St. Charles co-op gymnast Sidney Copeland spent last year's Upstate Eight Conference Meet watching from the sidelines after undergoing a midseason operation on her right knee.
The junior spent the waning moments of Saturday's UEC Meet at Lake Park with a bag of ice covering her left knee, but she was feeling much better.
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Copeland had just competed as an all-arounder and helped St. Charles secure its first overall UEC title since 2009 by winning the meet with 144.775 points.
"It's been really great (to compete). We haven't had this good of a team in years so it's really exciting." Copeland said. "(Being injured) got me really motivated to work over the summer and get all of my skills back, get more skills."
Geneva (141.50) finished second after winning the last two UEC Meets and winning or sharing the last two overall titles based on a combination of dual and UEC Meet results. Lake Park was third with a season-high 140.85, followed by Neuqua Valley (133.30), Waubonsie/Metea (season-high 131.10), South Elgin/Bartlett/Streamwood co-op (130.20) and Batavia (126.70).
"(Winning conference) was a such a great achievement," St. Charles co-op senior Jesi Ortiz said. "It's an awesome feeling. We did what we needed to do. We came in there with the right mindset."
Ortiz (9.5 on floor) and St. Charles co-op freshman all-arounder Rachel Dugan (9.45 on vault) were among five individuals awarded conference titles. Geneva junior Dominique Brognia, who won uneven bars (9.35), also was a first-time UEC champion.
Geneva senior Ashley Puff defended her all-around title (36.45), Waubonsie Valley/Metea Valley co-op senior Jess Malon won balance beam (9.25) after winning uneven bars in 2012.
St. Charles beat Geneva in their dual, but the Vikings would have won the conference title outright with a victory Saturday. Both teams now look to contend for berths to the eight-team state meet with regionals starting next week.
St. Charles had team-best scores on floor (37.25) and beam (35.10). St. Charles had its highest team score at a major meet despite missing Cathryn Gotlund, who recently had wisdom teeth removed.
"I'm happy (with the title). Overall we still have room for improvement, but we've been very consistent this season," St. Charles coach Amy Lill said."
Despite team-best scores on vault (37.10) and uneven bars (34.75), the Vikings were hampered by four falls on beam for a 32.80.
"It's a little disappointing. We would have loved to have take home a third (straight title)," Geneva coach Kim Hostman said. "It wasn't our beam day, unfortunately. It was nice for them to finish out strong, still hit a 141. They made it up on floor and vault. Hopefully we're going to keep striving."
Ortiz led St. Charles' 1-2-3 finish on floor effort followed by Kelly Gorniak (9.4) and Copeland (9.3).
"I told the girls right before I got on the floor, 'This is my last conference meet,' and it was for all of them. I went out there and I tried 150 percent and I'm happy with the results," Ortiz said.
"It was her last conference meet so it was nice to see her have a beautiful floor routine, probably one of best ones we've seen her do all season," Lill said.
Dugan pulled out vault with a near-perfect landing on her pike Tsukahara. The Vikings' Megan Beitzel was second (9.4) and Puff and McKenna Merges shared third (9.3).
"Sometimes at meets (my landing) just works. I don't know why," Dugan said. "It actually didn't feel as good in the air, but when I landed it, I was like, 'Oh yeah. I stuck it.' "
Last year, Puff won all-around as well as three events. She was the only gymnast Saturday with top-five finishes on all four events.
"I just try to stay solid on all of the events and hopefully that'll add up. Today it got me a win so that's good," Puff said.
Brognia won uneven bars by .15 over St. Charles' Andrea Schwartz. Puff was third with a season-best 9.05.
"It's an honor so I'm happy," Brognia said. "The only thing I messed up was my landing. The rest of it was pretty clean. My teammates were just cheering me on and it really helped me out."
Malon, sixth on bars, only has been competing that event because of a foot injury. She added beam and floor Saturday for the first time in nearly two months, and Malon captured beam comfortably over Dugan (9.05) and Copeland (8.9).
"I'm hanging in there," Malon said. "I'm more excited (about this UEC title) because I haven't been doing my best on beam in high school."
Copeland's toe-front dismount off uneven bars resulted in a hyperextended left knee as she went too high and jammed her knees into her face. Fortunately, it was her last event, and Copeland plans to compete at regionals.
Other teams were not so fortunate. Injuries during warmups sidelined two teams' best all-arounders, Batavia's Lauren Stangl and South Elgin co-op's Megan Barnes.
Lake Park showed its in contention for a sectional team berth by breaking 140 for the first time this season.
"Posting a 140 this late in the season is really encouraging and really sets the bar high for us to do well in the state series," said senior Jessica Lewis, one of three top-five finishers for the Lancers.
"I think we really proved ourselves today against teams like St. Charles and Geneva. When we compete against them, we can step up to the plate and do what we need to do."
Neuqua Valley senior Sara Cushing was sixth on beam (8.65) despite a fall and sixth in all-around (34.20). Other top all-arounders for their respective teams were South Elgin co-op's Alyssa Konkel (8th,
33.85) and Batavia's Sarah Ganster (14th, 32.55) in her second meet back from a foot injury.