The going has been tough for the Loudoun Valley High School gymnastics team of late. So what have the Vikings done? Believe it or not, they've been making things even harder for themselves.

Third-year head coach Marty Cooper's team has spent the past two weeks improving the level of difficulty in the Vikings' routines and hopes to use Wednesday night's meet against Marshall, Edison, Lee and AA Northwestern District rival Potomac Falls--its first home meet of the season--to show that the team is ready to contend in the postseason. Competition begins at 7.

Two gymnasts have planned to place wrinkles in their floor routines for Loudoun Valley on Wednesday: Emily Lewis will attempt an "Arabian"--a back somersault with a change of direction and a twist--and sophomore Emily Meredith will add a back somersault.

If Lewis and Meredith are successful, the difficult maneuvers they have practiced this week will bolster their scores tremendously. However, if either of them--or any other gymnast--falls, the final scores will be penalized a half-point for each fall.

"We wouldn't be trying to do new moves in a meet if we weren't confident about doing them," said senior all-arounder Melissa Mannion, who has met the score requirements in the vault, uneven bars and balance beam to compete in next month's state qualifying meet. "And I'm really confident in what our team can do now."

All this comes at a crucial time for the Vikings, who hit a low point just two weeks ago when they finished second-to-last in the five-team Red Division--which featured teams averaging at least 125 points per meet this season--at the The Washington Post/Loudoun Extra Invitational at Park View.

"Our falls just killed us," Cooper said. "There was absolutely no excuse for our performance. We were just terrible."

A week later, on Jan. 15, the Vikings' fortunes looked to have worsened: The team's best gymnast, junior Devon Bartok, was ill and would miss the Harrisonburg Invitational. However, the team persevered, and its gymnasts stuck their routines, placing second, behind Courtland.

"That was the meet I felt we really pulled together, because everyone knew they couldn't rely on Devon," said Assistant Coach Jennifer Cooper, Marty's daughter. "We didn't even expect to place in the top three, but everyone was just focused on what they needed to do. We really showed what we are capable of doing. That's when we turned our season around."

Under the Coopers' coaching system, Marty oversees the beam and vault, with Jennifer--a three-time All-Met gymnast at Valley--handling the floor and bar routines.

"They are two different coaches, but it's been really great for our team," Bartok said. "Mrs. Cooper is also more motherly and gives us a comfort zone when we need it. Jennifer pushes us a lot more because since she's been there, she knows what it takes to win. Also, if we have any questions, she has the ability to get on the equipment and show us herself, and that gives us a big advantage."

With Bartok back, the Vikings have a huge opportunity to make a statement Wednesday against Potomac Falls, the district's strongest team so far.

"We have the chance to show people what we can do, and right now I think our team is as close as it's been all year," said Bartok, who has met the score requirements in the all-around to compete in next month's state qualifying meet. "We have a good chance to win this meet as long as we stay focused."

CAPTION: Devon Bartok, back, Melissa Mannion hope to turn around season for Vikings gymnastics team under Coach Marty Cooper. Loudoun Valley participates in five-team meet Wednesday night at 7.