Coach: North, South gymnasts prepared for conference meet -- and beyond

  • Jon Cohn

    Jon Cohn

Updated 1/27/2022 8:56 AM

It all comes down to this if you are a high school gymnast.

The CSL Conference meet starting tomorrow, followed by state sectionals the next weekend and then, for those who qualify, the state meet held in Palatine as it is every year.


It is an exciting time, but also one filled with harrowing moments for our local high school gymnasts.

I have said this before, that I can't think of another sport where there is more pressure on an individual athlete than there is in the wild and wacky world of spinning, twisting, turning, jumping and flipping that makes up the sport of gymnastics.

Basketball players talk about the pressure of hitting a free throw when your team is behind with just a few seconds left on the clock, or baseball pitchers having to deliver on a 3-2 count with bases loaded at end of a game, or even the soccer player taking the all too by-yourself-and-lonesome penalty shot in overtime shootouts.

All instances where the eyes of everyone are on the single athlete and the game is on the line based on that one performance.

But, think about it. Gymnasts are in that situation EVERY time. All eyes are on them when they perform. No teammates to depend on, no supporting cast to give you an "assist," no time outs to call when frazzled, and definitely no do overs. You slip up once and your day is just about done.

A little dramatic? OK, maybe. And I certainly hope the above doesn't make our South and North girls too nervous as they conclude their seasons with the upcoming big conference meets. It shouldn't. These girls are superbly talented, and have been working on and perfecting their routines all season -- and, in many cases, a good part of their lives.

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They are ready and more than prepared.

A quick look at both squads:

For Glenbrook North and coach Julie Holmbeck, the season has been solid, and she has received contributions from numerous talented girls.

Mady Zirlin, captain and team leader, is one who works tremendously hard in practice to perfect her craft and really sets the tone for the Spartan contingent. She is primed and ready for a big conference meet result.

Watch out for young sophomore Izzy Gott, a rapidly developing all around star (softball too!) who could break out in this conference meet, as can junior veteran Betsy Alcorn, a beam and aerial specialist. Both Gott and Alcorn train at All American Academy in Wheeling and are club teammates with some of the Glenbrook South girls.

Others Spartans to watch for are senior Anna Silken and two future stars both battling injuries -- sophomore Yasmine Taha, blessed with tremendous skill but currently being held back by ankle injuries, and junior Dylan Rome, a quality floor exercise specialist who, too, is recently coming off injuries. All three girls are hoping to stay healthy and peak in these final two meets.


Freshman Anna Bosworth was brought up to varsity at about the halfway point this year and she could be somewhat of an X Factor in the conference meet. Either way, the future is bright for Bosworth, clearly a rising star if she continues to work.

For Glenbrook South, they are going for a third conference championship in a row! The team is rolling again this year and has a unique blend of veteran talent combined with some young up-and-comers.

Earlier in the season, the Titans won the prestigious Palatine invite and, as of this writing, were still unbeaten in conference matchups. But they will have to do it again, starting tomorrow at Evanston High School, which will serve as host for this year's CSL conference meet.

The Titan talent has deep reserves.

Leading the pack, and a contender no doubt to make it downstate, is senior and four-year all around specialist Thalia Skoullikaris, who competed in club only her freshman year, but since then has been a vital part of the Titan program, winning multiple all around competitions and meets.

She can no doubt contend for conference and state honors when on her best game.

Right behind her is talented senior and all-around competitor Mackenzie Padulo, who is good enough to challenge for conference medals and maybe even state qualification out of the sectionals.

Fellow team captain and senior Bella Shim excels in both vault and floor events, while yet another Titan veteran of four years, Eleni Tryfonopoulos, tries to score points and qualify in her designated specialties on both the beam and vault.

Dani Carr is a senior to watch. A team captain, she will compete on the beam, while seniors Emily Bechtoldt (floor and vault) and Alexis Mikuta (all around) complete the extensive senior depth for the Titans.

While nice to have all that senior experience, make no mistake, the youth movement for the Titans is in full bloom

Sophomore Alisa Osacky excels on the bars, while freshman Raelyn Robbins, a Northbrook Dreams Gymnastics Club competitor, works her magic in the all around events. Another youngster to watch is sophomore Sophie Kahn, who does her thing in the floor exercise.

Junior Nicki Nourbash, who tore her ACL her freshman year, but has come all the way back, is talented as well, and can be a threat for conference honors in both bars and beams.

One other item of note: The Titan crew enters next weekends sectional meet with a slight, if not huge, chip on their shoulders.

Quick history. There was no state meet last year due to COVID, but two years ago the team missed qualifying for the state meet by the smallest of fractions (two tenths of a point).

They were that close. That heartbreaking disappointment has been a motivating factor all season long for the Titan girls, particularly the senior group that experienced that bitter disappointment as young sophomores.

But before the state meet, the teams will have to take care of business at the conference meet beginning tomorrow at Evanston High School.

You never know what will happen in these meets. As mentioned at the top, one slip up, one tough break routine can change the whole course of action. Typically, the only predictable thing is the unpredictability. It's part of what makes gymnastics such an exciting sport.

However it turns out, rest assured on one thing. No team, no set of athletes will be better prepared or more mentally ready than our South and North gymnasts.

To all these girls who have worked so hard to perfect their craft over so many years, we wish them nothing but the best these next two weekends -- and maybe beyond?

• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email

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