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Dickinson High gymnasts enter season younger but just as hungry for success

For the sake of not mincing words, it should be noted that it's not easy replacing the top two gymnasts in the state. For the first time in the last six years, Dickinson High enters the season without either Acacia Fossum or Keana Kudrna at the t...

Dickinson High freshman Ayanna Fossum competes on the balance beam during a home meet on Feb. 11 at DHS gymnasium. (Parker Cotton / The Dickinson Press)
Dickinson High freshman Ayanna Fossum competes on the balance beam during a home meet on Feb. 11 at DHS gymnasium. (Parker Cotton / The Dickinson Press)

For the sake of not mincing words, it should be noted that it's not easy replacing the top two gymnasts in the state.

For the first time in the last six years, Dickinson High enters the season without either Acacia Fossum or Keana Kudrna at the top of its arsenal of gymnasts. Still, Midgets head coach Kent Van Ells is confident in the group he has returning after last year's state championship run.

That title defense begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday when Dickinson welcomes Minot, Mandan and Wahpeton to DHS gymnasium for a home invitational.

Due to the changing landscape of high school gymnastics in North Dakota, Van Ells said this could be the first year in the last decade that doesn't see Dickinson High or Minot win the state championship and the other be the runner-up. 

It's wide open this year.

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"We lost our top two gymnasts, but the teams that were second and third - Minot and Valley City - lost their top gymnasts, so I expect it all be kind of even," Van Ells said. "Bismarck didn't lose anybody. Considering that I expect Jamestown to be a decent team also, this could be a five- or six-team thing going into state, and it could be anybody's.

"The realistic point is we could do real well, and I would feel good about how they did and not win. But that said, they want to win, and I think it's certainly possible."

The quest for a fourth state championship in seven years will be spearheaded by freshman Ayanna Fossum, who finished fourth in the all-around on the individual day of the state meet, and she placed in the top five of three of the four events.

"The only people who beat her in the all-around last year were seniors, and she's just going to be a freshman," Van Ells said. "Just projecting from last year, there's no question about it. There isn't another gymnast out there that stood out as much as Ayanna. ... I'd expect her to be in the mix for the championship, if not the favorite."

As much as the team has grown in its skills, Fossum said the team took great strides in the last few months in terms of confidence. That will be important as the team enters the season with juniors Faith Beck and BayLee Fetch as the oldest members.

"I never think that I'm only a freshman. I just do what I know how to do and try to do my best," Fossum said. "I know that we're young, but I think after we do a couple meets, we'll realize that we have it and that it's not as stressful as we think it is."

Beck and Fetch have recognized that their services as leaders have become more in-demand, and part of that is making sure that the team's mindset is right.

"You have to walk into the gym knowing that you're a state championship team," Beck said. "You have to carry yourself differently. You have to perform like a state championship team, and you have to lead yourself like a state championship team."

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Beck tied for ninth on the uneven bars on the individual day at the state meet last season. Megan Ackerman tied for sixth on the vault and was an all-around qualifier, and she returns this season along with Dacia Rambousek - who qualified in three events at state - as the team's sophomores. Brinklyn Schumacher and Macy Leiss join Fossum as the team's freshmen, and Ryan Campbell will be expected to show well as an eighth-grader.

"Megan is one that's making a lot of attempts at new things, and it can pay off, but it's also a challenge," Van Ells said. "That's one of the things I like about this group that's left behind from the seniors: they want to do all these (difficult) things."

Van Ells is not so naive as to think that certain challenges will not present themselves throughout the season; one injury could derail this team more than others.

But if all goes according to plan, this team could be on the verge of something special yet again.

"Losing the two seniors on top means you go to the next two scorers that weren't counted at all, and that's a big hit, but I look at it as an exciting year," he said. "If we were to win, it would not be a foregone conclusion like last year basically was. It would be hard-fought."

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