Glenbard East ready for first trip to state

 
By Chris Walker
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 2/14/2019 12:05 PM
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  • Glenbard East's Kelsey Donovan competes on the beam during Oswego High School's girls gymnastics invitational earlier this season.

      Glenbard East's Kelsey Donovan competes on the beam during Oswego High School's girls gymnastics invitational earlier this season. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

It's been almost 30 years since a Glenbard East gymnastics team competed in the state finals, and that was the boys team.

The girls had never qualified for state until this season when their 145 points during the Wheaton Warrenville South sectional on Feb. 4 earned them one of the four at-large berths.

"I am very proud of them," Rams coach Jessica Bugajsky said. "They have worked very hard for this and we are hoping to have yet another great meet on Friday."

The Rams had to sit around for 72 hours waiting until the final sectional was completed to learn their great fate.

They enjoyed last Thursday evening having pizza at Kelsey and Erin Donovan's house. After receiving word via the online posting of the results in the Conant sectional, their party moved on to Oberweis for ice cream.

Undoubtedly, the best ice cream they ever tasted in their young lives.

"With our performance on Monday, we felt we put up our best gymnastics and did as well as we could have," Kelsey Donovan said. "We knew all the teams out there were good, so we were a little nervous about getting in."

Now the moment belongs to freshman Erin Donovan, sophomores Rebecca Honig and Kali Kartheiser, junior Kelsey Donovan, seniors Sydney Nasternak and Sierra Olson as well as Bugajsky who is in her 14th season coaching. The elder Donovan, Honig and Kartheiser are competing as all-arounders.

"Because I think we all realize going to state is a big deal and doesn't happen very often we'll try to cherish this moment," Olson said. "The energy is pretty high around school and we're doing well right now along with bowling and wrestling sectionals. It's been exciting."

Kelsey Donovan acknowledged that it took a little while for it to sink in that her team was heading to Palatine this weekend.

"The first few days after it we realized this is real but it doesn't feel real and then it set in," she said. "We're a history-making team and we know it and we're so proud of each other and ourselves. It's unbelievable and now we're really going."

She also gets to compete on the state's biggest stage with her younger sister.

"We grew up in the same gymnastics level, but high school is the first year we're competing at the same meets," she said. "I get more nervous for her routines than mine. She has great energy and makes the team laugh. I'm so happy we get to go to state together."

District 87 foe Glenbard West, which is also the defending state champion, is the favorite to win a second straight title behind all-arounders Maddie Diab and Taylor Ramirez and ultra-talented specialists like Maia Lee.

The Hilltoppers scored a 147.9 during sectional play. The five teams closest to them were all between 145 to 146, which should create an interesting race for second and third place.

The Rams are capable of bringing something back to Lombard other than great memories.

"We're going out there to do what we always do and have fun is the most important thing," Olson said. "We've got kids who came from club and came out for high school and it was a brand new energetic experience for them. I think we won't think about it being going to state for the first time but will be able to do what we have done all season."

Glenbard East last had a team at state when the boys capped off a run of three runner-up finishes in 1987, 1988 and 1990 with retired coach Steve Kafka at the helm.

"That's pretty cool for them," Kafka said. "It's a major accomplishment, especially if you've never made it before and it's not easy to get there. Very impressive."

The state finals begin with individual event prelims and the all-around, which also contribute to the team competition, at 2 p.m. Friday. The championship finals in the individual events are set for 2:15 p.m. Saturday at Palatine High School.

In addition to Glenbard East and Glenbard West's team and individual competitors, there are eight other area schools with 16 gymnasts representing their schools, including Neuqua Valley sophomore Jane Riehs, who took second on beam last year.

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