Girls gymnastics: Vernon Hills proves class of talent-filled sectional
Three of last year's top six girls gymnastics teams at the state meet -- Vernon Hills (runner-up), Carmel Catholic (fifth) and Lake Zurich (sixth) -- hit the mats Wednesday night at Stevenson for a sectional meet.
And gymnasts from reigning state champion Prairie Ridge and Stevenson (seventh at state in 2022) also executed routines in Lincolnshire.
Talk about tons of talent, shoehorned into one gym, a little more than a week before the state meet.
"Tough sectional," Carmel coach Sarah Mikrut Doyle said.
"It is such an honor to compete alongside all the teams tonight," Vernon Hills coach Denise Caton said.
Caton's Cougars took home high honors at the highly competitive meet before a crowd packed, recording a meet-best 143.925 points to capture the program's second straight sectional title behind junior Annika Chudy's silver in the all-around (37.275) and gold on the uneven bars (9.65).
VH automatically qualified to compete at the state meet Feb. 17-18 at Palatine.
"Belief," Caton added. "That's what carried us tonight. Vault is strong for us, but beam is, too."
But Chudy (fifth in the all-around and third on beam at state a year ago) wasn't exactly thrilled her team had to start on the daunting beam Wednesday.
"Um, no," she said when asked if it were comforting to know at least VH would get the challenging event out of the way early.
"We stayed positive all night," continued Chudy, who looked sharp as she displayed her don't-try-this-at-home Maloney move on bars. "Plus we're all best friends and consider ourselves family."
VH's score ranks second overall among the first three sectionals. The fourth and final sectional will be staged at Conant Thursday night in Hoffman Estates.
Carmel finished second (141.875) Wednesday night, followed by Lake Zurich (140.125), Libertyville (137.275) and New Trier (136.6).
Libertyville senior Anna Becker -- a reigning state vault co-champ, with current sophomore VH Livy Tran -- took first in the all-around (37.625) and topped the fields on vault (9.675) and beam (9.55).
Tran tumbled and danced her way to first place on floor (9.2) and bronzed in the all-around with a (37.2), ahead of Glenbrook North senior Betsy Alcorn (36.775) and Warren senior Amanda Hamann (36.35).
Hamann landed a fourth-place vault at state last winter.
Senior Lilly Bruschuk and junior Julia Bukowski emerged as Carmel's automatic state qualifiers, tying for fourth (8.875) place on floor.
The Corsairs' top all-rounder was junior Sarah Arends (sixth, 36.32), a score which should be hefty enough for a state at-large berth.
"Our girls struggled," Doyle admitted. "We had uncharacteristic errors, but we also had several awesome highlights.
"They're so ridiculously talented," she added. "Unfortunately, they don't fully appreciate their gifts. They have plenty of fight, that's for sure, and we'll always be appreciative of the support we get from families and the community.
"Our tradition-rich program is surrounded by a lot of love."
Among the other automatic state qualifiers from the Stevenson sectional: Stevenson's Ashley Schabes (fifth-place tie, vault, 9.45); VH's Becca Tran (fifth-place tie, vault, 9.45); Stevenson's Emma Fang (second, bars, 9.4); Mundelein freshman Lexie Ede (fourth, bars, 9.35); and Libertyville's Ally Humbert (third, floor exercise, 8.925).
"Following our regional meet last week," Caton said, "I gave the girls a recovery-and-rest day, and then we got back to work on (Feb. 4). We did pressure sets in practice and focused on the little details in the days leading to this meet.
"Before each and every meet," she added, "I let my girls know how proud I am of them. All the hard work, dedication and time they put in doesn't go unnoticed."