Last year Glenbard West freshman phenom Alex Diab made the transition from club to high school gymnastics and edged Lincoln-Way co-op senior standout Ajani Cargle 56.7 to 56.35 to win the state all-around title.
This season it looks like a pair of area gymnasts will likely battle for the top honor, although there are several other gymnasts who could step up and be in the mix.
Wheaton co-op junior David MacDonald and Hinsdale Central senior Brian Thompson are the favorites this year. The two nearly went head-to-head at Wheaton's Donaldson Invite but MacDonald did not compete.
Thompson said he was curious to see how talented MacDonald was as he headed into the Donaldson.
"I was Google searching him on the bus ride (to Wheaton Warrenville South) and saw he had a 56.6, which is very high," Thompson said.
MacDonald scored the 56.6 over a month ago at Lake Park's Ralph Krupke Invite on March 22. Thompson registered a 55.5 at the Donaldson to claim top honors.
"We don't talk about the AA competition. We are focused on making state as a team," Hinsdale Central coach Mark Wanner said. "Brian has been a great addition to our team. Most obvious is his score, but more importantly he has been a leader by example and a great teammate."
Thompson could be the first all-around champion from Hinsdale Central since Bob Anderson won in 1971. Wheaton's Kyle Padera won the title in 2005.
Only three of last year's Top 10 finishers in the all-around are competing this year. The list includes Wheaton co-op's Ethan Sansone, who placed fourth last spring, Downers Grove North's Strah Sopcic, who took ninth, and Mundelein's Colin McCarthy, who placed 10th.
Do not count out Conant's Joey Mauk, who has recently returned to the all-around competition after specializing in multiple events. Others who should be in the running include Buffalo Grove's Dave Kavalerchik, Fremd's C.J. Patton Glenbrook North's Nate Elfant and Stevenson's Arie Feltman-Frank.
"I saw Brian Thompson and Elfant at Donaldson and they were both impressive, and we have gone against Downers (North), Conant and Mundelein and they also have some impressive all-arounders as well," Wheaton co-op coach Greg Gebhardt said. "It will be very exciting to see how it plays out on Friday (May 10) in Frankfort. From what I have seen, Eflant, McCarthy, Thompson, Sansone, MacDonald and Mauk seem to be the top six that are going to battle it out for a title."
Glenbard North sophomore T.J. Kennedy finished 21st last year but hasn't competed in the all-around yet this year due to a broken hand. He's expected to compete in the all-around in the state series. How he can respond in all the events remains to be seen, but he showed no signs of rust at last Friday's DVC meet as he won the floor exercise with a 9.5.
When T.J. Kennedy went down with a broken hand at the very beginning of the season, the Panthers dropped from contenders in the DuPage Valley Conference.
Glenbard North just wasn't able to recover from Kennedy's all-around scores and found itself consistently scoring as a team in the high-110s to mid-120s range.
Kennedy is expected to return to all-around action in next week's Wheaton Warrenville South sectional. Even with Kennedy limited to only competing on floor in last Friday's DVC meet, the Panthers scored a season-best 133.5.
"We have three great all-arounders and another who is just a freshman," Panthers coach Michael Crissie said. "We feel very good about our program. Glenbard North is turning it around."
Kenney and Gino Simone are just sophomores, while Luke Meister is only finishing up his freshman season so the Panthers have plenty to look forward to, even beyond the state series. Senior all-arounder John Cummins and senior specialist Derrek Nguyen will look to finish in strong fashion next week.
West hoping for best:
Things have changed a lot within a year's time at Glenbard West, but the Hilltoppers continue to make nice strides. They scored a 143.5 in a dual meet loss to Downers Grove North on April 9, but during four meets April 13-20 they scored between a 134.175 and 138.5.
"The difference now is that we're a young team and working on getting skills and not focusing as much on routines," Glenbard West coach Frank Novakowski said. "We had six falls and that cost us three points in our last meet, so we need to improve on that."
The Hilltoppers are young. While their lineup features as many as five seniors, four of them are single event specialists. They also had to fill the void this season with the loss of state all-around champion Alex Diab and seniors PJ McCloskey and Contrell Silmon.
"A lot of these guys were here last year," Novakowski said. "The whole group is stepping up."
Perry Zumbrook leads a strong group of juniors, which includes Dominick Sansone, Grant Viola, Chandler Shepard, Joey Mandarino, Marlo Sotelo and Tom Berland. Seniors Gene Herrera, Jonah Nguyen, Charlie Kummerer, Jon McNamara and Luke Skala are also contributing to a squad, which is counting on contributions from many to get its three scores in each of the six events.
Naperville Central coach Glen Reimers is optimistic that junior Dom Delgrosso will be healthy enough to compete all-around during the state series.
The Redhawks and Delgrosso have some time to prepare. They wrapped their regular season last Friday in Lombard at the DVC meet and won't return to action until May 1 for the Wheaton Warrenville South sectional.
"Dom is rehabbing a sprained MCL and will hopefully be back to compete all-around for sectionals," Reimers said.
It's an injury that's been with Delgrosso all season. He sprained it in the opener against Lincoln Way co-op on March 6.
Delgrosso scored a 48.7 in the all-around against Glenbard North on April 10 but he resprained it the next day.
Last Friday, while limited to only two events, Delgrosso showed why he's one of the best gymnasts in the conference. He placed fourth on pommel horse with an 8.15 and was third on parallel bars with an 8.5.
The end is near:
As sectionals begin a week from today, the end is drawing near for a couple of veteran coaches.
Downers Grove North's Al Bekkedal is finishing his career with quite a flourish. The Trojans have become a regular at the state finals and are aiming for their seventh consecutive appearance. They've brought home a third-place trophy the past two years. Bekkedal is in his 33rd year at Downers Grove North.
Lake Park's Keith Matune is retiring so he can spend more time with his wife and four young children. Matune has been involved with gymnastics as a competitor or coach every year since 1983. As the Lancers gear up for the state series next week, they'll look to add to the program's number of individual qualifiers to the state meet.
In the past eight seasons 41 Lancesrs have advanced to the state finals under Matune's tutelage. Seniors Mac Allen, Chris Avvisati and Sam Flory will look to extend Matune's coaching career to Frankfort the second weekend in May.
Glenbard East coach Bruce Beiersdorf came out of retirement this spring to lead the Rams but doesn't know what will happen next year.
"If it were up to me, the assistant Joon Yun would take over as head coach, but that depends on whether or not he can get a teaching job at East," Beiersdorf said. "I would like to stay involved with the program either as an assistant or volunteer."