Geauga Gymnasts Fly
Thursday, December 27, 2012
To see rivals like Chardon and West Geauga cheering for one another as they compete against each other may strike fans of more traditional sports as a strange sight, indeed.
But that's the case at West Geauga High School as local gymnasts perform on the bars, beam, vault and floor.
The consortium of gymnasts that practice and compete at West Geauga continues to grow. This season there are nine schools, an all time high.
When Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin graduates Amanda Bagdasarian and Kelsy Lyon competed as seniors in 2008, there were half as many.
"Gymnastics is such a smaller sport, a lot of the girls know each other. Especially the girls who do club and high school," said Bagdasarian, visiting a meet a week ago. "You'll never see another gymnast bad-talking another school. Everybody cheers for everybody."
West Geauga coach Gina Gastaldo is in her fourth season running the consortium as the host school. She thinks West Geauga is the only high school left in Ohio that hosts practices and meets because of the high cost of equipment and lack of space.
"The girls are great," Gastaldo said of this year's crop. "They're doing really well together. You'd think with nine schools it'd be hard for them to get along. Girls will be girls. But they all cheer for each other."
Gastaldo said she couldn't run the program without Don Shutz. Shutz has been the varsity coach at Chardon for three seasons, but was the West Geauga coach before that.
In fact, Shutz coached Gastaldo when she was a Wolverine, winning the state championship four times on the beam, from 2003 to 2006.
Shutz started coaching when his daughter, Nicole, competed for Mentor High School.
"I could talk him up all day," Gastaldo said.
Each of the coaches pool together to instruct the girls from West G, Chagrin Falls, Ora-nge, Kirtland, Char-don, Aurora, Mayfield, Beaumont and NDCL.
With 12 girls, West Geauga has the largest team.
"We have three seniors who are awesome team leaders," Gastaldo said.
Isabel Pountney, Miranda Petrigash and Alex Wolfhope were freshmen when a young Gastaldo took over the Wolverine program.
"She's like one of our really good friends, actually," Petrigash said of her coach. "We always joke around with her. She's a really awesome coach. We can always talk about anything. She's just really fun to be around."
She added: "She's really encouraging, too. And because she was so good it kind of inspires us to be good, too."
"She's been through what we're going through now, so she knows what it's like," said Wolfhope. "She knows how to help us and help us get better."
Pountney, Petrigash and Wolfhope are balanced in all four events for the Wolverines.
Wolfhope likes how being a senior lets her take charge of everyone else.
"We have a lot of talent this year, and we're just working on it," she said. "There are some who haven't done gymnastics before but they're getting better at it."
Wolfhope hopes to make it to districts in the postseason.
Pountney said her individual season has been going well, "and for the team, too. Even though we all compete individually, it's still good for our team in the long run."
As for those good-natured meets, Pountney said all the schools are a gymnastics family.
"We warm up in the same leotard but then we change into our individual teams," Pountney said. "So it's really nice. We can all work together, but then at the same time we're competitive against each other."
Chardon's Kelsey Eichele is a Level 9 gymnast at her club gym in Mentor. There are no levels at the high school level, but at the club level the best gymnasts in the state are Level 10.
Coach Shutz said the Chardon numbers are down -- five girls compete this year, including Eichele, Selena Haverlock, Molly Hegner, Ally McKelvey and Catilyn Wilson.
"But we are up in talent," he said.
Eichele is nursing a knee injury but expects to be ready to compete for a spot at the state tournament.
"She's such a gifted athlete," Shutz said. "I'd say she's best on the floor, but she's good at all events."
Eichele said her favorite event is the beam, even though she has injured her feet twice since she was a freshman in the event and missed significant time.
"When I stay on and have a skid routine, it's beam for sure," Eichele said.
She said some gymnasts have mental blocks when it comes to injuries. "But I just think it's healed and it's over with, and just move on."
"When I was 2 years old I started," she said. "I would kick all around the house and for my birthday my parents signed me up for gymnastics."
Eichele is the defending Premier Athletic Conference champion and hopes to defend that title again this year.
Chardon's Haverlock hopes to advance to districts as a team; she thinks her beam work has improved this year, and continues to work on her floor routine.
Gymnastics is a different sport than what many her high school peers compete in, she said. The Chardon Crazies student section does not show up for her meets.
"You feel neglected because everyone goes to the football games and nobody comes here," she said.
But just like the more traditional varsity sports, the experiences stay with you well after high school.
They have for Bagdasarian and Lyon, the NDCL graduates. Bagdasarian competed this year in the consortium's first alumni meet, pitting graduates against the current varsity crop.
The graduates won.
"Of course I miss it," Bagdasarian said. "I wasn't really sure what to expect. I never thought I'd be back here doing it again -- saluting the judges.
"But, hey. We beat the high school girls," she said, with prideful smile.