Prolific gymnasts prep for the GHSA state prelims and finals

There are numerous storied teams entering the GHSA/Dr. Lucia Norwood Gymnastics Prelims and State Championships at Buford Arena Wednesday through Friday with hopes of championship glory. But for two-time defending champion and host Buford (6A-7A) and four-time defending champion North Oconee (1A-5A), the state meet provides a chance for the budding dynasties to further solidify their status.


Named for legendary coach Lucia Norwood, who led Lakeside-DeKalb’s girls to nine-consecutive state championships from 1971 to 1979, the championship brings together the best gymnasts in the state for two days of preliminary qualifying meets before the action-packed championships.

Ushered into existence in 1956 as a boy’s event, Druid Hills won the inaugural championship before the event was put on hold until 1964. Druid Hills won in 1964 and 1965 and it wasn’t until 1969 that the girls side of the event was sanctioned with Tucker winning the first two championships before Lakeside’s dominant run.


The event will open with the preliminaries on Wednesday with Class 1A-5A at 1 p.m. and Class 6A-7A at 5:30 p.m. where both team and individual competitors will attempt to qualify for the championships.

Eight teams will qualify from the preliminary meet from each classification but also, a gymnast may qualify for an individual event even if her team does not qualify by meeting certain standards.

The qualifying teams will each compete and be judged in five events – All-Around, Bars, Beam, Floor and Vault – and the best a competitor can do is a perfect 10.00 points. The gymnasts’ All-Around score is the combination of the four other disciplines.

On championship Friday, the arena opens at 4:30 p.m., giving the packed house of spectators plenty of time to find their places before the title performances begin at 5 p.m.


Since the GHSA reclassified gymnastics into two classifications in 2019 – 6A-7A and 1A-5A – North Oconee has enjoyed a state championship in each of the four seasons in Class 1A-5A while Buford has won each of the past two seasons in the state’s highest class. The Wolves – who have won five titles – won three-straight from 2014-2016 before capturing each of the past two seasons.

It’s no surprise that this season, both teams enter the championship as the favorites. Buford is ranked atop Class 6A-7A with 111.992 points ahead of North Forsyth (110.517), Carrollton (109.150), Newnan (108.217), West Forsyth (106.483), Forsyth Central (106.00), East Coweta (105.817) and Walton (105.183).

In the Class 1A-5A polls, North Oconee (110.902) leads Bremen (107.717), Northgate (107.158), Cambridge (106.775), Pace Academy (106.317), East Forsyth (102.808), Villa Rica (102.550) and Westminster (101.158).

The Titans had never won a championship prior to the 2019 title which began the team’s streak of dominance.


Last season, Buford amassed 114.825 team points to beat Carrollton (111.70) and Forsyth Central/North Forsyth (111.1). This year, Buford will have to weather the graduation of Marissa Ashton – who led the Wolves in last year’s All-Around (39.575), Bars (9.825), Beam (9.85) and Floor (10.00).

Ushering the Wolves into the future are Vidya Bharadwaj, Aly Gorman, Ellison Gould, Abby Hamilton, Bellarae Newby, Kendall Rockwell, Johanna Sasser and Madison Sounthonethip.

North Oconee returns talent from last year’s championship team but will also rely on emerging stars for its championship defense.

Sienna Zuccaro won the bars competition last year and returns alongside Kate Stetter, who finished second in the floor routine in 2023. Emory Shepherd brings experience after her third-place finish in the bars last season alongside Chloe McDonald, who was fourth in the floor routine in 2023.

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