HELENA — The Mount Helena Gymnastics team capped off a successful State Level 8-10 championship meet in Billings recently by qualifying four athletes to the USA Gymnastics Region 2 Championships.
Regionals will be held in Tacoma, Washington on Friday-Sunday.
Mikelle Ballard, 16, leads MHG into the meet, having placed as state runner-up in the all-around in the Level 10 division.
Rounding out MHG’s regional qualifiers are the rest of their Level 8 group of Lily Bohler, Shi Jia Sullivan and Reese Esponda.
“Esponda and Bohler also qualified for the Montana State All Star team that will compete against teams from Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Idaho in a college type format,” Mount Helena coach Denny Allen said.
Ballard, a Capital High sophomore, is attending her fifth regional tournament, where she and her teammates will attempt to qualify for the USA Gymnastics National Championships in May in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The highlight of her season occurred at Couer d’Alene’s Great West Gymfest, when she became the first Mount Helena gymnast in 17 years to win an event final in the event.
Ballard captured the meet’s uneven bars championship with a score of 9.00, and added third-place finishes in vault and floor exercise. Her top-six placing on the first day sent her to the Great West’s finals the next evening.
Ballard took up gymnastics not long after she learned to walk, at 2 years of age, in a ‘Mom & Me’ class. She entered her first competition at the age of 6.
The 5-foot-2 gymnast said her best showing at regionals to date took place three years ago, when she was a member of the Level 8 state team.
“My goal next weekend is to qualify for nationals. So I’ll need to score a 35 in the all-around and place in the top-seven in my Senior A age group,” said Ballard, whose other sports include water skiing and surfing at Hauser Lake in the summers. “The bars is my favorite event, and my best move is a Deltchev.”
She described the move, named after Bulgarian Olympic champion Stoyan Deltchev, as being at the top, crossing her right hand over the bar, and then swinging through the bottom and doing a half turn. Next she straddles her legs, does a front flip and catches the lower bar.
Ballard said MHG coaches Allen, Sharon Mozer and Rebecca Rohrer have had the most impact on her career.
“They pushed me and have been at all of my meets,” she said.
Ballard is the oldest of her regional teammates. Bohler is a home-schooled eighth grader, while Sullivan attends Helena Middle School, also in the eighth grade. Esponda is the youngest as a third-grader at Central-Lincoln School.