State gymnastics: St. Cloud’s Schaefer sweeps Class 2A individual titles

Taylar Schaefer grew up idolizing gymnasts who had achieved at a high level. She looked up to other St. Cloud student-athletes who placed at the state meet. She stood in awe alongside Mahtomedi’s Bella Frattalone when the Zephyrs’ gymnast won a vault state title and Schaefer placed second.

“Never in a million years” did Schaeffer envision herself standing on the top step at such a big stage.

Yet that was her permanent place of residence during Saturday’s Class 2A individual state meet award ceremony at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in downtown St. Paul.

Schaefer entered the meet nervous about the expectations of defending her all-around crown from a year ago. She did that and then some Saturday, sweeping every event title and winning another all-around championship.

“Last year, I didn’t really have as much expectations going in. I knew I was ranked up there, but that doesn’t mean anything. Anything can happen on any day,” the 4-foot-10 senior said. “This year going into it, I felt a lot more pressure. So, there was way more nerves, way more pressure. I felt so much like people were expecting (things).”

And she managed to exceed all of those expectations, including her own.

Schaefer had zero intention of sweeping the event titles. She noted she generally finishes “like 16th place or something” on the uneven bars. But she did add a blind fall on the high bar this year, which was an upgrade. And she executed the best routine of her life at Saturday’s state meet.

Still, she never thought it would be enough to win a title.

“They were going through the podium and I was like, ‘What the heck?’ ” Schaefer said. “I was so confused.”

Schaefer finished with an all-around total of 38.500, 0.750 better than St. Michael-Albertville’s Jackie Bergeron. Forest Lake’s Samantha Ernst was third.

Ernst finished second on the uneven bars, with East Ridge’s Laney Schwellenbach taking third and Cretin-Derham Hall’s Delaney Cunnington claiming fourth. Lakeville South’s Alexa Drew was third on the vault.

St. Cloud coach Joel Stark-Haws admitted even he was surprised by Schaefer’s placement on top of the podium in events across the board. But he was not shocked by her general performance.

“She’s a gamer, she loves this sport, she loves to be on this stage, she’s very consistent,” Stark-Haws said. “So, those parts of Taylar I know are her. We came into the meet as a coaching staff and as a team expecting that over the weekend. She’s just so consistent and she just loves doing gymnastics.”

Stark-Haws noted Schaefer, who will compete for Wisconsin-Stout next season, has certainly “made her mark” on Minnesota gymnastics. But her impact in her community might be greater.

“With our team, her work ethic and her commitment as a whole just to our team is what’s going to be her legacy. Every practice we had, she wanted to be there. She always wanted more practices,” he said. “But it wasn’t about her. She wanted to do practice because she wanted to be with the team and she wanted everybody to be together. And that was her favorite, and it always has been.”

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