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Woodstock Academy brings home 13th-consecutive Eastern Connecticut Conference title

If 13 was an unlucky number for anyone on the Woodstock Academy gymnastics team, it probably isn’t any longer.

The Centaurs won their 13th-consecutive Eastern Connecticut Conference gymnastics title on Sunday with a 136.05-134.3 win over Norwich Free Academy at Thames Valley Gymnastics in Norwich.

“That’s pretty good,” Woodstock Academy coach Kasey Tocchio said. “(Woodstock Academy athletic director) Sean (Saucier) came up to me at the end and said, ’13!’. It’s awesome.”

It also was not pre-ordained as it has been in the past.

The Centaurs lost their top gymnast, Taylor Markley, to injury before the season even began and several others also had to recover from injuries of their own. Freshman Julia Kerr, for example, performed in the All-Around competition for a first time this season at the championship meet.

“Every team has its own challenges,” Tocchio said. “We come into the season always trying to figure it out and it takes a little bit at the beginning and we always seem to get back into the groove. It’s more challenging these days, not harder, but just different.”

And going into a championship meet with a streak on the line that the Centaurs now still possess can make it all that much more difficult.

The solution: Don’t think about it.

“My biggest thing is telling them to just be normal. I like to remind them of that, it’s no different (than a regular meet). Keeping their nerves down and just being calm is so important. They didn’t have to do anything out of the box, nothing better or worse, just be normal because their normal is really good,” Tocchio said of her approach to the meet.

It’s always nice, however, when you have someone to lean on.

The Centaurs have that in sophomore Olivia Aleman.

Aleman was solid at the beginning as she posted a 9.35 to tie for first in vault. She followed that up with second-place finishes in the bars (9.2) and beam (9.2) before putting together a sparkling routine to win the floor with a 9.65 total.

It all added up to a 37.4 All-Around total and an ECC individual championship for the young gymnast.

“She’s been so consistent and was just confident in herself, taking that last spot for the team everywhere and really closing us out. She’s been so amazing and I’m really proud of her this year,” Tocchio said.

Kerr also stepped up.

It was the first time she attempted to compete in all four routines that comprise the All-Around.

She came away as ECC beam champion, alongside Killingly’s Ella Pereira, as both finished with a 9.25 score. The freshman was also second on the floor with a 9.45 and added an 8.15 vault and an 8.1 bars routine for a 34.95 total, fifth-best in the competition.

“Julia is still working back on vault, she can still do a way better one. For her to come and place in the All-Around was really cool. She fought on bars like we’ve never seen her fight on bars before so she is starting to get our ways. I’m really proud of her for pulling through (Sunday),” Tocchio said.

Kerr, who is a club gymnast, wasn’t sure about joining the high school team this season.

Tocchio was glad she did and not just because of what she brings to the team.

“I really think high school is just so good for her and being a part of this team. I’m really happy she decided to do high school this year and I think she will just keep improving and continue to see her name up there,” Tocchio said.

Kerr’s presence on Sunday was more than important.

The Centaurs didn’t have much room for error as the meet was not decided until the final rotation.

In addition to the Wildcats finishing just a point and a half back, Killingly (134.1) was just two-tenths of a point behind NFA and Stonington ended with a 131.3.

“We knew how close it was, everyone was checking scores and it was pretty much neck-and-neck. Our floor as a team is very strong (the Centaurs tallied a 35.9) so it was good for us to end there,” Tocchio said. “I feel like all four teams made mistakes (Sunday) too so that made it even a closer meet in a sense.”

One streak maintained.

Another to try and keep intact.

Woodstock Academy has 11-straight state titles to its credit.

The Centaurs next travel to Jonathan Law High School to compete for a state class championship on Feb. 25.

But at what time, in what division, and against whom is still a mystery.

“I’m really excited about States,” Tocchio said. “We will find out Wednesday who we will be going against and at what time. I think we just have to keep building on ourselves. There were a lot of little things here and there, such as falls on beam, that we can make up for. I think we still have some more fighting to do.”

Unlike most CIAC-sponsored sports, the state divisional alignments are not determined prior to the season and, instead, are figured out after the regular season concludes.