Hampered by a nagging injury, Tara Tantari decided to walk away from club gymnastics last August after devoting countless hours to the sport the previous 14 years.

Hampered by a nagging injury, Tara Tantari decided to walk away from club gymnastics last August after devoting countless hours to the sport the previous 14 years.

The Olentangy High School senior's intention was to focus solely on academics and varsity cheerleading for the Braves' football and boys basketball games. But after just a couple weeks away from gymnastics, Tantari began to sorely miss the sport that she had participated in since she was 3 years old.

After seeking advice from her mother, Kim, and several of her former club coaches, including Cliff Parks and Kittia Carpenter, Tantari chose to join her high school gymnastics squad this season for the first time.

The move has paid major dividends for the Braves, as Tantari has blossomed into their leading scorer.

On Jan. 15, Tantari finished second (32.525) in the all-around to help Olentangy score 118.275 points and win a five-team meet, finishing ahead of runner-up Buckeye Valley (117.1). She won floor exercise (9.05) and vault (8.6), finished second (7.35) on uneven bars and placed sixth (7.525) on balance beam.

Competing as an individual in the McGee Invitational the following day, Tantari scored a season-high 33.925 in the all-around.

"I'm definitely glad I came back to gymnastics," Tantari said. "I quit for three months and almost didn't return. But once I decided I wanted to come back, I looked at my options and saw that high school gymnastics is a lot more relaxed, and I figured it would be the better route for me. I wanted to come back and be the competitor that I used to be, and I'm having a lot of fun competing for Olentangy."

Coach Misty Lloyd-Matthews said Tantari has been an equally good leader.

"Tara's leadership has been amazing in both her actions and words," Lloyd-Matthews said. "She led Olentangy to its highest team score and first win (on Jan. 15) that it's had in quite a long time. She's very mature, and it's remarkable to watch the way Tara cheers on everyone on the team and makes them feel good about their routines."

Olentangy junior Hannah Olenick said Tantari takes time to help her less-experienced teammates learn new skills during practices.

"Tara's our only senior and she has the experience and skill to compete with almost anyone in high school," Olenick said. "She's been good support for the younger girls. She does what she can to help them and that allows Misty to spend time working with everyone."

Tantari began competing in club gymnastics when she was 9 and qualified to the state tournament in each of her eight seasons.

As a sophomore, Tantari was one of eight girls selected to compete for the Ohio Level 8 Regional team. As a member of that squad, she finished second (9.55) on floor while competing against the top teams from Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

But on her way to earning Level 9 status by the end of that season, Tantari suffered a long-term injury that eventually ruined her junior season.

After performing a back tuck -- a back flip without the use of her hands -- on beam, only Tantari's left big toe landed on the four-inch-wide beam.

The awkward landing severely stretched tendons in her left foot and toes, and after she kept competing, eventually several of those tendons began to tear.

Despite the painful injury, Tantari taped her left foot up for every meet and completed her sophomore season.

However, the pain gradually increased and Tantari was forced to miss nearly three months of her junior season while wearing a walking boot.

Tantari felt much better physically once she returned but struggled to execute many of the new skills and routines that she had recently learned for Level 9 competition. Despite a mediocre season, she qualified for state but failed to win an event there, after winning at least one event in each of her previous seven state appearances.

"I wasn't performing to my usual standards and I thought, 'Do I still want to do this after all of these setbacks?'" Tantari said. "I was over my injury, but it was harder to get over it mentally than physically, and I couldn't compete at the level I was used to. Once it wasn't fun for me anymore, I decided to quit."

Even after taking three months off, Tantari has quickly regained much of her Level 8 skill set, which has given her an edge over the majority of her high school opponents.

Tantari is enjoying herself so much that she plans to rejoin her club gymnastics team for one last season once her high school campaign is completed.

"My foot still gets sore, but it's much better than it was before, and I'm having the most fun I've had with gymnastics in a long time," Tantari said. "My goal for high school is to qualify to state all-around, or at least in one event. My confidence is growing as I keep raising my scores. I'm planning on focusing on cheerleading in college, so I want to make the most of my last year doing gymnastics."