The success of Evanston’s girls gymnastics team this winter won’t be measured in wins and losses, or how quickly the athletes can master tricks on various apparatus.
For the Wildkits — a team without any seniors on the roster — it may come down to leadership.
Veteran head coach Chester Jones, entering his 23rd year as head coach, will have to rely on his junior class to show the way for the younger athletes.
Junior all-arounders Emily Varua and Lucy Bowser have been named co-captains for the 2013-14 season as the Wildkits attempt to climb in the Central Suburban League standings following last year’s 2-5 record. Four seniors have graduated and that puts more responsibility on the next class.
“What we don’t have now is girls with the responsibility of knowing how to act at the meets, how to handle the pressure of the meets,” Jones said prior to the season opener against Niles North. “They have to understand, too, that it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about working together and doing the best that they can.”
Varua and Bowser figure to provide a solid 1-2 scoring punch with their skill sets and the Kits are hoping for an injury free season for another junior, Kate Budde. Budde was plagued by knee and ankle injuries for most of last season, and had other injury issues while qualifying for the Illinois High School Association state diving finals this fall.
Once she rounds into form after taking time off after the fall season, she could boost ETHS’ scores as a team.
“She has good routines on bar and balance beam,” Jones pointed out. “But because of all the injuries she’s had, we can’t pound on her every day in practice. We’ll probably try to keep her off of floor exercise and vault, unless we really need her. If they’re not healthy, then you can’t teach them.”
After restarting the gymnastics feeder program that had been dormant for about 10 years this summer, Jones and his staff should have more talent to work with. He kept 30 girls from a tryout of 45, one of the largest teams ETHS has fielded in years.
“We lost some of the freshmen during our conditioning week, but it’s really a good problem to have when you have so many girls come out,” Jones said. “We actually had to cut some sophomores and juniors who just weren’t getting any better. Most years we couldn’t afford to do that.”
The solid junior class also includes Andrea Glaser, Claire Gruger, Kelsey Siegel and Claudia Africano. A sophomore to watch is Lauren Galen, who moves up to the varsity this year.
Incoming freshmen Hillary Vickman and Emily Keller could also make an immediate impact, according to Jones.
“We re-started the feeder program and now these kids are learning things before they get to high school,” the coach said. “I think Hillary really has shown promise — she knows the form and technique and just needs to work on her skill development — and Emily has talent, too. Time will tell how good they can be.”