For Elk Grove junior Amelia Rafferty, there is no time like the present.
After missing out on the girls gymnastics state meet last season, the Grenadiers junior has come back with a vengeance this time around.
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Rafferty rolled to the all-around title at the Mid-Suburban League meet in late January. She kept the momentum going at the Prospect regional and capped her postseason surge by qualifying for state meet in three events and the all-around at the Fremd sectional on Feb. 4.
She'll be a major player at this weekend's state meet at Palatine High School, beginning with Friday's preliminaries which start at 5 p.m. And the switch from spectator to participant is a welcome change.
"I'm so excited for her," said Elk Grove coach Heather DeCook of her junior standout. "She has worked super hard and has been really focused. She wants to win and that's a big part of it -- she's motivated."
Rafferty qualified for the state meet on the floor exercise as a freshman, but as a sophomore she had a rough sectional falling on two events. That left her on the outside looking in as the best at state competed.
But this season has been a different story for soft-spoken junior.
At the MSL meet, Rafferty took first on vault (9.75), bars (9.65) and all-around (38.125), and she also added a second-place finish on floor exercise (9.6).
Rafferty continued her momentum at the Prospect regional, winning vault (9.65), taking second on beam (8.875) along with third on bars (9.225) and floor (9.3), which led to a second-place finish in the all-around (37.05)
Then Rafferty put it all together at the Fremd sectional, winning floor (9.7), placing third on beam (9.45) and adding an impressive vault (9.525) to wrap up a fourth-place all-around finish (37.125).
"It was a relief," said Rafferty of her sectional performance. "Last year was just a mess; I thought I'd make it in on at least one event. It pushed me to work harder. It for sure feels much better than last year."
Rafferty says she definitely worked harder this season in upping her skills in each event. Adding a Yurchenko layout for the vault, adding a flip flop layout on beam, polishing off a geinger release on bars to go along with an always solid floor routine.
"The thing that has changed the most is she has really worked hard to refine a lot of her tricks," said DeCook, who said Rafferty has always had a high level of difficulty in all of her routines. "As a gymnast her focus and passion have always been high. Now I feel she is a little more confident because she knows her tricks are on."
"I guess my focus has just improved," added Rafferty of her performance. "I have also become much more consistent."
Rafferty became the first Elk Grove gymnast to win an MSL all-around title and is on pace to become only the second individual to win a state medal for the Grenadiers. Lynette Brossett took fifth at state on the bars and all-around for Elk Grove in 1993; she added a fourth-place medal on the bars for the Grens in 1994.
"It's really cool having someone from Elk Grove do this well," said freshman gymnast Anna Bonder of Rafferty's upward climb. "She's really fun to be around, but you can tell when she is concentrating and working to do something."
Rafferty's confidence has also been climbing and she enters the state meet with the best sectional mark on the floor (9.7) and fifth-best mark on the beam (9.45).
"Going into sectionals I was a lot more confident," said Rafferty. "I had really been hitting the past few weeks, and I was expecting to do well."
Rafferty has also transferred that hard work to the classroom, where the junior has posted a 4.8 GPA on a 5.0 scale. She's also been an ideal role model for her teammates.
"She sets the bar high," said Bonder. "You know you can reach your goals if you work as hard as she does, and she is always willing to help the younger girls."
On Monday, Rafferty was working on her vault timing as she prepared for the impending state meet. The junior wasn't connecting, which may have been due to the fact that she was bit under the weather and lacking a bit of energy.
But it didn't deter her preparation.
"She will go and go and go," said DeCook. "That's the thing, if she doesn't make it, she will keep working. That's what makes her such a strong gymnast; she can get through things and keep moving on."