Despite tiny roster, young Burrell gymnasts representing school at WPIAL meet

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Thursday, February 10, 2022 | 8:01 AM


Burrell doesn’t exactly have a gymnastics team. It’s actually just a duo.

But that isn’t slowing down Renee Ruggeri’s gymnasts, both of them.

“They’re both great kids,” Ruggeri said of freshmen Sydney Lawson and Rylie Porter. “Sydney’s strongest event is probably floor. She’s really clean and a really good dancer. She pulls in pretty high floor scores.

“Rylie’s best event is probably bars. She swings bars pretty nice. She’s tall and thin and looks good on bars.”

Both gymnasts have qualified for Saturday’s WPIAL individual gymnastics championships, with Lawson set to compete in all four events.

Despite there only being two Burrell-clad gymnasts at the event, Ruggeri brings along girls from other schools who she instructs at Ultimate Gymnastics in Delmont.

“We don’t really have a ‘team’ at Burrell this year, but we do have some independents that compete with them that we take to the meets,” she said. “They’re all on my competitive team at Ultimate, so they still feel like a team when we go.”

Those independents are Emma King (Kiski Area), sisters Carlee and Emily Valenta (Penn-Trafford), Sarah Kvortek (Plum) and Danica Berecin (Valley).

But for Burrell, it’s Lawson and Porter, who have naturally formed quite a bond.

“They’re friends outside of the gym and are freshmen at Burrell,” Ruggeri said. “They’ve known each other for a while outside of gymnastics. They have different strong points and work well together. The whole group of them work well, and they definitely encourage each other and pick each other up if they fall off the beam or don’t have a great routine.”

While two gymnasts is a bit low for the program, Ruggeri does know that reinforcements are on the way, with potentially four students currently in eighth grade set to join the varsity squad next year.

“I’m hoping that, if I keep the two that I have and we add those four, we’ll have a pretty decent team and have six or seven girls,” she said.

“I encourage them to get involved with something for their school, because a lot of their peers don’t even know what gymnastics is or that they do gymnastics. So it’s nice to get a little recognition from the school.

“I think they kind of feed off of that a little bit. Even though they’re not scoring great as a team, they still hear, ‘Oh, you do gymnastics, that’s interesting.’ Their peers and their other friends kind of respect it. It’s a nice addition to just doing their USAG gymnastics, which is a little more intense. They can have fun with it.”

But the fun also comes with a chance to compete, for the first time, at the WPIAL meet. And Ruggeri believes that her two freshmen have a chance to make an early impact in their high school careers.

“It’s a new thing for them,” she said. “But I’d like to see them do well, maybe improve on their scores from the season and possibly get a medal or be recognized in the top six in an event or two.

“But I just want them to enjoy the experience of having a high school event or competition.”

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