The Libertyville boys gymnastics team has been pining away in the shadows of rival teams Stevenson and Mundelein for the better part of the spring.
But Saturday afternoon at the Mundelein sectional, the Wildcats stepped to the forefront with their best meet of the season to take first place with a season-high 147.2 points to advance to the Elite Eight meet next Friday at Hinsdale Central.
It will be Libertyville's first trip to the state meet as a team since 2007, and senior all-around champion Alex Pong was a huge key to the Cats' success Saturday with a first-place 9.02 average (54.1 points).
Host Mundelein was unable to overcome not only the absence of elite all-arounder Colin McCarthy, who was competing in the USAG national meet in California, but also having key all-arounder Jacob Petri out made it impossible for the Mustangs to advance to state for the 21st time in school history.
Mundelein did put together a very respectable second-place score of 140.95 points though, followed by a tight-knit group of Mid-Suburban League teams.
Schaumburg held off MSL champion Fremd 136.95 to 135.35 for third place while Palatine edged Conant 134.55 to 133.95 for fifth place.
"I thought it was awesome because nobody on our team has ever been to state and everyone came through today," said Pong, who is competing in his first season of IHSA gymnastics. "I think this was definitely one of my best meets and it was a pretty good meet."
The top five gymnasts in the all-around will advance to the state all-around competition on Friday night while the top five individuals in each of the six events qualified for the individual competition Saturday afternoon. The at-large cut-off scores for the all-around and individual events will be announced following the final sectional Saturday night at Glenbard West.
Mundelein's squad was led by senior all-arounder Cameron Mueller, who placed second overall with 49.2 points (8.20 average).
Elgin individual entry senior Steve Merena will be competing in the state meet for the fourth straight year as he placed third in the all-around with 49.2 points.
Conant fourth-place finisher Blake Rossdeutcher (48.85) and Palatine fifth-place finisher Prakash Nigam (48.80) also earned automatic berths into next Friday's competition.
"We were not going to win this meet, but we're going to take some kids to state," said Mundelein coach Jesse Piland, whose team placed fourth in the state in 2013. "So overall it was a good meet for the guys who were representing us and Cameron (Mueller) had a good meet."
Pong took home first place on still rings (9.6), floor exercise (9.55), vault (9.2), and pommel horse (8.45).
"We've really just kind of been pacing ourselves in the gym so we would peak at the right time," said Libertyville coach Josh Cimo, whose team scored 26.65 points on vault. "We were keeping our guys out of the fatigue zone and just mentally prepping them and they pushed each other the whole way."
Schaumburg will have some individuals at state as Mat Sigler took third on floor (8.95), and tied for third on vault (9.1). The Saxons' Jonathan Gonzalez placed fourth on still rings (8.75).
"The boys did pretty well and it was a nice way to end the season on a solid meet," said Schaumburg coach Erik Bostrom. "We did a really nice job on vault and still rings today and hopefully we can get a lot of guys to state."
Fremd's effort was led by Daniel Classon's fifth-place finish on pommel horse (7.75). The Vikings' Cole Patton has a good shot at state after a seventh-place tie on floor exercise (8.50).
"This score is about where we've been at and we're a young team so a 135 is good for us," said Fremd coach Tim Hamman. "So this is a good steppingstone for the future because most of our team is sophomores and juniors and almost everybody is coming back for at lease one year."
Besides Merena's outstanding meet, Elgin freshman Nolan Williamson should also be heading for state in the all-around after placing sixth overall (47.0 points).
Williamson will definitely be heading to state on high bar as he took first place with an 8.7. Merena easily won the parallel bars championship with 9.25 points.
"Steve (Merena) fell on pommel horse and high bar so it was a tough day for him," said Elgin coach Steve Merena of his son. "Nolan (Williamson) did really well on floor and high bar and for a freshman it was a great day."
Hoffman Estates' Anthony Halbisch advanced to state with a second-place 9.0 on floor while Palatine's Matthew Wang reached state with a fourth-place 8.65 on floor.
Rossdeutcher and Mundelein's Greg Godellas (8.0) tied for third on pommel horse while Libertyville's Adrian Metcalf (8.7) placed fifth on rings.
Hoffman Estates teammates Brendan Gorvett (third-place tie), and Avrey Johnson (fifth-place tie) both advanced to state on vault while Johnson also reached state with a fifth-place tie on high bar.
"It's roughly where we've been at, and we had an overall good meet," said Conant coach Mike Opsal. "I'm proud of the guys this season, they started off scoring 129 so we've gone up about 10 points."