IHSA state titles for Hersey and Prospect high schools

Forty years. That’s how long it had been since any District 214 girls gymnastics team had won the IHSA state title. Until this year, when John Hersey High School’s team turned in a breakthrough performance at Palatine High School and earned the championship trophy.

Hersey’s gymnastics team — composed of team members Sabrina Nemcek, Gianna Mazzola, Grace Johnson, Evelyn Gradek, Jessica Getz, Jenna Lazzara and Jane Forsberg — compiled 146.25 points, edging Downers Grove Coop and Wheaton Warrenville South Coop for the state title on Feb. 17.

No one turned in a better performance than Sabrina, a junior, who won the individual competition in the vault and uneven parallel bars and placed second in floor exercise — all of which combined to make her the All-Around individual champion.

Hersey’s gymnasts were not alone on the state title stage for IHSA winter sports and activities.

Prospect High School Sophomore Jaxon Penovich completed his undefeated wrestling season with a 13-5 major decision in the 190-pound championship match on Feb. 17, giving the Knights their first individual state wrestling title since 2017.

That same weekend, in the IHSA Speech competition, Prospect had state champion performances by seniors Kelly Jordan and Emily Caravello in Dramatic Duet Acting and senior Anna Parisi and sophomore Dylan Maye, also in Humorous Duet Acting.

As for Hersey’s gymnastics champs, Coach Shannon Barrett was not surprised by her team’s success, saying “Sabrina is a true champion. She wants success for her whole team, not just herself. I knew she had it in her to win state. She just needed to remain healthy and focused.”

“This achievement has meant so much to me, knowing that my hard work has paid off,” Sabrina said. “I’ve learned for three years so far that you only go to high school four years of your life and have four seasons in your sport, so you gotta make them count.”

She and her teammates certainly made the state finals opportunity count, turning in a strong performance across the board that earned the team a first place finish in the vault and bars, third in floor exercise and fifth in balance beam.

That, Barrett said, was the result of a season of hard work and dedication.

“I have been the head coach for 11 years and I have never worked with a better group of gymnasts,” she said. “They truly are one of a kind. They are driven, hardworking and have the same passion for this sport as I do.”

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