In a flash, Elk Grove wins Mid-Suburban title

Elk Grove boys gymnastics coach Keith Mukai came into the Mid-Suburban League meet saying he had no clue what to expect from his Grenadiers.

“We have shown flashes of greatness here and there,” he said early in the week. “But we have not put it all together.”

Guess what happened in the Elk Grove gymnasium on Friday night?

The Grens enjoyed their finest meet of the season, scoring 147.10 points to top highly-regarded Palatine (146.35) and defending champion Conant (144.75).

The last time the Grens won the conference meet was 2003 under retired coach Bill Watts, who handled the announcing duties on Friday.

“This is the first meet where we almost had no major mistakes,” said Mukai, who was a professional computer programmer living four blocks from the beach in Los Angeles when Elk Grove won its 2003 crown. “We counted only one mistake out of 18 attempts this meet.”

Helping lead the way was senior Damian Zukowski. He placed fifth in the all-around, won the horizontal bar (8.8) for the second straight year and was second on the parallel bars (8.8).

“That’s amazing,” Zukowski said when hearing about his team’s title. “I thought for sure Palatine (which has a 151.95 top score this season, compared to the Grens’ 145.0) would stay ahead of us. But the key for us was that we hardly had any mistakes.”

“It was awesome, a pleasant surprise,” said Grenadiers senior Nick Alcazar, who was second in the all-around to Palatine sophomore Jonah Hinz. “We all finally came together.”

Hinz (52.20) put it all together after battling back and neck injuries during the season.

“I was glad to see him come back from those injuries and clean up things a little,” said Pirates coach Scott Hagel. “He can improve on this meet, too. Overall our 146.3 score is a good reflection on how sloppy we were.

“We had our chances but we couldn’t stick anything. Our form was not there. One bright spot is that this should be a good motivator for the sectional.”

Following Hinz in the all-around were Alcazar, Conant’s Steven Rink (50.85), Rolling Meadows’ Marc Herff (50.75), Zukowski and Palatine’s Damian Przystal (49.10).

Getting Zukowski and Alcazar among the top five all-arounders was a big boost to the Grens’ title.

“Damian and Nick have always been our money men who we can always count on,” said Mukai, a former Niles West gymnast. “But tonight we had our third scores come through, especially with Tom Jansen. “He has been working his tail off in practice and he made a 2- or 3-point difference for us in his two events.”

The Grens’ Alcazar and classmate Jerry Kurty (tie) were second and third respectively in the floor exercise behind champion Bobby Wongkamalasai, a junior from Fremd who scored 9.5.

Fremd also featured the champion on the pommel horse as sophomore C.J. Patton recorded a 9.45 to finish ahead of Rink (8.9).

“They’re young,” said Fremd coach Tim Hamman of Wongkamalasai and Patton. “I knew if they hit, they would win it. They have been practicing consistently. Thankfully, they’ve been working hard and got rewarded for that with championships.”

Conant’s Vince Gottardo (9.35) and Billy Belmonte (9.25) were first and second respectively in the vault.

“All season those two boys have been going back and forth,” said Cougars coach Paul Kim. “It was good to see them first and second.”

Herff won still rings with a 9.0, topping Prospect’s Cullen Williams (8.9), Hersey’s Evans Reynolds (8.85), Buffalo Grove’s Kyle Siebert (8.55) and Hinz (8.5).

Herff also won the parallel bars with a 9.45 while BG’s Eugene Blackmon was third (8.7).

“It was a huge struggle for us on high bar,” said BG coach Chris Stevens. “We’ve lost some depth and that has hurt.”

BG ended up second in the MSL East to Elk Grove.

Palatine won the West over Conant.

“Elk Grove was very clean,” said Cougars coach Paul Kim. “We added some difficulties and we need to make them clean. I counted four falls we had and that adds up to 2 points.”

After the meet, retiring Howard Rubin was honored for his career as the Schaumburg coach and recognized as the MSL West Coach of the Year.

Buffalo Grove’s Stevens and Rolling Meadows’ Mike Costa shared MSL East Coach of the Year honors.