Since the 2014-15 season, the Parkston/Ethan/Hanson gymnastics team has nearly tripled in size, with it fielding an all-time high 14 gymnasts this year.
As it continues to grow in size, the results and expectations have followed. Now in its fifth year as a program, and after winning a second straight Region 2A meet on Friday, P/E/H heads into the state meet on Friday and Saturday in Brookings with one goal left to accomplish-improve on last year's third-place finish.
To do so, it'll lean on its trio of upperclassmen in senior McKenzie Prunty and juniors Jada Plastow and Tyra Zens, who have all witnessed the program's growth since its inception.
"Definitely more people have gone out and been interested in our program," said Zens, who goes to school at Hanson. "And that's good because I just like having more teammates."
While P/E/H's numbers have grown, Prunty will finish her high school gymnastics career this weekend. Coach Bridget Muntefering called graduating a senior who has been with the program since an eighth grader "bittersweet," while both Zens and Plastow noted the support she shows teammates and her all-around ability.
However, all three have shown strong leadership toward younger gymnasts, including to up-and-coming seventh grader London Sudbeck, who placed seventh in the all-around at regions.
"They're very much the type of girls you want leading your team," Muntefering said. "If they are able to get a new skill and one of our younger ones gets a new skill, they're just as excited as the one who just got the new skill. It's just fun because they vicariously live through them."
They also lead by example in competitions by competing in all four events.
All three said floor was one of their favorite events, though that hasn't stopped them from having success in all-around. At regions, Prunty finished third in all-around, followed by Zens in fourth and Plastow in eighth, and at the state individual meet a year ago, Prunty was fourth in the floor exercise, Plastow was sixth on the uneven bars, and Zens was a top-10 finisher in the all-around competition.
"We've done this since we were younger, so we've had more experience," said Prunty, who hails from Parkston. "It just helps having a solid 3-4 people that are there for every event."
The Region 2A meet was P/E/H's first since the Madison Invitational on Jan. 12, though Muntefering wasn't worried about the long layoff. She saw it as an opportunity to boost her team's confidence as they learned new skills, worked on having cleaner routines and getting healthier.
The latter was a focus for Plastow, who attends Ethan, who had been riddled with injuries this year. She broke a finger during volleyball season and since has dealt with knee and ankle problems during gymnastics season, leading to her not being worried about individual placing.
"I'm just hoping to give my best performance," she said. "I'm not worried about places or anything, I'm just hoping to do well for myself."
However, she knows P/E/H will be in a "battle for second place," as it tries to check off the team's last goal. It's also a chance to help solidify P/E/H's position in the South Dakota gymnastics ranks.
Deuel had the top regional qualifying score by nearly eight full points, with a score of 144.350. Estelline/Hendricks is seeded second at 136.500, followed by Class A power Madison (135.950) and P/E/H had the fourth-best qualifying score at 134.675, slightly ahead of Milbank Area (134.325). The team competition starts at 11 a.m. Friday at the Swiftel Center in Brookings.
"Our theme is we're raising the bar this year," Muntefering said. "... We want to be one of those (teams) when people think of South Dakota gymnastics, Parkston/Ethan/Hanson is in that vocabulary. We're not there yet, but we're getting there. That's what they want."