Top local teams: Glenbard West, Hinsdale Central, Naperville Central, Wheaton co-op.
Top gymnasts: Ryan Alsip (Sr., Hinsdale South, all-around), Evan Baird (So., Downers Grove South, all-around), Sam Bode (Jr., York, all-around), Dom Delgrosso (Sr., Naperville Central, all-around), Max Diab (Fr., Glenbard West, all-around), Ryan Durkin (So., Naperville Central, all-around), David MacDonald (Sr., Wheaton co-op, all-around), Austin Peabody (Sr., Wheaton co-op, floor, high bar, parallel bars, still rings, vault), Conner Ritchie (Sr., Wheaton co-op, floor, parallel bars, still rings, vault), Strah Sopcic (Sr., Downers Grove North, all-around), Ethan Sansone (Sr., Wheaton co-op, all-around), Jack Schmidt (Sr., Hinsdale Central, all-around), Liam Strejcek (Sr., Naperville North, parallel bars, pommel horse, still rings), Ben Szot (Jr., Wheaton co-op, all-around), Keawe Winstead (Jr., Willowbrook, all-around), Perry Zumbrook (Sr, Glenbard West, all-around); Eugene Boguslavsky (Sr., Glenbard South, all-around).
Outlook: The National Federation of State High School Associations stopped publishing a boys gymnastics rules book, so the IHSA has implemented the USAG Men's Junior Olympic Program Level 9, along with some IHSA interpretations. These new rules have been instituted for the spring season, so it's going to be interesting to see how teams learn, adapt and score with the new system.
Two-time defending state champion Wheaton co-op looks to be in the driver's seat to make it three in a row, if it can stay healthy and the change in rules doesn't allow any of the state's other teams to make a significant leap. Senior Dave MacDonald is back to lead the way after a magnificent transition from club to high school last spring. MacDonald claimed the all-around title last May, as well as individual titles on pommel horse, parallel bars, floor exercise and still rings. Now the team welcomes junior Ben Szot, who worked club the past two seasons. Multi-event specialists Conner Ritchie and Austin Peabody almost get overlooked, but their contributions have been crucial to the team's success, while fourth-year starter, Ethan Sansone, keeps things altogether while also putting up one of the top all-around scores in the state on a nightly basis.
"This is a good bunch of guys that knows they can have a really successful season if they put in the work," Wheaton co-op coach Greg Gebhardt said. "They know any team can pop up and be a real challenge, so they're trying to stay healthy and working hard to get things done."
Qarin Johnnic and Lucas Cooperman add depth in the all-around, Ben Martson and Alec Modransky return as specialists, and Brendan Kehoe, Tristan Bradley and Cory Drumond look to contribute as newcomers.
Glenbard North will be rebuilding this year after losing a couple top gymnasts to graduation. Junior T.J. Kennedy, who won the vault at state last year and was second on floor, has opted not to compete this season. "This will be a rebuilding year as we lost all of our seniors from last year, have no seniors this year, and our two gymnasts who would be juniors are not returning to compete this year," Panthers coach Michael Crissie said. Sophomore all-arounder Luke Meister, beings back experience from last year.
The timing is right for Naperville Central and the talent might be there as well. It's been 20 years since the Redhawks last advanced to state, bringing home a third-place trophy behind super talented freshman Dan Hofstra in 1994, which was also the year before coach Glen Reimers took over the program.
Sophomore Ryan Durkin and senior Dom Delgrosso can account for two-thirds of the team score as all-arounders, but if the team really wants to be among the top 10 in the state, it's going to need incoming freshman Trevor Higgins to return to the form he had as a club gymnast, while juniors Joe Bajek, Jeff Sullivan and Keenan Oshiro and senior Brian Froelich, will need to continue to improve as specialists.
Could this team visit the comfy environs of the state finals in Hinsdale?
"We will have to see how the new rules affect scoring and we can get routines to full difficulty and element group requirements," Reimers said. "We have a positive outlook on doing very well. The new rules will take some time to adjust to."
Naperville North will use a hodgepodge of specialists to find its top 18 scores on a nightly basis. Seniors Andy Arauz, Tommy Hodges, Michael Montgomery and Liam Strejcek, juniors Brandon Louise and Grant Swalwell and sophomore Yudai Okabe all return in such roles. The team doesn't have any newcomers.
Lake Park and Glenbard East both have new coaches in Anthony Avella and Joon Yun respectively. Avella coached the girls at Neuqua Valley during the winter while Yun assisted Bruce Beiersdorf last spring for the Rams. The Lancers are also new to the DuPage Valley Conference.
"We're optimistic, but we graduated our top guys last year," Avella said. "We are now in a rebuilding phase with some promising talent in the freshman class." Freshmen Luke Badger, Liam Fleming and Jack Briscoe will join the mix in Roselle, along with seniors Mike Szymanek and Jack Rley and junior Shea Smily.
The typical top teams once again look to shine in the West Suburban Silver, although Lyons might push ahead of Downers Grove North and Glenbard West for supremacy.
