Prairie Ridge’s girls gymnastics team focuses on its short-term tasks each day, although there are times when it is difficult not to consider the long-term picture.
“I think about it all the time,” Prairie Ridge’s Riley Mahoney said. “It’s awesome. Really exciting to think about.”
The Wolves, a co-op team with competitors from Crystal Lake Central, Cary-Grove and Prairie Ridge, finished third in the IHSA Girls Gymnastics State Meet last year, their best finish in school history. Prairie Ridge coach Lee Battaglia said, without hesitation, that this group is even better. The state meet will take place Feb. 15 and 16 at Palatine High School.
“We really are so full in depth this year, it’s amazing,” said Battaglia, who owns Crystal Lake Gymnastics Training Center, where the team works out. “I almost don’t want to talk about it because I don’t want to jinx it.”
Prairie Ridge’s Jenny Covers, who won seven state titles (two in all-around), graduated in 2011, but the Wolves were led last year by Mahoney and Rachael Underwood, freshmen from C-G. Underwood was third in the all-around at state, Mahoney was sixth.
Sophomore Jada Berkland (Prairie Ridge) battled injuries last year and is now healthy. Freshman Maddie Solka (C-G), like Berkland, gives the Wolves another potential 37-plus all-around score, according to Battaglia. Savannah Mensching (Central), Danielle Dyra (Prairie Ridge) and Dylan Perrone (C-G) round out the lineup.
“I’m really confident in everybody we’re putting up there,” Mahoney said. “Everybody has good skills and are working to get better ones.”
Battaglia is taking it easy early in the season with Underwood and Mahoney, using them in one event each in early meets. At the Lake Forest Invitational on Jan. 5, he plans to have both compete in the all-around. The Wolves will see defending state champion Carmel at that meet.
“We’ve had another year to get more skills and be more consistent,” Underwood said. “We could possibly do really well if we stay focused. We’re all excited because we’re all pretty close and we have that potential to do really well.”
Battaglia says Underwood and Mahoney, who went through the club season with CLGTC after the high school season, will grow from another year of competition.
“That’s huge. With those two avenues, they have maturity and discipline and know how to compete,” Battaglia said. “You go out there in tough times, you can’t miss. They’ve been under that type of pressure their whole life, and now they have another year of it.”
The main factor for Prairie Ridge is to keep everyone free from injuries. Although the season is only slightly longer than two months, gymnasts can take a pounding with all the landings, especially with their feet and ankles.
Dyra is battling a foot injury, but everyone else is healthy. So the Wolves may get even deeper when she can be worked into the lineup.
“I don’t even know the other [teams’] scores that are out there,” Battaglia said. “I can’t control the other scores, all I can control is my score and what we do. I don’t want to get hung up in what other people are doing and the expectation. I’m going to tell them what we need, and we’re going to go out there and do that. That’s all we can do.”
• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.