Last season, the Hudson gymnastics team found itself in an unfamiliar place during the first weekend of March.

That would be home.

One year later, the Lady Explorers realized they didn't feel the same way as Dorothy Gale did in the 1939 classic film, The Wizard of Oz.

For the Hudson gymnasts, there's no place like the state meet.

The Lady Explorers returned to the state competition after a one-year hiatus after placing fifth at a district meet Feb. 25 at West Geauga High School in Chesterland.

Hudson scored 138.475 points to hold off West Geauga (137.6) and grab the last qualifying spot.

Brecksville-Broadview Heights, which has captured the last 13 state titles, won the 12-team competition with 148.025 points.

Other qualifying teams were Rocky River Magnificat (145.725), Mentor (141.425) and Chardon (140).

Last season, one Lady Explorer, Megan Urbanic, a 2016 graduate, advanced to the state competition. It was only the second time Hudson hadn't reach the ultimate stage as a team in the last seven years.

The Lady Explorers' absence from the state meet didn't last long.

Hudson is scheduled to compete at the state team competition March 3 at Hilliard Bradley High School. The meet is set to begin at 3:15 p.m.

"It was, without a doubt, our best meet of the season," first-year Lady Explorers' head coach Megan Mertz said. "It was the first time we went 4-for-4. Six girls competed in each event and if two of them fell, the other four picked them up.

"We didn't have our highest scores of the season, but the judging was really hard. They performed when they needed to. You could tell how much these girls wanted it."

Mertz admitted the district competition was nerve-racking throughout the day.

"The whole meet, we were all over the place," she said. "We were seventh after the first event and second after the second event. We dropped down to sixth after the third event."

When the competition was over, Mertz had no idea if her team advanced.

"They announced the teams from 12th to first," she said. "When it was announced that West G finished sixth, you saw a lot of Hudson arms fly in the air."

That wasn't the only good news for the Lady Explorers.

They also had a gymnast advance to the state individual competition. Senior Macy Lori, who did not compete for Hudson last season, earned an invitation to Hilliard for the second time in three years.

Lori advanced after finishing in a tie for seventh place on the balance beam with a score of 8.9. She just missed qualifying in the all-around competition. Her score of 35.45 was good for 17th. The top 16 advanced to the state meet in the all around and the other four events.

Lori, who overcame an injury she suffered early in the season, is set to participate in the individual competition March 4 at Hilliard Bradley. The individual competition is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.

"Macy was questionable because of last year," Mertz said. "When I first got in touch with her after I took this job, she was interested in coming back. And then she got hurt in the first practice of the season. That was heartbreaking.

"She wanted to compete, so she did the rehab and came back. She is just an all-around great competitor and a great student athlete. I'm sad that I only have her for one year."

The Lady Explorers had struggled on vault throughout the season. At the district meet, Hudson shined on vault with a team score of 35.6, which was its highest score of the four apparatuses.

The Lady Explorers turned in a score of 34.525 on the uneven parallel bars. Such a score was a sight to see after Hudson struggled mightily in this event the previous week.

"Bars was awesome," Mertz said. "They did so well and they stayed on their feet. Overall, it was a good day."

The Lady Explorers contributed a score of 34.3 on the beam, which was their last event, and a total of 34.05 on the floor exercise.

"The whole day was questionable," Mertz said. "I was satisfied with every event, but the scores weren't showing it. They did the best they could have done."

In the individual competition, Lori captured 29th on the floor with a score of 8.55. Sophomore Lina Ikhlef was next for Hudson with a 35th-place score of 8.2 and junior Abigail Petty finished 36th (8.175). Petty added a 31st-place score of 33.3 in the all-around competition.

"Lina had a rough district meet," Mertz said. "She is so passionate. When she has a bad first event, she has a tendency to carry it with her. She has such a passion for the sport.

"Abby was, without a doubt, our go-to girl this season. She is very consistent and she worked hard. She was a little heartbroken about not qualifying as an individual, but she had an awesome meet. The scores were not fair to her."

Other individuals who competed were juniors Jillian Bevan, who finished in a tie for 33rd (8.9) on vault, and Hannah Teed, who placed 30th (8.475) on bars.

"Jill has a leg injury and was in a lot of pain," Mertz said. "She sucked it up and did what she needed to do. Her scores greatly helped our team score.

"Hannah has come so far since the beginning of the season. She qualified out of sectionals on bars even though she had a big crash. She had a whiplash in her neck and was hurting all week. She is such a fun athlete to work with."

Other Lady Explorers who are expected to compete at the state meet are sophomore Makayla Hudy and freshman Julia Petty.

"I'm really excited about Makayla," Mertz said. "She has had injury after injury after injury. The goal is to get her healthy and in the gym and bring out what she is capable of doing.

"Nerves have gotten the best of Julia. Sometimes, I remind her that she's a freshman. Last week at sectionals was the first time she was in a big environment. She is somebody to watch out for in the future."

With just seven gymnasts on the team and injuries part of the sport, Mertz is thrilled to see her team get a chance to compete at the state meet.

"We competed against teams that have 15-plus girls," Mertz said. "We had the smallest team by far. I can't even put into words how exciting it is."

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