Glenbard West only lost four counting scores from a year ago and has 12 seniors on the roster, including all-arounder Perry Zumbrook, who placed sixth in the state on vault and still rings last May, and specialist Joey Mandarino. Max Diab, the younger brother of Alex Diab who scored a 10 on high bar a couple years ago for the Hilltoppers, is expected to step in and contribute immediately, along with a pair of other freshmen with club backgrounds who will mix in with the returnees.
"They're getting along really well and have already jelled in practice," Hilltoppers coach Frank Novakowski said. "The goal is to be able to be a cohesive unit in competitions and they're doing well so far."
Tony Ciezadlo replaces long-time coach Al Bekkedal at Downers Grove North. The team has senior Strah Sopcic (sixth on parallel bars and fifth on still rings last year) back to lead the team, but a lot of inexperience around him. Senior Thomas Brethauer returns on still rings, but not much more. Mike Greenwald, Tristan Leger, Kyle Raden, Jake Graham and Jeremy Guinn are all new to the varsity roster and will need to make big contributions if the Trojans plan on being state-bound for an eighth consecutive year.
Hinsdale Central will be at state this year, at least in the sense that the Red Devils are hosting the state tournament as it moves from Lincoln-Way East this May. Whether or not the Red Devils compete there remains to be seen.
"Our seniors and the entire team have been preparing for the change of rules this year," Red Devils coach Mark Wanner said. "They have considered it a challenge and have been working to prepare their routines so the team can have a chance to perform at the IHSA state team competition here at Hinsdale Central."
Senior all-arounder Jack Schmidt is back to lead the squad, while four-event specialist Alex Gelz and pommel horse guru Andy Kilens are also back for their senior seasons. The Leahy name is a familiar one at the school and freshman all-arounder Ryan Leahy is expected to contribute along with sophomore all-arounders Andrew Micimarra and Chris Kujalowicz.
You can't overlook York this year in the conference either. Junior Sam Bode took sixth on vault and ninth on floor at state last year and senior Bryce Simpson, who will be an all-arounder or work five events, is also back.
If a team comes out of nowhere this spring, it may be out at Downers Grove South. New coach Bill Norris inherits a program that welcomes freshmen Brock Herion and Dominic Tommasone. They should fit in nicely around sophomore Evan Baird.
"The two freshmen are from a club and have some nice skills," Norris said.
Hinsdale South hopes to be "Trading Spaces" with some of the top teams in the state, behind all-arounders Eddie Murphy and Ryan Alsip. Both were state qualifiers last May. Specialists Dominic Colant, Luis Contrares and Paul Denemark also return, while a few juniors will be asked to step up, including all-arounders Adrian Siaw and Jack O'Donnell.
"We hope to be competitive in our conference and get as many qualifiers to the state meet as possible," Hinsdale South coach Jarrod Amolsch said.
Addison Trail coach Mike Galfi believes the Blazers can win conference this year. Seniors Marco Martinez, Akash Patel and Elias Hernandez and juniors R.J. Infusino and Alfredo Torres bring experience to the gym, while sophomore Marcus Rias is expected to step in and contribute on four events.
"We have a lot of individuals who put extra time in the offseason to develop new skills and adapt their routines to the new code," Galfi said. "One obstacle that we will need to overcome is our depth. Certain events, like floor and vault, we have more than enough talent and individuals, but we will struggle to get a third score on high bar, still rings and pommel horse."
Junior Keawe Winstead will lead Willowbrook.
Glenbard South doesn't have much depth in what will be coach Steve Young's final season before he retires from both the gym and the classroom. The Raiders feature one of the state's best gymnasts in senior Eugene Boguslavsky, who took seventh in floor last year.
A couple of individuals will also represent their schools this spring. Jacob Kurian, who trains with Joe Kermend of Aerial Gymnastics Club, will compete as an individual for West Chicago at Glenbard West's home meets in preparation for the state series, while Neuqua Valley freshman Gareth Elkins will make his high school debut during the sectional.
Top meets: Red Devil Invite at Hinsdale Central, March 7, Lesch Invite at York, March 7; Glenbard West quad vs. Addison Trail, Fremd and Wheaton co-op, March 8; District 87 Meet at Glenbard West, March 13; Neil Krupicka Invite at Hinsdale Central, March 21; Eagle Invite at Leyden, March 21; Foerch Invite at Naperville North, March 22, Lake Park Invite, March 28; Vic Avigliano Invite at Rolling Meadows, March 29; Canino Invitational at Hinsdale Central, April 11; Fred Dennis Invite at Addison Trail, April 12; Ed Raymond Invite at Conant, April 17; Donaldson Invite at Wheaton Warrenville South, April 19; Ken Scorza Invite at York, April 19; Kafka Invite at Glenbard West, April 26; DVC Meet at Glenbard North, April 25; WSC Silver Meet at Glenbard West, May 2; IHSA sectionals, TBA; IHSA state at Hinsdale Central, May 16-17.