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Kessel's countdown to state is finally up

Dickinson High senior Mikaela Kessel has a countdown on her cellphone, which marks the final day of her gymnastics career.

Dickinson High senior Mikaela Kessel has a countdown on her cellphone, which marks the final day of her gymnastics career.

The countdown is almost over.

She admitted it’s tough knowing her gymnastics career, which started as a seventh-grader, is nearly up.

“If you ask anyone in the practice room, I’ve had numerous meltdowns at practice,” she said. “I came in the first day and started crying. I don’t want this to end, but it’s been such a special ride throughout the years.”

Kessel and the rest of the defending state champion Dickinson High gymnastics team have one more chance at glory by traveling to the two-day North Dakota high school state gymnastics meet beginning at 3 p.m. today at Bismarck Century High School.

“Coming back as the defending state champs, I feel like we have a lot expected of us, but I know we can do it,” she said. “It’s nice going in that I know we are a top team, but we told the girls we have to train like we are in second and compete like we are the top team.”

Over the last six years, Kessel has molded into one of Dickinson’s top gymnasts — especially with her solid scores on balance beam and floor exercise. Kessel has won either a state or a West Region title in each event.

Kent Van Ells, who is in his 31st year as Dickinson’s head coach, knew when Kessel was much younger she had the body-type and capability of being one of the top gymnasts in the state.

“She was one of those girls that you count on pretty early,” he said. “I remember, even before her high school career, seeing her probably as a four- or five-year-old walking down the hall with her parents and thinking to myself, ‘She looks like gymnast.’ She’s real powerful and strong and all those things came through very early on.”

After winning the state and West Region floor titles as a junior, Kessel has the second-best score in the event this year at 9.667 points. Kessel also won the West Region beam title as a junior. She’s averaging 9.392 points on beam, which puts her in ninth place.

The highlight of Kessel’s junior year was winning the state team title. Since her seventh-grade season, the Midgets placed runner-up to Minot at the state meet four straight times.

Needless to say, Kessel wants to close her high school career with back-to-back state titles.

“Coming up that short for so many years was heartbreaking,” she said. “But every single year, it was more motivation and finally in that fifth year we got it. It was hard at first, but it made that victory so much sweeter.”

Kessel has the all the ability and the medals to show for her time as a high school gymnast, but what makes her a co-senior captain is her personality.

Van Ells said the senior comes to practice every day with the same enthusiastic attitude, which spreads to the rest of the team.

“During practice, she’s someone you can hear from time to time expressing excitement sometimes even in the middle of a skill of hers, but also when other people are doing things,” Van Ells said with smile. “It’s catching. It’s a positive thing. It makes a difference in practice. It makes practice easier and more positive. It’s refreshing to have someone enjoy what they are doing, because it’s a lot of work out there.”

Overcoming injuries

Aside from the normal bumps and bruises, Kessel has stayed away from the injury bug for a majority of her high school career.

However, in the sport of gymnastics, it’s tough to stay away from injuries.

During her junior year, Kessel suffered a concussion — which sidelined her for nearly a month — during her uneven bars routine on Jan. 6, 2013, at the Fargo Davies Invite.

“The concussion really threw me off,” Kessel said. “It has taken a lot of steps to get back to where I am now. Step by step, I’m gaining more consistency.”

Kessel changed her dismount on her bar routine, which has helped improve her score and kept the worry of suffering another concussion out of her mind.

“There’s definitely a concern about that skill and quite often she wouldn’t actually do it,” Van Ells said. “We decided to change it and she does a different dismount now. It makes it more comfortable now and her score has improved because of that. It helps that she doesn’t have to worry about that dismount throughout the routine.”

The senior ranks No. 13 in the state on bars with an average score of 8.8. She also sits No. 10 on the vault (9.317). Her average score is seventh-best in the state (36.875).

Saying goodbye

Kessel has been dreading Saturday, the individual part of the state meet, because it will mark her final high school meet.

Acacia Fossum — a Dickinson sophomore and three-time defending state all-around champion — said it’s going to be tough to say goodbye.

“Mikaela and I have been competing together for so long and we really became close last year,” she said. “We are never apart. We are always together. I’m always talking to her and even inside the gym, she’s a huge motivator for me. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to her.”

Dickinson sophomore Keana Kudrna, who won the 2014 West Region vault title, shares the same feelings.

“(Mikaela’s) become one of my older sisters I’ve never had,” she said. “It’s good to have her with all the advice and all the motivation she’s gives me at the gym.”

Though she knows there will be tears of joys and sorrow shed on Saturday, Kessel said there’s no other place she would have rather been for the last six years.

“I’m so thankful for my time,” she said with a smile. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”