Scouting Cook and Lake County girls gymnastics

Top returning teams: Barrington, Carmel, Hersey, Leyden, Libertyville, Maine South, Vernon Hills, Warren

Top returning athletes: Barrington - (Anika Patel, Sr., all-around); Carmel - (Alyssa Arends, So., all-around), (Sarah Arends, Sr., all-around), (Julia Bukowski, Sr., all-around); D117 Antioch/Lakes co-op - (Julia Blasinski, Jr., all-around); Hersey - (Grace Johnson, Sr., all-around), (Sabrina Nemcek, Jr., all-around); Libertyville - (Ally Humbert, Sr., all-around); Maine South - (Anastasia Gritsonis, Sr., all-around), (Eleni Gritsonis, Sr., beam), Katie Saviski (So., all-around); Mundelein - (Isla Rehm, Jr., beam); Palatine - (Jolee Waddington, So., all-around); Vernon Hills - (Annika Chudy, Jr., all-around), (Livy Tran, Sr., all-around)

Season outlook: Barrington, which placed seventh in the state last year, will look to return to Palatine behind a mix of young and old. Seniors Anika Patel and Adrianna Merzyn are back for their final seasons while freshmen Aybree Sanchez and Ella Yang are here for their first.

Buffalo Grove returns everyone from last year and has added some newcomers. "We plan to improve our standings in the MSL conference with a more competitive lineup," Bison coach Amy Rivera said. "Although some of our members started the season with injuries, we hope to all be back healthy soon to maximize our team potential."

Juniors Kseniia Lupuliak, Leslie Murillo Ortiz, Zoe Petti and Jessica Riesterer and senior Masha Saveleyv are among Buffalo Grove's returnees while freshman Lucy Kummerow, sophomore Meghan Nicholas and senior Ally Krause are the newest Bison.

Carmel has the kind of talent to get to state again after placing sixth a season ago, but the injury bug has knocked out standout Sarah Arends' final season. Senior Julia Bukowski and sophomore Alyssah Arends will look to step up as all-rounders. Ava Fendel, Lexi Belyaev, Maria Bukowski and Holly Krogman are a few of the other potential contributors for the Corsairs.

"With the loss of our top all-arounder (Sarah Arends), we are carrying a relatively young team this year," Corairs coach Sarah Mikrut Doyle said. "Senior Julia Bukowski will return to all around, after shoulder surgery ended her bars competition last season. Powerhouse sophomores, Alyssah Arends and Ava Fendel return after impressive freshman campaigns and look to improve upon their state performances. We will be rounding out our lineups on each event with several newcomers, who look to upgrade throughout the season."

Conant was on the cusp of a 130 last year. Senior Bri Kaminski is recovering from ankle surgery but is returning to lead the team along with junior Nadia Kyoseva and sophomores Kylie Halman and Marissa Shulman.

The program is big with 45 gymnasts including 22 new ones. Those expected to make the biggest impact include freshman Lily Chretien and seniors Abby Wilger and Ally Zhelyazkov. "We have a strong group returning this year with a few new, promising talents that are sure to make this season an exciting one to watch," Conant coach Anthony Avela said.

D117 Antioch/Lakes co-op is still a relatively new program with just a few seasons under its belt. Captains Julia Blasinski and Josie Gates return along with Ellie Nampel to lead the team which welcomes 12 new gymnasts including freshmen Tressa Larsen and Hannah Rout.

Coach CJ Patton said there is a feeling of positivity and excitement for growth among his athletes. "We have a lot of gymnasts that are new to the sport with such a hunger to learn," Patton said. "The atmosphere of the team is phenomenal and I'm super excited to see how this team develops across the season. Our captains this year have already demonstrated their excellent leadership countless times both in the gym and out of it. Josie (Gates) has been a strong all-around competitor for us and Julia Blasinski (a three-sport athlete) went 9.6 on beam at Stevenson (on Dec. 6)."

Elk Grove Village returns many athletes, including senior all-rounders Abby Carlson and Adie Vergara and sophomore Emma Carlson. "Many returning athletes are coming back stronger than ever," Elk Grove Village coach Abi Diaz said. "Adie (Vergara) and Emma (Carlson) could definitely carry this team to the next level. We are focusing on keeping everyone healthy as well as developing skills to make our routines stronger." The gymnastics program welcomed 23 new athletes, including a talented group of freshman such as Hailey Detloff, Tereza Sobek, Lana Stevanovic and Sofia Zeransky.

Fremd graduated some key scoring seniors, including Kacey Tokunaga and Abby Gallicho, but the Vikings welcome back senior Olivia D'Angelo who will compete in everything but bars and all-around Julia White. Freshman all-arounder Annika Persky and senior specialist Kristin Jónsdóttir are new to the squad.

