Something significant has been missing for St. Edward senior girls gymnast Abby Madden this season.
That would be older sister, Jordyn, who was her teammate and confidant the previous three seasons. Jordyn Madden, now studying at Indiana, was a four-time state qualifier.
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"It was hard at the beginning this season without her," Abby Madden says. "She came to three meets at Christmas time, which was really nice. She sends texts saying good luck. I really missed her at first. It was so hard without her, but I got used to it. I've been competing with her since I was 5, 6 or 7. She still cheers me on. She used to be nervous and I would calm her down. Now, she calms me down because she doesn't freak out anymore."
Older sister certainly has plenty to be proud of this season. Madden once again finds herself in the girls gymnastics state finals this weekend at Palatine High School, where she will compete in all the individual events and the all-around competition.
Madden comes into the state meet with the third-highest all-around score out of the four sectionals (37.950) and also has the third-highest vault score (9.825).
"I want to go big or go home," Madden said. "It's sad, but it's still fun being my last time at state. I've put some new skills into my events and hopefully it pays off and I make the finals on Saturday."
Madden has qualified once for the finals, that coming on floor exercise sophomore year when she finished eighth in the state. This is her fourth trip to the state meet.
"I'm more consistent this year," she said. "I've been hitting my routines in most meets because I have a lot of confidence in myself. My skills have improved each year and that has helped make me more confident."
Madden is pleased with her advancement on the vault this year. Mastering a layout has helped in that event.
"I did a pike the first three years and would try layouts and could never get it," she said. "I knew if I could do a layout I would get a higher score. I've worked very hard and have improved greatly on vault. That's the one event I'm really hoping I can qualify for finals. It's my strongest of the four and the one I like the most."
Madden says her highest vault score last year was 9.4 and she's been in the 9.75 range much of the year until hitting a 9.825 at the sectional.
"Going from a 9.4 to a 9.825 is a big difference," she said.
Madden also has been hard at work on both beam and bars.
"The beam with me is hit and miss," she said. "I know I need to nail all my skills and stay on and stay confident. If I do those things I could get to the finals. Bars is the event I need the most work on. I've been practicing a new bars routine this week and am hoping to nail it at state."
Madden says her past experience at the state meet will come in handy this weekend.
"When I go to a meet like this I focus on myself and try not to worry about the other gymnasts who are there," she said. "If you do that, you will freak yourself out. There is so much good talent there. I zone in and focus an listen to music and talk to my coach."
Madden gives major credit to coach Doug Bucholz in helping her succeed at the high school level.
"Doug is the best coach ever," Madden said. "He calms me down and reassures me and tells me to focus on myself. The thing I'm probably going to miss the most is him. Without him, if I had a different coach, I don't think I would have the high school experience I've had. He knows exactly what to do and what to say. I don't think I would love high school gymnastics as much as I do now without him."
This is likely the end of the line in Madden's competitive gymnastics career. She's headed to Iowa and would like to become a doctor. Madden is a straight-A student at St. Edward and has a 4.08 grade-point average.
"I may do gymnastics on a club team there to meet new people and stay in shape," she said.
But first there are more urgent matters to tend to starting today.
"I know what I have to do to make the finals," Madden says. "I have to focus on myself and focus on my routines. I know what the meet is like and I know what the talent is like. It's going to be a great adventure."
The Prairie Ridge co-op team will be in the hunt for the team state title. The District 155 conglomerate registered the highest team score out of the four sectionals (149.525). Prairie Ridge was third in the state last year.
The team includes Cary-Grove sophomore Riley Mahoney, who had the highest beam score at the sectional level (9.525). She also has the ninth-highest vault score (9.700) and sixth-highest all-around score (37.625). She also qualified on floor exercise.
"I'm a lot stronger mentally this year," Mahoney said. "I believe in what I can do. It's not as much getting better skill-wise as it is getting stronger with my mental game."
Mahoney knows she and her teammates have an opportunity to create something special this weekend.
"I have to stay focused when I'm up and not worry what other teams are doing," she said. "We're super-excited. We're focused on hitting our routines. The meets we've had before we've done great in, but that's the past. We still have to prove ourselves at state."
Classmate Rachael Underwood had the fifth-highest bars sectional score (9.600) and also qualified in all-around.
Jacobs sophomore Allison Riedel qualified on vault with the seventh-highest sectional score (9.725), but is unlikely to compete due to a foot injury suffered in the sectional on her floor routine. Riedel also qualified as a freshman on vault and floor.
"One of my hands slipped off my legs doing a double pike and I landed really short and hurt my foot," she said earlier in the week. "We're not 100 percent sure what happened to it yet. I can't put a lot of weight on it and am in a soft cast. It would have been awesome to compete in state again. Hopefully everything works out and hopefully I can come back even stronger next year. If this isn't anything too terrible I want to get into the gym and workout as soon as possible and work on making everything as perfect as can be. I'm excited about the future."