Athlete of the week: Kaylee Jondahl, Elk River, gymnastics: Soaring star

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Elk River senior Kaylee Jondahl has been a gymnast 13 years, and even if only two were with her high school team, the Elks are grateful for that.

“The girls were thrilled to have her back,” said Elk coach Jackie Deiley. Jondahl was part of a star-studded Elk lineup in ninth grade before reverting to club with Gleason’s for two years.

Jondahl, a spectacular tumbler and vaulter, led the Elks to a 9-0 regular season. Heading into sectionals today, she ranks No. 2 in the metro area with her top all-around score of 38.575, first in vault (9.85), fourth in bars (9.7), fourth in beam (9.6)  and sixth on floor (9.65).

Kaylee Jondahl ranks second in the metro area in all-around and first in vault. (Photo by Bruce Strand)
Kaylee Jondahl ranks second in the metro area in all-around and first in vault. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

“I loved the team atmosphere (in ninth grade),” said Jondahl, “and many of the girls I competed with then are still there, plus some wonderful additions to the team. I wanted to end my high school career representing Elk River, being part of a team, and helping the Elks be the best they could be.”

Kaylee was four and her sister Jena seven when they started gymnastics together in Jam Hops. Both did very well. Jena joined the the Elks her last two years. Kaylee decided to  be Jena’s teammate for one year.

That lineup, led by three-time state all-around champ Sabrina Hoover of Rogers, was best in the state by far, before splitting for post-season team competition. At state individuals, the ERZ group garnered 11 of the 24 medals. Kaylee was state runner-up in vault (9.7) and floor exercise (9.65), and fourth all-around (38.0125), while Jena took gold in floor and bars. Jena and Sabrina now compete for Winona State.

At Gleason’s, Jondahl was placing 9th to 13th in most of her events in the big meets, as a Level Ten gymnast, of which there are only about 400 in the USA.  At that level it’s mainly an individual sport, she said, and many girls she grew up with had moved on to other things. High school, by contrast, is “mainly about 100 percent perfection with clean and neat skills,” and she removed some of her skills to keep routines clean with the Elks.

Gleason’s was “a great experience” where she met many of her friends, but club means 24 hours or workouts per week. The goal is a D-I scholarship, which she realized this September was probably not going to happen, helping her decide in late September to switch. “I enjoyed every moment of (club), but I was ready for a change.”

As an Elk, Jondahl’s most spectacular moments are:

•Her layout tsukahara vault,  which means a quarter-twist unto the vault and a one-and-a-half revolution, no-hands flip, with the body straight.

•Her “Laumen” on uneven bars, a little flip while releasing from low  bar to high bar.

•Her tumbling on floor ex, where, after a roundoff back handspring, she explodes into a double back somersault, soaring almost high enough to dunk basketball.

“What’s amazing is how much power she has,” said Deiley. “She makes it look so effortless. The skills seem to come so easy for her. Her powerful tumbling is so much fun to watch. I have seen a lot of gymnasts in my day, and  can’t ever recall one going as high as she does on her tumbling. My sister said the same thing.”

(Jackie’s sister and assistant Jennie was an All-American at Michigan.)

Amazingly, neither coach, new to the team with the retirement of Jenn Bartlett, knew who Jondahl was  when she showed up. “We ran them through some things the first day, to see where we were at,” said Deiley, “and we could see she was going to be phenomenal.”

Jondahl’s physical power is strictly natural, no weight-lifting involved.

“That’s what my coaches noticed first when I was a little girl. It definitely wasn’t my flexibility.”

Jondahl listed her personal goals for this year as scoring a 38 (which she’s done) and winning at least one state gold medal “for Elk River and myself.” She was elated to score 9.85 with her vault last week to tie the school record held by Jena and Charise Schrupp, a two-time state all-around champion in the 90’s. Another goal is a 9.9 on floor.

The 5-foot-5, 120-pound athlete has never tried another sport seriously, but “can throw a mean football” in pick-up games, and loves watching hockey, snowmobile races and motorcycle races. “If I wasn’t a gymnast I would have pursued one of those sports.”
She’s looking at possibly rejoining Jena and Sabrina at Winona next year, or walking on the U of M if she decides to give D-I a whirl.

Kaylee Jondahl
Kaylee Jondahl

Personal file — Age: 17 … Family: parents Sheri and Jon D.; sister Jena, 20 … Sport: gymnastics … Academics: B average …. Other activities: DECA … College plans: U of M or Winona State, gymnastics, business and marketing

Favorite stuff — Math, DECA, Advanced Public Speaking … TV shows: country music videos …. Movies: “Burlesque,” “Coyote Ugly,” “Despicable Me” … Music: country, John Mayer, some 80’s, and hip-hop … Food: pizza rolls, Benihanas fare, Noodles & Company fare … Drink: water with crystal light package … Last good book read: “The Pregnancy Project” … Teams: Wild, Twins, Gophers, Vikings … Athletes: Gabby Douglas, Shawn Johnson … Kickback activities: snowmobiling,  watching snocross, motocross an