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Thinking team-first, Roden leads Kernels

Mitchell's Bailey Roden competes on the beam during the Jill McCormick Invitational in December at Mitchell High School. (Matt Gade / Republic)

In a program in which the team is the main priority, Mitchell gymnast Bailey Roden is the consummate team player.

As the lone senior on this year's Kernel team, Roden has been a part of three state championship teams (2014, 2015 and 2016) and is a key cog in MHS' bid for a fourth state title to wrap up her prep career.

"I have looked back at that," she said. "It's crazy how you go from being a seventh grader to being a senior and how fast that time goes. Three state titles are really something to cherish and we've got more to accomplish."

Before the state meet arrives next weekend in Watertown, Mitchell's final stop is at the Eastern South Dakota Conference meet at noon today in Aberdeen.

Mitchell coach Audra Rew said Roden's time on those state championship teams was valuable for understanding what it takes to be successful.

"Being a part of the team young and winning those state titles at a young age when she wasn't doing as many events, that set her up to be a leader now," Rew said. "That helped her understand that everyone on the team had a role ... so now it's easier for her to look at it and say 'I don't care who's No. 1 as long as we're No. 1 as a team. Bailey is good at whatever it takes."

The Kernels can count on Roden for consistency. She was a top-eight finisher a season ago at the state individual competition on vault and has qualified in that event once again with a 9.150. She's also one of the Kernels' all-around qualifiers this season with a score of 35.025 and Roden said that's something she's gotten better at, simply by taking a relaxing approach.

"Being a senior, I've tried not to hold back," she said. "Last year, we had to hit and in that way, you hold back a bit, just because you want to stay on the beam or make sure you hit a vault. Now, you can go out and give it your all and if you fall, you have your teammates that will be able to back you up."

Her teammates are also counting on Roden, Rew said.

"She's kind of that calming factor for the younger kids," she said. "She might get nervous for herself but she's there for the other kids to help them through. She talks to them in her calming voice probably more than I notice."

Roden said there's not much of a motivational message needed from her to the younger gymnasts.

"These seventh graders, they came to the state meet and they saw us finish in second place," she said. "They push us older girls because they want to win a state championship just as much as we do."

Heading into the last few meets of her high school career, Roden said this Kernels team is among her favorites because it's having the most fun.

"We're just a good group and we get along and put it all out there," she said.