A year ago Andrea Gessner was one small hop from her first state title in vault.
The junior at Centennial High School took a little step on her landing, finishing as the 2015 state runner-up in the event. But with last year’s champion graduated, she faces a more open path as she fine-tunes her routines for another run at a Class 2A state championship in mid-February.
“I can definitely see she’s got something to strive for. It’s definitely doable,” Centennial coach Tina Pierson said. “She’s working hard and hopefully that’ll be a goal that she’ll meet this year.”
Gessner, a gymnast since age 3, competes in the all-around for the Cougars, but her strength is the vault. She finished fourth in the state as a freshman, with her best vault scoring a 9.725. She topped herself last year at state with a vault that scored 9.800, but she was still one place short of a title.
Pierson said Gessner came back to the gym strong and ready to build on last season’s skills. She kept adding strength in the offseason with another high-flying activity, competing in the pole vault on the Centennial track and field team.
“Andrea’s got her own style,” Pierson said. “She is just a natural athlete. She is probably one of the strongest gymnasts I’ve ever worked with.”
In gymnastics Gessner has the basics down for all of her routines, so leading up to the season she focused on mastering the details, like adding extra height to her jump and keeping her toes pointed.
“I didn’t really work on bigger skills, I just worked on better form and being able to do them more,” Gessner said.
With the extra tweaks, Gessner took first on vault in the 16-team Minnesota Girls Gymnastics Officials Association Invitational on Jan. 9. She also put up a season-high vault score of 9.700, which she has since tied, to take first at the River Falls (Wis.) Invitational on Jan. 16.
The extra polish to her routine is aimed at helping her qualify for a third consecutive state meet. Gessner will get that opportunity at the Section 7 tournament on Feb. 12 at Cambridge-Isanti. So far, she said, she isn’t feeling any outside expectations.
“I feel like people still don’t really know who I am so I don’t feel like it’s that much different,” Gessner said.
Once Gessner gets in a room though, people tend to notice. Her voice echoes a long way into the hall coming out of the Centennial gymnastics room.
“She’s really loud. She always has something to say,” senior teammate Brigid O’Fallon said. “She’s fun to be around. She works hard. She’s pretty motivating because she is really good, so it’s nice to see what she does.”
Pierson said Gessner’s sarcastic and quirky personality brightens up the gym and keeps things fun for the team. Her carefree but hardworking attitude strikes a good balance that allows her to keep things light while striving to improve.
“She makes people laugh,” Pierson said. “She makes sure that you know she’s here.”
Gessner’s talent and bold personality make her hard to ignore when she’s around. And this February, she said, she’s hoping for a better ending than last season.
“I only took a little step so maybe [I can] stick it this time,” she said.
Ben Gotz is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.