Ava Clarance will be heading home to Fort St. John in February to compete in the B.C. Games, following her impressive showing in coming first place at the zone trials in Terrace on Dec. 7. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

Ava Clarance vaults into Rupert gymnastics history

Prince Rupert Gymnastics Association sending first ever athlete to B.C. Winter Games

Rupert gymnast Ava Clarance has earned herself a spot at the B.C. Winter Games after an all-around commanding performance at qualifiers in Terrace on Dec. 7.

Clarance, 14, vaulted, swung, balanced and tumbled her way to victory in the six-girl competition. Her final score of 34 edged out Haydyn Taylor from Terrace, who finished at 33.2. With the games set to take place in Fort St. John, it means that Clarance will be able to compete in front of her hometown crowd.

“I’m really excited,” Clarance said of the opportunity. “I’m excited for my family and friends to watch me, and just to be able to see everyone again. My old team will be there too.”

The event is also a historic one for the Prince Rupert Gymnastics Association, who until now has never had an athlete qualify for the B.C. Games. That has all changed in a few short months since the arrival of PRGA coach Erin Hipkiss, who, as coach of the winning participant, will now have the opportunity to coach the regional qualifying team come the games.

“I’m really excited to work with the other coaches in the zone to bring the team together,” Hipkiss said. “This will be my first time going to B.C. games with a team as a coach.”

READ MORE: Prince Rupert gymnasts have eyes on winter games

The win was even more remarkable considering it was not an event Hipkiss had planned to enter her students in so soon. Seeing Clarance’s work ethic in the gym though helped Hipkiss’ confidence that this kind of result was possible.

“Ava trains really well. She comes into this gym, she knows her job and she gets it done. She’s very serious with her training,” Hipkiss said. “You have that coach/athlete relationship where you just have trust in your athlete.”

Ava Clarance practices her beam routine under the helpful eye of her coach Erin Hipkiss, who will be coaching the zone team at the B.C. Games. Clarance finished in first place on beam out of the six participants during the zone trials in Terrace. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

That trust led Hipkiss to see if Clarance was ready for a more challenging move during the competition. “In warmups she looked strong. She was swinging so well, so I came over and I asked her,” Hipkiss said of alerting Clarance to her desire to add an extra connection.

“I was most worried about beam, and I ended up getting my connection,” Clarance said confidently.

It was a good call by the coach, and well executed by Clarance, as she went on to score a near perfect 39.5 out of 40 points on her start values. “It means we don’t have much more work to do on that ahead of the games in February,” Hipkiss said of what the pair will train on in the next two months. “The focus is going to be on obtaining the last 0.5 to make sure Ava goes into games with a full 40 start value. Then it’s just cleaning up and seeing where we can develop more power and other things to up her scores.”

Hipkiss is no stranger to Fort St. John either. It’s where she took her first major coaching job as assistant coach of the local competitive team. Now, like Clarance, she will have plenty of familiar faces in the crowd during competition.

READ MORE: MVP of the Week | Erin Hipkiss: All-around the apparatus — and the province

Smithers’ Bailey Tendall placed third overall, meaning she will be joining Clarance and Haydyn Taylor as the regional team representatives at the B.C. Games. Kitimat’s Maggie Baker placed fourth with teammate Lily Sherman in fifth; both will be alternates. Clarance’s teammate Dakota Swim-McNeil finished sixth, and will assume the role as travelling alternate for the competition. “I didn’t make it this time, but there’s always next year,” Swim-McNeil said.


Alex Kurial | Sports Reporter
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