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Eight local gymnasts shine at State Championships
Six moving on to National and Regional Championships
Michael Pitcock and Jonathan McMillan, Men's Junior Olympic National Championships qualifiers, work on their parallel bar holds at Gymnastics Unlimited on Wednesday. - photo by CANDY PADILLA/The Journal

Gymnastics. It's a sport that receives the bulk of its attention during the Olympics, at least from the average sports fan. But while mainstream focus might only highlight gymnastics in an annual fashion,  gymnasts themselves are training year round. — eating, sleeping and living gymnastics.

As is the case with all athletes, hard work, dedication and long hours in the gym pay off for gymnasts. It's a lesson recently learned by a group of Turlockers who qualified to compete at the highest level of their respective divisions thanks to exceptional performances at the state level.

“What's remarkable about it, when you think about it and look at the whole situation, is how many (kids) do gymnastics in the state of California alone, not counting the region,” Gymnastics Unlimited coach Paul Mayer said. “It's huge, particularly for girls, but also for boys. There's thousands.”

For the boys, the 17-year old pair of Michael Pitcock and Jonathan McMillan, their zenith is the upcoming Men's Junior Olympic National Championships in Daytona Beach, FL on May 7. Part of the Level 10 division, Pitcock and McMillan punched a ticket for Florida with respective finishes of 14th and 23rd overall at the Nor-Cal Men's State Championships, rankings based on the cumulative scores of floor, pummel horse, rings, parallel bars and high bar events.

“It's pretty exclusive,” Mayer said. “Just getting to that level is pretty phenomenal.”

Pitcock and McMillan officially qualified by finishing in the top-23 at the State Championships, though McMillan originally tied for 23rd before winning a tie-breaker to move on to Nationals.

“They both started at three or four years old,” Mayer said. “They both are very talented young men.”

While the boys will compete at the national level in Florida, the girls — Grace Reagers, Lillian Ladd, Syndey Holmes, Cherokee Strand, Jackie Rodriguez and Hayley Espinoza — hit the ceiling for the season at the USA Women's Gymnastics Regional Championships.

Rodriguez and Espinoza, a respective 15 and 12 years old and competing in the Level 8 division, will compete this weekend in Phoenix, AZ at the Level 8 Championships. Reagers and Strand, a respective 13 and 14 years old, will compete in Long Beach the following weekend with Reagers in the Xcel division and Strand in the Xcel Silver division. Strand will enter the competition as the defending State Beam champion while Reagers, a first-year gymnast, enters as part of the All-State team after a top-six finish at the State Championships.

“She started competing and she just gets better every week,” Mayer said of Reamers.

Ladd, 13, and the defending State Bar champion, and Holmes, 17, and the defending State Vault champion, will not be competing at the regional level despite their success at the State Championships due to Ladd's Level 6 status and a scheduling conflict with Holmes.

“Gymnastics in this country, as we've seen on TV, is just remarkable,” Mayer said. “But one thing that I take a lot of pride in, and in our program, is that these young people become quality students and quality citizens.”