"We have a pretty young team this year so we're hoping to gain some good experience throughout the season to better prepare them for larger meets and postseason," Fremd coach Kacey Kronforst said. "We have strong captains, Olivia D'Angelo and Julia White, and they're doing a great job boosting team morale and building confidence in our less experienced athletes. We're battling minor injuries, but there is no doubt in my mind that the team will continue to work hard and continue improving throughout the season."

Hersey had a season like no other last year as the Huskies qualified for state for the first time with an eighth place finish. Junior Sabrina Nemcek is back and looking to take the team to state again after she won the bars title and finished in sixth in the all-around. The Huskies will rely on at least 7 upperclassmen, including Nemcek and fellow juniors Gianna Mazzola and Evelyn Gradek and seniors Grace Johnson, Jessica Getz, Jenna Lazzara and Jane Forsberg.

"I have a really strong team this year," Hersey coach Shannon Barrett said. "I am graduating out a lot great talent (after this season) so I hope this is the year we bring home a trophy at state. We went to state last year as a team for the first time and now that we have experience going I hope to have a better outcome for us."

Hoffman Estates is going to focus a lot on the confidence of its gymnasts this season which ultimately will result in better gymnastics.

"We are a young, close-knit team filled with mostly sophomores who really care about each other," Hoffman Estates coach David Calisch said. "Our goal will be to focus on execution and learn new skills that fill requirements and that lead to better gymnastics. But, most of all, we need to work on our confidence. Every day, we are going to find a way to believe in ourselves and our teammates a little more."

Last season's best was a 120.6. Sophomores Nia Bridgeman, Savanah Stefan and Sarah Peterson return along with junior Chelsi Vaghela and senior Mariangel Jimenez Colina. Freshman Brooke Wojtasiak and sophomore Grace Utyro are new to the squad.

Lake Zurich will be led by four seniors, all who are capable of competing as all-arounders. Seniors Gianna Mirabella, Emily Hills and Olivia Verden and juniors Mia McHugh and Natalie Yoon return.

"We are looking to grow as the season continues, focusing on the second half of the season to add in all our skills in order to peak at the right time," Lake Zurich coach Chelsie Grotelueschen said. "The first half of the season we are just going to get used to competition under pressure and slowly adding more difficulty into routines as they get more consistent in practice." Senior Ava Pearson and junior Ella Babcock are new members of the team.

Leyden has a young group of gymnasts in the gym with half of its 20 gymnasts new to the program. That includes a mix of promising underclassmen, including sophomore specialist Chloe Stephens and freshmen all-rounders Val Barbosa, Lily Kovacevich, Gabby Sanchez and Julia Zorniak. The combination of these talented newcomers, along with returning junior Nicole Martino-Krueger and seniors Kasey Macleod and Emily Stewart should have the Eagles soaring this winter.

"Our hope is to compete for top two or three of conference with the return of three varsity athletes and with the addition of such talented new girls to our team," Leyden coach Bill Cordts said.

Libertyville had the top all-around (Anna Becker) in the state last year, but since she graduated the team will need to compensate for her loss with seniors Ally Humbert, Corinne Biedermann, Bella Mazza and Charlie Tomlinson and juniors Alyssa Levy, Kenzie Terrell, Madison Hughes and Maya Duffy all returning. Humbert qualified for state in the all-around last winter. Freshmen Ella Cobb and Maddie Forrest are among 20 new gymnasts that have joined the program. "The team has the talent and drive to be top contenders in the North Suburban Conference and through the state series," Libertyville coach Tiffany Rafiner said.

Maine East almost reached a 120 as a team last year. Nikki Buczkowski, Dannika Olea, Victoria Principe, Layla Sopora and Marissa Tobin are some of the Blue Demons contributing this winter.

Maine South is returning everyone from a team that had a 137.1 regional and 134.95 sectional last year. "We hope to be even more successful than we were last season," Maine South coach Heidi Bowbin said.

Sophomore Katie Saviski and seniors Madelyn Rutherford and Anastasia Gritsonis are back and capable of competing as all-rounders while senior specialists Eleni Gritsoni, Jenna Simandirakis, Abby Rice, Arianna Hirsh and Gabbi McCants know the importance of their roles in contributing scores in their events. Junior all-around Maggie Depner is a newcomer to the varsity squad.

The Hawks are vying to get to state again. They took fifth in 2018 and were third in 2019.

Maine West peaked with a 113.35 in mid-January last season. Coach Amanda Harrison has returned along with sophomore Gisele Mansous and juniors Madison Story and Maya Woroszylo. While those three gymnasts can compete in an all-around capacity, they'll look to help acclimate some key newcomers to the team so they can boost the team score. Their newcomers include sophomore Layla Sopora, juniors Skylah Balisado and Addison DeRusha and senior specialist Ioanna Charalambrous.

