Girls state gymnastics gives a “first-class experience” for the community

Monika Jurevicius, Editor-in-Chief

Crowds at Palatine High School roar as high school gymnasts stand on the winning podium in the main gym, one being PHS’s own senior Riley Strahl. The two-day event featured hundreds of gymnasts from participating IHSA schools that competed in balance beam, floor, vault, and uneven parallel bar events. 

“Our entire school goes above and beyond to make sure that the girls state gymnastics meet is a first-class experience,” PHS gymnastics coach Scott Hagel said. “It is always apparent that Palatine pride leads to an amazing experience for all of the state qualifiers.”

The first day of the event remained busy as over 65 gymnasts competed in each event. PHS gymnasts Strahl and freshman Jolee Waddington were the only ones who qualified to perform at state for the school. Waddington competed in balance beam, floor and uneven parallel bars. Strahl advanced to day 2 of the competition receiving third with a score of 9.3750 in the preliminary rounds on uneven parallel bars. 

“My thoughts during the meet were to just do my best and not focus on the score. [Letting] the pressure of the ‘all eyes on me’ thought just go away so I don’t get overwhelmed and just perform how I always have,” Strahl said.

With preliminaries over, the second day featured the top ten or eleven of each event to showcase their talents for top 5 in state. Libertyville High School senior, IHSA gymnast of the year, and first place all-around gymnast for the competition Anna Becker competed in the uneven parallel bars with a score of 9.325 before competing in the three remaining events, which qualified for all. Gurnee High School senior Amanda Hamann and Lake Park junior Julia Bartnik tied for first on vault with scores of 9.7750 showing off moves with advanced skill-sets within their routines. Hersey High School sophomore Sabrina Nemeck took the top place in uneven parallel bars with a score of 9.525. Strahl received fifth place along with Fremd High School senior Abby Gallicho with a score of 9.25.

“I can’t even put into words how it feels to take fifth place in state,” Strahl said. “That fact that I made it to finals and placed for gymnastics and diving in the same year just blows my mind.”

The second half included competition for floor routine and balance beam. Glenbard North High school senior Carly Bachara landed first place on balance beam with a swift finish that was executed well. Wheaton Warrenville South High School junior Haylie Hinckley stunned crowds with her floor routine which included many tumbling skills along with gymnastic flair to end the night with her first place win for the event. 

“I have been trying so hard for this,” Hinckley said to Shaw Local. “Such a burst of joy. I couldn’t stop smiling. My cheeks were hurting.

Downers Grove High School won the team award for the competition with a score of 145.5750. DGHS coach Kristyn Campos received her second recognition for Illinois High School Girls Gymnastics Coaches Association coach of the year along with the team’s win. 

“Coach Campos goes above and beyond for her student-athletes, officials, and the sport of gymnastics at the state level,” DGHS Gymnastics said on Twitter. “We are so grateful to have her serve as the head coach of [DGHS Gymnastics.”

At the beginning of both days, gymnasts of all experience levels were recognized. One of these gymnasts was late PHS coach and former gymnast Sandy Oldham, who passed away in 2022. The gym held a moment of silence in honor of her legacy with the school and IHSA. The school will continue to honor her legacy through their gymnastics programs. 

“We are looking forward to Jolee [Waddington] having a year of high school gymnastics experience,” Hagel said. “She will be able to use what she learned about competing at state to build on her confidence and familiarity of what it takes to perform at state.”