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Dickinson High’s Fossum eyes fifth gymnastics state all-around title to cap unprecedented career

The mere mention of Acacia Fossum's sophomore year elicits a groan. She doesn't like to talk about it. After winning the North Dakota gymnastics all-around state championship as a seventh-grader, eighth-grader and freshman, Fossum's fourth-place ...

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Dickinson High senior gymnast Acacia Fossum performs her routine on the uneven bars during the Glenn Heiser Invitational Feb. 11 at DHS gymnasium. (Press Photo by Parker Cotton)

The mere mention of Acacia Fossum’s sophomore year elicits a groan.

She doesn’t like to talk about it.

After winning the North Dakota gymnastics all-around state championship as a seventh-grader, eighth-grader and freshman, Fossum’s fourth-place finish as a sophomore - a highlight for seemingly anybody else - was not good enough for her.

“I was standing up there,” said Fossum, now a senior gymnast for Dickinson High, “and I was like, ‘This is never happening again. I will not let this happen. You are not letting this happen next year or the year after that.’”

As a junior, she was back in first place. Only Fossum and Kim Sveum, who competed for Minot from 1991-94, have won four North Dakota state all-around titles.

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Fossum’s quest to become the first with five begins today as the Midgets compete in Jamestown at the state tournament.

A fifth all-around title would be an unprecedented finish to a career that has already redefined the precedent.

“She has been the best North Dakota high school gymnast every year - including this year, of course - for six straight years,” Dickinson head coach Kent Van Ells said. “I’ve been here 33 years, and there’s never been somebody that has been dominant so many years. I’m sure of it. She won as a seventh-grader, and she’s gotten better every year since. Her scores haven’t necessarily gone up that much because they can’t go up much further.”

The success Fossum has had in her career is astounding, but to Van Ells, it hasn’t been surprising.

“In sixth grade, we knew she would be good,” he said. “I remember discussing with the athletic director at the time, and I said, ‘This is the best gymnast we’ve had, especially at this age.’ She was doing things in seventh grade that high school varsity girls weren’t doing, or at least not very many of them. We’ve always had seventh-graders perform well, just not that well.”

Fossum’s seventh-grade visit to state was not without its nerves, however.

“I remember walking down the vault runway and looking at everybody and thinking, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing right now,’” she said. “I had no idea what high school gymnastics really was.”

But she tallied 38.250 points in the all-around her first visit, and she improved her score in each of her next championships, becoming the only North Dakota gymnast to score 38 or more points in the all-around four separate times at the state tournament.

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“The way she competes is what separates her,” Van Ells said. “There are other girls that have skills that aren’t that much different from her every year. It’s that she goes out and is able to concentrate and focus. She’s able to put it together in a sport where tenths of a point make a difference.”

That’s what made her sophomore year such a shock.

“She goes to the state individual championships, and in five trips there, she’s had one fall,” Van Ells said.

Of all events for it to happen, too, it was the uneven bars.

Fossum said her “mind went blank” on her dismount, and she landed on her rear end.

“I was so mad at myself,” she said.

Since that fall, Fossum has used it as motivation to improve, and senior teammate Keana Kudrna said Fossum has truly come to embody a well-rounded gymnast.

“For the vault and floor, you need to be powerful, and then you transition to the beam where it’s all about grace,” Kudrna said. “Bars, that’s just her specialty. It’s natural for her.”

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In the process of becoming the state’s best gymnast, Fossum has also become a leader for her teammates.

“Everyone looks up to her like I do,” said her younger sister Ayanna Fossum, an eighth-grader. “When she pushes them, they take it to heart. She’s a good role model to most of us because she’s been up there at the top.”

Kudrna added: “She has the definition of a captain in her. She wants everybody to have the best meet and to improve, and she motivates them. She’s like a coach. If they’re having trouble, she tries to help.”

Acacia Fossum said she hopes to study psychology and do gymnastics in college, though she has yet to decide where that will be.

Though, at only 17 years old and with one meet remaining in her high school career, Fossum is in the position to leave quite the legacy on high school gymnastics in North Dakota.

“I hope I left a positive name for myself on this sport because that’s all this sport has been for me is just super positive,” she said. “I hope people remember how hard I worked and how much it paid off and how, hopefully, how good of a team leader I was.”

She has her eyes set on that fifth individual title and a third team state championship in six years.

Van Ells likes to say that anything can happen in this sport; anybody could fall and ruin the best laid plans, but regardless of what happens of the course of this weekend, one thing, for him, is certain.

“There’s no guarantee she’s going to win,” Van Ells said, “but she’s still the best gymnast.”

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