For 11 years, the gymnasts have been laughing together, pushing each other to bigger things. The smiles are consistent, the hugs countless.
For Northfield seniors Meaghan Howell and Sveta Mason, gymnastics has been more than tumbling and vaulting. It has defined a friendship.
The clutch performers will lead the Raiders into the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion Friday for the state gymnastics meet. It has been a theater of good fortune for the Northfield team, which has won two consecutive Class 2A team championships there.
After flirting with the 150-point mark for much of the season, the Raiders recently became the first and only team in the state this season to reach that level. They did it in the Missota conference meet and the Section 1 championships.
"The end of the season is always the best time for us," Mason said. "That's when our skills really start coming together."
The duo struck up a friendship in an elementary school gymnastics class.
"We've been best friends since second-grade gymnastics," Howell said. "We never thought about anything other than it was really fun."
While the Northfield High School program had produced state champion individuals in prior seasons, the team program didn't take off until Howell and Mason arrived as eighth-graders.
The team finished third in the 2009 Class 2A meet before winning it all in 2010 and 2011.
"In 10th grade we never expected [to win] it," Howell said. "It was such an amazing surprise. And then last year, our goal all season was to score 150 and we finally did it in the state meet."
This year's Raiders also include freshman Bailey Dupay, who won the all-around competition at the Section 1A meet. Sophomore Abby Stets and freshman Christy Anderson have both topped 36 points in all-around competition. Others have stepped in when needed, such as senior Maren Zach's clutch fill-in floor exercise routine in the Missota meet.
Through it all, the constants have been Howell and Mason.
"The best thing is having her by my side ever since I can remember," Mason said. "We've leaned on each other and pushed each other."
Regardless of this weekend's results, both agree that the journey has been the part they'll cherish the most.
"It's so sad that it's almost over," Howell said over the lump in her throat. "I'm just going to live it up at this last state meet and try to make it the best one. We've had so much fun."
Class 1A: Is eight enough?
The Perham Yellowjackets have owned the Class 1A tournament for the better part of the past decade, winning a state-record eight consecutive team titles dating to 2004.
Winning a ninth will be their biggest challenge yet. The Yellowjackets are ranked No. 3 in Class 1A, but have not come close to posting the team scores that No. 1-ranked Melrose has put up.
Perham's top score this year is 144.75; Melrose has scored more than 146 points eight times, with a high of 149.65.