Mundelein is in rebuild mode as a team this season. Coach Jesse Piland said he hopes to see junior Isla Rehm, a state qualifier on beam last year, to return to state during what will be a rebuild year for the team. Freshman Ella Kessel has already earned a spot on the team and fellow freshman Leah Ortega likely will see varsity action as well. Senior Megan Oates, a four-year varsity athlete, and sophomore all-arounder Kihara Espinosa also return for the Mustangs.

Palatine can count on sophomore Jolee Waddington for 25% of its team scoring. She was the only freshman to compete at state in the all-around last February. The Pirates will look to piece together the rest of its scoring from a mix of athletes, including, but not limited to, sophomore Letivia Hill, juniors Kaitlyn Gawaluch, Autumn Johnson, Sara Miller, Anna Tobin and Isabel Steinbach and seniors Margaret Haddad and Magdalena Weber.

Prospect topped out at 137.5 in the regular season and scored a 135.225 in regional play last season so the program has a lot of talent and it includes returning all-rounders Meghan Smith and Ava Rosen and junior two-event specialist Mia Kaddatz. The team is expected to receive a nice boost from junior Megan Goumas who is new to the team. Coach Monica Donnert said the outlook for this season will hopefully include a trip to state for Goumas.

Rolling Meadows lost standout all-arounders Caitlyn Widawski and Brooklynn Hextall as they graduated but the Mustangs have plenty of reasons to be excited about what they can do in the Mid-Suburban League with sophomore Emma Connors and juniors Nora Demaria, Angelica Brancato and Gianna Pastorello all back and a junior and 7 freshmen, including Isabel Beverung, joining the program.

"We will be a respectable team in the MSL," Rolling Meadows coach Michael Costa said. "Watch out and don't count us out or underestimate what we are capable of, we should push and shock other teams. We have a young team that continues to develop new skills everyday. We are hopefully optimistic that we break a 135 this year."

Schaumburg fell just short of hitting a 135 and coach Paula Parat is optimistic that the squad can reach that this winter. "My goal for the team would be to increase out team score each meet and pass last year's highest score," Parat said.

Junior Amy Carhee and sophomore Rita Parish join the squad while promising freshman Vanessa DiVincezo is anticipated to make an immediate impact. "I look forward to advancing these three gymnasts into the state series," Parat said, "Rita advancing to sectionals, Vanessa and Amy advancing to state and my hope is for Amy to advance to finals on floor."

Stevenson hosted a sectional last year but the five-time state champion Patriots didn't advance there as a team. The Patriots graduated some talented athletes like Emma Fang and Ashley Schabes, so they'll look for a mix of gymnasts to piece together the best team score. All-arounder Kate Stoub has gotten off to a strong start while Paige Bernadette, Elisabeth Garcia, Jamie Knuth, Cassidy Carlborg, Samantha Matzek, Caroline Bichkoff, Charlotte Rosenbaum, Claire Morrissey and Maggie Polastek are expected to contribute in one or more events each.

Vernon Hills took second place in the state last season, senior Annika Chudy finished second in the all-around and junior Livy Tran finished fourth so the Cougars are expected to be in the running for another trophy, perhaps the biggest one of all.

"We are looking to continue to build on our success from last season," Vernon Hills coach Denise Caton said. "Our goal is to continue to have individual growth in order for our team to shine together." Seniors Sarah Gutowski and Christina Raquel return while junior Maya Weinstein and freshman Mya Brusso join the team.

Warren qualified for sectionals as a team last year after posting a 140.325 in regional action. Gone now is Amanda Hamann, a standout all-arounder who finished her senior season last winter, but the team has a lot returning.

Sophomore all-arounder Bailey Hamann and junior all-arounder Evy Haggerty are back, along with a mix of specialists, including seniors Mackenzie Liebau and Hailey Krueger, junior Emilia Montes and sophomore Nora Werner. Freshmen Camryn Clark and Leah Arceo are new to the squad.

"Our season is off to a great start," Warren coach Mary Kovac said. "The girls have worked hard in the off season, and it shows in practice and at the meets. I look forward to watching the girls improve throughout the season and cannot wait to see where the girls end up in February."

Wheeling returns Katie Moser, Lindsey Kane and Elise Stanculescu and welcomes enough freshmen to field a baseball team.

"Our returning girls came out this year already with a base of knowledge and experience in competing that has helped grow their leadership capacity," Wheeling coach Jackie Share said. "We're working to incorporate new, more difficult skills into our routines. Our freshmen, though new to gymnastics, are working tirelessly under direction of coach Brian Hauck and progressing more quickly than any group in recent years."

Note: Grant and Wauconda will not have girls gymnastics programs this winter.

  Sabrina Nemcek helped Hersey qualify for state for the first time last season. Brian Hill/
  Ally Humbert is one of the top returnees in Libertyville's lineup. John Starks/
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