ASHLAND - Lakeland Union High School has pushed through the first month and a half of 2018 with just three gymnasts competing thanks to injuries.
At Saturday's Valentine's Invite at Ashland, the Thunderbirds were able to bring five girls, a luxury compared to recent weeks.
Lakeland still didn't have enough girls to record a complete team score, but it was a step in the right direction.
"It was great to have a couple girls back," LUHS head coach Laura Hayes said. "We still don't have enough for a team score, but it's nice to see these girls competing again. The girls did great. We had a few extra falls, but that happens. Overall I was very happy with their performance."
Kaitlin Hayes continues to battle through injuries that have plagued her senior season, but she was once again able to put together a solid performance.
Hayes placed 14th in the all-around with a score of 28.975. She took 10th in the balance beam, along with 17th in the floor exercise and 21st in the uneven bars.
Her best event was the vault, placing seventh in a tough field, scoring 8.325.
"Kaitlin is definitely not 10 percent, but she is competing well. She had her second best all around score and a personal record on bars," coach Hayes said. "She has been working really hard to improve on bars. She threw her best vault of the year, although her score didn't show it. Her vault was very competitive with the rest of the girls at this meet. Ashland's invite had some very strong teams there. She hung in there and did an awesome job."
Lexie Tiffany has perhaps been the most consistent gymnast this season, particularly when it comes to staying healthy.
She was once again steady this weekend, placing 17th in the all-around with a score of 28.2.
Tiffany also took 18th in the beam and floor exercise, 15th in the uneven bars, and 13th in the vault.
"Lexie once again had a great meet. She had a great bar routine and a good vault," Hayes said. "She is a fabulous competitor and performs very consistently. I can always count on her."
After sitting out most of 2018, Julie Neuberg and Anna Smith both returned to the lineup on Saturday.
Neuberg took 15th in the vault with a score of 7.625, 11th in the balance beam with a 7.1 and 18th in the uneven bars. Meanwhile Smith scored a 4.2 in the beam and a 3.8 in the bars.
"It was great to get Julie and Anna back this week. They did an amazing job considering they are both still recovering from injuries," Hayes said. "Julie had a personal record on bars and tied her personal record beam. What a great way to come back. Anna had a great beam routine."
Lakeland wraps up its Great Northern Conference dual meet schedule tonight at Mosinee before competing in the conference meet at Wisconsin Rapids on Saturday.
An invitational like this one, with a number of strong teams, was a great primer for the T-Birds heading into the postseason, according to Hayes.
"The competition is good and helps the girls strive to improve. Conference is right around the corner," Hayes said. "We will be working hard on fix the little things."
Lakeland travels to Mosinee tonight at 5:45 p.m.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter@SabatoNick.