coach, it's a blessing to have that kind of athlete and person."
Brown, a three-year varsity competitor, is a role model who practices hard, Easthope said.
"She is a gymnast of extreme grace and beauty," she added. Watching her compete, "there's nothing like it.
"Both these girls have led our team beautifully this year," Easthope said. "You have captured my heart."
Year in and year out, there's a closeness to this team. The sisterhood effect is helping newcomers like Holmes succeed.
"Since there's such a small number of us, we're our own little family," she said.
"We all show up, and we're all determined and focused."
Holmes benefits from sibling Elizabeth's tips.
"They all just stick, and it comes together at meets," she said.
Other knowledge comes from teammates, and "Everyone on the team contributes a little bit every day."
Holmes doesn't have a focus event. One day she's good at vault, other days beam.
Aiming to get her scores up, she doesn't let mistakes bother her.
"Who knows, next week, I could nail it," Holmes said.
Kenow was third in all-around scores. She says her sophomore year has brought new confidence.
That experience and openness has helped "with everything, becoming friends with people, and skill-wise."
She's looking to solidify and add moves to her bar and beam routines.
The team is getting there, but there's still work to do.
"We have room to grow," said head coach Jessica Easthope. The team doesn't yet have full rosters of ten for each event.
Beyond the veteran top six, Mount Si's challenge now is to push its younger athletes to compete.
"It's about getting out there, getting them past the fear that 'I'm not good enough,'" the coach said.
To be on track for future success, Mount Si needs its younger gymnasts stepping up and growing in experience.
"We're moving in the right direction," Easthope said. "More and more girls are working hard and more and more are competing."
• Mount Si competes with Sammamish this Thursday, Jan. 16, at Liberty.
Carissa Castagno is airborne, practicing her floor moves. Photo by Christy Trotto
Mackenzie Brown twists in her floor routine. Photo by Christy Trotto
Parents Colin and Desiree Brown join Mackenzie Brown.
Castagno family members with Carissa, center: From left, sister Carina, mom Karina, older sister Corianne, and dad Bill, congratulate her on Senior Night.
Ashley Mastin holds up the floor score for teammate Samantha Holmes