What appeared to be a sturdy advantage for Stillwater heading into the eighth and final rotation at the Class 2A gymnastics state meet Friday proved to be far more fragile than it appeared.

The defending champions saw a lead of more than a point and a half disappear in the flurry of slips and missteps on the balance beam, opening a door for Lakeville North to slip through and escape with the team championship.

The Panthers turned in a whopper of a meet-ending vault score — 38.325, the best single event score of the meet — while Stillwater stumbled. Lakeville North finished with a meet-winning 149.35. Stillwater finished second with 148.625.

It is Lakeville North’s second team championship in the past three years.

“We knew we had to pick it up on vault and we did that, but I didn’t know if we had done it all the way,” junior Rachel Steiner said. “When we were done, we went over to our parents and said, ‘Don’t tell us! We don’t want to know.’ When our names were called, it was so exciting. It feels so good.”

Said Stillwater coach Joan Ledson, “We just weren’t able to build any consistency on the beam in the second half of the season.”

The key to the season for Lakeville North was the return of junior Anna Altermatt midway through the year. An elite-level all-arounder, Altermatt wavered before the season on whether she wanted to commit to the high school team or commit herself to her club team.

Lakeville North’s Class 6A football state championship helped sway her decision to come back.

“Omigosh, yes!” said Altermatt, who competed in just three regular-season meets. “That was so amazing. Them winning made us want to win.”

Lakeville North coach Teri Homan said, “I talked to her in the fall when she was going to do club and I told her, ‘We’re always here for you.’ Then watching our football teams have success just brought that team thing back to her. She was part of the team when we won [the state championship] two years ago and she wanted to do it again.”

Rejoining fellow junior Rachel Steiner gave the Panthers two all-arounders who were capable of scoring 38 or better. Both did Friday, and filled out an already deep and talented Lakeville North lineup.

And best of all, Homan said, is that next year looks just as bright. “We don’t have any seniors,” she said. “I’d say Lakeville North is back.”

As for Altermatt, how does she feel about coming back to the team now?

“The best decision I’ve ever made,” she said.