Girls gymnastics: Team effort lifts Lake Park to regional crown

Everyone contributes on the Lake Park girls gymnastics team and it shows in the Lancers score.

Their latest - a big 144.875 - came during Thursday’s home regional as 10 gymnasts wearing the Lake Park blue and white finished in the top five in an event to also advance to the sectional.

Literally everyone is doing their part for the Lancers. That includes the six single-event specialists who placed. There’s also the two sophomores, Elena Heath and Cristina Benza, who qualified in their two events. And then there is their senior leaders, Julia Bartnik (37.125) and Cali Keefe (35.8), who occupied the top two slots in the all-around. And that’s just how it came together on this first day of February.

“We have so many individuals as a part of the team,” Lancers coach Jake Luketin. “And it’s meaningful because it’s such a mental sport and it shows how much they rely on each other. It takes so much mental strength for every one of those individuals. You’re not just talking about training three girls or four top all-arounds to really hit and be on, you’re talking about everyone of these 13 or 12 girls performing all the time at the same time and hitting together to get a score like that. It feels good.”

Bartnik, the reigning state vault champion, won it with a 9.7 as one of her three wins. She also won floor (9.3) and bars (9.225) and was fourth on beam (8.9). Keefe was second on beam (8.975) and second on bars (9.2). Benza was second on vault (9.2) and third on bars (8.85). Heath was fifth on both vault (8.975) and beam (8.825).

Those special single-event specialists included freshman Sami Eichholz on vault (9.05) for third, sophomores Bree Lukes on bars (8.625) for fourth, Mikayla Gnutek on beam (8.925) for third and Nathalia Mittlestaedt on beam (9) where she was regional champ. It also included seniors Victoria Drogos and Alisia Gnutek on floor. Gnutek was third (9.2) and Drogos was fourth (9.05).

“It’s a lot of pressure going at the very end, but I have the rest of my team to watch the whole meet,” Gnutek said. “That helps me a lot when my team does a great job like we have been all season. It takes a lot of pressure off me, and I’ve been only floor for a few years now so I’m kind of used to it, and just all my team supporting and backing me up it feels good on the floor, it feels like ([I’m in) my element and I have a good time.”

Mittlestaedt’s singular focus certainly paid off handsomely.

“I appreciate helping out my team a lot,” she said. “I think It’s really good for all of us. For me, I think it’s a lot easier focusing on one event so I can put all of my focus on there and make sure I do really good and hit it, but the team helps a lot. It takes a lot of pressure off. It’s a huge difference. They help so much.”

Eichholz’s success as a freshman comes from hard work and that comes directly from Bartnik.

“She’s works hard, she does so many reps in practice,” Bartnik said. “She puts a lot of work in on vault.”

It didn’t take long for Eichholz to fit in with this group of Lancers, a special one looking to take the team somewhere special. They took fifth in state last year.

“It’s really fun and exciting,” Eichholz said. “I love how everyone supports each other.”

The Lancers left little doubt that they’d win the regional with their season-high score. Willowbrook (131.7) followed along with Addison Trail (126.65) and Maine East (100.425).

“This meet we started off really strong on vault and we kept going strong throughout the whole meet,” Bartnik said. “We had a few mistakes but it just makes us go even harder for the sectional and other meets coming up hopefully. It shows we still have room to grow. Even though we got such a high score, and are so proud of ourselves, we can still do better, go bigger and focus more on details and perfect everything.”

Willowbrook junior Naomi Campbell (34.725) and senior Mia McBride (34.375) along with Addison Trail senior Nicolette Franczek (33.625) finished behind Bartnik and Keefe in the all-around to also place.

“I’m so happy with how we placed because last year we were dealing with a lot of injuries,” Campbell said. “This year we’re bouncing back and I think we could make it to state this year.”

Campbell and McBride tied for fifth on floor (8.95). Campbell also took fifth on bars (8.275) and fourth on vault (9).

“It’s a great springboard into sectionals,” McBride said. “We kind of had it little rough in the meets before this so I’m glad we pulled our stuff together.”

Wheaton Academy senior Graci Weems took second on floor (9.275). Her former school, Geneva, advanced as a team via an at-large qualifier as the Vikings (137.3) score from Wednesday’s Glenbard West regional proved to be enough. Maine South (136.825) also held on and qualified for the Wheaton Warrenville South sectional next Thursday.

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