COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Natalie Lacuesta (Wilmette, Ill.) came back to overtake challenger Kate Jeffress (Rockville, Md.) and defend her title as rhythmic national champion at the 1998 U.S. Rhythmic Gymnastics National Championships, which concluded Sunday at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

Lacuesta scored 38.033 to become the third rhythmic athlete in a row to win consecutive national titles, joining Jessica Davis (1995, 1996) and Tamara Levinson (1993, 1994). She was aggressive in her ribbon and clubs routines, scoring 9.600 and 9.550 respectively. Meanwhile, Jeffress saw her bid to become the first rhythmic athlete to go from junior to senior national champion in one year fade after suffering two drops in clubs. She finished second with an overall score of 37.506. Scoring was weighted, with preliminary results counting for 30 percent of the final score.
“I’m glad it’s over,” said Lacuesta. “Today went much better than preliminaries. This was one of the best meets that I’ve had this year.”
The eight athletes who will make up the U.S. National Team were determined at the event. Joining Lacuesta and Jeffress are Kassy Scharringhausen, Duluth, Ga., Ellie Takahashi, Torrance, Calif., Alexandra Chernenko, Culver City, Calif., Suzanne Pearson, Lakewood, Colo., Angela Pawlicki, Lincolnwood, Ill., and Stephanie Croyle, Harvard, Mass.
Longtime U.S. National Team member Meaghan Muller (Roswell, Ga.) was forced to withdraw midway through her third event. A prior knee injury flared up during the competition and prevented her from completing her rope routine.
Atlanta International Rhythmic Gymnastics Club came from behind after preliminaries to claim the senior title in group competition with a final score of 70.150, surpassing Rhythmflex of Rockville, Md., which scored a 69.550. Rhythmic Edge of Carmel, Ind., was third with a 58.600.

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1998 U.S. Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships
U.S. Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs, Colo., June 5-7, 1998

Senior Division (top 8 named to U.S. National Team)
1, Natalie Lacuesta, Wilmette, Ill., 38.033. 2, Kate Jeffress, Rockville, Md., 37.506. 3, Kassy Scharringhausen, Duluth, Ga., 37.148. 4, Ellie Takahashi, Torrance, Calif., 36.781. 5, Alexandra Chernenko, Culver City, Calif., 36.759. 6, Suzanne Pearson, Lakewood, Colo., 36.535. 7, Angela Pawlicki, Lincolnwood, Ill., 36.006. 8, Stephanie Croyle, Harvard, Mass., 34.924. 9, Camille Branton, Atlanta, Ga., 34.723. 10, Elizabeth Kawana, Honolulu, Hawaii, 34.640. 11, Amy Ng, Rockville, Md., 34.606. 12, Meaghan Muller, Roswell, Ga., 24.025 (withdrew due to injury).

Senior Group Competition

1, Atlanta International Rhythmic Gymnastics Center (Shannon Clark, Atlanta; Kassy Scharringhausen, Duluth, Ga.; Natalie Way, Atlanta; Camille Branton, Atlanta; Mauriah Kraker, Milwaukee, Wis.; Eleanor Low, Atlanta), 70.150. 2, Rhythmflex (Johanna Shoemaker, North Potomac, Md.; Virginia Ledgerwood, Chester, Va.; Stefanie Croyle, Harvard, Mass.; Natasha Lojevsky, Rockville, Md.; Alicia Albe, Germantown, Md.; Kate Jeffress, Rockville, Md.), 69.550. 3, Rhythmic Edge (Michelle Bardos, Carmel, Ind.; Ema Gantcheva, Indianapolis; Maya Gantcheva, Indianapolis; Margaret Nelson, Carmel, Ind.; Ronni Woodrum, Carmel, Ind.; Lynda Kappelman, Indianapolis), 58.600.