The only team that can beat Wheaton co-op during Friday's IHSA boys gymnastics team state finals is Wheaton co-op.
With a trio of super-talented all-arounders in Danny Heller, David MacDonald and Ethan Sansone, as well as several dedicated, high-scoring specialists, there just isn't another team in the state capable of scoring in the 160s like Wheaton.
"These guys have been pretty consistent all year and if they go out and do what they do in practice, they should do well," Wheaton coach Greg Gebhardt said. "The nice thing about having a team prepared like this is you're not just relying on the same three guys. There's going to be bumps in the road and as long as they stay positive the best performances will emerge from that."
No other newcomer has made an impact like MacDonald. He turned the defending state champs into heavy favorites. Even if you subtract MacDonald's 55.25 in the Wheaton Warrenville South sectional, and add the team's fourth-best score in every event, Wheaton still would have won the sectional and posted the state's fourth-best sectional scored with a 152.1.
Sansone, who will make his third trip in as many years to Frankfort, placed fourth in the all-around in 2012.
"I guess the gymnastics haven't really changed, but I've become more of a leader," he said. "I've just tried to show others how to reach a big stage like the state meet, boosting their morale and doing what I can to make sure things go smoothly."
Heller, who has been floating around the 50-mark in the all-around most of the spring, is ready for one final state appearance.
"I'm absolutely thrilled and can't wait to do it for the last time," Heller said. "It's kind of bittersweet, though, because the team is as close as a family, but we're excited. The excitement that comes from that meet it is so amazing."
Because Wheaton's all-arounders have been so amazing, they've kind of overshadowed the contributions of its specialists. Freshman Lucas Cooperman, sophomores Alec Modransky and Qarin Johnnic, juniors Ben Marston and Austin Peabody and seniors Max Jurkowski, Evan Murray, Mike Hands and Mike Rumoro are all contributing to the state's most gifted team.
"I've basically been the guy to use to fill the gaps," Jurkowski said. "If they need another ring guy or need me to do more than vault and parallel bars, I'm there to do that."
Gebhardt's not backed away from his gymnasts, and they haven't just gone through the motions either. The team has outscored so many opponents by so many points this spring that one might think they don't need to push themselves further, but they have.
"You want to make sure they don't become complacent and make sure they have goals," Gebhardt said. "But I also want them to have fun and to enjoy this."
After the Wheaton Warrenville South sectional, Gebhardt told his team that it now had a chance to do something no other team at Wheaton Warrenville South has done this school year -- win a state title.
"We're very lucky to have a chance to do this two years in a row," Sansone said. "In future retrospect it's going to be fun to be able to look back on all the fun we had and what we were able to accomplish."
"Not many guys get to experience this," he said. "And if we win we'll get to walk proudly in the hallway."
Well, at least until he graduates in a few weeks.
The competition for second and third place should be interesting, and Downers Grove North and Hinsdale Central are among the eight-team field. the Red Devils' Brian Thompson and the Trojans' Strah Sopcic and John Schubert are also among the top all-arounders in the state. They join Sansone, MacDonald, Buffalo Grove's David Kavalerchik, Conant's Joe Mauk, Mundelein's Colin McCarthy and Glenbrook North's Nate Elfant as the top all-arounders in the state.
"I can't wait to go state," Thompson said. "I'm just going to go in there and try to hit all my routines and do the best I can."
Glenbard West has five individual qualifiers, including Perry Zumbrook, who should contend for an individual title on vault. Glenbard North and Naperville Central have four apiece. Redhawks freshman Ryan Durkin will make his state debut in the all-around while Panthers sophomore T.J. Kennedy advanced in four events.
Willowbrook has three qualifiers. Glenbard South and Addison Trail each have two.