The Lyons Township High School girls gymnastics team rolled to its second consecutive state championship last year, the first time the school has won back-to-back state titles in a girls sport.
Winning a third straight title will be a tall task but the Lions are up for the challenge. If they pull it off, they would become just the fifth team to three-peat.
“It’s going to be harder if you look at it in regard to [experience],” LTHS coach Kari Karubas said. “I have a very young team with a lot of freshmen.
“But we’re going to do everything we can to be in competition mode and be very tough at the right time. I’ve seen the strangest things at the state meet so I think it could be anybody’s day.”
The Lions are heavily favored to be one of the eight teams to qualify for the state meet, which will be held Feb. 20-21 at Palatine. They are the top seed at the Feb. 11 Hinsdale Central Sectional and are ranked fifth in the state with a sectional seed score of 143.375 and a season-high 144.85, set Jan. 12 in a win over Glenbard West.
They’ve done that despite losing stars Michelle Cozza and Katie Carling to graduation and senior Olivia McGann to injury.
Cozza was the 2014 state champion on uneven bars and state runner-up on vault, while Carling finished second in the all-around, balance beam and floor exercise and was fifth on bars. McGann finished third on bars but underwent surgery for a torn labrum in her shoulder last summer and was unable to compete this season.
That left only two gymnasts – seniors Kelsy Kurfirst and Kelly Ryser – with varsity experience.
Kurfirst, however, is one of the most decorated gymnasts in school history and one of the best in the state this year. The Cornell recruit has won three individual state titles in her career, including floor exercise for the second time last year, when she also finished third in the all-around and on beam and vault.
“It’s much different than the past two years,” Kurfirst said. “Actually every year is different in terms of team dynamics and just how the team works together and competes.
“So it’s always an adjustment, but this year I think we’re all really excited because this year we’ve definitely improved the most from the start out of all four years that I’ve been here. So that’s awesome.”
Freshmen Sarah Halm, Julia Cozzi and Sonia Slusarczyk and two other varsity newcomers – sophomore Regan Iffert and junior Natalie Cozzi – have stepped up to keep the Lions among the ranks of the elite. Most importantly, they have yet to hit their ceiling.
“We’ve got even more potential and even more skills to throw in, so we’re climbing and I think we’re going to continue to climb as far as our scores go,” Kurfirst said. “I think we’re definitely ready and excited to take on the postseason.”
While the Lions are about 4.5 points behind No. 1 ranked Prairie Ridge, Karubas thinks they have the skills to make up that difference.
“I’ve done the math and we’re still not at our peak,” Karubas said. “We had falls [against Glenbard West] and we were still watering down a little bit.”
Kurfirst will be a contender for the all-around state title. Her season best score is 38.45. Ryser (36.35), Julia Cozzi (35.15) and Halm (35.05) also are solid all-arounders.
Ultimately, Karubas focuses solely on the Lions.
“I don’t really look at the competition,” Karubas said. “We can only do better than our last meet.
“There’s no template that works, so going into this year’s state meet, I toughen them up, I get them emotionally solid, we get performance ready and we do our best.”