In the jubilant aftermath of winning its first Class 2A gymnastics state team championship, the St. Cloud Tech gymnasts rushed to the side of co-head coach Colleen (C.J.) Stark-Haws, who was giving a post-championship interview from her wheelchair, trying to keep her voice from cracking with emotion.
For this night, the Multiple Sclerosis that has consumed so much of her life faded away. Tears flowed easily from team members, who desperately wanted to share the moment with the coach who had lost so much personally but had given so much to the team.
St. Cloud Tech had made 10 previous state meet appearances and had come close to winning numerous times, with five previous second-place finishes. Friday, they put together an unforgettable performance, posting a season-high score of 149.125. Roseville, which had won the four previous titles, was second with a 147.925. East Ridge was third, scoring 147.325.
"C.J. said before the meet that, either way, win or lose, we just needed to go out and give it everything we had," said junior Lara Aycock. "She just wanted us to be the best team we could be. It means so much to us because of her."
"They went out and competed," Stark-Haws said. "We work hard on every day struggles. When you control the effort and the attitude, you get moments like this, the best state meet we've ever had."
The Tigers were in top form from the outset, getting good scores on the balance beam and floor exercise. But it was a stellar effort in the vault that pushed them solidly into first place, a team-best 38.05 that both shocked and pleased the coaches.
"We hadn't done well in the vault at sections, but we come out tonight and get close to a school record," said Joel Stark-Haws, C.J.'s husband and co-head coach. "That was elating and just so much fun."
They closed with a superb effort on the uneven bars, then settled in to await the final announcement.
"When we heard [that Roseville was runner-up], my heart just dropped," Aycock said. "When we walked in at the start of the season, I had never even thought about winning state. But then, we've never had such a good meet."
Joel Stark-Haws was asked if he could think of anything better than finally winning a championship. "No," he said quickly, but then backtracked a bit. "Well, maybe a cure for MS. But this is pretty close."