102 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

It was the moment made for tears.

Whitefish Bay senior gymnast Aly Yurkowitz still had events to do in the WIAA state individual competition on Saturday, March 4, in Wisconsin Rapids.

She was already a happy person. The Blue Dukes had secured their third Division 2 state title the night before in her four-year career, and she was well en route to her second all-around title in a row, winning three of the four individual events, but she is a showman at heart with serendipity and poetry in her heart.

So for the floor exercise, she went back to the future, to the routine she did when she won the event as a callow, still-learning freshman in 2014

Veteran coach Mary Liniewski, who has been with Yurkowitz all four years of her storied career, including those three team titles, as well as six individual event crowns and 21 total state medals, recognized what her senior co-captain was doing instantly and then lost it.

"About 15 seconds into it, I started crying," Liniewski said, "because it was the last time I would see her do it and do it so beautifully."

"She was so pumped for my routine, so excited that when I got done, I started crying, and she started crying," Yurkowitz said. "She knew it was one of the best routines that I'd ever done. All the passion and energy that went into it just left us both overwhelmed."

"It's just a pretty, pretty routine," said a collected Liniewski a day later. "Aly's a lovely girl, and she can really play to the crowd with it. She's a natural showman."

It was great part of why Liniewski will look around the practice room at the start of next season and become a little wistful.

"I will really miss her," Liniewski said of Yurkowtiz, "and not just for the scores. I'll miss her sense of fun, her sense of humor, her cute personality, her radiant smile.

"That's what I'll really miss."

Second on beam

Ironically, the floor was the only event that Yurkowitz did not win on her final day as a gymnast. River Falls junior Sam Krueger, who finished second to Yurkowitz in the all-around, turned in a spectacular 9.833 to win the event while Yurkowitz had to settle for a merely amazing runner-up score of 9.633.

But there were no sour grapes out of Yurkowitz. She didn't see Krueger's floor routine, but she knew what it was like and was not surprised with the score.

"Sam's routine is absolutely gorgeous," Yurkowitz said. "I'm sure she deserved better than mine."

It was a moment of compassion that Yurkowtiz could afford, as after the successful team competition on March 3, which saw the Blue Dukes edge River Falls, 140.7883-139.4667, for the title, the pressure was off, and she and the other Blue Dukes could simply have fun in the individual competition.

Bay had earned the respite. The Blue Dukes added another eye-rolling story to their lorebook when their bus broke down around Fond du Lac on Thursday, March 2, as they were driving up to Rapids. They had to wait a couple of hours while another bus was called up from the depot on the southside of Milwaukee.

Liniewski said the girls handled it well, even removing all the lovely decorations they had put on the bus, celebrating the trip and Yurkowtiz's 18th birthday. Yes, of course, it was her birthday.

"They got a little slap-happy, but they had some good old-fashioned fun," she said, "but this is why I will always come up (to state) on Thursday night."

Then at the start of the team competition the next day, the Blue Dukes got off to a shaky start on uneven bars as even Yurkowitz experienced a fall. The balance beam that followed went reasonably well, but Liniewski said connections were missed, costing the team more points.

A fine routine by senior co-captain Jess Fetting led the way.

Repeat champs

But the ever-competitive Liniewski knew the Blue Dukes had to do much better if they were going to repeat as champions.

"I told them that we had to go out there and just kill floor exercise," she said, "because I had seen that Mount Horeb (which finished third) had beat us on bars, and now we were behind.

"But we did absolutely kill it on floor. We got better and better with each routine, and when we were done, we had a little leeway."

Floor scores included freshman Sarah Kirchner with an 8.817, junior Abby Timms with a 9.15, sophomore Ava Flemming with a 9.0, senior Julia Patek with a 9.15 and Yurkowitz with a 9.567.

The closing event, vault, went well as Yurkowitz had a 9.467 and Timms an 8.967, but no one was really sure if it was enough.

Enter another story for the books. Yurkowitz's mom Karen had done some quick calculations and figured out that Bay had won. She of course told Aly, which is something Liniewski frowns on greatly.

"She had texted me and that got mom in a lot of trouble with coach," Yurkowitz said sheepishly.

So Liniewski made Yurkowtiz swear to silence until the official scores came out, which she was able to do.

"She had to act like she was surprised," Liniewski said. "It was a great piece of acting."

So after a brief celebration March 3, the Blue Dukes went out and really celebrated in the individual competition.

There was a lovely complication that day as Liniewski had agreed to help coach Port Washington senior state qualifier Kaylyn Garant. Garant's coach KC Moore was very late in her pregnancy, and her doctor had strongly advised her not to travel to state.

"I can't say enough how wonderful a kid she was to work with," said Liniewski of Garant. Bay even included her in all the team huddles that day.

All-around champ

The Blue Dukes were wonderful this day, as well as Yurkowitz, who went out with a major splash.

She won beam (9.367), came back after the fiasco in the team competition to win bars (9.433) and then claimed vault (9.483). Her victorious all-around score was a 37.917, and Krueger was second (37.45).

"Winning the team competition just energized me," Yurkowitz said. "I think the scores showed it."

She said starting on beam, which requires great concentration, helped calm her a little bit

Yurkowitz was also encouraged by other individual efforts, which included Fetting earning a sixth place medal on bars (8.817) and Timms claiming fifth on vault (8.95). Timms was ninth of 25 in the all-around (35.283), Kirchner, who had battled knee troubles all season, was 11th on bars (8.517) and Patek eighth on floor exercise (9.15).

The usual rituals followed, which included dinner with the parents and then the drive to the area Wal-Mart for pizza rolls and other junk food that would become part and parcel of the annual steamvalve that is the team post-state pajama party. Then there was the drive home Sunday, March 5, when about 30 parents and fans waited at the high school to cheer their champions home.

Liniewski said the team needed those little grace notes for an injury-riddled season that had ended the right way, in all aspects.

"All that final day, every event, I was saying 'good-bye' to the girls," she said.

102 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE