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7:21 PM Wed, Jan. 23rd

Rising Star: Local gymnast has sights set on making it to Women's Junior Olympics National Championship

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT VALLEY - Kiersten Graber, the defending Arizona state champion in floor and vault exercises, has high expectations for the upcoming season and hopes her hard work and dedication will pay off with a college scholarship.

"I think that this year she is going to experience what all of these years of hard work and sacrifices (were really for)," said Heather Davis, who is one of Graber's four coaches. "When (the schools) come and watch her, it's going to give her the feeling of, 'Wow, I actually did it.'"

At only 16 years old, Graber is the lone level-10 gymnast in Northern Arizona (the highest amateur level) and is already receiving attention from elite Division I gymnastics programs from across the nation - Arizona State University, Boise State University and Colorado State University, just to name a few.

"She's so coachable, so fun to be around and has such a positive attitude all the time," Davis said. "I find some kids that have 10 times the talent that Kiersten has, but they don't have the work ethic or positive attitude to push through. I think that is what makes her the best gymnast in Northern Arizona."

Graber, a sophomore at Prescott High, has been involved in gymnastics since she was 4 and has made it to where she is today because of her natural athletic ability and dedication to the sport.

She practices four hours a day, five days a week and is currently taking online classes so she can graduate high school a year early.

Technically, Graber is heading into her junior season, which is considered the most important year by gymnastics professionals. "In the gymnastics world, it is the most important year, because you are allowed to be signed your junior year and the schools are allowed to talk to you," Davis said.

In addition to winning floor and vault in the state meet last season, Graber also was one of just a few select individuals from Arizona to make it to regionals, held in April, annually in Anaheim, Calif.

This season, she hopes to make it past regionals; a feat her coach says is very likely. "I expect her second year at level 10 to definitely be more successful," Davis said. "We are hoping to make it past regionals to nationals this year. I think that is a very easy expectation for her this season, because she's totally prepared."

Dianne Upham, one of Graber's coaches and the owner of Flip City Gymnastics in Prescott and Cottonwood, says Graber has improved in all of her routines, especially bars.

"My bars is the main thing (that I've been working on)," Graber said. "I (have developed) a lot of new skills on bars since last year."

To make it to the Women's Junior Olympics National Championship, Graber will have to earn high scores in all four events in the regional competition: floor, vault, bars and beam.

The six highest scoring athletes from regionals will earn the right to compete in the national competition, which will be held in Long Beach, Calif.

Graber considers her floor and vault exercises her best events, but she says there's always room for improvement, and her coach agrees.

"In gymnastics, we are such perfectionists in this sport that we're greedy and we're always hungry," Davis said. "Everything can be a little higher, a little tighter and more perfected."

There are eight competitions that lead up to the regional meet. Graber competed in her first event of the season this past weekend, the Are You Ready meet, which is considered a warm up for the upcoming season.

Next up, she will take part in the annual Judge's Cup, which will be held in Phoenix for the first time in more than 20 years. The meet starts Jan. 7, 2011, and will be held at the Phoenix Convention Center.