On the bus trips to his team’s first few away meets, DeKalb-Sycamore co-op gymnastics coach Andy Morreale noticed something different about this year’s team than the first few versions of the squad.
Instead of focusing on their cellphones or listening to music on headphones, they were talking, laughing and even singing. For Morreale, that’s what’s made this year special for DeKalb-Sycamore, which is in its fourth year as a high school program. The Barbs went from having one of their worst scores in program history early in the season to being at-large qualifiers for the Wheaton Warrenville South Sectional, where they’ll compete today.
“The technology’s been out of it,” Morreale said with a laugh. “I think of all the other years, this is probably the closest team we’ve had. … That’s the difference between club and high school. At the club level, we try to do the team thing, but high school really is a team.”
The Barbs finished second in their regional Feb. 4 at Wheaton Warrenville South, but they qualified based on their score. Senior Meredith Whisenhunt won the all-around and junior Alison Morreale finished fourth, both qualifying individually, while freshman Katelyn Nelson had a nice day of her own, advancing to sectionals in the floor exercise and the vault.
Whisenhunt has grown immensely after finishing fourth in regionals a year ago. This year, she finished 1.4 points higher in the regional, and Alison Morreale said her confidence has improved by leaps and bounds. Whisenhunt said she thinks that has something to do with the fact that she and her few veteran teammates have adjusted to the differences between club and high school gymnastics.
“At first it was a hard transition,” Whisenhunt said. “Now we know the rules of it and how to do well in the high school setting and to put in new skills easily, and it’s a lot more fun when you know what you’re doing.”
Andy Morreale said there’s plenty of room for improvement from his team overall, especially considering the team has a few freshmen playing key roles.
In particular, Alison Morreale has a chance to make a big leap after injuring her knee in practice the day before the regional, which forced her to simplify her floor routine. In the sectional, she mostly will be unimpeded.
“I was nervous about making it out, because I watered down my floor routine a lot, actually,” Morreale said. “It’s definitely an improvement, especially on the floor. It feels a lot better now.”
Although they might not equal last year’s regional championship team in terms of scores, this young group has shown it will be a force to be reckoned with going forward. The squad’s improvement and togetherness seems to have shown just how far the program has come in its four years of existence.
“This team is so much more connected,” Andy Morreale said. “Each meet, they’ve gone up two points and have just gotten better and better as a team. I think of all the other years, this is probably the closest team we’ve had.”