Gymnastics: Oconee County reboot a success

The Oconee County gymnastics team, front row, from left: Peyton Leach, Courtney Hurst, Emma Pachuta, Emma Gregory; back row, from left: Sarah Blake Wilson, Sahara Moreno, Karissa Brown.
The Oconee County gymnastics team, front row, from left: Peyton Leach, Courtney Hurst, Emma Pachuta, Emma Gregory; back row, from left: Sarah Blake Wilson, Sahara Moreno, Karissa Brown.

Credit: Courtesy of Oconee County

Credit: Courtesy of Oconee County

Note: For a preview of the preliminaries and state championships, go here.

In 2004, the Oconee County Warriors won their first gymnastics championship. Soon after, they shut down the program and it would remain dormant until 2019. That’s when Emma Gregory, then a freshman, lobbied for Tonya Day — a club coach who taught at the school — to restart the Warriors program and become its coach.

Day agreed, and the Warriors have been, as she describes, “the little engine that could” ever since.

Heading into Thursday’s Class 1A-5A state preliminaries at Buford Arena, the Warriors are ranked No. 2 in the state behind their crosstown rivals, North Oconee, and they’re having success despite a lack of depth most title-contending teams take for granted.

“We’re a small team,” said Day of the Warriors, who have seven varsity gymnasts. “We’re not like some of those teams that have 25 on their roster. Our part of town is more of the farming side of Oconee County, so there aren’t as many gymnasts as there are at North Oconee, which is closer to the Atlanta side of town.

“But we’re supportive of each other and we’re rallying each other to make it happen. We debuted at No. 2 and have held steady, which is unheard of for having only seven girls on a team. That’s what I’m most proud of.”

The Warriors will send Gregory, now a junior, seniors Emma Pachuta and Sarah Blake Wilson, and freshman Peyton Leach to compete in the first team preliminaries in program history.

Oconee County was just three players deep in 2019 and competed individually, with Gregory and Pachuta both qualifying for state — Pachuta finished fifth in beams.

In 2020, the Warriors grew to five gymnasts and planned on competing as a team. They’d gotten off to a good start in their first two meets before the season was canceled.

This season, the Warriors competed in six meets and placed second in all but one, a third-place finish. North Oconee was at all but one of those meets and finished ahead of the Warriors every time. But despite being crosstown rivals, the two programs support each other.

“It’s really a friendly rivalry,” Day said. “There’s two main gyms the area and and almost all of them are at one of those gyms. They’re all on teams at the club level and they compete together, it’s just when they go to school they put on a different uniform.

“Obviously we want to beat them, but if another team has to win it might as well be them.”

For the Warriors to advance from the preliminaries and into the championships, they’ll need perform at their best.

“We can’t make any mistakes,” Day said. “Of the eight teams in the preliminaries, the top six are separated by a few tenths of a point. We need to fight and dig for every point we can get.

“Whatever happens, I’m proud of the team.”

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