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updated: 2/13/2014 10:34 PM

Prospect joins Fremd, Barrington in state field

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By Michael Eaken
Daily Herald Correspondent

Prospect's wait is over.

The Knights missed qualifying to the girls gymnastics state meet in 2012 by one spot, finishing .325 points behind Lake Forest.

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Just last year, they missed qualifying to the state meet by two spots, finishing only .175 behind Lake Forest.

Then, to start this season, the Knights lost top all-around gymnast senior Gianna Scala to an ACL injury.

But Prospect regrouped, finishing fourth at the Conant sectional on Monday after scoring a 142.925. That meant the Knights had to sit tight for the conclusion of the final three sectionals in hopes of earning an at-large berth to the state meet.

Prospect was rewarded for its patience on Thursday night, as it was confirmed that the Knights advanced.

"Finally," said Prospect coach Randy Smith, who along with the core of his team attended Thursday night's final sectional at Niles North. "We had a good feeling, but you never know. I think when we finally saw the results and knew we were in, we were able to let out a big exhale."

New Trier (142.875) won the Niles North sectional, followed by Carmel (141.05) in second.

Fremd (147.675) and Barrington (143.675) secured the top two at-large bids as the Mid-Suburban League qualified three teams to state for the first time since 2007.

Defending state champion Lyons Township (149.875), Prairie Ridge co-op (148.525), Geneva (146.525), and New Trier (142.875) automatically qualified by winning their respective sectionals. St. Charles co-op (143.15) will also join the field, with the third best at-large mark.

The state finals will be held at Palatine on Feb. 21 and 22. Preliminaries in the individual events and finals in the all-around will be held at 5 p.m. Friday. Championship finals in individual events and team trophies will be awarded on Saturday starting at 5:45 p.m.

Junior Maddie Larock stepped up big this season for Prospect, filling the gaps due to Scala's injury. The Knights never lost focus in its bid for a state berth. Senior Jackie Difonzo, sophomore Megan Donner, junior Maddie Boldt added experience, while freshmen Olivia Gonzalez and Megan Schmit came of age quickly.

"Maddie (Larock) put the team on her back and took over when Gianna went down," added Smith, "but without the freshman (Gonzalez and Schmit) contribution we would not had have made it."

Barrington qualified for its eighth state meet and first since 2003. Sophomore Abby Hasanov led a young team that has featured three sophomores and two freshmen.

Barrington finished second in the MSL and won its regional before finishing third at the Conant sectional. The Fillies started strong at the sectionals on floor and vault, and then survived a shaky bar routine before rebounding with a strong beam performance to nail down its state berth.

"It's huge," said Barrington coach Jason Loeffler state qualification. "Going into the season I knew we had talent, but a lot of things had to fall into line. I am ecstatic and the girls are ecstatic."

Fremd had a bit more breathing room after securing its sectional mark. The Vikings qualified for their 22nd consecutive state meet and 28th overall.

"We kept practicing hoping for the best," said Fremd coach Elise Ference after her team's sectional performance. "But now that it's official, it's a relief."

Senior Christine Jensen has led a Vikings squad that won MSL and regional titles. Last year Fremd secured its 20th state trophy with a third-place finish. The program once again figures to be in the thick of the state trophy hunt.

"We took third last year and we want more this year," added Ference. "But we're just focusing on our team and looking to do our best."

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