North Creek gymnasts share bonds of friendship and hopes of continued state success

Jaguars took third last season and want to keep rising.

They’re gymnastics captains and best friends. While competing on the floor, beam, bars and vault for North Creek and Bothell high schools as juniors and sophomores, the ultra-competitive and enthusiastic trio and their teammates snagged third place twice in the 4A state team standings.

This season, in the seniors’ second year competing for North Creek (which opened in 2017 in Bothell), Saiyann Reyes, Erin Clayton and Ella Simmons would like to lead their squad a few notches up the ladder into the top spot at the 4A state meet next month at the Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall.

The Jaguars will need to be one of the two teams to advance from districts to state, and the locals jumped out to a solid start with 7-0 KingCo record (8-0 overall) at press time and notched a top team score of 177.8, almost two points ahead of last season’s best. In floor action, they set a state record of 47.7 for their five combined scores at a recent meet.

Longtime head coach Mitch Craig also moved from Bothell to North Creek with the majority of his gymnasts when the school opened its doors and accepted students from other Northshore schools as well. He’s been coaching for a total of 39 years now, with 37 of them at Bothell.

“I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got a good team, I wanna stay with them,’” Craig said on Jan. 16 during the team’s practice at Advantage Gymnastics Academy in Woodinville. North Creek needed a coach and he went for it.

Craig said the team displays a great attitude and work ethic and the girls showed their dedication by working out in the summer, both in the gym and in the weight room. Each time out — especially on beam — the girls are aiming for clean skills and upgrading them in order to lift their scores.

“What makes the team go is the team unity and the family spirit that we have among each other. I think we all support each other,” said Craig, noting that senior Hannah Shull is also a vital part of leadership core.

Simmons said she loved competing for Bothell and noted that it’s been a fresh start for everyone at North Creek. They’ve added some new gymnasts, and have tons of energy, potential and motivation to make their mark as a new school.

Speaking of beam, it’s Simmons’ favorite event, one on which she scored her highest mark of 9.6 last season, and she hit a 9.5 this season at press time.

“It’s kind of the most stressful to compete, but it’s one of my strongest events,” Simmons said. “It’s a very mental event because you have to picture yourself staying on the beam. Obviously, nerves get to you and it can lead to falls on the beam.”

Her routine is comprised of big jumps and leaps and a series of two back handsprings in a row “that definitely gives me the ‘Wow!’ factor,” she said with a smile.

When the floor routine comes calling, both Reyes and Clayton are thrilled to take part and let loose their talent and emotions in their favorite event.

For Reyes, the best part is “being able to express yourself and also tumbling is really really fun, and I just think it comes to me most natural.” At press time, her top mark was 9.65.

Clayton’s top score on the floor was 9.7 at press time: “Being able to present yourself is always the important thing, but also it’s the event where everyone is the most engaged, in my opinion,” she said. It’s the most entertaining rotation, she feels.

At state last year, Clayton took 13th overall on the floor (9.440), tied for fourth on vault (9.575) and took sixth on bars (9.225). In all around, she tied for 10th with a 36.675.

Along with communication and cheering loud for teach other, Reyes said that in order to reach the top of the state podium this season, the girls will focus on hitting their routines, consistency and working diligently in practice.

The Jaguars will also be “taking things serious and taking criticism in a positive way, (engaging in) friendly competition against each other, but also learning and growing together,” Reyes said.

Simmons echoes Reyes’ sentiments, noting that she enjoys hanging out with her best friends at practice and at meets.

“We all support each other in everything that we do. Even at the meets, it makes it so much fun because you want to see everyone succeed and get better because they’re literally like my family,” Simmons said.

Clayton said it’s important to have a loving and supportive team on board in a mentally exhausting sport. If she’s having a tough day, she can embrace her teammates and gymnastics and squeeze some positivity out of the situation.

She can transform herself from student at school to a leader in the gymnastics room.

“I’ve learned that I have leadership skills that are really important in life and I’m not afraid to take charge and show my voice and let people know who I am and what I want the team to be,” Clayton said with a confident nod of the head.

As for coach Craig, watching the girls succeed is what keeps him coming back to the sport after nearly four decades.

“They’re very nice young ladies, good families. I love the sport,” he said. “I really enjoy working with them and it does keep you healthy.”