When a sprained left ankle sidelined North St. Paul senior Julia Stedman for three weeks in January, she didn't stop performing. Oh, sure, she couldn't actually go out and do her routines physically, but Stedman found a way to stay sharp.
"I did mental routines," Stedman said. "I'd ride the [exercise] bike and go over my routines in my head."
Her regimen paid dividends in a big way Saturday, helping her win one of the most contested Class 2A all-around competitions in recent years.
Scoring consistently high all night, Stedman won by avoiding the single costly mistake that set back her competitors. Her consistency was rewarded with a score of 38.4 -- less than two-10ths of a point ahead of Eden Prairie's MacKenzie Dent, who posted a 38.275, and Northfield's Bailey DuPay, who was third with a 38.25.
Three other gymnasts -- Leah Robinette of East Ridge, Sveta Mason of Northfield and Ashley Myers of Lakeville North -- finished within a half-point of Stedman.
"It was a wide-open field. I never thought I would actually win it," Stedman said. "I finished fourth in the all-around last year. After the injury, I was just hoping to medal. When I came back, I wasn't sure I'd had enough routines under my belt."
Stedman did not win an event; she was third in the floor exercise, fourth in the vault and 12th on the uneven bars. But her happy-go-lucky approach and low expectations actually worked to her advantage, helping her to put her nerves aside and enjoy the spotlight.
And that's exactly what she did when she stopped during a postmeet interview, turned to a family member, gave a fist pump and whispered through a huge, toothy smile "I did it!"
She then turned back and the question that had been posed.
"All I wanted to do was hit all four of my routines and have a great time," she said. "And I had a great time."
In the Class 2A individual events, East Ridge's Leah Robinette won the vault with a score of 9.825, the best single event score of the meet; Dent won gold in the uneven bars (9.75) and floor exercise (9.725) and Roseville's Katie Quigley added to her wonderful weekend, winning the balance beam with a score of 9.55 one night after leading the Raiders to the Class 2A team championship.