Glenbard West gymnasts Amber Broucek, Sarah DeStefano and Mia Connolly may be freshmen, but they knew the cold, hard story even before the season started.
After back-to-back trips to the state meet in 2010 and 2011, the Hilltoppers missed the final at-large berth to state last year by just 0.5.
"Yeah, I knew pretty much (about last year)," Broucek said. "We're focusing on state, just trying so hard, just to get to state. It's really tough but we're staying confident."
The Hilltoppers took the first step toward a happier ending Tuesday by winning the Glenbard West regional with 144.90 points. Oak Park-River Forest (127.325 points) edged Batavia (126.125) for second, followed by Glenbard South (114.85) and Morton (114.675).
Glenbard West sophomore Mackenzie O'Keefe won all-around, vault, uneven bars and floor, and Broucek won beam.
The Hilltoppers, who won their sixth straight regional title, are the No. 1 seed for the Glenbard West sectional Feb. 5 but will get tested by St. Charles co-op, Geneva and DeKalb/Sycamore co-op.
"The girls know the importance of doing well (at regionals), but we want to make sure they don't overlook it either. I thought they had a strong performance," Glenbard West coach Carlos Fuentes said. "We still have a little more that we can clean up and little things that we'll tweak, but I'm glad of the consistency that we're showing. Our hit percentage is looking really nice at this point."
Also earning individual sectional berths automatically with top-five finishes were DeStefano, Glenbard West senior Abbie Garchitorena and junior Maggie Phillips and Batavia senior Sarah Ganster, freshman Megan McGee and sophomore Courtney Glassman. Other individuals will find out if they advance at-large after the final feed-in regional at Geneva Friday.
O'Keefe made it six straight all-around titles in major invites or meets. At the West Suburban Silver meet Saturday, she won all-around with a school-record 38.125, uneven bars, beam and floor. A few wobbles on beam Tuesday led to a third-place 9.075.
"Everybody's really excited (for sectionals). We're a little nervous, but we're going to work super hard," O'Keefe said. "(Breaking 38.00) makes me really happy. That's my best ever and it's a goal now to go above a 38.125 but just to get in the 38s or high 37s is good enough for me."
The freshmen also rose to the occasion. Besides Broucek's victory on beam, DeStefano had what Fuentes called "a gutsy, gutsy performance," with a second-place 9.15 that began four routines without a fall.
"As much as they know about the 0.5, it was Mackenzie, Maggie and Abbie that were part of it. The three freshmen know about it as well, but they weren't part of it," Fuentes said. "They almost feel like they're avenging kind of a loss of what they've inherited. There's just a legacy that comes with Glenbard West, and they want to make sure they kind of put us back where we feel we can be."
Ganster earned her third trip to sectionals in her only third meet back after surgery Nov. 2 for a broken metatarsal in her foot.
Ganster finished fifth in all-around with help from her final routine, a sixth-place 8.35 on beam. One key to her routine was landing her two-footed back handspring, the trick on which she broke her foot during club practice.
"I kind of knew that potentially that could be my last beam routine of high school gymnastics. I really just wanted to stay solid," Ganster said. "(Qualifying) gives me a glimmer of faith that my hard work paid off at the end of the year."
McGee and Glassman advanced on vault, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively. Freshman Lauren Stangl, who suffered a severe injury to her left foot at the Upstate Eight Conference meet, competed only on uneven bars without a dismount.
McGee landed her second try at a tuck Tsukahara. Glassman missed both of hers but still scored well.
"It's amazing. I didn't think I could make it but if you work in the gym, it pays off when you go to meets," McGee said.
Glenbard South sophomore Kate Humel, a 2012 sectional qualifier in all-around, has several chances to return. She was sixth in all-around, floor and uneven bars.