Boys gymnastics: State champ Libertyville gets it done
The Libertyville boys gymnastics team knew that the 68th Annual IHSA state meet was going to be a golden opportunity for its first state championship in school history if all of the pieces fell into place Friday night at Hoffman Estates.
And while there were a lot of moments throughout the pressure-packed meet that top-ranked Libertyville was pushed to its limits by two other title-minded squads, 2019 would indeed end up being the year of the Wildcat.
Despite having to close out the meet on the dreaded pommel horse, which had been Libertyville's worst event this season, the Wildcats still raised the first-place trophy by outscoring runner-up Niles West 159.15 to 158.65 for the first crown in school history.
Third-place Glenbrook North also made Libertyville sweat it out until the very end as the Spartans needed to score 27.65 points on still rings to close out the meet. But they fell far short of that mark with just 26.2 points in that event.
Libertyville's program had captured two third-place trophies under former coach Paul Blasko, in 1993 and 1995, along with two third-place trophies under coach Curt Austin in 1998 and 2006. Austin was a state tumbling champion during his high school days.
Heading into the 2019 season nobody would have predicted the Wildcats would win the state title. But with the help of senior newcomer Matthew Richardson, competing in his first and only high school season, Libertyville came out of nowhere to put itself permanently in not only the school, but the state record books as the best.
"I can't believe it ... it's exciting ... you've got to love it," said Libertyville coach Josh Cimo when he finally realized that his team was indeed state champions.
"We did the best we could today. We had a couple of falls here and there, but the guys kept their nerves underneath them."
Richardson (9.25 average) was barely edged 55.55 to 55.50 by Glenbard West junior Alexander Demeris for the state all-around title. There was a rare three-way tie for third place in the all-around while Libertyville senior Max Faber (52.2) came up big by placing 14th overall.
"We worked so hard for it, and even though we had some mistakes we were still able to do it," said Richardson, who had a beautiful double back flip on parallel bars (9.3), and a fantastic twisting dismount on high bar (9.5).
"I just made some sloppy errors on pommel horse (9.25), but it was a good meet other than that."
Other than Richardson's second, Libertyville's Craig Breckenridge took third in the state all-around competition back in 2011.
Seniors Tyler Kukla and Matt Neuberger were also a huge part of the Wildcats' success Friday as they were part of the glue that kept this team together until the celebration could begin.
"We came out here and performed like never before. Tyler came up with a huge floor exercise score to bring us back, and being the first ones in school history to win it is great -- our names are on the books," said an elated Faber. "It came down to pommel horse (25.15 points). It was clearly our worst event throughout the season, but we showed the practice we put in on that event today."
Freshman Grady Georgia had to be shocked being on a state title team in only his first season while key sophomores Robert Cartwright and Andrew Richardson still have a lot to look forward to for years to come.
"It was kind of a relaxed mindset in the gym, not put any pressure on them and not feed into what the state meet really is," said Cimo following his eighth season. "I knew the top three teams were going to be going at it, we've been seeing each other throughout the year, and it's electrifying to be able to do it. (Matt Richardson) definitely put in the work throughout the whole season, and his body has taken a beating, so to finish up the season like this is something to be proud of."
Niles West coach Adrian Batista was also impressed with the Wildcats.
"Libertyville is a great team, they deserved to win, and we left of lot of things on the table," said Batista, whose team placed first in 2016. "But we still took second, we held off a really good Glenbrook North team, and I'm very proud of them."