Girls gymnastics: Libertyville's Becker wins state all-around title
Aw, knucks. Not shucks.
That's what Libertyville senior Anna Becker -- as self-effacing and gracious as they come -- called her secret, knuckle-laden handshake with teammates at Friday afternoon's preliminary session of the girls gymnastics state meet at Palatine.
She deserved a slew of high fives from Wildcats, too, at least 38.175 of them. Becker racked up that point total to capture the all-around championship ahead of runner-up Annika Chudy (37.625), a Vernon Hills junior.
"I calmed down after my first two events (vault and bars) and just believed in my training," said a beaming Becker, 18th in the all-around at state last winter and only the second in program history (Alex Haraldsson, 1987) to garner gold at state in the all-around. "I owe so much to my teammates and to my coach (Tiffany Owens).
"They supported me, kept me positive and gave me confidence. Positive energy … I had it all day."
Becker also advanced to Saturday's event finals on vault (prelim-best 9.7), beam (prelim-best 9.525), bars (9.575) and floor exercise (9.375). She executed a Yurchenko full on vault, a flip-flop layout step-out on beam, a bail handstand on bars and a double pike on floor.
Degree of difficulty, for all of the above?
High. Himalaya high.
"Anna, usually, is visibly nervous before big meets," Owens said. "Not today. I'd never seen her as calm as she was, and she looked fantastic from the start. She had fun out there, showcased her routines.
"So happy for Anna."
Downers Grove co-op sophomore Genevieve Herion finished third in the all-around with a 37.4, followed by Vernon Hills sophomore Livy Tran (37.325) and Wheaton Warrenville South junior Haylie Hinckley (36.95).
Downers Grove co-op paced the team segment, scoring 145.5 points. Vernon Hills stood second (144.9) after Day 1, followed by Geneva (143.4), DeKalb/Sycamore co-op (142.675), Lake Park (141.375), Carmel Catholic (141.35), Barrington (139.525) and Hersey (138.95).
Each event finalist (top 10) hailing from any of the state-qualifying teams has an opportunity to improve her team's prelim tally in Saturday's finals session, which begins at 2:15 p.m.
"It'll be exciting for all to watch our state's top gymnasts perform beautiful routines in a fun setting," said Vernon Hills coach Denise Caton, whose Cougars finished a program-best second at state last season. "I'm proud, incredibly proud, of how well our girls came back strong today after our tough first event (beam, 35 points).
"I know our girls will bring their 'A' games to Saturday's event finals."
Vernon Hills' Tran and Chudy earned a combined five finals berths, with Tran extending her 2022-23 season on floor, vault and bars with marks of 9.6, 9.625 and 9.375, respectively.
Tran's prelim-best floor score bettered Hinckley's No. 2 effort (9.475) by a substantial 0.125.
Hersey received a stellar 9.6 on bars from sophomore Sabrina Nemcek (6th, all-around, 36.925). That topped the field of 33 in the event. She also advanced to Saturday's finals session on vault (9.675).
Other event finals qualifiers from Lake and Cook counties: Warren senior Amanda Hamann (vault, 9.6); Palatine senior Riley Strahl (bars, 9.375); Glenbrook North senior Betsy Alcorn (bars, 9.35; beam, 8.975); Leyden senior Sefora Hanc (bars, 9.25); Fremd senior Abby Gallicho (bars, 9.25); Stevenson senior Ashley Schabes (beam, 9.3); Lake Zurich junior Gianna Mirabella (beam, 9.125); and Mundelein sophomore Isla Rehm (beam, 8.975).
Carmel Catholic junior Sarah Arends emerged as the Corsairs' top all-arounder (25th place, 35.3), and freshman teammate Ava Fendel stuck her Yurchenko layout and recorded a team-best 9.5 vault (13th-place tie, with VH senior Becca Tran).
"Today was a celebration of our season," said Carmel coach Sarah Mikrut Doyle, whose crew qualified for state as an at-large entrant -- the fourth and final one -- from the Stevenson sectional on Feb. 8 "We're better than what we showed on beam today, but I'm proud of the way we performed.
"You can't ever count Carmel out."
Junior Anika Patel led Barrington -- minus injured standout Ellie Marquis -- with a 34.1 in the all-around (31st). Fillies junior Adrianna Merzyn tied for 17th place on floor (9.0).
"Nerves … I noticed some," Barrington coach Jason Loeffler said. "It was nice, though, the way the girls rallied after we lost Ellie (early in the state series). They did that by picking up extra skills."
Remembering Sandy Oldham:
A moment of silence was held for the late Sandra "Sandy" Oldham before the start of Friday's state preliminaries. She died in November at age 78. She coached Palatine's girls gymnastics teams to state titles in 1988 and 1989, served as the girls gymnastics state meet manager from 1979-2002, and was instrumental in the formation of the Palatine Park District gymnastics program.
The Palatine High School Athletics Hall of Fame inductee and former PHS PE teacher also reached elite status as a judge, officiating at Olympics and Division I college meets.
Former PHS Sports Coordinator Patty Burke worked with Oldham at many girls gymnastics state meets.
"Sandy loved everything about gymnastics, as well as teaching," Burke said Friday, adding Oldham also taught tap dancing to senior citizens after retiring. "She truly was an educator, with high expectations for her gymnasts and students."
A celebration of Sandy's life will be held at Palatine High School's auditorium May 20 at 4 p.m.
A total of 72 gymnasts representing 34 schools performed routines at the state meet Friday afternoon. … Libertyville state all-around champ Anna Becker won't continue her gymnastics career in college. "I've been involved in the sport for so long, since I was 3, I think. My first day? I don't remember it at all." But she won't forget what she accomplished Friday. Count on it. … Palatine's Jolee Waddington (23rd, 35.725) wound up as the state's top freshman all-arounder. … Fremd senior Kacey Tokunaga placed 21st (35.875) in the all-around, eight spots ahead of Rolling Meadows senior Caitlin Widawski (35.075).