Prairie Ridge’s co-op girls gymnastics team’s string of state team championships was stopped at three by Glenbard West in February in Palatine.
The Wolves, however, figured they would have four seniors returning this year and would get another shot at the Hilltoppers, who also had their top gymnasts coming back.
It turns out that Prairie Ridge’s 2019 team does not look much like the 2018 version. State uneven bars champion Maddy Kim and junior Katie McEnery, who filled in on the Wolves’ lineup, are the only returning girls.
Ciara Ryan, who almost took the all-around title, opted to focus on her future at Northern Illinois, where she will compete on a full scholarship. Clancy Raupp, another key contributor, suffered a hip injury that knocked her out for the season. And Kira Karlblom, a three-year performer, decided not to compete this year.
“It’s a big, big blow,” Prairie Ridge coach Lee Battaglia said. “If we have those three, it’s a whole different team.”
When those three competed with Kim, it was difficult to predict which would be the top performer in a given meet. Glenbard West’s deep and talented team knocked off the Wolves, 149.55-148.75, to end their state championship run.
“I’m sad because those were my closest friends, and I don’t see them,” Kim said. “It’s weird because the only returning people are Katie and me. I’ve been doing gymnastics with Kira Karlblom my whole life, so I was really sad to see she didn’t come back. It’s a totally different dynamic because we had a bunch of girls who knew how high school worked and how meets ran.”
Still, Battaglia feels the Wolves can be one of the state’s best teams with the addition of freshmen Gracie Willis and Sydney Hallsten. The team draws athletes from all four District 155 schools – Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South and Prairie Ridge. Most of the competitors are from Prairie Ridge (Kim, Willis, Morgan Quinn and Haylee Yelle). McEnery is from South, and Hallsten is from C-G.
“We have a real, real strong 1-2-3, as strong as it’s ever been,” said Battaglia, who also coaches the girls with the Crystal Lake Gymnastics Training Center club teams. “Maddy, Sydney and Gracie are all 9-plus scores (in each event). It’s the fourth and fifth score where we’re a little bit lower than usual. In the past, the first person up (in the rotation) would be a 9. We’re not at that level right now.”
Battaglia hopes the Wolves can get there by Feb. 15 and 16 when the IHSA Girls Gymnastics State Meet takes place at Palatine High School.
“We have a lot of potential because Gracie’s really good and Sydney’s really good,” Kim said. “After everyone quit last year, I was like, ‘How are we going to pull a team together?’ Then, those two came on, so it’s OK.”
Willis has competed at CLGTC, and Hallsten just made the switch from Lake Zurich’s United States Gymnastics Training Center to CLGTC.
“I didn’t know much about [Prairie Ridge] except they had a reputation for winning state,” Hallsten said. “I was a little nervous at first [changing gyms]. I tried a week here in the summer and thought it was good.”
Willis was more versed in Prairie Ridge’s history and tradition.
“I watched them practicing; I went to a lot of meets,” said Willis, the sister of Prairie Ridge fullback Jackson Willis, the area rushing leader this season. “It’s going to be different. I thought, last year, they would be on the team, but they’re not. It’s something we have to adapt to and get used to.”
Battaglia is grateful for the infusion of talent and the experience Kim brings.
“Maddy is so much more improved from last year, maturity and skillwise,” he said. “It’s unbelievable when you get someone who develops like Maddy and is still learning. Most of the time, when they have the maturity, they take a dip down. She’s doing the best gymnastics she’s ever done.”