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Originally published February 14, 2012 at 8:03 PM | Page modified February 14, 2012 at 10:32 PM

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Former club gymnasts raise Mount Rainier's profile

Cheyenne Gavino and Baylee Hamilton gave up club gymnastics for separate reasons, but have found success and fun competing for their high school team.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Beginner's luck it's not.

Seniors Cheyenne Gavino and Baylee Hamilton are newcomers to the Mount Rainier High School gymnastics team, but the two have been competing in the sport since age 6.

Both rose to Level 10 performers before deciding separately to quit club gymnastics. Gavino gave it up last May due to the cost; Hamilton quit in late August due to persistent lower-back pain.

Club gymnastics' loss has become Mount Rainier's huge gain. Gavino and Hamilton have joined other club-team refugees to put the Rams in position to challenge for the school's first gymnastics title when the Class 4A state meet begins Friday at the Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall.

"Adding them to the team has been tremendous," said Mount Rainier coach Alison Kestle, whose roster also includes junior Kerrie Heckel and sophomore Katya Komissarova, previous Level 9 gymnasts.

Also in the lineup for the Des Moines school are Symantha Murray (a former Level 8) and talented freshman Ava Welch, sister of junior beam specialist Natalie Welch.

"I'm fortunate to have them all," Kestle said.

The effervescent Gavino, with blonde highlights etching accents in her jet-black hair, was delighted to finally join her high school team.

"I've always wanted to compete in high school, but my (club) coaches didn't allow it," she said. "I absolutely love high school gymnastics. I couldn't ask for anything better.

"All the girls are just about my age, and we've developed so many good friendships that it's almost like a family," Gavino said. "At club, there were a couple of outgoing girls, and I'm pretty outgoing, as you can see. But at high school there were a lot more girls I could relate to. That was nice."

She and Hamilton competed for separate clubs but have been friends throughout high school. Teaming up at Mount Rainier has been a huge bonus.

"I love Baylee," Gavino said. "She's so sweet. I got really pumped when I knew she was coming because it's always nice having someone with the same ability as you, just so you're not the focus of everyone's attention all the time."

The two are terrific friends, Hamilton says.

"I've known her since I was probably 8," she said. "We watched each other grow up in gymnastics, so it's been awesome to be on the same team with her. Even when we competed, it was all in good fun."

No competitive strife surfaces between them — ever, says Gavino.

"Not at all," she said. "You would think that. Even I would think that. But for Baylee and me it's about the team more than it is about ourselves."

A lower-back injury several years ago often sidelined Hamilton, forcing her to do therapy and strengthening exercises while her club teammates gained more skills.

"I couldn't practice enough to be competitive individually," she said. "That kind of took the fun out of club gymnastics. But the skill set I compete with now is a lot easier on my back, so I'm loving gymnastics again."

Gavino loves putting her talents to work for her school.

"Classmates clap for me or tell me they saw me in the paper," she said. "That's a really awesome experience, having people say your name. I think, 'Wow, I don't even know you, but thank you.' "

Gavino loves to draw (particularly sketching abstracts in pencil; "I love to draw things that don't exist"), to talk ("I think I'd be a good therapist; I'm good at calming people down"), to fire up teammates ("I'm loud"), and to execute tough techniques, like a back-handspring/layout/step-out sequence on beam ("That's pretty complex, but it's more fun than difficult.")

The state meet, then, should be a blast for her.

"I've been to some large meets, like a national Level 10 meet in California last year," Gavino said. "But I've never been to a high school state meet. I'm so excited."

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