Published in the February 26, 2016 edition

THE MELROSE Lady Raider gymnastic team earned a MIAA North Sectional appearance after another flawless season. (Donna Larsson photo) 

THE MELROSE Lady Raider gymnastic team earned a MIAA North Sectional appearance after another flawless season. (Donna Larsson photo)

By JENNIFER GENTILE

MELROSE — The Melrose Lady Raider gymnastic team capped off their undefeated, league-winning season with an appearance at the MIAA North Sectionals on Saturday, Feb. 20 at Hudson High School. Melrose had qualified with a collective average of 138.54 points over the season, and had a solid 6th place finish among the North teams who include perennial favorites, Andover and Beverly High.

This is the third straight post season appearance for Melrose, which is no stranger to statewide competition. This season, however, the Lady Raiders entered the event at a disadvantage with one of their top performers, 4-event athlete Shay Fennell, sidelined with an injury sustained in the league championship victory against Winchester. But the team competed admirably behind the efforts of Tania Dutra, who had Melrose’s top score of the afternoon with a 33.25, including a strong 8.7 in vault. Her sister Stephanie tallied 32.25 with a beautiful beam performance that earned her an 8.8. Isabel Albuja competed in three events: bar, beams and floor, and enjoyed a solid 8.6 in floor.

Senior captain Brooke Norris helped Melrose earn top scores with her floor (8.7) and vault (8.825) routines. Anna Pecci competed in beam and floor (8.575 in both). Brooke Barris enjoyed a strong routine in the vault (8.725) and bars (8.1) while Lauren Cincotta also enjoyed a strong vault routine (8.85). Also competing were Mya Marshall (beam, bars), Sofie Duff (floor, vault), Brett Mullett (vault) and Emily DeCelle (beam).

Longtime coach Denise Valdez credited the team for their perseverance. “Not having Shay didn’t help us, she’s good for top scores and we might have had a chance to advance to States with her but I was very pleased how the girls competed.”

Of her departing seniors, captains Isabel Judware and Brooke Norris, and Emily DeCelle and Lauren Cincotta, Valdez credits their leadership and work. “I’m going to miss them. I actually miss them already. They were such an enormous part of this team. Our underclassmen looked up to them. They really came through for us at when were facing injuries. They just mean so much to this team.”

On Thursday, Feb. 18, four Lady Raiders qualified to compete individually at the MIAA North Sectionals in Hudson. Representing Melrose were Lauren Cincotta (vault), Brooke Barris (vault), Stephanie Dutra (beam) and Tania Dutra (beam).

And while this 2016 season is a wrap, there is much to look forward to next season. “We have some great talent coming back,” says Valdez. “They’re all wonderful girls. I’m very lucky.”