Top teams: Addison Trail, Glenbard West, Naperville Central, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley, Wheaton Warrenville co-op, York.
Top returning individuals: Amber Broucek (Glenbard West, so., all-around), Audrey Channon (Wheaton Warrenville co-op, sr.), Meghan Davidson (York, sr., all-around), Sarah DeStefano (Glenbard West, so., all-around), Vanessa Henry (Naperville Central, sr., all-around), Emily Jacobs (Neuqua Valley, jr., all-around), Lenna Klein (Wheaton Warrenville co-op, jr.), Kelly Mordini (York, sr., all-around), Taylor Patton (Fenton, sr., all-around), Allie Pecorin (Naperville North, sr., beam and bars), Maggie Phillips (Glenbard West, sr., bars), Michaela Robert (Naperville North, jr., all-around), Isis Ruff (Neuqua Valley, jr., all-around), Kate Rumel (Glenbard South, jr., all-around), Claire Savard (Naperville Central, sr., all-around) Karen Sebby (Glenbard East, sr., all-around).
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Top meets: Big Purple Invite at Downers Grove North, Dec. 7; Al Galatte Invite at Rolling Meadows, Dec. 7; DeKalb Invite, Dec. 13; Candy Cane Invite at Hersey, Dec. 14; Illinois Best Invite at Wheaton Warrenville co-op, Dec. 21; Panther Invite at Oswego, Dec. 28; Naperville North Invite, Jan. 11; Neuqua Valley Invite, Jan. 18, York Invite, Jan. 21; DVC championship at Glenbard North, Jan. 31; UEC championship at Geneva, Feb. 1; WSC Silver championship at TBA, Feb. 1.
Outlook: Let's start with the DuPage Valley Conference, which should be a lot of fun and very competitive this year. Naperville North won the conference meet ahead of Glenbard North and Wheaton Warrenville co-op, but the Huskies finished 2-2 in the regular season while the Panthers and Wheaton Warrenville co-op tied for top honors with 3-1 records. "We are looking to have a successful year and attempt to defend our DVC title," Huskies coach Chris Stanicek said. "Michaela Robert has elevated her game and has been having outstanding workouts. Anneli Kawaoka and Erika Climo are a strong addition to the program and will be impact gymnasts along with Allie Pecorin."
Just down the road at Naperville Central, Redhawks coach Glen Reimers has a nice mix of gymnasts returning, led by seniors Brittany Mitchell, Vanessa Henry and Claire Savard. Mitchell is out for now with a broken hand. "It's going to take some time to see what we have," Redhawks coach Glen Reimers said. "We've got a lot of the girls back from last year, and sophomore Jill Schuben is new to the team." Lea Savard and Logan Hassler have contributed in past years, and Reimers is hopeful they can return to the level they were at, but he realizes it's going to take some time, plus the competition for the five spots in each event should be strong.
If it seems like it was just yesterday that Kristin Nordquist was competing for Glenbard North, well, you'd be almost right. Nordquist, a 2008 Glenbard North grad, has taken over coaching duties. Speaking of graduation, it certainly has shaken things up, especially with the loss of standout Mariah Matesi. Sophomore Allison Wahrman, a Level 10, is expected to be one of the best newcomers in the state. The team can work around her scores, as well as contributions from incoming freshman Leah Roman and juniors Shayna Bott and Anna Slater. "Although I am not positive on the outlooks of other teams," Nordquist said, "our team has the potential and depth to hopefully win conference and hopefully make it to sectionals this year."
Glenbard East will turn to Karen Sebby to lead the way for a Rams team that could surprise, especially if freshman Megan Smith and Veronika Srey can put up big scores right away. "Most of my girls worked out in the off-season," Rams coach Jessica Bugajsky said. "We are hoping to have our team scores in the 130s this year."
Lake Park has a new look and is new to the conference after making the transition from the Upstate Eight and the graduation of four gymnasts. "The team has a new dynamic," Lancers coach Jake Luketin said. "Many of our returnees are anxious to show what they can do without the alums." The cupboard is far from dry in Roselle and Luketin has three freshmen all-arounders in the mix, along with captains Annalise Donati and Eric Mack, among others.
Finally, there's Wheaton Warrenville co-op, which has ambitions of qualifying to the state finals this winter. It has good reason to set such a lofty goal, namely in senior Audrey Channon and Lenna Klein, two very good scorers who missed the end of last season. Freshman Laura Hughes is an added bonus, while juniors Brooke Stewart and Kate McDonald and sophomores Julie Galo and Sarah Taschetta should help the team reach the 140 mark by December, or so coach Maureen Latimer hopes. "We have great expectations for this year with the bulk of our varsity team returning for another season," Latimer said. "I believe our team could qualify for state. The team is very motivated to succeed."
