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Leading by example: Herll carries the Kernels

Quinci Herll is leading by example. And it's a pretty good example for the two-time defending state champion Mitchell Kernel gymnastics team to follow. Much like the team's rising scores throughout this season, Herll's individual scores continue ...

Mitchell senior Quinci Herll is leading the Kernels gymnastics team, with hopes of helping the team to a third-straight team championship at the state meet next week in Brookings. (Matt Gade/Republic)
Mitchell senior Quinci Herll is leading the Kernels gymnastics team, with hopes of helping the team to a third-straight team championship at the state meet next week in Brookings. (Matt Gade/Republic)

Quinci Herll is leading by example.

And it's a pretty good example for the two-time defending state champion Mitchell Kernel gymnastics team to follow.

Much like the team's rising scores throughout this season, Herll's individual scores continue to improve at the most important time of the year. The senior Herll and the Kernels are headed to the Eastern South Dakota championships today in Watertown, and in less than a week's time, will be at the state gymnastics meet at the Swiftel Center in Brookings. The team competition will be decided on Friday, while the individual championships will be handed out on Feb. 13.

In the nine meets the Kernels have had so far this season, Herll has been the individual all-around champion in eight of them. Mitchell coach Audra Rew - who has led the Kernels to four state championships as a team - said it's all set up by Herll's unbridled confidence, not only in her abilities and routine but the fact that she's going to "stick" it, as Herll says.

"Gymnastics is a sport where you have to be 100 percent confident in everything yourself," Rew said. "Quinci rises to the occasion with pressure at every turn. When she's off, she will fight and brush it off and come back and make it happen. I think that's what's made her career so successful."

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Herll can put herself in rare air among Kernels as an individual state champion. In the all-around, only Brooke Cersosimo - who won the Class AA championship three times from 2006 to 2008 - and Amelia Rew in 2009 have won at state for Mitchell. The Kernels haven't had an individual event champion since Rew swept all four events in 2009.

The senior said she knows it's her role to bring the team along and lead the way.

Herll got a late start in gymnastics and wasn't formally on a team until she was in the fourth grade. A year later, she spent four months in a back brace due to an injury. Rew said she remembers being very cautious with Herll at the time to make sure she wouldn't become injured further. But out of that injury, Rew said she saw the first glimpses of the standout gymnast Herll would become.

"I think that's when I noticed that she was going to fight back no matter what," Rew recalled. "At that age, there were a lot of tears involved and she was frustrated by what she couldn't do and I know we just said, 'I don't care what you can't do; let's work on what you can do.' That kind of paved the way and by sixth grade, I knew she had the confidence and the ability to do good things in high school gymnastics. You never know for sure, but I felt like she had everything it took to be great."

Herll said her time out with injury as a youth was difficult but is convinced it made her the tough gymnast she is today.

"Since I started later, I knew I had to work a lot harder to get myself to where the other people were at," she said. "I think it motivated me to be even better to catch up to the other girls because they started so much earlier than I did."

At the 2015 state meet, Herll was in the mix for all four disciplines and the all-around championship, but didn't come away with an individual title of her own. She was third in vault, floor exercise and all-around, tied for fourth in balance beam and tied for fifth in the uneven bars. But Herll has already shown improvement this year, surpassing her all-around score of 37.425 from the 2015 meet four times this season, including in each of the last three meets for the Kernels. Her season-high 38.350 came Jan. 28 at home in a triangular.

"She's just a really good example for the whole team," said fellow senior Emily Prill. "She doesn't have to say much to have an impact."

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"I've kind of been one of the older members of the team for a while and I've been good at motivating our teammates by saying that we want to win state this year," Herll said. "I think by taking that lead, the other members of the team do the same, to work harder as well."

Herll said given the state meet is just around the corner, it's constantly on her mind. But don't confuse that with worry, she says.

"When I go to bed, I'm already nervous thinking about it, because it would be really cool to make it three in a row," she said.

Like so many of her teammates, Herll said her focus remains on the team championship but admitted that she would love to join the Kernels' elite company in the all-around event.

"I would rather win the team title but I would like at least one individual event, I'd say that's a goal of mine," she said. "To win the all-around would be a big honor."

Rew said her favorite aspect of Herll's work ethic is the type of model she is for Mitchell's young gymnasts, which are regularly in the gym at the same time as Herll.

"She falls, she gets up and she has a smile on her face," the coach said. "Gymnastics is a fearful sport, you know you're going to fall every day and you can crash and burn on a daily basis. It's the kids that can crash and burn and can get up with a smile and not let it get in their heads that are going to make the good athletes. That's something that Quinci sets a high standard for everyone in this gym."

Related Topics: KERNELSGYMNASTICS
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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