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updated: 3/20/2014 10:10 PM

Pats, Mustangs renew rivalry

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By John Bumbales
Daily Herald Correspondent

Many boys gymnastics seasons have come and gone, but the head-to-head battle between Stevenson and Mundelein is one rivalry that just won't go away.

And after the Patriots beat the Mustangs by just 1.1 points last year to bring home the third-place trophy from the Elite Eight state meet, the long-time rivalry appears to be heating up even more than ever.

Both schools have a rich tradition of success in state meet history although Stevenson's program is a relatively new to IHSA competition, only beginning in 1997.

In that short span, the Patriots have already captured seven top-three trophies, including state championships in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2010. Stevenson took home third-place trophies in 1999, 2001, and last year when current second-year coach Eric Liva became head coach.

Mundelein made its historic 20th Elite Eight appearance last year, and the Mustangs have 11 top-three trophies, including six titles between 1989 and 2000 under former coach and hall of famer Doug Foerch.

Mundelein also has three runner-up finishes and two thirds. Liva has been on both sides of the Mundelein-Stevenson rivalry as he coached the Mustangs to a second-place trophy in 2003 and a third in 2005 before leaving their program.

"We have potential, and I feel we have a legitimate shot with this team to make state," said Liva, who also coached Hinsdale South to five Elite Eight appearances from 1992 to 2002. "The big key is going to be how we fit into this new (IHSA scoring) system and now we have to try to find a way to match my kids' skill set to the new rules, and it's taking time."

Mundelein has a real difference-maker in No. 2-ranked returning senior all-arounder Colin McCarthy ready to lead the Mustangs' squad.

After placing fourth in the state all-around as a junior, McCarthy is hoping to put together his best season ever in 2014.

But Mundelein coach Jesse Piland is unsure and concerned if McCarthy will be declared eligible to compete in the sectional or state meet this year.

As it stands, the IHSA may not let McCarthy compete in sectionals if he competes in the junior Olympic nationals in California that same week later this spring. Last year, they approved it and McCarthy returned from the national meet just in time to compete in sectionals.

But now it looks like McCarthy won't be able to do both the national and sectional meets which would mean he would also potentially miss out on competing in the 63rd Annual IHSA state meet which has been moved from Lincoln-Way East to Hinsdale Central (May 16-17) this year.

"He (McCarthy) has just been a pleasure to watch and coach, he makes improvements every day, and he is constantly pushing himself so I just can't say enough about him," said Piland, whose team has made three straight trips to the Elite Eight meet. "I always enjoy the competition (against Stevenson), and all of these guys know each other so I think they get a little more amped going against each other in conference meets."

"It's something different to go head to head at either Mundelein or Stevenson and I expect them (Stevenson) to be firing on all cylinders," added Piland, whose team placed seventh in the state in 2011 and 2012.

McCarthy has gotten some great support from his Class of 2014 teammates Cameron Mueller (17th in state all-around), all-arounder Jacob Petri, Alex Gomez, Carlos Marin, and Kevin Franz, who had decided not to compete this spring. Sophomore all-arounder Brandon Swanson is showing great improvement in the early stages of the new campaign.

But McCarthy is hoping for the best in his quest to be able to compete in the IHSA state series this season as well as the continuing battle with arch rival Stevenson.

"After they (Stevenson) beat us by a point last year at state it has definitely fueled our season," said McCarthy, who may compete in gymnastics at UIC next year. "It makes us want to deal with the pressure a lot, get back to state, and finish in the top three. We're definitely going to bring it all when we see them (Stevenson) next."

While the Mustangs and Patriots have decided not to compete in an Independent Conference dual meet this season since they already have so many head-to-head meets, they will face each other for the first time in the powerful Bob Bohl Invitational April 11 at Mundelein.

Stevenson has a great 1-2 punch in junior Arie Feltman-Frank (13th in state all-around), and senior Jacob Guth (19th in state all-around), and the addition of senior all-arounder Zach Gilbert could make a huge difference for Liva's squad. Senior Christian Courtney is a standout on pommel horse for the Patriots after tying for seventh in the state in 2013.

"I've got super kids, we have so much fun in practice, and I'm excited about what we can do," said Liva, who is concerned about how the new IHSA scoring system will affect his team. "We have a chance to be in the hunt and get in the top eight, and that is always the goal."

Defending state all-around champion David MacDonald of Wheaton-Warrenville co-op is the top-ranked gymnast heading into the season and his No.1-ranked squad has already gone over the160-point plateau this season.

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