January 22nd, 2019 12:00 PM
OPRF's Jenna Schainis, a versatile gymnast, is particularly strong on bars and vault. (Alexa Rogals/Staff Photographer)
By Marty Farmer
Glenbard West dealt the Oak Park and River Forest High School girls gymnastics team its lone West Suburban Conference Silver Division loss this season. Considering the Hilltoppers are the defending state champs, that's a successful season.
The Huskies' more noteworthy results occurred against the other teams in conference, with victories against respected teams like Hinsdale Central, Lyons Township, Downers Grove North and York, which secured the Huskies second place.
"We have a phenomenal conference," OPRF coach Kris Wright said. "Glenbard West won state last year and Lyons Township and Hinsdale Central have gone to state in past seasons. We know it's a very competitive conference."
Additionally, OPRF finished third at the 17-team Al Galate Invitational, hosted by Rolling Meadows in early December. Senior Zion Phillpotts and junior Jenna Schainis tied for second in vault with a 9.2 score.
"I love this team," Wright said. "They are a great group of girls who support each other. The team has been getting stronger both physically and mentally."
Although their final team score remains to be determined, the Huskies are right in the 140 range which should land them a one or two seed at the Glenbard East Regional. Their main competition figures to be the host Rams.
"If the girls do what they are capable of doing, they could win the [Glenbard East] regional," Wright said. "The sectional meet will be intriguing. The girls have the potential to do very well."
The additions of Hannah Thompson, Evelyn Dellegrazie and Iry Conley in 2018 bolstered an already solid roster. Although Conley left the team before this season to join the OPRF cheer team, Thompson and Dellegrazie have returned, along with experienced gymnasts Grace Luptak, Sophia Preys, Claire Massmann, Phillpotts and Schainis.
Wright offers the following breakdown of her top competitors:
"Hannah previously did club gymnastics, but the girls talked her into joining our team her junior year," Wright said. "She's just an amazing gymnast who went to state on bars and vault last year. Evelyn has been right behind Hannah, and she's only a sophomore so we're really excited about her. Zion has really stepped it up this year. Grace is back after a season-ending ankle injury last year. Jenna's two strongest events are vault and bars."
The additions of freshmen Chloe Kratz and Cecilee Burns lengthen an already deep lineup.
"Chloe is an all-arounder and the next girl in line," Wright said. "Cecilee had a great freshman invite and first couple of meets this season. She's another good all-arounder."
Luptak, who has been on varsity four years, has noticed something different about this group.
"The team's camaraderie is better than it has ever been," she said. "That has definitely had a positive impact on our scores. I'm hopeful that we will make it to sectionals as a team and then send a few individuals to state."
Thompson, the team's lone returning state qualifier, stabilizes the top of the lineup. She finished 10th in all-around with a score of 35.75 at the 2018 Lake Park Sectional and competed at state in bars and vault as well.
"My season has been very good so far," Thompson said. "I started the season with about the same skill difficulty level that I ended with last year. It has been nice to see improvements in both routine difficulty and scores as the season has gone on."
Dellegrazie performed admirably as a freshman last season. She scored 34.40 to finish 17th in all-around at sectionals. Her sectional scores were 8.75 on vault, 8.65 on bars, 7.95 on beam and 9.05 on floor. Phillpotts placed 21st on vault (9.0250) on her handspring front tuck at sectionals last year. Luptak qualified for sectionals in 2017.
"My ankles are finally good. Fingers crossed they stay that way," Luptak said. "I'm excited to give state series all I've got."
The Huskies will compete in the conference meet at York on Saturday, Jan. 26. (11 a.m.). Regionals begin the following week.
"Our team goal for the rest of the season is to keep our heads down and make every practice count," Thompson said. "We know that making it to state is an extreme challenge, but nothing is out of our reach if we continue to work hard.
"For now, we are focusing on making sure we're fixing the smallest details on each event, adding in some last-minute upgrades, and sticking more beam routines. At the end of the day, the more beam routines we can stick, the better chance we have as a team."
Despite an assortment of injuries during the regular season, OPRF should enter the postseason ready to go.
"In terms of health, a lot of the team has been injured this season," Dellegrazie said. "Some of them were major injuries, but most of them were minor, like my foot. I think that if we take care of ourselves and each other, and work hard in the process, our team will be able to reach our goals."