Five club members head west for big meets
Many of the 3,800 TAGS Gymnastics members who train at two sites do so for fun and fitness, not necessarily to compete. But five from the club’s Apple Valley location will perform at some of the highest levels of youth gymnastics in the next week.
Lakeville North High School student Olivia Larson is in the Women’s Level 9 Western Championships, which runs through Sunday in Boise, Idaho. Level 9 is the third-highest proficiency group in club gymnastics behind Olympic level and Level 10. A number of Level 9 girls club gymnasts have earned scholarships to compete for Division I college programs.
Four members of the TAGS South boys club program in Apple Valley – Shashank Yallamraju of Apple Valley, Blake Wright of Rosemount, P.J. Lenz of Prior Lake and Vladimir Tipler of Hastings – will be in the men’s Junior Olympic National Championships beginning May 7 in Long Beach, Calif. Yallamraju, a senior at Eastview High School, is a Level 10 gymnast. Wright, Lenz and Tipler, who are all in middle school, are Level 9s.
Yallamraju has qualified for the Junior Olympics six times. He finished fourth on the high bar last year and seventh on parallel bars two years ago.
He will attend the University of Minnesota in the fall and try out for a spot on the men’s gymnastics team. Even though Yallamraju is the state Level 10 all-around champion and one of the top gymnasts in the country in his age group, he is not assured of a spot with the Gophers.
That’s because fewer than 20 colleges have men’s gymnastics teams and the competition for roster spots is intense, said Tony Aretz, head coach of the TAGS South boys team.
“Making a college team is a big accomplishment now because there aren’t many of them left,” Aretz said. “Fifteen or 20 years ago, it would have been easy for (Yallamraju) to find a spot on a team. Now it’s down to the top 50 or 60 gymnasts in the country, and he’s right on the bubble.”
Wright, Lenz and Tipler will compete in the 13-14 age group at nationals, meaning they have a few years before having to decide if they want to take a shot at college gymnastics. Lenz is making his third trip to nationals and Wright his second. It will be the first time at nationals for Tipler.
At nationals, the TAGS gymnasts will be competing against gymnasts for whom the sport is almost a full-time job. Some boys gymnasts, particularly in the southern United States, train 35 to 40 hours a week, Aretz said. A typical TAGS training week is about 18 hours over six days so the gymnasts have time for other activities, Aretz said.
Larson qualified for the Western Nationals through regional competition in Fargo, N.D., two weeks ago. She was 10th in the all-around; the top 12 qualify. She also was a Level 9 vault champion in her age group at the Minnesota state meet. This is her second trip to the Western Nationals.
TAGS South girls team coach Kevin Brown, who trained four Olympic gymnasts in the 1980s and 1990s, said Larson’s goal is a top-10 finish at the Western Nationals.
“She’s worked very hard for this and always has a great attitude,” Brown said, “and now she knows what it’s like to compete at that level.”
Although five national qualifiers is a fairly high number for the TAGS South team program, TAGS director and co-owner Julia Thompson said the team had a similar number of qualifiers last year.