Fremd, Barrington, and Prospect have each punched their ticket to the girls gymnastics state meet, overcoming different challenges along the way.
All three teams, though held one thing in common: an ace.
Fremd senior Christine Jensen, Prospect junior Maddie Larock, and Barrington sophomore Abby Hasanov gave their teams a major boost during the season. And all three will be looking to make an impact at Palatine High School, where preliminaries in the individual events and finals in the all-around will begin at 5 p.m. Friday, with event finals and team trophies beginning at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
Jensen will be participating in her fourth state tournament for a Fremd team that has qualified for 22nd consecutive state meet and will be seeking its 21st state trophy. But it was a bit different for Jensen this year as she stepped into the spotlight.
The Viking lost five seniors to graduation from a team that took third at state last year, but they did not miss a beat this season with Jensen leading the way. She paced Fremd to a second-place finish at the Conant sectional, qualifying to the state meet on all four events and in the all-around.
"She has been this talented all four years," said Fremd coach Elise Ference of her senior stud. "But a lot of the mental battles that she has had the last three years have been thrown out the door.
"She has come in from the start and wanted to lead this team."
Jensen won the all-around title in leading Fremd to the Mid-Suburban League championship. She also took first on the bars and floor at the MSL meet, then helped push the Vikings to a regional a title by taking first on vault and floor.
Jensen took fourth in the all-around at the Conant sectional in helping Fremd nail down its spot at the state meet.
"Last year we had so much depth," said Jensen, "This year we didn't necessarily have the depth, but we have had so many girl step up. It's a special team."
The Vikings senior definitely has done the job of leading by example with high scores. More importantly, she has taken a firm grip in leading the team.
"I was nervous at first," added Jensen, "but in the end I think it helped, especially building my confidence."
Larock was not looking for the spotlight this season. After all, Prospect had senior Gianna Scala, a two-time state medalist, to lead the team. But that all changed when Scala suffered an ACL injury the day before the Knights' first meet.
Larock was suddenly thrust into the lead role as the Knights' top all-around gymnast. The junior didn't flinch.
"She picked up the unexpected role," said Prospect coach Randy Smith of Larock's transition to team's top all-around gymnast. "That' a lot of pressure, but as the season progressed she got used to it. She is as competitive as they come."
Larock has put it all together this season, with especially big gains on beam.
Prospect got off to a shaky start on the beam at the Conant sectional, but Larock helped calm the Knightss by tying for fifth, hitting a 9.5.
She was a force all season, taking third in the all-around at the MSL meet; winning the all-around at the regional meet and leading the Knights to the regional title with a school record 146.625.
And she came through big at the Conant sectional, taking fifth in the all-around leading and also qualifying in each of the four individual events as Prospect broke new ground by making its first state meet.
"I really wasn't expecting it," said Larock of her new role as team leader. "But even though Gianna was not able to compete she was still around the team offering support, so that really helped."
Larock was a state qualifier last season, and built on her performance this season.
"Overall my confidence and consistency have improved," added Larock, "Each season I have been getting better. I am pretty satisfied this year, but I still have things to work on."
Hasanov had no problem jumping into the spotlight her freshman year at Barrington, when she finished seventh in the all-around at last season state meet. She also advanced to Saturday finals on the bars and vault, but was held out of the finals due to a 103-degree fever.
The Fillies sophomore came back with a bit of unfinished business this year and she didn't disappoint in leading Barrington to its first state meet since 2003.
"She's hungry for the state meet," said Barrington coach Jason Loeffler of his sophomore standout. "She has been focused from the start this year. She didn't get a chance to perform at finals last season and she is ready this year."
Hasanov has been a force since the beginning of the season and through the postseason.
She took second in the all-around at the MSL meet, then won the all-around in leading the Fillies to a regional title and kept it going by taking second in the all-around at the Conant sectional.
"I'm just really excited for state this year," said Hasanov, "I didn't have the best experience last year and I'm hoping this year goes better."
Hasanov is using the experience she gained last year. The Fillies junior hit a 9.9 on the floor early in the season and she hasn't slowed down since, qualifying to state in all four individual events as well the all-around.
"I didn't know what to expect my freshman season," said Hasanov who has become more confident and consistent this season, especially on beam. "This year I came more prepared. I felt the team was better and we had a chance. We made it this far and we can't stop now."
Jensen, Larock, and Hasanov have all warmed to the spotlight this season, and the three will be looking to embrace that spotlight at state.