Burrell gymnasts set sights on WPIAL championships

Thursday, February 15, 2018 | 6:58 PM

With only three girls on the team, Burrell gymnastics is small in numbers, but it produced big results last year at the WPIAL individual championships after Taylor Johnson placed second in the advanced class and Lexi Daniels took first overall in the Intermediate II division.

It was a banner day for the Bucs, and they're hopeful they can have a repeat performance at this year's individual finals Saturday at Moon.

Freshman Kelsea Arabia, in her first year with the Bucs, will join Daniels and Johnson at the championships and will compete in Intermediate II on Saturday.

Johnson, a senior, has been involved in gymnastics since she was 3 years old, but that chapter of her life is coming to an end in the near future as she turns her focus to running track for Burrell in the spring and eventually in college at Washington & Jefferson.

She'd like to add a WPIAL title to her resume before she leaves the sport competitively.

“I felt pretty good about how I did last year, but this year I am looking to finish first,” Johnson said. “Getting second last year makes me feel like I have a good chance of finishing first this time.”

One of Johnson's main competitors for the advanced division gold medal, Katrina Jones of Hampton, will not compete Saturday because of injury. Jones set a new WPIAL record for all-around score last year with a 38.925 and won bars, beam and floor, but Johnson halted a perfect day by besting her in vault.

Johnson and Jones compete together on the Pittsburgh North Stars club team, and Johnson considers Jones one of her best friends.

“I'm super close to Kat, and it was really devastating to hear about her injury,” Johnson said. “I wish that I would be able to go against her. Both of us joke around with each other and see who can get the best score. It made it a lot of fun.”

Daniels, a sophomore, was surprised when she learned she won the Intermediate II overall last year in her first try. She won on beam and placed third on bars. This year, she'll likely move up to Intermediate I.

“It's kind of nerve-racking, because I feel like I need to continue that title, but at the same time it's not all about winning,” Daniels said. “If I compete and have fun, that's all that really matters to me. This year has been going pretty well. I've bumped up my scores, so I think I'll be in the next level.”

Burrell is in its second year competing as a team. The top four scores are submitted at a team event, which puts Burrell at a disadvantage, since it only has three girls. But competing together has been a positive experience for the Bucs that's translated into friendships and strong individual performances.

“We haven't been with each other long, but since there are so few of us, we've got to know each other pretty well,” Johnson said. “We've been able to cheer each other on and support each other. We know what each other's strengths are and what we can do on the floor.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.


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