Girls gymnastics: Gymnasts face uncertainty with season put on pause
Lake Zurich senior gymnast Kayla Bailey missed most of her junior season because of bulging discs in her back, returning the last few weeks to peak at the state meet. She finished third in the all-around behind only Gabriella Riley from Prairie Ridge and Glenbard West's Anna Diab.
Bailey trained hard this summer and fall getting ready for her senior season, which started with practice Nov. 16.
Unfortunately, the season didn't last long. After four practices, girls gymnastics -- like the rest of winter sports -- saw its season put on pause because of rising COVID metrics.
"I was pretty upset because it was just a couple days in and they shut it right down real quick," Bailey said. "Hopefully it will come back."
Bailey, one of Lake Zurich's captains, is doing her part to keep her teammates engaged and upbeat. She suggested baking competitions during the team's regular Zoom meetings, and she's working out on her own to be ready when -- and if -- the season resumes.
Diab also is reaching out to her teammates at Glenbard West, sending group texts to motivate each other.
"It's disappointing because we were all looking forward to being able to compete," Diab said. "It will be OK as long as we have a season but it's always hard knowing there's a chance it couldn't happen. That's a little hard to hear all the time. We just try to be positive and hope it will be OK."
Diab is staying in shape while away from her team. Coach Carlos Fuentes is holding daily Zoom workouts, and her parents own Premier Gymnastics in Downers Grove where she can go to stay sharp.
Like Bailey, Diab is a senior anticipating her final high school season.
"It's difficult not knowing what's going to happen, if I can compete or when I might compete," Diab said. "It's tough knowing I could be done with gymnastics without being able to finish it off."
Diab's coach, Carlos Fuentes, is part of the IHSA's advisory committee. He was caught off guard how quickly the season was put on hold.
"We have a strong team this year and we were excited to get started," Fuentes said. "The girls had made some good gains throughout the offseason.
"We came into the season with a really positive attitude of every day we get to do gymnastics. That's a privilege. We already knew many of our athletes and other friends were not able to have a fall season. We just wanted to make the best of every day. We didn't think it would only be four days but we wanted to work as hard as we could every day. We always knew it (the season stopped) could be coming but I don't think it was something they were anticipating and certainly not that quickly."
Fuentes said in his conversations with the advisory board, he's expecting the IHSA to do everything it can to make sure all athletes have a chance to participate in some facet throughout the year.
"Whether it means adjust our schedule, delay us and start later, push us back, I've heard nothing that they will just cancel our season," Fuentes said. "Whether it's two weeks or six weeks we will continue to train, virtually through Zoom or at home. My message to my girls is let's be the best team we can the next two weeks in our individual workouts. Let's take it a week or two at a time. Just be prepared so when we do come back we will be ready to go."
His Zoom workouts consist of high intensity interval training, a mix of weights, bands, yoga, squats and flexibility.
Gymnasts wear masks when they arrive in the gym but can take them off for routines. Cleaning procedures have been ramped up. Mats and apparatuses are disinfected after each girl finishes, and Fuentes said all the chalk in the gym creates a dry setting that's helpful with COVID.
Many gymnasts are used to the new protocols from their club training.
"As a whole for the community, most girls have been working out at private gymnastics clubs since June," Fuentes said. "It's pretty familiar for them. It wasn't a shock coming into the season. They are prepared and resilient."
Lake Zurich coach Chelsie Grotelueschen said she's anticipating a January return. The IHSA has scheduled two meetings in early December but it's likely going to take a downward trend in COVID numbers before the season is allowed to resume.
In the meantime she's as concerned about her athletes' mental well-being as keeping their physical skills sharp.
"My job as a coach isn't so much about winning or losing," Grotelueschen said. "It's the mental health for these student-athletes who have been staying home now for eight months. For them to be able to compete, I'm hopeful for that. Our focus is how we can stay engaged with athletes and help support them from an emotional standpoint and get them excited for hopefully a season whenever the IHSA releases a new start date."
Grotelueschen said she understands her girls have "Zoom fatigue" and is limiting their sessions to once a week. And when they do she's trying to keep it creative, something "to make being together virtually fun."
Grotelueschen certainly hopes the season resumes at some point. She wants Bailey to have a final chance to display how hard she's worked to get back.
"What she did at state last year was a very watered down of Kayla Bailey's abilities," Grotelueschen said. "She has worked hard this summer and got back a lot of her skills. It would be very disappointing not to have the opportunity to see how she would have fared."