TRAVERSE CITY — The walls at the YMCA Gymnastics Center are covered with banners depicting state and regional champions.
A national championship banner will be added soon.
Kendra Benak, a 16-year-old sophomore at Traverse City Central, won a team gold medal earlier this month at the Level 9 nationals in Palmetto, Fla. Benak was one of six gymnasts on the five-state region team that took top honors. Ironically, all six gymnasts hailed from Michigan.
The regional team, dubbed the Michigan Dream Team, took the top four places in all-around. Benak placed third.
“Michigan is known as one of the best states in the nation (for gymnastics),” Benak said. “So it was really exciting to have all six from Michigan. I’ve been competing against them throughout the years so I knew the girls. We worked really well as a team. We connected and pushed each other to do better. That’s why we won.”
Benak earned silver medals in floor (9.425) and bars (9.45). She also posted her best vault score of the season (9.625). A slip on the balance beam cost her the all-around championship.
“I was three-tenths away (from the title) and the fall cost me six-tenths,” she said. “It was close.”
Benak finished with an 8.85 on beam, giving her a 37.35 all-around score.
“If she could have stayed on the beam, she would have won all-around,” Betsy Van Deinse, the YMCA gym director, said. “She was that good.”
Benak is the first gymnast out of the Y to compete at nationals.
“It was definitely pretty special,” her coach, Jennifer Van Deinse, said. “She’s the first we’ve taken to nationals. It was fun to watch her compete on a national stage. We’re so proud of her. She did a great job.”
Benak qualified for the nationals with a strong performance at regionals, where she won the floor.