Prairie Ridge co-op gymnasts boast depth, camaraderie

Prairie Ridge co-op's Jada Berkland works on a move on the uneven bars during practice Monday at Crystal Lake Gymnastics Training Center.
Prairie Ridge co-op's Jada Berkland works on a move on the uneven bars during practice Monday at Crystal Lake Gymnastics Training Center.

CRYSTAL LAKE – Prairie Ridge gymnastics coach Lee Battaglia has what is considered one of those “nice problems.”

Not now. Battaglia is letting his gymnasts take it easy early in the season, moving his deep lineup around over the four events.

But by February, Battaglia will have to make decisions regarding the Wolves’ lineup in the regional, sectional and state meets. The choices will not be easy because Battaglia feels this is the most talented group he has had.

Prairie Ridge, a co-op team that draws competitors from the four District 155 schools, was runner-up at the IHSA Girls Gymnastics State Meet last year. Top gymnasts Rachael Underwood and Riley Mahoney, both juniors at Cary-Grove, return to lead the team, but four new girls along with the six returning competitors gives the Wolves depth like never before.

“I have to get everybody in somewhere; it’s difficult to do,” said Battaglia, who owns Crystal Lake Gymnastics Training Center, where the girls all train. “I may have to cut 9.3 (scoring) gymnasts. They’re a very, very good team. It will be hard to cut.”

In the postseason series, teams have five gymnasts in each event, with the top four scores counting. The competition just to get one of those five spots in a particular event will be tough.

Returning with Underwood and Mahoney are senior Sarah Kramer (C-G), junior Jada Berkland (Prairie Ridge), sophomore Maddie Solka (C-G) and
junior Dylann Perrone (C-G). The new competitors are sophomore Kendall Rumford (Crystal Lake Central), freshman Liz Sysol (Central), freshman Addy Karlblom (Prairie Ridge) and freshman Katy Bergeron (Prairie Ridge).

“It’s going to be a good year,” Solka said. “If someone gets hurt, we have someone else just as good to back them up.”

Rumford is a key newcomer to the team, although she knows all the girls well. The Prairie Ridge team is basically the CLGTC club team, and after the high school season finishes in February, the girls jump right into preparing for the national series for club teams.

“[Depth] is a big deal,” Rumford said. “If someone’s not feeling it, we can go seven deep.”

Berkland said the depth is only part of what makes the Wolves tough.

“This team is closer than last year,” she said. “It’s not just the depth, but how we’re going to perform because we’re closer. I feel like we encourage each other more this year. We have a lot to choose from to get five [in each event].”

Underwood was second in the all-around last year. Mahoney was 13th because she fell on the uneven bars attempting a difficult skill. Underwood was third and Mahoney sixth as freshmen. While they will put up big numbers, the supporting cast is strong enough that Prairie Ridge will be a threat to win the state team title.

Lyons Township won last year’s title with 149.625 points, while the Wolves had 149.300. Battaglia said predicting that now is not possible.

“I don’t know what’s out there,” he said. “I have no clue what we’re going to be up against this year. The girls are not really worried about other teams. We have no control of the other teams. What we want to focus on is our routines. If we hit our routines, that’s all we can do.

“The total amount is 20 possible. If we hit all 20, wonderful. If we hit 18, great. Our focus is to hit our routines and let the chips fall.”

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