Epperson earns nationals berth

Maresa Epperson knows exactly what she'll be doing for the next few weeks.

"Routines and routines and routines," the local 14-year-old gymnast says.

The freshman at Phoenix High has plenty of motivation to train hard.

Epperson captured second place in the all-around category while being narrowly edged out of a pair of first-place finishes in the vault and floor at the 2011 USA Gymnastics Region 2 Championships in Pullman, Wash., last Friday.

She will next compete at the Women's Gymnastics Junior Olympics National Championships in Long Beach, Calif., May 12-15.

Epperson has already made a big splash in the world of gymnastics. She is the youngest in the state to reach level 10 status, a division reserved for extremely talented and experienced athletes.

Only elite-level Olympians are considered higher than level 10.

"She is truly a special talent," says Jeff Bettman, Epperson's coach.

Epperson has never competed in a level-10 Junior Olympics meet, but she's no stranger to national invitationals. In 2009, she won the floor event at the Western National Championships for level 9 competitors. Last season, she captured first in the vault in the same invite.

"I am really excited, but I am kind of nervous," Epperson says.

Her coach believes the experience will be an eye opener to the Epperson family.

"They have seen level 9," says Bettman, a team director at Unlimited Sports Academy in Grants Pass, where Epperson trains. "They will go to this level 10 national meet and you are not going to see much of a difference between the competition there and what you see on television in the Olympics."

Competing in the level 10 Junior B division in Pullman, Epperson earned second in the vault with a score of 9.225. The winner, Julie Jennings of Roach Gymnastics, just edged her with a 9.250 score.

Epperson took home third-place honors in the bars (8.975) and floor (9.200) and a fourth in the beam event (9.075) at the Region 2 Championships.

Overhus and Jenna Altenhofen, of Precision Elite 01, tied for first in the floor with a score of 9.225. In that event, Epperson landed and lost her balance, taking two or three steps back. And each step back is a reduction of at least a tenth of a point, Bettman says.

Epperson's overall score was 36.475. Overhus secured the best all-around mark of 37.100.

"The vault and floor were really close," Epperson says. "I thought I did good on the beams, because I actually stuck it this time."

Epperson could have advanced to level 10 last year, but Bettman says there was no need to rush through the developmental system. For now, she'll keep putting in work, recording four hours of training four days a week while keeping her focus on the grand stage of Long Beach.

"Could she have gone to level 10 last year?" Bettman says. "Possibly. But we wanted to make sure she didn't burn out, and also I believe she is mature enough now to understand the significance of moving to that level and the extra level of responsibility. You have to remember that she is only a freshman in high school. She's got a lot of great years ahead of her."

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com

Share This Story