Gymnastics: Willms sisters help Dublin Jerome Celtics reach new heights

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Jerome senior Izzy Willms and her sister, coach Kristen Willms, helped the Celtics reach the state meet in each of the past two seasons. "We’ve kind of got (gymnastics) in the blood," Kristen said.

Dublin gymnastics coach Kristen Willms has a keen understanding of knowing how to balance life as a teenager and the emotions of being a prep competitor. 

The final three years of Willms’ career with Coffman helped create that baseline. 

Willms began to break through as an athlete as a sophomore in 2003 when she came up just short of advancing to the state meet on vault and in the all-around. 

During that school year, her youngest sibling, Izzy Willms, was born. 

As a junior, Kristen had even more success, finishing second in the all-around and helping the Shamrocks to a team runner-up finish in the district meet. She then placed 29th in the all-around and helped Coffman finish ninth as a team at state. 

At the same time, she learned what it was like to have a younger sister for the first time. 

“(Izzy) was born when I was in my sophomore year of high school, so she used to come to all of my meets and was kind of like a mascot for Dublin Coffman back in the day,” Kristen said.  

Fast-forward 16-plus years, and Izzy and Kristen have been key figures in why Jerome has become one of central Ohio’s top programs. 

Kristen, who went on to be a cheerleader at Kansas State after ending a prep career in which she also helped Coffman win the OCC-Ohio Division title as a senior in 2005, took over as Jerome’s coach in 2010. She had served for one season as an assistant under Julie Kayser, who also had been her high school coach. 

Kristen went on to become the coach of both Coffman and Scioto as well in 2016, but not before she’d spent time coaching Izzy at the youth level. 

There are two other siblings in the family, including 2013 Jerome graduate Cam Willms, who played baseball and football for the Celtics. 

Izzy joined Jerome’s gymnastics program as a freshman in the 2017-18 season. 

“She had me doing cartwheels all over the place when I was younger,” Izzy said. “She was my first coach and it’s actually really cool that she gets to be my last coach. We’re super close. I followed her around everywhere. She definitely has influenced almost everything with gymnastics. She’s helped me with a lot.” 

Jerome coach Kristen Willms hugs her sister, Izzy Willms, following Izzy's vault during last year's state meet at Hilliard Bradley.

Izzy has been competing under Kristen at various levels for nine years, including helping Jerome reach the state meet the past two seasons. 

“(My family) moved to Columbus in the 1990s and my parents put me in gymnastics,” Kristen said. “My mom doesn’t have a gymnastics background and Izzy wasn’t sure she wanted to do gymnastics when she was little. She thought she wanted to be a horseback rider, but probably around 8 or 9 she really got into it. We’ve kind of got it in the blood.” 

The addition of junior Raegan Ernst to the program in 2018-19, combined with the growing depth provided by gymnasts such as Izzy Willms, helped the Celtics reach new heights.  

Jerome finished seventh at district in both 2014 and ’15 before reaching state for the first time in 2016 when it placed third at district. 

The Celtics were district runners-up and 11th at state in 2019 and third at district and a program-best eighth at state last winter. 

At district last season, Izzy was 12th on floor exercise (9.1) and 14th in the all-around (34.575) as the top eight in each event advanced to state. 

Jerome scored 138.55 at state last season and could be on track to score even better over the coming weeks. 

On Jan. 23 in the 10-team Worthington Kilbourne Invitational, the Celtics scored 140.325 to capture the title. 

Freshmen Ella Cooper and Taylor Walker have provided depth to a returning corps that also has included senior Carrie Gosky and sophomore Kaylee Loper. 

The OCC-Cardinal meet is Feb. 20 at Thomas Worthington, followed by the district meet Feb. 27 at Kilbourne. 

“It feels great (to have a season) especially with the uncertainty,” Izzy said. “You cherish every meet a little more. I went to offseason practices at Gym Extreme that Kristen coached at. It was more of an open gym than an official practice. We barely got to finish our season last season and we weren’t sure we were going to have a season at all, so we’re very lucky. I’m just going to enjoy every meet we get.” 

julrey@thisweeknews.com 

@UlreyThisWeek