LAGRANGE — Two Lakeland gymnasts earned All-American honors for the 2019 season.

Senior Whittney Ray and junior Kailia Malaianh were recognized as All-Americans by the National High School Gymnastics Association. To achieve All-American honors, gymnasts must average higher than 8.70 in vault, 8.50 in uneven bars, 8.50 in balance beam, 8.80 in floor exercise or 33.6 in all-around for the entire season.

Ray earned All-American status in four of the five categories: vault (average score of 9.01), balance beam (8.84), floor exercise (9.28) and all-around (34.55). This is the third-straight season Ray was named an All-American.

“It’s definitely crazy. Going into my freshman year, I never would’ve thought that I’d be saying I was an All-American for three years in a row,” Ray said. “My freshman year, I was really shy and didn’t know how high school gymnastics worked. And then, sophomore, junior and senior year, my coaches were like, ‘Go out there and have fun, and your skills will go with it.’ And that’s exactly what I did.”

Malaianh received honors in the vault (8.71) and floor exercise (8.81).

“I’m very proud to be an All-American gymnast. We do put a lot of work in. Whittney and I do more than one sport, so we do work very hard,” Malaianh said. “Being in other sports definitely has contributed helping us becoming All-American gymnasts.”

Lakeland coach Sherill Habedank, who finished her 20th season at the helm of the program, had nothing but praise for both Ray and Malaianh.

“Whittney and Kailia were our top two scorers of the team. Whittney was a senior, and she was a leader on the squad. She’s been in it since she was young and has a lot of depth with her skills,” Habedank said. “(Malaianh) has always been a strong tumbler, always been a strong vaulter. She really comes out and brings great personality when she’s on the floor. Her floor exercise is really fun to watch.”

Gymnastics has been a part of Ray’s life since she was 2 years old. Her passion for the sport really took off, though, after a trip to a camp in Michigan when she was in middle school.

“Just seeing those girls compete and seeing girls my age and what they could do, I was like, ‘I can do this,’” Ray said. “Once I got into high school, I knew the coaches would be able to get me where I wanted to be.”

Ray is more than a gymnast, though. She also played volleyball at Lakeland, earning a college scholarship to the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne in the sport. She’ll be studying both elementary and special education, something she is very passionate about.

“I love it. I love being with the kids. My junior and senior years of high school, I did internships at elementary schools and I was in almost every grade of a classroom,” Ray said. “My mom is also a special education teacher at Westview High School, so I’ve grown up in that classroom, helping out … I’m ready to start already.”

Malaianh is also a multi-sport athlete, running cross country in the fall and track in the spring. She also has a job, keeping the incoming senior busy at all times. Malaianh likes being occupied with things to do, though.

“It is hard to balance all of them, but I think being busy is very helpful. I find a lot of joy in always doing something,” Malaianh said. “Being in those other sports has really helped me in gymnastics, strength wise and endurance wise. So, it’s good to be in those.”

Malaianh has suffered injuries throughout her gymnastics career. She broke her leg her freshman year, costing her most of the season. She’s dealt with other broken bones, including a broken finger, throughout her Lakeland career as well. To be able to complete a full season — and have it end with All-American honors — was huge for Malaianh’s mental psyche.

“Confidence,” Malaianh said is where she improved the most this past season. “My coaches knew I could do it, physically, but mentally, I wasn’t there. This season, I definitely pushed through that.”

Habedank knows having Malaianh back for another season will help grow the gymnastics program at Lakeland.

“Thankfully we have Kailia coming back as a senior. I know she’s wanting to improve some skills she was working on towards the end of the season and she’s such a hard worker,” Habedank said. “She’s a great role model to the team in that way. Not just in her skills, but she’s just a good worker and sets an example that way.”

Austin Hough can be reached at austin.hough@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN

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