January 2nd, 2018 11:13 AM
OPRF junior Grace Luptak is a returning sectional qualifier in multiple events. She's also a team leader and one of the top gymnasts for the Huskies. (Courtesy Deb Patnode)
By Marty Farmer
The Oak Park and River Forest High School gymnastics team lost key contributors Alyona Jochaniewicz, Natalie Weeks and Camille Moore to graduation last season.
Jochaniewicz will be particularly missed. In 2016, she became just the fifth OPRF gymnast in Kris Wright's 24-year coaching tenure to qualify for state and the first to do it since M.G. Senseng finished 17th in state on balance beam in 2004.
Weeks and Moore qualified for sectionals during their senior year, but Jochaniewicz missed the postseason due to injury.
Although OPRF didn't send any gymnasts to the state meet last season, the Huskies scored 134.825 at regionals, their third highest score of the season.
"Because they knew Alyona wasn't going to be there, everybody stepped it up," Wright said. "I think it was our best team effort to come together and be supportive of her and each other."
The Huskies' optimism is understandably high this season, however, thanks to a talent-laden roster.
Returning sectional qualifiers/juniors Grace Luptak, Sophia Preys and Zion Phillpotts are back to anchor the lineup. Luptak and Preys reached sectionals as all-arounders. Luptak also qualified on vault, uneven bars and floor, while Phillpotts qualified on vault.
Due to a pre-season ankle injury last season, Luptak never vaulted until regionals. At regionals, she placed fourth in both vault (9.15) and all-around (34.85). Perhaps still hampered by her ankle, she had disappointing sectional scores of 8.4 and 33.70.
"I have two years ahead of me. Hopefully those [sectionals] are going to go better," Luptak said afterward. "I'm going to work really hard this summer, really try to go [to state] my junior year."
While Luptak has a legitimate chance to qualify for state this year, she started the season by recuperating from an active offseason of training.
"Grace is one of our top kids," Wright said. "She overtrained a bit during the offseason so we decided to give her some time off. She will be back in the lineup soon and really strengthen our team. Grace will make a difference."
For Preys, last season was a learning experience as her first in high school gymnastics. Previously, she competed in USAG club gymnastics.
"It was a lot different," Preys said about last season. "I felt like I made progress. I learned some new skills that I didn't even know existed. I feel really motivated to learn a bunch of new stuff."
Newcomers include junior Hannah Thompson and talented freshmen Evelyn Dellegrazie and Iriel Conley.
"I'm very excited about Hannah joining the team as a junior," Wright said. "She performs at a very high level. Evelyn and Iriel have also contributed good scores this season. We have a lot of good all-arounders."
Sophomore Jenna Schainis, junior Claire Massmann and senior Kiara Broderick provide depth for OPRF.
The Huskies have the luxury of both quantity and quality this season.
"We have a higher level of gymnastics this year," Wright said. "We have a very focused group competing at a high level. There's great team camaraderie and the girls really support each other."
The tight-knit group has yielded winning results. OPRF is 3-0 in dual meets, with victories against Leyden (138.15-117.05), Lyons Township (134.20-124.00) and York (136.60-129.15).
In the duals, several gymnasts have stepped up for OPRF. Against Leyden, Dellegrazie and Conley finished first and second in all-around, respectively, with scores of 35.75 and 33.75. Thompson took first (34.15) and Preys second (32.20 in all-around against Lyons Township. Thompson placed first in all-around with a score of 34.65 versus York.
The Huskies also placed fourth out of 19 teams (66.65 score) at the Al Gallate Holiday Invitational at Rolling Meadows and took third (140.40) at the Hinsdale Central Red Devil meet.
"We had a season-high score at Hinsdale Central. We haven't scored in the 140s in a number of years," Wright said. "We've won all of our dual meets, too. The girls have done really well so far."
In terms of competition within the West Suburban Silver, the Huskies' toughest opponents remain with duals at Hinsdale Central (Jan. 10) and against Glenbard West (Jan. 22).
"I think Glenbard West is the most powerful team by far and should win conference," Wright said. "We host them for our Senior Night so that will be a big dual. It's always interesting to see how we score against higher-scoring teams like Glenbard.
"We are pretty evenly matched with Hinsdale Central. I think we definitely should finish in the top three."
Aside from those significant duals, OPRF will face Downers Grove North and compete in the Niles West Invite. In late January, the Huskies take part in the conference tournament and regionals.
"The second half of the season is a little more competitive," Wright said. "One of our goals is for all the girls to hit their routines. We've done well in some events, but I'd like to see everybody hit their routines at the same time. Another key for us is just gelling as a team toward the end of the season."