East Ridge gymnast Wren Anderson is working on a roundoff back-handspring double back in her floor routine, which is her top event. It’s a difficult skill to master, but her coach Chris Muras is there to catch her if she falls.

This wasn’t the case a year ago.

Muras, new to the team this season, acts as a spotter during practices and meets, to guard his athletes from getting hurt. The Raptors, ranked second in Class 2A, didn’t have a spotter last year.

With added confidence and less fear of injury this season, the girls are trying new skills that are elevating not only the team’s score but also the vibe in the gym.

“There’s a much different atmosphere this year,” said Anderson, a team captain who placed seventh in the state all-around competition last season. “It’s energetic, the music is going and we’re having so much fun. We have so much talent on this team, and that pushes you to try new things.”

Muras, who coached at KidSport Gymnastics in Winona with Rob Murray and also coaches at Hamline University under Doug Byrnes, took the reins of East Ridge this season. He said he “enjoys the challenge of pushing someone through a new skill, whether they’re afraid of it or just haven’t tried it before. That just shows their character.”

At the top the gymnastics world in Minnesota sits Roseville, the three-time defending Class 2A state champion. But if anyone is going to challenge the Raiders for the title, it might be the surprising Raptors.

Roseville is ranked No. 1 in Class 2A with an average score of 145.833. East Ridge is second at 145.683, despite fielding just one senior. On Dec. 11, Roseville edged East Ridge 146.05 to 145.575 in a Suburban East Conference meet, the Raptors’ only loss of the season.

“We went against them really early in the season. I think if we were going against them now, it’d be a different story,” Muras said. “But they’re a good team and have some very knowledgeable coaches. They know the sport.”

Despite the earlier defeat, Anderson said she believes East Ridge has what it takes to bring down Roseville.

“Our first goal is to focus on getting through sections,” she said. “Once we get to state, the second goal is to knock them out of the top spot.”

East Ridge qualified three individuals — Anderson and fellow juniors Taryn Johnson and Megan Trollen — for the Class 2A state meet last winter. But the Raptors missed out on their first 2A state meet appearance as a team, finishing second to Rosemount in Section 3.

Anderson said losing out to Rosemount made the team hungry.

“I was crushed,” she said. “I took it on myself because I fell on both of my vaults. We always thought we had great potential and could go to state. We were really close, but we had a few little stumbles that we shouldn’t have had on easy skills we know how to do.”

Johnson, another team captain who finished 17th in the state vault competition last year, said there’s a buzz building around school for the gymnastics team. A former club gymnast at Great Northern Gymnastics who joined East Ridge as a sophomore, Johnson said the best characteristic of the Raptors is their team unity.

“We’re all really close; we’re like a family, not just a team,” she said. “We all support each other and are here for each other. That makes it a lot easier to do our routines and hit them when everyone is supporting you. It’s a great environment to work out in.”

Muras said he’s promoting the idea of healthy competition between his athletes, which has paid dividends.

“It’s good because it’s pushed girls to try new things,” he said. “They see someone do something and they want to try it, too. I feel like their coming to the gym with more passion and heart.”