Gymnastics: North Oconee looks to repeat 2 years after 1st title

Members of the North Oconee Gym Cats, from left: Kacey Turk, Sofia Lee, Cathryn Wagner, Kate Stetter, Madison McMullen, Maylen Pulliam, Brantley Lucas.
Members of the North Oconee Gym Cats, from left: Kacey Turk, Sofia Lee, Cathryn Wagner, Kate Stetter, Madison McMullen, Maylen Pulliam, Brantley Lucas.

Credit: Courtesy of Hillary Sanders

Credit: Courtesy of Hillary Sanders

In 2019, the North Oconee Gym Titans won the first state title in a program that dates back to 2014. Two years later, they’re still waiting to defend it.

Ranked No. 1 in 1A-5A, the Gym Titans have a strong team once again and, with a number of freshman already contributing, a bright future as well.

Coached by Hillary Sanders, who founded the program, North Oconee has 12 gymnasts on the varsity squad. Also for the first time, the Gym Titans have a JV squad, which pushes the program’s total number of gymnasts to 22.

North Oconee’s six gymnasts competing in the state prelims and championships are senior Maylen Pulliam, juniors Brantley Lucas and Madison McMullen, and three freshman — Kate Stetter, Chole McDonald and Gabby Nguyn.

The Gym Titans have competed in five events this season, winning three of them, and their final meet of the regular season is Saturday, when they’ll host at Leading Edge Gymnastics Academy.

Of her team’s wins this season, Sanders is most proud of their Feb. 20 meet, which they won with a score of 114.1 despite missing key gymnasts.

“We sent out two of our freshman and they held their own and contributed to the score,” Sanders said. “It was fun to see that and to see where the program is going.”

Sanders’ program has been trending sharply upward since 2017, when Savannah Schoenherr suited up for the Gym Titans in addition to competing for her club team. Now competing at Florida, she competed at North Oconee as a junior and senior and, in 2018, became the first gymnast in GHSA history to sweep the five event titles at the state championships.

“She was our game-changer,” Sanders said. “We’ve always had talented club girls (at North Oconee) who didn’t compete in high school, because it takes away from training with their club. Savannah did both and showed you could be successful and have fun, and the program has exploded since then.”

Sanders understands the importance of her gymnasts’ club obligations, which is why she emphasizes having fun when competing for the Gym Titans.

“I just want to keep everyone healthy,” Sanders said. “That’s been the mindset all season. I want high school gymnastics to be the fun side for them. I want them to do well and score well, but if there’s a certain skill is stressing them, then I say don’t do it. Be safe, clean and have fun.”

Though having fun is a goal, the Gym Cats have their sights set higher.

“We would love to bring a trophy back to our school and represent North Oconee,” Sanders said.

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