Camas gymnastics family gets closer

By Dan Trujillo, Columbian staff writer

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Gymnastics is Lauren Alberts’ baby, but she is about to have another.

The head coach at Camas High School is scheduled to give birth to her second child around Christmas, a boy. She was pregnant with her first son Ryan when she came on board as an assistant coach four years ago. Now that she is the full-time head coach, with another baby on the way, Alberts feels her life has come full circle.

“I’m happy to be in the place I want to be,” she said. “As long as gymnastics is here, I want to be a part of Camas. I want to coach these girls.

“I’ll be back after Christmas break with all my children in tow,” Alberts added. “I only plan to be gone for about four or five days. I can’t be out of the gym that long.”

Alberts grabs the reigns of Papermaker gymnastics after former co-head coach Jennifer McDonnell stepped down to work on a nursing degree while still teaching full time in the school district. Alberts said McDonnell came to the first practices to teach the girls choreography. She also expects to get a call from Alberts on meet days with questions on how to run them more smoothly.

“Jen misses this so much. She did it for so long, and we miss her dearly,” Alberts said. “She’s still a very big part of this. We’re all very proud to carry on her legacy.”

Leading this year’s squad is senior and captain Hayden Sutton. She remains close friends with former captains Amanda Bolton, Ashley Gjerswold, Alicia Hamlin and Amy Siebenthaler. She wants to make them proud by helping the Papermakers qualify their whole team to state for the first time in school history.

“I just want to be a captain who is also their friend,” Sutton said. “I want to be there for them, whether it’s something at school or at home, I just want to be a good role model.

“A lot of these girls have never done gymnastics before,” she added. “They tried out and said, ‘I can do a cartwheel. Maybe I can do more than that?'”

Sutton has also formed a close bond with teammates Hali Ramirez and Audrey Siebenthaler. The three friends have been cheerleading together for three seasons. This fall, they got to go to the Tacoma Dome when the Camas football team reached the state semifinals.

“It was weird to be at the Tacoma Dome for football and not gymnastics,” Sutton said. “I really wanted to see what it would be like for a football setting, and it was bigger than I could have ever imagined. I’m so glad I got to be a part of it. I cheered for those boys for four years.”

She also formed a relationship with senior middle linebacker Kyle Goodnow.

“We’ll always remember it as something he did and I cheered him on, and something I did and he cheered me on,” Sutton said. “Cheering for the Camas football team is one of those things I’ll never forget about high school. Gymnastics is where I get to be competitive. This is my football.”

Sutton hopes to apply that same Camas fighting spirit to the gymnastics team.

“I hope we can keep each other going through thick and thin, falls, and bumps in the road,” she said. “Like football, we want to do something Camas has never done before.”

Over the last two years, Camas and Columbia River have built up a rivalry of respect on the bars, beam, floor and the vault. Unfortunately, only one of those teams has been allowed to represent itself in full at state. Alberts hopes this will be the year of change.

“We are really hoping to make a good showing at districts, and be one of the two teams going to state,” Alberts said. “[Sutton] has gone to state every year as an individual. It’s her senior year, and it would be so great for her to be able to go to state one more time with her whole team.

“It’s really valuable as a gymnast to be able to compete at a state level,” Alberts added. “It doesn’t come around that often. Having that experience under our belt would be so great.”

Alberts loves being a part of this gymnastics family in Camas. This is still her baby.

“We’re a smaller team than in years past, but every girl is bringing something really valuable. Every girl on this team is irreplaceable,” she said. “I love every girl for what they bring every practice and every meet.”