By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily item
SELINSGROVE -- A characteristic that separates simply a good athlete from a great one is the ability to perform under pressure.
For 17-year-old Kelly McLaughlin of Selinsgrove, that moment came at this year's Region 7 Girls Gymnastics Championships held at Ursinus College in Collegeville.
The top six combined scores in the four disciplines -- floor exercise, balance beam, vault and uneven bars -- advance to the Eastern National Championships, and McLaughlin stood in sixth place after three events. McLaughlin stepped up to the vault for her run with a return trip to the national championships hanging in the balance.
McLaughlin executed her run and had to wait for her score to be posted, unsure if she had scored high enough to keep her in the top six. When a 9.500 flashed, McLaughlin knew she had qualified for the national championships.
"The emotion I felt after my score was flashed was indescribable," McLaughlin said. "The only thing I remember is receiving the biggest hugs and high-fives from my coaches and other gymnasts in my rotation saying, 'You did it!'"
After struggling with her vaults throughout the year, McLaughlin landed the most important run of the season to cement her place in Battle Creek, Mich., on May 1-5 for the National Championships.
"It was not only the toughest competition of my life, but it was the best competition of my life," McLaughlin said.
Judging by her overall score in the four events, the Region 7 Championship truly was the best competition of her life, as McLaughlin scored a career-high 36.975 to finish in third place overall. McLaughlin scored an 8.750 on the uneven bars, a 9.425 on the balance beam and a 9.300 on floor exercise.
Although it is not her favorite event -- McLaughlin stated she prefers the balance beam -- the vault is an event where she has found success in the past. At the 2012 Pennsylvania State Gymnastics Championships, McLaughlin captured a state title in the vault with a score of 9.575.