The members of any successful sports team, no matter what game they partake, always begin a new season with the same, selfless goal: Come together as a single competitive unit.
Play as one. Compete as one. Win as one.
For the 2014 Darien girl gymnasts, if they were to succeed against teams double their size, they had no choice but to come together.
And that is exactly what the Blue Wave did en route to their highest possible team finish in the FCIAC meet in February and a seventh-place finish at the state division meet one week later.
"As a small group of seven competitors and one manager, we have grown to be a very close," said coach Ellie Southworth. "With only four trained and seasoned gymnasts, every score counted for us."
Southworth, who wrapped up her fifth year coaching both Darien and Westhill gymnastics, led the Blue Wave to a fourth-place finish out of nine teams at this year's conference meet. Fourth was the highest Darien could achieve at the FCIACs, given the total possible points their smaller roster could accumulate. Juniors Samantha Gunn and Kajsa Lundeen earned points throughout the year as strong all-around performers, as did freshman Samantha Aparicio.
However, sophomore Emily Medwid scored highest of all Blue Wave gymnasts for her work on the vault, floor and uneven bars. Medwid missed her entire freshman campaign due to a broken toe, but rebounded early in the season on Jan. 4 with an all-around score of 25.8. Lower body injuries, including more broken toes, continued to plague the Blue Wave this year.
"We've had many ankle and foot injuries, two dislocated kneecaps and sore backs," Southworth said. "Mid-season, we competed in three consecutive meets with only three vaults, which hurt our team score average tremendously."
Darien notched its season-high team score on Feb. 4 in Pomperaug with a mark of 127.55, two points shy of the meet champion. Earlier in the year, the Blue Wave bested Fairfield in a head-to-head competition, 119 to 117.75. One month later, they recorded a 126.86 at the FCIAC championships.
Next season, all four of Darien's highest scorers will return, and Southworth is working to make sure they are not alone at the top.
"Next year, I hope we acquire one or two more high level gymnasts and at least four other trained gymnasts at any level," Southworth said. "We can win FCIACs again with four high level gymnasts and some depth to back them up."
In 2012, the Blue Wave rolled out a team comprised of double-digit gymnasts, who were fresh off a third-place finish at the Class M state championship the year before. Since then, they have struggled to produce the same kind of numbers.
Historically, Darien has excelled in gymnastics at both the conference and state level due to the high level of training incoming freshmen receive at the Darien YMCA gymnastics program. Assistant coach Meghan Lally, who left the YMCA as a level nine gymnast, went on to have a very successful career at Staples High School. Southworth believes her return for a fourth year would be a big boost to her team's chances in 2014.