by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
We asked gymnast Leah Perreault to pose with a softball glove for her athlete-of-the-week article, because we’ve never covered one before who was also a ballplayer. Usually if gymnasts have a spring sport, it’s track-and-field.
The Rogers senior is rounding third and heading home on a career in gymnastics in which she’s been one of best in a very strong program, even if oveshadowed by several all-staters.
“My mom always wanted talked about softball. She wanted me to play,” explained Leah, who started gymnastics at age three and softball at 12. “She was a pitcher in high school, and my dad played baseball. So I thought, OK, that sounds like fun. I’ll try it.”
Perreault started in center field the last two years on Rogers Royals varsity. She batted .333 last season while covering a lot of ground and showing a nice arm, said coach Dan Ohlgren.
“I sent a girl to the hospital once,” she giggled, referring to a line drive that glanced off an infielder’s glove and hit her face. If that sounds a bit casual, it’s probably because gymnasts are routinely doing dangerous feats most people wouldn’t even consider. She’s had a sore ankle forever and lately back pain.
“Gymnastics is definitely is a daredevil thing. You’e got to have guts to be in this sport. You’ve got to be able to use your head,” she said, asked why she loves gymnastics. “It’s a new thing every day, and not so repetitive like most sports. I like being able to do things that most people can’t. I like being in the air.”
What exactly is in your head during a cartwheel on a four-inch piece of timber?
“I don’t really think about anything,” she grins. “I’ve been doing if for so long.”
Perreault was Section 5AA all-around champion last year and at state placed 21st at state, and eighth on balance beam. In her three all-conference years with the Elk River-Rogers-Zimmerman hybrid they have won every dual meet. She has helped the Rogers portion win their section and place seventh at state twice.
“It has been an honor,” Perreault reflects, “to be part a team that has come together every time and won 32 meets in a row, soon to be 33.”
After the dual finale against Coon Rapids next Thursday, sectionals are coming up. Perreault hopes to make state again both team-wise and individually.
Coach Jenn Bartlett assessed: “She is very focused. Her goal is to get back to state and get on the podium. From last year to this year, she is leaner but stronger, which helps with her skills, and she is still powerful. She is a strong tumbler on the floor, has strong swings on the bar, and her yuchenko tuck vault is very good. Beam is her best event. That’s her gift. She knows what she needs to do, and she is confident. And she stays on.”
On beam, her favorite, Perreault does a switch lap with 180-degree split into a split jump 3/4 twist and wolf jump with 3/4 twist. On bars her highlight is a double back twist dismount. She packs a long list of crowd-pleasing moves on floor and “draws them into her routine with her eyes,” said Bartlett. Her prettiest move is a one-and-a-half twist on the first pass.
Her personal-bests are 36.5 all-around, 9.45 on floor, 9.55 on beam, 9.40 on vault and 9.29 on bars.
Perreault competed with Twin Cities Twisters through ninth grade when an ankle injury sidelined her six months and caused her to re-think the huge commitment of club gymnastics. She joined ERZ in 10th grade in order to cut back a little. That was the star-studded team that scored as high as 151, most in the state, before breaking into two parts for sectionals.
“It was great to be on that team with Sabina (Hoover) and Jena (Jondahl) and Kaylee (Jondahl) and Brooke (Bistodeau),” she said.
Next year, Perrault will continue in gymnastics and rejoin Hoover and Jena Jondahl at Winona State.
THE PERREAULT SCORECARD
Personal file – Age: 17 … Family: parents Mike and Kari; brother Eric, 19 …. Sports: gymnastics, softball … Academics: B average … College plans: Winona State, gymnastics, nursing
Favorite stuff – Class: Class: Human Anatomy … TV shows: “House” and “CSI” … Movies: “Bridesmads” and the Harry Potter series … Music: country, especially Keith Urban, Eric Church … Food: steak and sweet potatoes, crab legs … Drink: Arizona’s (tea), vitamin water … Team: Twins, Wild … Kickback: deer hunting (“i’ve gotten two”), four-wheeling, snowmobiling … Place she’d like to visit: France