High school gymnastics: Prairie Ridge co-op takes aim at fourth consecutive state title

Wolves will face stiff competition from Glenbard West

Kira Karlblom and Maddy Kim knew what they were getting into two years ago, although they may not fully have appreciated what it meant.

At the time, they were freshmen at Prairie Ride and joined a girls gymnastics powerhouse that had just won the IHSA Girls Gymnastics State Meet team championship. The Wolves, a co-op team that also draws athletes from Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake Central and Crystal Lake South, had two seconds and one third in the three years previous.

Karlblom and Kim had watched gymnasts such as Rachael Underwood and Riley Mahoney, both now on NCAA Division I teams, and were eager to be a part of Prairie Ridge’s team. Each year since, they have been a part of state championship teams, assuming more prominent roles each season.

Now juniors, Karlblom and Kim will try to help Prairie Ridge become the third team in state history to win four consecutive state titles Friday and Saturday at Palatine High School. Competition starts at 2 p.m. both days.

Prairie Ridge and Glenbard West should be the teams battling it out for the title. Both have topped 151 points this season. Prairie Ridge scored a program-record 151.3 to win the Hersey Regional but dropped to 147.325 to take second in last week’s Hoffman Estates Sectional.

Senior Katarina Schaffer has been on all three state championship teams, however, she was injured last year. She qualified in the floor exercise, where she has been one of the Wolves’ most consistent gymnasts.

“It’s a lot of pressure; I’m not going to lie,” said Karlblom, who was second in the all-around at the sectional last week. “We go through it together. It’s about the whole group.”

Karlblom and Kim started in the gym before they were in grade school. Wolves coach Lee Battaglia, who also coaches the team members at his gym, Crystal Lake Gymnastics Training Center, was excited when they joined the program.

“I wasn’t sure I was going to do it in high school, but it was definitely the best decision I’ve ever made,” Kim said. “Watching Rachael and Riley and knowing I was going to be on the team, I was so proud. I want to continue feeling proud. It’s hard because we have such high expectations for such a consistently good team. It’s fun, but it’s really hard.”

The Wolves won all three titles by comfortable margins, the closest coming last year when they scored 148.8 and DeKalb was second at 146.95. Glenbard West could make this the toughest title yet for Prairie Ridge to win.

Prairie Ridge’s biggest graduation loss was state all-around champion Nikki Baars, but the Wolves had Karlblom, Kim and junior Clancy Raupp coming back, Schaffer again healthy and then added junior Ciara Ryan, who switched clubs to CLGTC. Ryan is a Level 10 club gymnast who has committed to Northern Illinois University for an athletic scholarship.

Battaglia knew that Karlblom and Kim would be in the lineup as freshmen.

“When you train kids for that amount of time, you’re going to get a lot of success, and that’s what we got right off,” he said. “Now, they are the main dogs. We count on them for every single event.”

Karlblom was familiar with Prairie Ridge’s team because her older sister, Addie, was on it. She enjoyed watching Underwood, now at Western Michigan, and Mahoney, now at Illinois-Chicago, working out in the gym and competing at meets.

“I always watched them because they did these cool skills,” Karlblom said. “I was like, ‘I want to learn that.’ ”

This is one of Prairie Ridge’s deepest teams, with Karlblom, Kim, Raupp and Ryan all competing in the all-around, a first for the Wolves. Not many teams would have a fifth competitor qualified individually like Schaffer has. She is thrilled to be making an impact after recovering from an ankle injury.

“Just contributing to the team score and being able to be like, ‘Yeah, I was on that team,’ and I added to getting that 150 or whatever our highest score was. It is really awesome,” Schaffer said. “Just being able to be one of the five who can compete is something special.”

Battaglia uses Schaffer, Katie McEnery and Macey Woodlock as the Wolves’ fifth competitor in the various events.

“It’s really awesome how successful we’ve been,” Schaffer said. “Even though we go out there and win most of the time, we have our hardships in the gym, and we work through that. It brings us really close together. It’s way more fun competing as a team rather than an individual like you do in club. You really build off that camaraderie between each other.”

IHSA Girls Gymnastics State Meet

Where: Palatine High School

When: 2:05 p.m. Friday, preliminaries; 2:15 p.m. Saturday, finals.

Format: Friday will be preliminaries in vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. Top 10 (plus ties) advance to finals. All-around champion is determined with preliminary scores. Saturday will be finals in the four individual events, although team scores can improve.

Local athletes competing: Prairie Ridge co-op (Katie McEnery, Kira Karlblom, Maddy Kim, Clancy Raupp, Ciara Ryan, Katarina Schaffer, Macey Woodlock); Molly Meehan, Jacobs.

What’s at stake: Prairie Ridge has won three consecutive team state championships. Fremd has the record with six (1994-99), followed by Addison Trail (1978-81) and Stevenson (2001-04). Prairie Ridge is one of three teams with three in a row.

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