Evanston Township High School sophomores Ella Eovaldi and Tait Hansen earned trips to the gymnastics sectional for the second year in a row Tuesday, Jan. 31, after the final scores were tallied at the Palatine Regional meet.

Evanston’s Ella Eovaldi performs her floor exercise during the senior night meet last month. Credit: Michael Kellams/thatphotodad.com

Now teammates Rachael Rubin and Suzannah Bailey, known as Zuzu, will wait to see if they can make that trip, too – as competitors, not spectators.

As the song says, “the waiting is the hardest part” for the Wildkits and head coach Mike Spevack.

At-large qualifying spots on vault, uneven bars, floor exercise, balance beam and all-around won’t be determined until Thursday, after the last day of regional competition.

Evanston scored a season-high 129.40 points but settled for third place in the team standings behind Palatine High School (136.25) and Rolling Meadows High School (136.025). Also competing was Maine West High School (110.90).

Evanston’s Tait Hansen on the run to her first vault during the team’s senior night meet vs. Glenbrook South at ETHS last month. Credit: Michael Kellams/thatphotodad.com

Eovaldi, after being sidelined for most of the season with a bad ankle, continued her comeback in spectacular fashion. A state qualifier last year as a freshman on balance beam – Evanston’s first since the year 2000 – she’s upped her individual game in her second year of varsity competition.

On Tuesday she captured first place on vault with a score of 8.775, sticking her landing on that bad ankle. Eovaldi also qualified on bars (fourth at 9.00), balance beam (fifth at 8.275) and all-around (34.875, a career-best performance). The top five individuals in each event automatically advanced to next week’s sectional meet at Hoffman Estates.

Hansen also punched a ticket to the sectional with a fourth place effort on vault at 8.425. Bailey and Rubin are candidates to make the at-large cuts on bars, beam and floor exercise.

Spevack gave his team the day off from practice Wednesday, caught up in the dilemma of all coaches who have to wait to find out whether they’re still going to compete in the postseason.

“We had a lot of injuries to some of our key athletes again this year. Ella and Zuzu missed about 80% of the season,” said Spevack. “But now that they’re back, we’ve bumped our team score up 10 points. That’s an enormous bump and we’ve had our two best team scores [including a 128.93 at the Central Suburban League championship] in our last two meets.

“We really missed Ella’s vault scores this year, even though we had a lot of other girls do their best and step up. She’s one of the best overall athletes I’ve ever coached. She’s so talented and she never ceases to impress me.

“The difference for her this year?” Spevack asked. “Club gymnasts only compete about once a month and last year she had to adjust to competing two or three times a week instead. This year she’s a lot more comfortable and understands the competition better.

“On her [winning] vault, that’s one of the first times she’s stood up [on the landing] in a very long time. And the girls she was up against from Palatine and Rolling Meadows are no slouches, either.”

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