When it comes to finding a coach, gymnastics is one of the hardest to fill.

Just ask Brainerd activities director Jack Freeman, who in his first months on the job had to replace Tessa Poorker, who resigned her position as head gymnastics coach for the Brainerd Warriors during the summer.

The search for a new coach landed on the shoulders of Poorker’s assistant coach Jessica Lofrano-Larson. The 2005 Brainerd graduate helped the Warriors to four state appearances while she was a gymnast under the tutelage of hall of fame coach Dave Maras.

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Lofrano-Larson understood the struggle and decided she needed to step up.

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“It’s definitely a challenge,” she said. “I know a lot of teams are struggling to find coaches. Finding my first assistant wasn’t too bad as Megan Ostendorf, who was an assistant last year, came back this year. She’s an alumnus of the program and is doing a great job. I also have a new assistant coach from Rockford most recently, but she also coached at Eastview, in Emma Webster and she’s been a great addition to the gym. Those are my two assistants and then I recruited my husband, Jason Larson, to help with spotting.”

Lofrano-Larson said spotting is one of the more difficult aspects of coaching because not many people understand the sport and the physicality of the skills required along with each athlete’s ability level. She said hand-eye coordination is key to help facilitate the skills. She said it takes a lot of time and dedication to learning to become a good spotter.

“It’s a challenge finding good spotters and a lot of teams are struggling with that, too,” she said. “Jason is learning. He’s new to the sport and it’s going to take him a while to get up to speed, but I’m so happy I was able to drag him into it.”

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Along with the challenges of finding people, Lofarno-Larson’s biggest concern was time. She is a solutions consultant at SAP Concur where she works in software and information technology and has a 9-5 work schedule. One of the key reasons she was able to take on the added responsibility was the flexibility of her athletes and their families.

“For me, the biggest thing was just taking on more of a time commitment,” Lofrano-Larson said. “I do work 9-5 during the day so there was a lot of concern when taking on this role. We did end up moving practices later in the afternoon and the athletes and parents were accepting of that to make sure that it worked around my work schedule. Making sure the time commitment was doable was my biggest concern.

Jess Lofrano-Larson
Jess Lofrano-Larson

“Another reason I was hesitant to take the role was the public-face side of it. I am an introverted person. I like putting in the routines and coming up with practice schedules and workout plans. I’m the person in the background. I’m not as experienced or comfortable of being in front of everyone.”

When it comes to gymnastics few are as qualified though. During her undergraduate studies she coached and when she moved back to the area eight years ago, she was approached by Little Falls to help coach their program. She helped create the Midwestern Amateur Gymnastics program there. When Poorker was hired in Brainerd four years ago Lofrano-Larson became her assistant.

Solidifying Lofrano-Larson’s decision to become the new head coach was a phone call she received from her old head coach Maras.

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“Dave called me the same day I got the job,” Lofrano-Larson said. “That was nice to get his blessing and also some words of wisdom. He was my coach all through high school and is still a mentor of mine.”

Since she’s been a Warrior assistant the last four years, she already knew the girls and she said the transition has been good.

“I won’t say it’s been a breeze, but the girls have been really great,” she said. “They know me. They’re used to working with me in the gym. Megan was an assistant last year so it’s not a huge change. I have a really good group of senior captains that have been really supportive in the change and are really leading them and embracing everything and motivating the other girls.”

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Lofrano-Larson said she’s not really changing much of what the previous Warrior coaches established. She said Brainerd’s gymnastics program has a good foundation.

“My biggest responsibility as a coach is to provide a safe environment to get better and help provide a rewarding experience for these girls. If I do that then I’ll be happy.”



JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.