Eyes on the prizes: Fossum looking for 3rd straight all-around title as Midgets chase team crownBefore Acacia Fossum competed in her first high school gymnastics meet as a seventh-grader, Dickinson High head coach Kent Van Ells knew he had a special competitor.
By: Royal McGregor, The Dickinson Press
Before Acacia Fossum competed in her first high school gymnastics meet as a seventh-grader, Dickinson High head coach Kent Van Ells knew he had a special competitor.
Yet, he didn’t predict Fossum to win back-to-back all-around state championships in her first two seasons.
Fossum now looks to defend her all-around title for the second time when the Midgets travel to Valley City for the North Dakota high school gymnastics meet that begins with the team competition at 3 p.m. Friday.
“There’s no question that I knew she had the ability and she was going to be a strong gymnast right away,” Van Ells said. “I knew that when she was developing as a sixth-grader.”
Could Fossum or Van Ells have guessed a state all-around title was in the cards her seventh-grade year? No and definitely not by four tenths of a point.
“When I went out for my first state meet, I didn’t know anything about being there,” Fossum said with a laugh. “I remember walking down the vault and seeing how many people were there. I was like ‘Whoa.’”
“I would not have predicted that at all,” Van Ells added. “I knew she was an unusual strong competitor. I don’t think I would be overstating it, saying that she’s the highest level seventh-grader I’ve ever had coming in.”
Van Ells said there are a couple unusual qualities about Fossum.
She has the ability to win all four individual events, plus the all-around title. As a seventh-grader she had already gained the respect of judges from around the state.
“It seems like some of the really good gymnasts from the past that turned out to be really dominant tended to take a year or two, seventh and eighth grade, where the judges acknowledged how good they were,” Van Ells said. “She was unusual that she was recognized right away.”
Nonetheless, Fossum handled her first state meet and she would need the lift of confidence going into her eighth-grade season. She needed more than a 9.801 on the floor exercise to win her second consecutive state all-around title, which was coincidentally being held at the DHS gymnasium. She hit a 9.867 to defeat Bismarck’s Mackenzie Keidel.
“Finishing on floor really helped me and I think it was more special winning last year, because I worked harder last year than I did the previous year,” Fossum said.
In her first two years at the state meet, Fossum has won a total of five state titles — two all-around, two floor exercise and one balance beam.
During last week’s West Region meet, the Midgets won their first West Region title since 2008, which was also the last year they won the state team title.
Fossum, however, experienced two falls that kept her from winning back-to-back West Region all-around titles.
“After WDA, I’m kind of nervous,” Fossum said. “I’ve never fallen on floor in high school. I’m going to really focused on those skills.”
The one area Fossum hadn’t dealt with until this season was fighting off the injury bug.
Fossum experienced a pulled leg muscle during the season opener on Dec. 1. Though she continued competing prior to the Christmas break, she didn’t rejoin the team after the break until Jan. 19 at the Gym-O-Rama meet in Rapid City, S.D.
“It kind of bothered me at first, but now I’ve just been stretching it extra and its fine,” Fossum said. “It just set back a couple skills I was doing.”
Though Fossum only competed in one event at the Rapid City meet, she won the balance beam.
Her first full meet back was during the Fern Pokorny Meet on Jan. 26 at DHS gymnasium, where she won the all-around, uneven bars and beam.
Another Dickinson competitor forced to sit on the sidelines because of injury was junior Mikaela Kessel, who suffered a concussion on Jan. 5 in Fargo. Kessel said it was nice to have Fossum help motivate the team although the two weren’t competing.
“Since we weren’t able to be out really with them, we tried to be more vocal leaders,” Kessel said. “It was the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do. I just kept thinking the team needs us for WDA and state. I was so proud of how the team performed without Acacia and me. That was awesome to see.”
With Dickinson’s Nos. 1 and 2 gymnasts out due to injury, seniors Mckenzie Kostelecky, Chantal Urlacher and freshman Keana Kudrna led the way. The Midgets currently have five competitors that have the ability to hit 36 points or higher in the all-around.
It’s a luxury most teams don’t have.
“If we all hit, I know that we can get a state championship,” Fossum said. “It’s good to have that depth, because not every team has that depth.”