With two key gymnasts out of the lineup, it was still a good start to the boys gymnastics season for host Libertyville Saturday morning.
The Wildcats did not have the services of key sophomore all-rounder Adrian Metcalf (injury) and junior teammate Mark Pickar (ACT preparation). But Libertyville still gave Naperville Central a tough battle in a 131.5-128.5 nonconference loss. Hersey did not compete in the meet this year due to a scheduling conflict.
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Libertyville (0-1) does have a huge addition this season, however, as senior all-rounder Alex Pong has joined the team for his final season after previously competing strictly as a club gymnast.
Pong won the all-around competition with an 8.10 average (48.6 points) to edge Naperville Central sophomore Ryan Durkin (47.6) with a second-place 7.93 average. Senior Dom Delgrosso placed third overall for the Redhawks (2-0) with a 6.92 average.
Libertyville coach Josh Cimo is optimistic his team can put together a good season when all of his key gymnasts are together. That might be as soon as Wednesday, when the Wildcats have a key Independent Conference dual against Mundelein, as both Metcalf and Pickar should be back.
"I'm not sure how we're going to do with the new code of points for all of the events, and some of the values are different (this season) as well," said Cimo, whose Wildcats scored 25.6 points on vault. "I don't know how we'll compare against the other teams, but I think we'll do better just based on other years and the competitive gymnasts we have."
With Durkin and Delgrosso leading the way, Naperville Central is off to a consistent start to the new season. The Redhawks opened the campaign by chalking up a 132.6 last Wednesday.
"I think the new rules are better for us because I can have all A's in my routines, hit the element groups and score higher," said Naperville Central coach Glen Reimers, whose team scored 25.6 points on floor exercise. "If we can hit four of the five element groups, we're doing well."
Pong took home first place on parallel bars (8.7), high bar (8.4) and pommel horse (6.9). After suffering through many back and shoulder injuries as a club gymnast, he has chosen to finish his high school career competing with the Wildcats.
"I think it's really fun," Pong said. "It's a good experience. I wanted to concentrate more on school to prepare for college. "I definitely think I can do better. (Saturday's meet) was fun and different from club, so I'm definitely looking forward to the next one."
Durkin was the still rings champion with an 8.3, while Delgrosso took first place on floor exercise with an 8.9. Libertyville senior Jack Burke and Pong tied for first place on vault with 8.7s to nip Delgrosso (8.6).
"We looked very good," Cimo said. "We were a little sloppy overall, but they were hitting their routines for the most part. "It was probably our strongest start in the last three years. Our still rings and parallel bars did pretty well today."
Durkin added second-place marks of 8.5 on floor, 7.9 on parallel bars, 7.8 on high bar and 6.6 on pommel horse. Durkin reached the state meet on two events last season, while Delgrosso qualified for state on three events.
"Ryan didn't do as well today (as last Wednesday) with three falls, so we've got room for improvement there, and Dom had falls on vault and high bar," said Reimers, whose team faces Lake Park on Wednesday. "If we can do this and still score in the low 130s, I'm happy with that because it's still early. If we can score 140 by the end of the season, I think they're doing a great job."
Naperville Central's Keenan Oshiro placed third on high bar (7.3) and still rings (6.3), while teammate Joe Bajek placed third on pommel horse (6.5). Burke added a third-place 8.2 on floor, while senior teammate Ben Reichert (7.6) placed third on parallel bars.
"By the end of the season, Alex will clean up his routines a lot," Cimo said of Pong. "And there is some more difficulty we can add in."