Boys gymnastics: Nigam, Palatine leave with sectional triumph
Prakash Nigam left Palatine High School on Saturday night with something he'd always wanted -- a sectional all-around title.
The senior scored a 55.35 to win it in his own gym -- his first sectional all-around triumph in his four years as a standout varsity gymnast.
"I almost started crying before I went on rings," Nigam said. "My team was a little uptight at the beginning. But we worked together and overcame that. It was kind of emotional for me because it was my last time here for a meet."
Nigam's score was the highest all-around score in the five sectional meets as he advanced to next Friday's state all-around competition at Hinsdale Central. His score was nearly 2 points better than any gymnast, which ironically was Schaumburg's Chasen Chau, who scored a 53.50 Saturday night.
At Hinsdale Central, Nigam looks to become the first Cook County gymnast to win the all-around title since St. Viator's Matt Schoen won in 1994 and '95. Nigam also could become the first MSL all-arounder to win the title since Conant's Matt Jones won in 1988 and '89.
"I am hoping this can carry over to state," said Nigam, who also won the rings with a 9.50, the vault with a 9.15 and parallel bars with a 9.45. He also qualified on the other three events. "The margin I have can be closed up pretty quickly. But the bigger accomplishment would be to get a third-place trophy for my team."
Palatine took a huge step toward that goal by winning the team sectional title with 157.30. Schaumburg was second with a 151.45, a score good enough to have the Saxons qualify as an at large team.
Those teams will be joined by sectional winners Glenbard West, Deerfield, Lyons and Hinsdale Central. At-large teams Buffalo Grove and Wheaton Co-op also qualified for the team finals, which will also be competed at the same time as the all-around championship on Friday.
Palatine senior gymnast Trevor Hallier and his mom Karen thrilled the huge crowd by opening the meet by playing the national anthem on violins. But Palatine seemed a bit overwhelmed with all the attention and got off an uncharacteristically slow start.
"It was definitely a learning experience for us out there tonight," Palatine coach Scott Hagel said. "We had some nerves in the beginning but they shook them off and responded in the end."
Christian Lunsford, who was third in the all-around with a 52.55, said the large crowd at the sectional was a different experience for him and his teammates.
"It was an amazing thing to see all these people coming," said Lunsford, who qualified by finishing in the top five in the pommel horse, rings and vault.
"It was a little unnerving. But then we figure we got this and let's keep it going."
The Pirates' Jack Benzo also qualified on the pommel horse and Bryan Gaytan will make it as an at-large qualifier on the floor.
Schaumburg will also keep it going.
The Saxons scored 6 points higher than they did last week at the MSL meet to earn the program's third trip to the state finals. Schaumburg coach Erik Bostrom credited the return of Brandon Nyborg and his team's ability to clean up their routines for the big scoring jump.
"We put some things back together tonight," Bostrom said. "Brandon came back after being out with a shoulder injury, and it was the shot that we needed. The guys were pumped up and throwing some new skills."
Nyborg was excited to be back in the lineup. The freshman qualified on the floor, rings and high bar.
"It was great to be back out here tonight," Nyborg said. "I just wanted to have fun. It is great to be going to state."
Chau had his best meet of his career. The senior was dominant with his performance on the high bar, which he won with 9.30. He also tied Nigam on the vault with a 9.15 and qualified on the floor, rings and parallel bars.
"It was an intense meet," Chau said. "We were on the edge of making it. There is a lot of things going on in my head right now. I am so excited."
Also excited was Grayslake North's Daniel O'Donnell, who was competing in his first high school meet.
O'Donnell, who competes at a club in Round Lake, found out late last year he could compete as an individual at the state meet, representing his school. The senior made the most of his opportunity, finishing fifth in the all-around with a 50.55, which will be good enough to qualify him for next week's state championship as an at-large gymnast.
"It is a bit different," said O'Donnell, who was an automatic qualifier on the rings and high bar. "I liked how all the gymnasts were. I adjusted pretty well because of that."
Barrington's Evan Weisman won the floor exercise with a career-best 9.65. It marked a huge improvement for the senior, who was scoring in the high 8's last year year.
"I have worked hard on my form," Weisman said. "I have been staying clean and that helps a lot."
Stevenson's Matt Krames was sixth in the all-around with a 49.85. He will qualify as an at-large competitor, and also was an automatic qualifier on the vault, parallel bars and high bar.
Libertyville coach Josh Cimo said his team, which was fourth with a 141.00, had difficulty adjusting to the sectional. He is still hoping that his team can still get a couple of at-large qualifiers.
"We had some ups and downs," Cimo said. "I think the nerves got to us a little bit. We had been doing a great job in the gym this week at practice. Today the pressure and all the great gymnasts got to us a little bit."
Prairie Ridge's Ryan Swatscheno also was an automatic qualifier on the vault.