RIVER FALLS, Wis.-- The new year has brought its share of ups and downs to the River Falls gymnastics team, but they had a big “up” last Saturday by placing first at the 11-team Rice Lake Invitational.

The Wildcats started their first year of practice in the new River Falls Gymnastics Club’s River Falls State Bank Center this season but have been bitten by the injury bug over the last few weeks. They suffered another blow when their signature home invite of the season-- the annual Winter Wonderland Invitational-- was snowed out Jan. 18. But they came back to win a double dual against Chippewa Falls and Hudson Jan 1 before winning the Rice Lake Invitational on Saturday.

Coach Bridgette Lensing said the young team, which includes seven freshmen, three sophomores and four juniors, is developing nicely.

“A new season also brings its challenges,” she said. “With no seniors, it has allowed our juniors to step into a leadership role and really take control of the team, and it has been really fun to watch them grow into those leadership roles.”

The Cats posted a team score of 133.45 to win the Rice Lake Invite. Lensing said the Wildcats started out on the balance beam and set the tone for the rest of the day by sticking four of five routines on their way to scoring 33.575 points, led by a personal best 8.85 by junior Madisyn Tape in the first routine of the day.

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“When you start with a huge routine first, it’s not only a motivator for your teammates behind you to stick but also can put them at ease seeing the person before them have a solid performance,” Lensing said. “With a start like that it was really easy to continue with that energy and bring it to the floor.”

Junior Autumn Tiede led the charge on the floor with a score of 9.4 before scoring team-highs of 8.85 on the vault and 8.725 on the uneven bars to finish with an all-around score of 34.05. Junior Eva Mikla scored 33.25 in the all-around while sophomore Lexi Epstein totalled 32.325.

“The girls really came together as a team and prevailed,” Lensing said. “This last week we have been working very hard and stressing the importance of form and connections.”

The Wildcats will host Menomonie and Superior in their final home meet of the season this Thursday, Jan. 30, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the high school. Lensing said she and co-coaches Megan Peters and Jordan Maier are very proud of the progress and growth the girls have made through the course of the season, both as a team and as individuals.

“Our season is winding down but we can see that we are on the right track for where we want to be,” Lensing said.