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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Elkhorn gymnast finishes season on top

By Todd Mishler/Contributor

She didn't stick the landing to finish her vault, instead falling back onto her butt.

Laura Humphrey/EAHS
Allie Phillips, EAHS, winner of state all-around gymnastics title February 2008
"I felt a pinch in my lower back and it hurt the rest of that day, but it wasn't until I woke up the next morning and my right leg was numb that I freaked out."

Allie Phillips had broken the L-5, or fifth lumbar, vertebra in her back in February 2007, also causing nerve damage. Doctors discussed surgery but opted not to take that route because she was still growing.

"They told me to get lots of rest and hopefully it would heal on its own, but I was stupid and kept trying to work out," she said. "It took about eight or nine months to get better, and it's still not completely healed."

Just imagine what the Elkhorn High School freshman could have done with a healthy back.

Phillips overcame the adversity to claim the WIAA Division 2 all-around gymnastics title Feb. 29 in Wisconsin Rapids, earning two gold medals and two silvers in posting a 37.05 score.

"She received a bye to start, so that was kinda nice because she could see what everybody else was doing," said second-year Elks coach Missy Helgeson. "But it was five grueling rounds, and she ended up being the last competitor of the night, so everybody in the building was watching her on floor exercise. She was awesome. It was the most emotional thing I've ever experienced."

For her part, Phillips said she simply did what she always tries to do, even though it seldom works.

"I'm nervous every time, but you have to forget about the last event and leave everything behind you," she said. "You have to get pumped up for each event. I love the floor exercise because even though it's easy to screw up little things, it's a lot easier to cover them up than in the other events. I had no clue that I could win the all-around, so I just went out there and did the best I could."

Her best was the best in her division at 9.467, which gave her two titles after turning in a 9.167 to win the uneven parallel bars. Phillips also finished second in the balance beam (9.05) and in the vault (9.367).

Phillips' 37.05 mark placed her fourth overall behind three Division 1 athletes, two seniors and a junior.

"Allie says she gets nervous, but she's so focused that I can never tell," Helgeson said. "I've watched her the past five years at the club level, so I kind of knew where she'd be and what she was capable of in state in high school, even though I never told her that. She's confident and believes in herself. She deserves this."

Phillips couldn't have been happier with how her first season turned out.

"I had been with club gymnastics since age 8, and it's a lot more intense because it's all about the individual," she said. "In high school, you have the team aspect and that's what I've really liked the most."

She said that having her teammates with her in Rapids also made a big difference.

"I was used to competition from being in club, but with the injury and everything I was still pretty nervous," she said. "I was so hungry, eating nothing but chicken tenders all day and I just sucked it up. But what made all of the difference in the world was having my teammates and coach there cheering me on. It was so exciting."

The competitor in Phillips won't let her slow down, so she's going out for track and hopes to participate in the sprints and pole vault.

"I can't sit still," said Phillips, who has three brothers. "I plan on going to open gym and working on my skills


The author is a freelance sports writer and author. His most recent book is Blood, Sweat and Cheers: Great Football Rivalries of the Big Ten.

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