The life of an elite gymnast can be stressful – day after day, year after year, high school season flows into club season and back again, leaving little time for respite.
Last year, Alison Morreale felt the toll the grind takes, so the junior on the DeKalb-Sycamore co-op decided to leave the sport after last season ended.
But after five months off, she decided to jump back in for the high school season, and heading into Friday and Saturday's state meet, where she and senior Meredith Whisenhunt qualified in the all-around, she feels reinvigorated.
“My mindset is totally different,” Morreale said. “Sometimes, I don't think we even have enough time in practice. Just how well I've been doing this year from that break, I can't wait until next year, when I've actually been working out the whole year. … I think if I didn't take that break, I wouldn't be in that mindset I'm in now, it would have kept dragging on. In some ways, it was good.”
After a slow start to the season, Morreale is as good as ever. But that didn't mean the path to her first state meet was simple – it almost ended before it started.
The day before regionals, she twisted her knee in practice, and she thought she was done.
But she came back with a limited routine and qualified for sectionals, where she added in a few more skills to earn an at-large bid to the state meet and will compete in the all-around, vault and beam. Both she and Whisenhunt will add skills this weekend, which Andy Morreale, the co-op's coach and Alison's father, said can make them quiet contenders.
“I think they're so good across the board that they're going to sneak up on some people,” he said. “I think they're definitely top 10 or 15. Once you get into there, it's whoever hits that day.”
While Alison progressively worked her way back to being the gymnast she was last year, Whisenhunt has improved leaps and bounds throughout the season, winning regionals before qualifying for state in the same events as Morreale.
“She's improved everywhere – floor, vault, bars, beam,” Alison Morreale said. “The fact that we both made it together this year, it was incredible."
After helping convince Alison Morreale to rejoin the team before the season, Whisenhunt is thankful she gets to compete at state with a friend, whom she's competed alongside for several years at the club and high school levels.
“I told her she needed to do it because we needed her scores for the team and I knew if she worked really hard, she could place individually, as well,” Whisenhunt said. “It's really nice to have a friend who's there with you at all the same levels, and getting to go to with her is going to be awesome.”