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Rivers Cunningham leads eighth-grade brigade for Long Beach

Rivers Cunningham of Long Beach is congratulated by

Rivers Cunningham of Long Beach is congratulated by her coach Alyssa Schramm after her floor routine during a gymnastics meet between Long Beach and Bethpage at Long Beach High School in Long Beach, New York on Thursday, Feb 2, 2017. Nassau High School Gymnastics between Bethpage and Long Beach. Credit: Steven Ryan

Bethpage and Long Beach have a long history in girls gymnastics. It’s a pretty one-sided history, though, with Bethpage usually being the victors whenever they meet.

However, Long Beach is ready to start a new book with a new past with a squad of eighth-graders.

Yes, this is Long Beach High, but the eighth-graders dominated the meet Thursday night, especially Rivers Cunningham.

Cunningham placed first in the all-around (32.9), vault (8.3), floor (9.3) and she tied in beam (8.5) to clinch the win for Long Beach, 159.8-152.35, against Bethpage.

“The eighth-graders took the day,” coach Billy Muirhead said. “Sometimes you forget that their 12- or 11-years-old.”

It’s easy to overlook that fact, especially when their attitudes resemble the upperclassmen on the team. Muirhead credits captains and seniors Dakota Ejnes and Erica Russell for the younger girls’ demeanor and sportsmanship.

“They are captains in every sense of the word on the gym floor and off. They have molded these girls into varsity athletes,” Muirhead said.

Besides Cunningham, Allison Cohen also placed first for the Marines in bars (7.8). Cunningham tied with Amanda Ferraro from Bethpage on the beam.

“I love being surrounded by the upper-level gymnasts. It motivates me to work harder,” Cunningham said.

Cohen added, “I don’t think about my grade. I try to have a lot of fun competing,” Cohen said.

Long Beach had a set game plan coming into the meet. Stay on the beam. Cunningham accomplished that, setting into motion a tide turn for Long Beach.

According to Muirhead, before last season Long Beach hadn’t beaten Bethpage since the late 1970s. He’s been the coach since ’81.

However, it’s not a bitter rivalry. Cohen and Ferraro are club teammates and best friends.

“The girls know each other outside of school,” Muirhead said. “Bethpage brought snacks. I rescued a few doughnuts for myself.”

The Marines saved themselves Thursday night getting back in the win column against Bethpage after losing to them last season in the team championship. Ejnes thinks Long Beach will keep winning.

“I’m very proud of them and we have a lot of talented young girls which is going to mean a great future for Long Beach as long as they stay dedicated,” Ejnes said.

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