After Big Graduation Hits, Gymnastics Team Still Solid
North Royalton’s gymnastic team may take a tumble after losing five seniors from the 2015-16 squad, but the presence of some returning MVPs may just help to soften the pain from that landing.
The Bears bid goodbye to five seniors who served as leaders for the 2015-16 campaign. The absence of Nicole LoBianco, Morgan Kmitt, Emily Kulig, Lexi Novak and Alex Vitanza will be sorely felt in every event, but particularly so on vault, where they all excelled. LoBianca, Kulig and Kmitt also competed on the beam, and Novak shone on the uneven bars and floor exercise.
Competing last season for the first time in a difficult Suburban League – which just happens to be home to perennial powerhouse and perennial state champion Brecksville – the senior-laden Bears finished fifth on the strength of their highest team score of the season to that point.
Unfortunately, North Royalton ran into the Brecksville buzz saw again at the 2016 Sectional meet, which saw the Bees swarm all over the available spots for districts. The Bears bettered their performance at the Suburban League meet, posting a team score of 127 but placed sixth out of 19 teams and failed to return to the West Geauga Division I District meet.
“We lost a lot from last season,” Bears coach Greg Ganim said. “We do still have four seniors but we are really a young team overall. So we are just looking for day-to-day improvement and we’re taking this season as a learning experience.”
Despite the attrition by graduation, one bright spot is the fact that North Royalton’s highest finishers at the sectional meet will be back.
First, junior Kaleigh Napier looks to improve on a 2016 campaign that included 19th-place finishes on the uneven parallel bars and in the all-around competition at sectionals.
Second, Haylie Haberak, who placed 16th on the floor, leads a slightly smaller senior section that also includes Madison Medalis, Morgan Tarro and Julianna Tomaro. In addition to the floor, Haberak will compete in the all-around, as will Medalis. Tomaro will fill the Bears’ needs on the beam and the vault.
For their efforts last season, Haberak and Napier were named co-MVPs at North Royalton’s postseason winter sports awards.
Although there are no sophomores on the current squad, the Bears will be joined by a sizeable freshman class that includes Avery Keller, Peyton Schrader, Ashley Sekeres and Isabella Zimmerman. Keller and Schrader, in particular, possess vital club experience in all events that should serve them and North Royalton well for years to come.
While many of the faces have changed for North Royalton gymnastics, one thing is constant and that is the specter of Brecksville. Already the Bears have faced the Bees three times, the first occurring when they hosted a six-team meet at Twinsburg’s Gym World in late December. Competing against Stow, Twinsburg, Padua and Solon in addition to Brecksville, North Royalton finished third behind the Bees.
The Bears have gone up against Brecksville two other times in 2017 – first at a multi-team meet at FlytzUSA in Cuyahoga Falls, where North Royalton finished third and, again in a four-way meet in which the Bears placed second. In both instances, the Bees took first place.
Assistant coach Jodi Napier feels the Bears’ familiarity with the best in the state cuts two ways with her gymnasts.
“It does up their ‘A’ game but it also makes them more nervous,” Napier said. “But really, our focus isn’t on Brecksville. We don’t ask our girls to worry about anything other than their individual performances. They simply have to work on performing to the best of their ability and we can’t ask them to do anything more than that. If we win as a team, that’s great and it’s for the better. But it’s not our focus.”
By RAY SARVIS, The Post Contributor
Updated January, 28th, 2017