Well, if there were any freshman jitters for Geneva's McKenna Merges she certainly didn't allow them to show.
Competing in her first state series meet during Friday's Geneva regional, Merges set the tone for the Vikings, leading off the team in strong fashion on bars, beam and floor.
The Vikings were close to perfect, earning a program-best 146.275 points to easily defeat Wheaton Warrenville co-op (136.575), Glenbard East (125.025) and Fenton (121.525).
"I talked to her about being strong and more mature and she really stepped up today," Geneva coach Kim Hostman said. "She was just outstanding in leading the way and then it was just one after the other coming through."
Merges had a personal-best 35.025 but wasn't at the very top of the leaderboard because two of her teammates also dazzled in the all-around.
"I just try to focus like there's no judges out there and it helps me get in the right mindset," Merges said. "I know if I get off to a good start it'll help the other girls mentally to hit more too."
It certainly worked on Friday.
Senior Ashley Puff won beam with a 9.3 and shared top honors on vault with teammate Megan Beitzel with a 9.5. She nipped Dominique Brognia in the all-around 37.15 to 37.075. Brognia was on top of the award stand on bars with a 9.15 and floor with a 9.575.
"McKenna and Grace (Ginsberg) got us started really well (on floor) and we all just wanted to keep scoring higher and higher," Brognia said. "I just tried to stick my landing and leaps and had a lot of energy. It was nice to go out with a bang like that."
Vault has been the Vikings bread and butter, and they once again delivered a big number with a 37.675. How impressive were they? Look at it this way, senior Jenna Ginsberg had a 9.25 and it was only the team's fourth best score.
"We've been working so hard on vault," Jenna Ginsberg said. "It's where we're most solid, so for everyone to hit like that, it was fabulous. We got good scores and it turned out wonderfully."
The Vikings' success continued all evening, including on beam where the only real error was a couple wobbles from Claire Scatterday as they seemingly were glued to the apparatus.
Grace Ginsberg finished fourth on beam for the Vikings with an 8.725 and Scatterday added a sixth-place effort on floor with an 8.975.
Fenton's Taylor Patton led the Bison, advancing in the all-around with a 35.250 to take third. She also advanced on vault with a 9.25 and finally conquered beam with a 9.175.
"Beam is my favorite event and I've had so many problems sticking it," Patton said. "It's been good in practice but I get so nervous (here). I'm glad to have finally done it."
Also for the Bison, senior Haley Sabala took second on bars with an 8.9.
Wheaton Warrenville co-op had four gymnasts called to the awards stand, with junior Sarah Bradley leading the way. Bradley took fourth on vault as her Yurchenko pike netted a 9.4. She also snagged the fifth and final automatic qualifier in the all-around with a 34.625.
"I'm excited to have a chance to compete on all the events again," Bradley said. "I didn't come back until after Christmas break (diving season and injuries) so it's taking a while to get my skills back."
Joining Bradley are teammates Julie Galo, Brooke Stewart and freshman Gracie Erickson. Galo had a pair of top five finishes on bars and floor, Stewart danced her way to a 9.025 on floor and Erickson was strong on beam with an 8.725.
"Beam has been my main event forever," Erickson said. "I've loved it since I was four years old. I'm kind of surprised though. I definitely have done better routines than this but I had so much fun and did my best."
Senior Jamie Gradishar paced Glenbard East with a 31.425 in the all-around. Sophomore Olivia Carone was right behind her, contributing a 30.650 for the Rams.
"We had a couple of rough patches, especially on beam," Glenbard East coach Jessica Bugaajsky said. "But overall I was pretty happy with how they did."