Addison Trail elbows out Morton
After suffering a serious elbow injury during club gymnastics in the spring of 2015, Addison Trail senior Kennedy O'Neill worried she might miss her junior year of high school competition.
O'Neill not only persevered with the pain but even qualified for her third state meet -- and did so as an all-arounder.
"It kind of was a shock because I did struggle, especially after I kind of reinjured it again during season," O'Neill said. "Just trying to push through and not being at your best is definitely frustrating. It was rewarding to be able to make it, but I also kind of realized I had to work on it."
With her left elbow in a brace, O'Neill is back even stronger as part of a solid senior trio leading the Blazers. On Thursday they won their home opener 126.45 to 91.75 over Morton in a West Suburban Conference Gold dual.
O'Neill has competed the last four meets for the Blazers (4-3, 2-1), twice as an all-arounder. On Thursday she only competed on floor exercise, which she won with a 9.1, and balance beam but plans to return to all-around for the Blazers' annual seven-team home invitational Saturday.
"I feel 100 percent better because last year I felt kind of less progressed than everyone else. I spent my whole summer trying to recoup," O'Neill said. "This summer was a lot better because I was able to work on my skills rather than get behind."
Seniors Terre Garcia edged senior Jessica Rosal for first in all-around 31.70 to 31.65. Garcia also won beam with an 8.45 and vault with an 8.35. Sophomore Maddie Rumps was first on uneven bars with a 7.4, and freshman Mikayla O'Donnell and junior Lauren Stamatopolous also had top-three finishes.
The Blazers missed their Dec. 1 season high by 1.0 but made significant strides from their seventh-place 124.91 at the Hersey Invite Dec. 10.
"Our (uneven) bars were pretty strong because bars on Saturday was a mess. And we finished well on floor. We haven't had a chance to finish on floor yet this season," Addison Trail coach Kyle Padera said.
O'Neill, Garcia and Rosal -- all four-year varsity all-arounders -- lead more than 40 gymnasts in the program with fewer than 10 seniors.
"They see Kennedy and Terre and Jess and we don't really have to say much about how to compete," Padera said. "It's really nice, that quiet leadership. You wish for gymnasts like that. We have three of them, and even Lauren too."
O'Neill has reached state twice as an all-arounder and on uneven bars and once on beam and floor. This season's ultimate goal is reaching the event finals on uneven bars.
Garcia has reached sectionals twice on beam after finishing fourth at regionals both times. She continued her beam momentum from an 8.6 at Hersey, where O'Neill was fifth with a 9.16.
"I was actually happy with both routines. I thought I flowed really well," Garcia said. "I just want to make sectionals again. The fact that I got to stand on the (awards) podium and have my own medal to prove that I made it, that's really rewarding."
Because she is not competing in gymnastics in college, O'Neill bypassed surgery for her strained ulnar collateral ligament, similar to Tommy John surgery for baseball pitchers. She fell on the arm after missing a Jaeger release move on uneven bars.
O'Neill has relied on rest and lots of rehab.
"Last year it seemed like a lot of it was let's not get hurt. And there's always that mental side," Padera said. "This year her elbow's stronger and it's showing. It's a lot easier to compete and a lot less anxious for everyone."
Last season's sectional berth also was a breakthrough for Garcia because she switched gymnastics clubs. Garcia said taking off her glasses to compete makes the beam "a little fuzzy" and actually look bigger.
"A lot of (last) season I was trying to get the stuff that I should have had in the beginning," Garcia said. "Now I feel like I've started better and I'm excited to learn new stuff during season."