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updated: 12/16/2013 9:40 PM

U-46 co-op team is strong in numbers

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  • Alyssa Konkel of the U-46 co-op team practices in Hanover Park Monday.

       Alyssa Konkel of the U-46 co-op team practices in Hanover Park Monday.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Emalee Smith of the U-46 co-op team works on the balance beam during practice in Hanover Park Monday.

       Emalee Smith of the U-46 co-op team works on the balance beam during practice in Hanover Park Monday.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Ashley McKee of the U-46 co-op team works on the vault during practice in Hanover Park Monday.

       Ashley McKee of the U-46 co-op team works on the vault during practice in Hanover Park Monday.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
By Mike Miazga
Daily Herald Correspondent

One of the more unique high-school sporting arrangements can be found at the Gymkhana gymnastics facility in Hanover Park.

That's the practice home of the Elgin Area School District U-46 girls gymnastics team -- a co-op program open to all five district high schools. This year the team features some 30 athletes from Bartlett, South Elgin, Streamwood and Elgin. Larkin has no gymnasts on the team. The majority of this year's team is comprised of South Elgin and Bartlett gymnasts.

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"We're making some minor changes right now and switching things up to see where our best efforts are," said U-46 coach Tessa Aiossa, who is in her fourth year coaching gymnastics either with the former Bartlett-South Elgin-Streamwood co-op or with the current U-46 conglomerate. "We're seeing where our best potential is and there is a lot of potential here for sure."

U-46 is paced by two-time state-qualifier Alyssa Konkel, a senior all-rounder from Bartlett and a four-year member of the team.

"Alyssa does well in different events, it kind of ranges from meet-to-meet," said Aiossa. "Some days it's floor and other days it's beam. Beam is probably her best."

South Elgin sophomore Emalee Smith and Bartlett freshman Ashley McKee are newcomers who show promise.

"Emily is showing a lot of potential," said Aiossa. "Her best has probably been on floor so far. Ashley is pretty good on everything as well. Her beam is good and is her best event right now, but so is her floor. She has a lot of potential."

Aiossa enjoys coaching this group due to its extreme closeness.

"They are the best. They are a very good group," she said. "They are very close. It's something I pride myself on -- creating such a close dynamic, regardless of the fact these girls represent girls from the entire district. The camaraderie and closeness is very unusual to see in an all-building team let alone a team that comprises the entire district. I'm impressed by that."

Aiossa has had no issues with cliques or school jealousy.

"This is an extremely unique program," she said. "We make it work. It's a no-cut program. This closeness is unlike anything I've been around. I'm very happy with the girls."

Konkel said the school each girl attends is irrelevant when it comes to the team dynamic.

"This is interesting," she said. "We've never had this many girls. What school you go to doesn't matter. It doesn't bother me. We've come together as one team. We work as one team. Everyone is different and has their own skills. We've come together to make a good team."

Konkel said vault and beam are probably her two best events.

"Beam is very difficult," she said. "It's so skinny up there. I have the balance and strength to stick everything and with the vault I have a lot of power so I can get myself over the table."

Konkel has been involved in the sport for 15 years. She achieved Level 9 status at Gymkhana and is considering returning to the club part of the sport.

Konkel has her sights set on getting back to the state meet. She's a two-time state-qualifier, but did not go last year after landing wrong on her neck during sectionals.

"Last year really stunk," she said. "I was so mad at myself. I hurt my neck really bad on floor and of course I was the first one up on the vault and hurt both my ankles. It was not a good day."

To say the least, Konkel has some extra motivation this year.

"I'm the type of person who will get right back up and do it again," she said. "I definitely am going to go big and go really hard this year and try to make state again."

Prairie Ridge co-op: Slow is the name of the game right now for the Prairie Ridge co-op team.

Prairie Ridge is coming off a 2012-2013 season where it took second in the state. Many of those gymnasts from last year's team are back this season.

"We're taking things very slow right now," said Prairie Ridge coach Lee Battaglia. "We have all club kids on the team and we have two Level 10s. The rest are Level 9s. Our game plan is to go slow right now. Nationals in club were in May. Getting going again this early is really hard for them. It's hard to stay peaked for four months. The key is peaking at the right time so we go slow. We're looking at January where we have everybody going at full strength. By regionals, we'll definitely be fielding our strongest team."

Back for Prairie Ridge are Cary-Grove students Riley Mahoney and Rachael Underwood -- both major contributors to the team's success last year.

Cary-Grove sophomore Mattie Solka (all-around) and junior Jada Berkland (Prairie Ridge) also are back, as is Cary-Grove junior Dylann Perrone (all-around). Sophomore Kendall Rumford (Crystal Lake Central) is new to the team after doing only club last year. She's already over 36 on her al-around score.

"By far, this is the most talented team we've had here," said Battaglia. "We have so much depth this year. It's been really nice."

With so much talent back, the natural question centers around challenging again for the state team title (Prairie Ridge finished 0.325 points behind state-champion Lyons Township last year). Battaglia has a different take on his team's situation.

"I tell the kids we focus on hitting our routines," he said. "Basically our goal is to hit 20 of 20 routines in a meet and where the chips fall after that, we'll see. We have no control over what other teams do. Our control is what we do. Their job is to hit their routines."

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