Hand gymnastics continues to be model of success under Smith

MADISON - Kelly Smith had a decision to make when the Daniel Hand graduate took her diploma from Springfield College.

“I wasn’t sure of my career path at the time. I’d been toying with becoming a teacher,” said Smith, a 2002 alumna now in year 16th year coaching gymnastics at the school. “Melissa Arms was the coach here at the time and asked me, ‘What are you up to after graduation?’ Coaching was enough to get my foot in the door and I began teaching English as well at Hand. It was the best decision I ever made.”

Smith has guided Hand to eight state titles and 10 conference crowns in the SCC.

“I believe we have built a history in our program, one that happened before my time and has continued while I’ve been her,” said Smith, who has a 181-42 record. “I know that gymnastics is very much individual, but we operate a team model. The best four scores count (in each event). We have six girls that go up. Every piece of that puzzle is important in the grand scheme of things.”

Smith and her assistant coach Jessica Hoover, a 2004 Hand graduate have instilled that belief in each team.

“I think it is truly special in the way we are able to have that team focus and have individuals go onto have individual success as well,” Smith said. “Those that are not in a particular competition are every bit as important as our highest scoring girl.”

Morgan Flickinger and Brooke Anderson, freshmen, have added punch to a strong lineup.

“Our highest all-around score this year has come from Morgan,” said Smith of Flickinger who moved to Madison last spring from Tennessee. “She hit a 36 even. She’s scored a 9.0 or better in every event. Morgan is anchoring most of our lineup. She has a lot of difficulty in her routines. She is easy going and a pleasure to work with.

“Our second-best all-around score this year came from Brooke, who scored a 35. She has also scored 9’s on vault and beam and has been close to that mark on bar and floor. Brooke is a dynamic gymnast. She is powerful, clean in her routines. She had our highest value and is anchoring us on vault.”

Scores have risen because of Flickinger and Anderson high difficulty levels. That also elevates the impact of Hadley Reiss, a second-team CHSCA All-Stater last season.

“Hadley Reiss was third last year at SCCs and is a strong all-arounder for us,” Smith said of her sophomore. “Floor is her standout, which she won with a 9.0 at SCCs last year. She was third on bars at 8.5. Hadley got her first 9 last night of the season in our meet with Hamden.”

With 23 gymnasts, depth is strong point for the program.

“Olivia Consiglio is another strong freshman. She’s making an impact everywhere, but particularly on bars. She has scored 8.6, 8.7, 8.8,” Smith said. “Abby Simpson is coming back from a sprained ankle and will help on beam. Morgan McMahon, a junior, competes in different events. She has been looking great in vault and floor. At SCCs as a sophomore she was third on floor at 8.75 and sixth on bars at 8.2.”


Riley Caruso, Ally Gabrynowicz, Paige Dean and Reese Newman are returning seniors.

“Riley Caruso and Ally Gabrynowicz are captains. Riley has competed in the all-around for us all four years. She is one of our first two girls up,” Smith said. “That role is so important. She is consistent, so hard working, competitive and sets the tone for our rotations when she is in one of those first two spots. They are fantastic leaders. Ally is a multi-sport athlete. She has always had a mature presence in the gym. Ally brings so much to the table.

“Paige contributes on so many levels. Reese Newman is the first one to help when not competing. She leads by example,” she added. “Paige was second in vault (9.0), fifth in bars (8.05) and sixth all-around (132.9) at last year’s SCC meet.”


Coming out of the virtual numbness of 2021 to live competition has enabled Hand.

“Last year we competed during practice alone in a gym with only the judge present. There was no other team, very little hoopla,” Smith said. “We love that in-person live. To be back in our home gym in front of friends and family with a team competing live next to us, well we missed it so much. Gymnastics is a small world. A lot of these girls have friends on other teams. Over the years you get to know a lot of the girls in your conference.”

Hand has scored 138 twice this season, against Nonnewaug and Jonathan Law. It hasn’t scored that high as a team since 2015.

Smith added a caveat to the numbers.

“As great as a 138 is, we haven’t hit our cap yet,” she said. “Against Law we had our highest team scores so far this year on vault and bars. We started very strong, but we ran into a little trouble on beam and floor. There is work to be done. There is great potential down the line after we’ve been able to find our consistency. We are still moving pieces around.”


Anytime you talk about girls’ gymnastics, the balance beam comes into play.

“You can’t win if you can’t stay on the balance beam,” Smith said of the difficult apparatus to conquer. “It is the most nerve-wracking event. You can adjust if you run into problems a little but on other events. It is much harder to adjust on beam. That is where you see falls and things like that.”

Smith has tried everything to get her gymnasts ready.

“We prepare for any scenario while we are up on the balance beam. Sometimes we do routines where everyone sits in front of them and watches to put the pressure on,” she said. “Sometimes we keep the gym completely silent. They don’t really like the silence. Sometimes we do distraction routines where teammates are literally screaming at them, running around waving things in their viewpoint. Anything to rattle them. We want to use the pressure of the big meets and tight competition to thrive rather than let nerves get the best of you.”


Guilford’s Ella Esposito and Jordyn Gould along with Coginchaug’s Ali Albanese are teams of one that practice and travel with the team. Their scores only count as individuals. They can medal as individuals at conference championships and qualify to the State Open.

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354