Hudson gymnastics adapts amid COVID-19 changes, finishes in fourth place at state meet

Ashley Bastock
Kent Weeklies
Hudson junior Lydia Redd performs a routine last month. Redd was one of several Hudson gymnasts to make the 2021 state meet. The Explorers finished in fourth place as a team.

There was no denying that the OHSAA gymnastics state meet was different this year compared to years past due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

No packed stands, no high-fiving or hugs after sticking a routine, no injured competitors down on the mats with their teams.

And yet, for all the adjustments, Hudson coach Megan Mertz says she still felt lucky she got to see her girls compete at that level this year. 

"Once you're down there and competing you still get all excited and proud of each other," Mertz said. "You're happy you're there and happy that you did awesome. You just had to do some things differently."

As a team, Hudson finished in fourth place at the meet (143.975), which took place from March 5-6 at Hilliard Bradley High School. Brecksville won its 18th consecutive team championship and 21st overall. 

Laurel Gomersal performs a routine at last year's district meet. Gomersal once again reached the state meet in 2021.

In the all-around competition, Hudson junior Laurel Gomersol was 19th (35.875) and Hudson junior Lindsay Havens tied for 24th (35.475). Highland sophomore Paige Yu won the all-around title. 

On the bars, Hudson junior Lydia Redd tied for 15th (9.075), senior Ava Guistano was 17th (9.00) and junior Claire Wilcox was 27th (8.4).

Havens tied for 17th (9.05) on beam, while Gomersol tied for 11th (9.25) on floor. 

Five girls competing at the state meet was the most Mertz says she has had in her 11 overall years of coaching, the last five of which have been at Hudson.

"It's funny, it's almost like the district meet is scarier than the state competition," Mertz said. "There's so many great schools and great teams, so getting to the state meet is harder than the state meet itself. We really thought we were on the bubble to get to the state meet. So it was really exciting getting there and then we ended up placing at the state meet the same we did at the district meet.

"We really thought some Columbus schools would get in there or Cincinnati. So it was good we got to keep that. It was just a really fun weekend and the girls did awesome. The individual girls on Saturday did amazing." 

The process of getting to the state meet was hardly a straight line for Mertz and her group due to the pandemic.

Maybe the biggest adjustment, Mertz said, were all of the schedule adjustments and changes due to quarantines or pauses, both at Hudson and at the schools the Explorers were competing against.

Pauses were some of the most difficult things to deal with, especially given the nature of the sport and the intense training required. Overall, the changes this year gave Hudson more of a sense of urgency.

"The worst part about taking a break with gymnastics is your body shuts down," Mertz said. "It's almost like the first time you've worked out in 10 years. You're super sore, and you have to start over again every time you do that. It's extremely hard on their bodies.

"Every year at the end of the year right around tournament time, my girls are just broken. Ankles hurt, backs hurt, knees hurt. I felt like this year they were just so happy it was happening that there wasn't as much complaining about it as years past."

But for better or worse, pauses and changes also prompted Mertz and her team to get creative when it come to staying in shape and bonding.

While the Explorers were unable to practice together in December, one thing Mertz organized was a hand stand competition over Zoom. 

Overall, she also said it was encouraging to see how eager her squad was to get back into the gym when they were unable to be there together.

"What I love about coaching is how much the girls would text me and say, 'I need to get back in the gym, when can we go back to practice?,'" Mertz said. "That's always nice to hear."