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Practice makes it almost perfect

Dan BurkhartKelly Clifford shows her sense of balance as she holds a pose with her back arched on the balance beam.
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Stephanie Herron didn’t look too thrilled when talking about her showing at the USA Gymnastics TOPs program regional test last summer.

The then 7-year-old stepped into that gym in Rancho Cordova 14 months ago with hopes of earning a spot on the junior national team, but left disappointed.

Her combined score in the 10 strength and flexibility tests was well below the qualifying mark, so it was back to the drawing board for the second grader.



“When I got back, I tried to work harder,” she said.

With the encouragement of Rising Starz Gymnastics Academy teammates and the guidance of coach Doug Miller, Herron turned it around at the 2002 regionals.




She tied national bests in push-ups (65) and press handstands (5) en route to an overall score 85.5 – close to 40 points higher than the year before – and, most importantly, her place on the junior national team .

“I was shocked. I didn’t think I would make the team. Last year I wasn’t even close to making it,” Herron said.

Miller, who took over the girls’ program four years ago, said Herron is the first in the long line of RSGA’s standouts to make it that far.

“That just shows how much energy she puts into everything. She normally does 200-300 push- ups a day, and I’m not talking football or basketball player pushups, but 100 percent, perfect, straight-body push-ups,” he said. “She’s come a long way in the last two years.”

With Herron already in, Miller has his sights on getting two more of his kids on junior national teams.

Sarah Avery, 11, and Kelly Clifford, 10, who each qualify for the national TOPs testing in Indianapolis Oct. 3-6, will be the next RSGA athletes to go for the gold.

Avery, who tied the national best in pull-ups (20) and press handstands (10) in her age group, totaled 83.5 overall points.

Clifford also totaled her age group national best with 20 pull-ups and 65 push-ups on her way to 78 points overall.

This will be Avery’s third try at national testing.

“The first year she didn’t do too well, then last year she made it on the alternate team. This year I think she has a really good chance,” Miller said.

Avery, a sixth grader at Magnolia Intermediate School, is itching for another shot.

“It’ll mean a lot to me if I make it because I remember some of the girls who helped me last year, and I want to show them that I’ve worked hard and gotten better,” she said.


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