PALATINE – Prairie Ridge’s Gabby Riley and Gracie Willis responded under pressure like champions.
With Carmel pressing the Wolves for the team title at the IHSA Girls Gymnastics State Meet, Willis delivered a winning floor exercise performance and Riley came through with a winning balance beam routine.
Both girls’ performances increased Prairie Ridge co-op’s team score, giving the Wolves a 148.25 total and their fourth team state title in six years. Carmel (147.85) was second and Lake Zurich (147.725) was third.
Wolves coach Lee Battaglia had hoped for a wider margin heading into Saturday. He feared a repeat of the 2013 state meet when Prairie Ridge held a slim lead only to have the state title slip away in the finals.
“There was a lot of pressure,” Battaglia said. “Yesterday was not our day. The kids are better than that and we knew that. They were not in a good mood. I was not in a good mood. They came through today when they had to. I’m so, so proud of them.”
Prairie Ridge, a co-op which draws athletes from Prairie Ridge, Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake Central and Crystal Lake South, won three consecutive titles from 2015-17. None were as close as this one.
The Wolves came to the finals with 147.8 points, slightly ahead of Lake Zurich (147.575) and Carmel (147.525). Team scores can only improve in the finals. Carmel briefly took the lead when Lyndsey Basara scored 9.4 on balance beam to move the Corsairs up .25. Carmel led, 147-95-147.85, for about 2 minutes.
Willis was waiting to start her floor routine when Basara’s score was announced, but was unaware of the team score situation.
“No, I didn’t know that. I’m glad I didn’t,” said Willis, a sophomore who attends Prairie Ridge. “I felt (the pressure), but when I put a ton of pressure on myself I always do worse. I really thought of taking the pressure off, try to let it go and have fun.”
Willis scored 9.575 in Friday’s qualifying with one-tenth knocked off for stepping out of bounds. She received a 9.725 to win floor and boost the Wolves back in front, 147.95-147.85.
“If I could have put anybody up on floor exercise when (Carmel) took the lead, it would have been Gracie,” Battaglia said. “That was the best she could possibly do. I expect that from her, she’s that type of gymnast.”
Willis agreed it was her best effort.
“I was nervous going into floor because I knew it was really tight,” she said. “I thought, ‘Let it go. Do my routine to the best of my abilities.’ It’s really great to do something for my team and be there for them.”
Riley did not improve her floor score, but saved her best for last on the balance beam. She scored a 9.55, boosting the Wolves’ score by .3 for the winning margin.
“It was very stressful,” said Riley, a freshman at Cary-Grove who won the all-around title on Friday. “You just have to take a deep breath and know that you’ve been practicing so long and you can do all the skills. You just have to be confident in yourself.”
Riley scored 9.6 to tie for fifth on the vault and finish with three individual medals.
“I said, at the beginning of the year, this is the most talented team we’ve ever had,” Battaglia said. “I didn’t say they were the best overall team, but they had the most talent. What they did tonight was huge. I say something to them, ‘Everybody’s good on a good day. Champions are made on bad days.’ Yesterday was a bad day.”
Battaglia, who coaches at Crystal Lake Gymnastics Training Center, where the Prairie Ridge girls also compete in club, lauded the work of long-time assistant coach Lisa Rumford as the Wolves won their fourth state championship.
“My heart goes out to Lisa, who has helped me so much,” he said. “Without her, none of this would be possible. She does a great job in the gym and she’s been with me since I started. I want to give accolades to her because I can’t do it on my own. Together we’ve developed this dynasty.”
IHSA Girls Gymnastics State Meet
Team scores: 1. Prairie Ridge 148.25, 2. Carmel 147.85, 3. Lake Zurich 147.725, 4. Glenbard East 146.25, 5. New Trier 145.875, 6. Mundelein 144.575, 7. Downers Grove South 142.775, 8. Fremd 140.2.
Vault: 1 (tie). Kayla Bailey (LZ), Lyndsey Basara (Car) 9.725, 3. Emily Weinstein (Stevenson) 9.7, 4. Becca Gordon (Highland Park) 9.675, 5. Gabby Riley (PR), Kristin Fisch (Lake Forest), Isabella Kropiwiec (Car) 9.6.
Uneven bars: 1. Clare Keane (Car) 9.575, 2. Nicole Kane (Rolling Meadows) 9.525, 3. Korina Jarosz (Lincoln-Way E.) 9.45, 4 (tie). Anna Diab (Glenbard W.), Kali Kartheiser (GE) 9.425.
Balance beam: 1. Riley (PR) 9.55, 2. Basara (Car) 9.4, 3. Sheena Grahan (Glenbrook S.) 9.375, 4. Bailey (LZ) 9.35, 5. Sarah Ozeki (Glenbard N.) 9.3.
Floor exercise: 1. Gracie Willis (PR) 9.725, 2. Diab (GW) 9.7, 3. Kropiwiec (Car) 9.575, 4. Basara (Car) 9.5, 5. Bailey (LZ) 9.5.
All-Around: 1. Riley (PR) 37.85, 2. Diab (Glenbard W.) 37.75, 3. Bailey (LZ) 37.725, 4. Weinstein (Stev) 37.55, 5. Jarosz (LWE) 37.325.