Lydia Pavek

Senior Lydia Pavek will be one to watch for Prior Lake this winter. Pavek was a state qualifier for the Lakers as a sophomore on the vault.

The holiday break over the years is usually a time when the Prior Lake gymnastics team would tweak routines, nurse injuries and prepare for the second half of the season.

But not this year, not during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Tim Walz shutdown youth and Minnesota State High School League sports for four weeks back on Nov. 18. 

Teams can begin in-person practicing again Jan. 4, and the Lakers' first competition is set for Jan. 19 at Lakeville North, the defending Class AA state champions.

But what will the Lakers' routines look like in the first competition under new coach Patrick Kloeckner? 

In the past, under former coach Barb Kass, who stepped down after last season, Prior Lake would kick off the season with its own invitational in early December and then have a couple South Suburban Conference meets before the holiday break. 

The break would then be used to sharpen and polish routines and add new elements. That luxury is gone now.

"The team has been resilient in handling all of the changes," Kloeckner said. "The athletes have continued to do at-home workouts. The MSHSL made it available for us coaches to give workouts to the gymnasts over this time, so we have utilized that process."

Kloeckner has been a spotter/coach for 12 years and he served as a MSHSL judge five seasons prior to taking over the Lakers' program.

He also has been an assistant coach at both Eastview and Chaska/Chanhassen and has coached at USAG Gymnastics in Grand Forks. He started his coaching career with Martin County Area, a joint program between Fairmont and Martin County West.

So Kloeckner has the experience to get a team ready in a shortened season, but he's never had to do it amid a pandemic.

"I was lucky enough to be hired in May, and have gone through both the summer ups and downs with the team as well as helped athletes find offseason training," Kloeckner said. "The parents and athletes have been very welcoming and their willingness to both be flexible and timely has been really encouraging."

Kass led Prior Lake to Section 2AA title in 2013 and a seventh-place finish at state. However last season, the Lakers had their state streak end. The program had qualified at least one gymnast from 2011 to 2019.

The Lakers were seventh in the Section 2AA meet last winter. The team was one young last year with just one senior, so Kloeckner should have a strong nucleus of talent returning.

Sophomore Alex Burger missed qualifying for state last year for the Lakers by one place on the vault. The year before senior Lydia Pavek was the team's lone state qualifier, making it on the vault.

Lakeville North has won the the Section 2AA crown the last seven season after the Lakers won it in 2013.

"I look forward to starting practices and competing this season," Kloeckner said. "It's a bummer (that the season will be) a bit shorter than normal, but I'm glad the athletes will have the opportunity to compete at all."

This past fall, there were no state tournaments for all the sports. No decision has been made yet if there will be state tournaments for the winter activities. 

Tom Schardin covers sports for Savage and Prior Lake. He is dependable, sarcastic and always joking around. Tom enjoys running and swimming and is often busy coaching his two kids' sports teams.