Elgin senior boys' gymnast Steve Merena will finish up the season this weekend in the exact same location as the previous three years.
Merena will compete in the IHSA boys' gymnastics state finals for a fourth year in a row this weekend. This year's meet occurs Friday and Saturday at Hinsdale Central. The team and all-around championship will be decided Friday, while the individual events take place Saturday starting at noon.
The significance of the four-peat is something Merena takes seriously.
"It's really exciting to make it to state four years in a row," he said. "I'm very proud of that. I worked hard for it every year, especially this one. It's my senior year and I wanted to finish up on a good note."
Merena was an automatic state qualifier on rings, vault and parallel bars (sectional champion in that event) and also qualified for the all-around competition with a sectional score of 48.950. He also earned at-large state berths on horse and high bar. Merena had the fourth-highest parallel bars sectional score in the state at 9.25.
"I've definitely improved the most on parallel bars," he said. "I cleaned up my giants and I do a much cleaner dismount now. I'm very excited about that event."
Parallel bars also ranks as Merena's favorite event. "I like the specific technique you need to use for giants," he said. "I have a lot of fun doing them. It makes me feel like I am flying."
Pommel horse presents the biggest challenge for Merena. "It's challenging for me to stay on," he said.
Merena competes as an individual for Elgin and for the majority of his high-school career he's trained and competed by himself. This year's he's had company in the form of Elgin High freshman Nolan Williamson, who also will compete at the state meet.
"I've been competing by myself for awhile now," said Merena. "I'm used to it. When the big meets come up I self-motivate myself. It's been nice having Nolan around this year. It's been a lot of fun working out together."
Merena noted that his previous state-meet experience is an edge he's happy to have. "It's something that gives me an advantage with the experience I've had," he said. "I know what happens at the meet and I know what to do."
Merena, who said he plans on starting his post-high-school education at Elgin Community College and would like to coach gymnastics and/or be a gymnastics judge in the future, has one goal in mind for this weekend.
"I would like to make it to finals in as many events as I can," he said.
Merena finished ninth in the state last year in the all-around competition, took 11th on high bar and tied for 18th on rings.
Williamson made quite a splash at the recent Mundelein sectional, winning the high bar competition with an 8.700. He has the fourth-highest sectional score in that event in the state.
"High bar always has been a strong event for me," he said. "I wanted to go out there and show how much I improved in the event. The key in that event really is just keeping it tight and making sure you are moving at a good speed."
Williamson also will compete at state on parallel bars, where he earned the last available at-large spot in the competition.
"With parallel bars I've cleaned up my support and have been working on a tight dismount," he said.
Williamson is a 12-year veteran of gymnastics. "I like gymnastics because it gives me time to interact with new people,' he said. "It's fun meeting new people."
Williamson is appreciative of the time he's had working out with Merena.
"It's been great," he said. "Steve is really encouraging. He knows when you are down and he knows how to get you right back up on your feet."
Williamson is looking forward to his first foray at the state meet. "I think it will be a good experience," he said. "I'm looking forward to going out and doing my best and hopefully I can prove something."