Underwood makes amends with vault state title

PALATINE – Rachael Underwood missed out on her usual all-around medal from the Girls Gymnastics State Meet, although she did get something new – a state championship.

The Prairie Ridge co-op gymnast, coming off a heartbreaking performance in Friday’s preliminaries, won the vault finals Saturday at Palatine High School. Underwood, a favorite to win the all-around, qualified only for one finals event, although she made the most of it.

Underwood, a junior at Cary-Grove, scored 9.8 for a narrow victory over Lyons’ Michelle Cozza (9.75). She previously had second-place medals in all-around, balance beam and uneven bars and third-place finishes in all-around and vault.

Prairie Ridge’s co-op team, which draws athletes from Prairie Ridge, Cary-Grove and Crystal Lake Central, improved to 148.850 with Underwood’s score and finished second in the meet. Defending champion Lyons Township (150.775) had clinched the team title before the finals.

“I feel like I sort of redeemed myself,” Underwood said. “It feels good. I’m really proud.”

Underwood fell on bars and beam and stepped out of bounds in her floor routine on Friday, resulting in a 13th-place all-around finish. She sparkled on the vault Saturday, first doing a Yurchenko layout, then coming back with a Yurchenko full.

The vault starts with a roundoff and backward handspring off the vault, then a full flip in layout position. The Yurchenko full adds a full twist with the layout flip. While it is more difficult, the vaults are scored the same.

Prairie RIdge coach Lee Battaglia had Underwood do the layout first, checked with the judges to see what they would score it, then had Underwood perform the full. Competitors receive the score for the better of the two vaults.

“The judge said she would score it a 9.775 so I figured she had it won,” Battaglia said. “She was only going to do the full if she had a good layout.”

Underwood throught the full was one of her best ever.

“I really wanted to do my full, so I wanted to be sure I did my first vault well so I could do the full [on the second],” Underwood said. “I did [the full] pretty well, so I’m happy with it.”

Before her vault, Underwood was smiling and laughing with her teammates. After her second vault, she trotted back to her teammates for a round of hugs, wearing a huge smile.

A few minutes later, she was wearing a first-place medal.