Team of one: Arabian goes it alone in gymnastics

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PENDLETON — Her competitions take place without a raucous student section or the accompaniment of a pep band and cheerleaders.

Her only rooting section is usually her parents, and she doesn’t have any teammates.

Cassie Zehr is the team.

And she’s OK with that.

The Pendleton Heights sophomore is entering her second season as the lone gymnast representing the Arabians.

A year ago, Zehr qualified for regional after finishing fourth in the all-around, including a second-place finish in the vault at the Connersville sectional.

Because PHHS does not have a gymnastics team, she competes with New Castle High School, which agreed to sponsor her season.

She practices at the Anderson Gymnastics and Cheer and does not see the lack of a school team as a disadvantage.

“A lot of teams that are run by the high school can’t afford equipment as good,” she said. “Since I practice here, I get to work on the best equipment.

At last year’s regional at Columbus East High School, Zehr just missed advancing to state in the vault, placing eighth. She hopes to improve in all areas, especially the uneven bars, which she considers her weakest event. She said she believes reaching that goal could lead to another achievement — moving on to state.

“I hope to get second on beam at sectionals,” she said. “There’s one girl (New Castle’s Kierstyn Cochran) who is at a higher level in club than I was, so I don’t think there’s any chance I beat her. I hope to beat everyone else consistently and make it to regionals again and maybe even state.”

Zehr’s coach at the Anderson Gymnastics and Cheer is Misty Carpenter. Carpenter has been coaching gymnastics for 20 years and has been Zehr’s coach since Cassie was 3 years old. She said Cassie is prepared for the season and expects her to succeed.

“I think she works very hard,” Carpenter said. “She’s working hard to add some new skills and working in new things from last year. She knows what she needs to do when she gets here, and she gets it done. We’re hoping for state this year.”

Carpenter instructs many of the best club gymnasts in the area, some of whom come from as far as Winchester and Marion to practice in Anderson.

Zehr said this is another strength in being a sole team member.

“I think it is an advantage, because she coaches Level 10 gymnasts,” Zehr said.

Zehr said she feels less pressure as a solo competitor than she does as part of a larger team, like the one she plays for in the fall.

“In soccer, it’s a team thing, so it’s a lot harder,” she said. “You have to rely on other people to make it to a higher level. But here, I can make it by myself. I, personally, like being by myself.”

The instruction and preparedness showed in Cassie’s first meet of the year, Tuesday, Jan. 10, at Connersville. Competing against New Palestine and Connersville, she won the vault competition, placed second in the beam and floor exercise, and fourth in the uneven parallel bars. Her scores were good enough to place second in the all-around.

Zehr said this meet will give her a good idea where she stands as the season gets under way.

“Last year, my first meet was against one of the easier schools,” she said. “But, this year, I’m against Connersville, New Palestine and New Castle, three of the strongest teams in the sectional.”

Based on her efforts and early results, she may well be on her way to achieving the goals she has for herself this season.