The West Suburban Conference once again should be dominated by defending state champion Lyons Twp., but Glenbard West appears strong again as does York in the Silver Division. Junior MacKenzie O'Keefe opted to compete in club this season, so that's a big loss for the Hilltoppers. Still, they've faced this adversity before and will allow another capable gymnast to have an opportunity to compete. Plus, the Hilltoppers are deep and experienced. Sophomores Amber Broucek and Sarah DeStafano had dynamite freshmen campaigns, senior bars specialist Maggie Phillips has experienced a ton of success the past three years, while sophomores Mia Connolly and Amanda Rosch and freshmen Cailey Cranny and Kylie Lach are expected to contribute. "Amber comes off a freshman season where she qualified into the state finals on balance beam," Hilltoppers coach Carlos Fuentes said. "Sarah comes in with new skills, added difficulty and a year of experience after having competed with the team at the state finals." The Hilltoppers have qualified as a team for sectionals for 12 consecutive years.
York's one of the more promising teams to keep an eye out for. The Dukes plateaued at 138.5 last year and did lose Alyna Gagliardi via high school diploma, but four seniors return for their final season, with Meghan Davidson and Kelly Mordini leading the away, along with Jenn Gentile and Krinsna Morales. Sophomore Alyson Anderson also returns. "We have a very small team, but hope to progress quickly," York coach Steve Geuss said. "We would like to try and match and beat our top score from sectionals last season."
Hinsdale Central has won its share of conference titles but is in rebuild mode. Junior Maddie Sesemann and sophomore Lindsey Riker return while three-event specialist Margot Tye is an incoming freshman. "This is a young team and we are looking to have a lot of fun this year," Red Devils coach Kim Estoque said. "We hope to make it in the top three in conference and make it to sectionals as a team."
Downers Grove North hopes senior Teigan Jung can recover from a torn ACL, which she sustained in last year's state series. Sophomores Alex Chapa and Emily Wilson return and three new freshmen are expected to join the program. "We have a very young team, but they are talented and hard working," Trojans coach Linda Reynolds said. "I am really looking forward to see what they can do."
Gymnastics is the rare high school sport where a team can go from so-so to great in one year because of incoming personnel. Rarely can a freshman or a new athlete promoted to varsity make such an immediate impact, but Addison Trail is hopeful it can be that kind team this season as it has added three newcomers, who all are club gymnasts. The Blazers' high score last season was just 117.25 but they should be one of the top teams in the West Suburban Gold this winter. "We have Casey Boksha and Brianna Chesney returning from last season along with two new incoming freshmen, Kennedy O'Neill and Terra Garcia and a junior transfer student, Tamara Mendez," Addison Trail coach Brandi Kissee said. "All of these girls are club gymnasts and know what it will take to be their best."
Willowbrook will rely on four all-arounders, including returnees Cassidy McFarland and Riley McFarlane. "We will continue to build as our goal is to start the season with the skills we ended with last season and debut new skills as the season progresses," Willowbrook coach Annette Nocek said.
Hinsdale South has got a strange makeup this winter with five seniors and eight freshmen on the roster. "It's going to be a rebuilding year," Hornets coach Jennifer Fichter. We're going to be relying on our senior leadership and work hard everyday." Sophomore Lauren Haney, who had a great debut season, isn't on this year's roster.
If the gymnasts at Downers Grove South have skills that are as difficult to do as their names are to pronounce, then the Mustangs could be in for a very good season. Seniors Inna Dzyuma, Alexxa Rassano and Ivana Kremarevic, junior Bella Marzati and sophomore Emily Tom return, while freshmen Paige Vondrasek, Ewa Wisniewski and Kayla Carlson are talented newcomers, giving coach Kristyn Campos and opportunity to mix and match her lineup with the eight aforementioned athletes.
It looks to be the Tri-Cities' year again in the Upstate Eight as Geneva and St. Charles co-op are coming off state appearances and have the talent to make a run at a trip to Palatine again so getting near the top of the conference standings will be tough for Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley/Metea Valley co-op, a pair of teams who also have new coaches. Neuqua Valley kept things simple, going with five all-arounders in its regional last year. The Wildcats lost their top gymnast, Sara Cushing, to graduation, but seniors Shaniah Lim and Allie Winek and juniors Emily Jacobs and Isis Ruff return. Prized freshman Colleen Moaruro gives the team five capable all-arounders once again. "I definitely have a positive outlook this year as this is the biggest team (37 girls) that this program has ever had," Wildcats coach Anthony Avella said. Things are a little more complicated for Waubonsie Valley/Metea Valley coach Casey Groah. His top returning gymnasts, Marianna Georgiou and Michaela Valatkas, will compete three events apiece so he doesn't have the luxury of inserting a handful of all-arounders into action. He does have freshman Lexi Beutler but is going to have find a way to get others to contribute night in, night out toward the team score.
Fenton has relied on senior Taylor Patton the last few years, and she's back for a final run toward state. The Bison welcome back Brittney McCambridge and Antonia Acuna and have a nice mix of newcomers, including C.J. Parker. Interestingly, Parker has never competed gymnastics before but has a strong cheerleading background. While this is common in boys gymnastics, it's not on the girls side. Certainly a cheerleader can transition easily to doing a floor exercise routine, but coach Paula Parat has Parker working on all four events.
Glenbard South was the third-lowest-scoring team in the state last year. The Raiders will look to improve upon that. They topped out at 113.65 last winter.
-- Chris Walker