by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
“It has been an honor to coach these girls,” mused Jenn Bartlett at the conclusion of gymnastics sectionals last Saturday in which her Rogers and Elk River teams competed, with three girls qualifying for state.
Bartlett, who had told her team she won’t be returning next year, has collected a few official honors, too.
She received her second state Coach of the Year award on Thursday evening at the pre-state meet banquet for coaches and qualifiers on Thursday evening in Minneapolis.
The Princeton native also got the Class A state honor in 2008-09, along with section coach of the year in 2007 for both 7A (with Rogers) and 7AA (with Elk River) and this year for 7A (Zimmerman-Spectrum). She is eligible for both because her team has to split in post-season and compete in different sections.
With Leah Perreault, Alyssa Walton, and Alana Embury competing in state Class AA on Saturday evening at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion, Bartlett will make her final coaching appearance.
“Family,” said Bartlett, asked why she is stepping down. “My daughter is going off to college, and my husband works evening hours, so it’s time. In the gym, I am a mama bear taking care of my cubs. It’s time for this mama bear to go home and be with two sons (fifth and seventh grade) who are very active in athletics.”
Another factor, Bartlett said, is the strain of having to split the team apart for post-season. Because Rogers and Zimmerman are Class AA-sized schools administratively (as opposed to Class A), they can’t be paired with Elk River, also AA, in sectionals and state. And the district doesn’t have the money to create separate programs.
“It has been very stressful to have the split every year. These girls work so hard together. It would be real nice to keep them together. But there are reasons they can’t do that.”
Bartlett has coached in District 728 since 1997. Her ERZ team has won 33 straight dual meets and four straight Northwest Suburban Conference titles. Her teams also finished first in 2002, 2003 and 2004, for a total of seven conference titles. The Rogers portion of her roster won section titles in 2010 and 2011.
Individually her program has produced two state champions, Sabrina Hoover with state three all-around titles (2009, 2010 and 2011) and Jena Jondahl with floor and bars in 2010, with her team taking home 11 of the 30 state medals that year and four of the five golds.
Probably the highlight of her tenure was the powerful ERZ lineup in 2009-10 led by Hoover and Jena and Kaylee Jondahl that scored as high as 152.05, which would have won state by four points had they been allowed to stay together. Even after it split, Rogers won its section and the Elks came within a fraction of winning its section, too.
Perreault, who’ll close her three-year career Saturday, said of Bartlett: “She has been a great coach. I’m glad this is my last year … because it would be so tough to not have her next year. She is both a teacher and a leader.”
Did coach take any guff from the kids, she was asked?
“She doesn’t take any guff, which is good, because that’s what we need.”
Winkleman also honored
Joleen Winkleman, one of the ERZ assistants, was named Assistant Coach of the Year for Section 8AA this year. Winkleman was Bartlett’s teammate at Princeton and coached the Tigers before joining the ERZ staff. Bartlett noted proudly that ERZ has gotten a section assistant coach of the year award four straight years.