By Marty Farmer
Hampered by injuries and illness, the Riverside-Brookfield High School girls gymnastics team struggled early this season. The Bulldogs first score of the season was their worst as the team lacked continuity due to so many missing gymnasts.
Fortunately, with an underclassmen-laden varsity roster featuring four freshmen and two sophomores, time has been on the Bulldogs' side.
"As everybody has been getting healthier, we've been climbing as a team," RBHS coach Karyn Domzalski said. "We won a varsity and junior varsity invite [at Maine West]. I'm pleased with the girls. They are working hard and several of them have shown improvement."
Although she was injured last season, senior Katherine Polanski provides much-needed experience to the lineup this winter.
"It's nice to have Katie back and performing well," Domzalski said. "She doesn't train year-round, but within a few weeks of starting the season, it was nice to see all of her new skills. Katie has been with me three years now and she's not afraid of anything in terms of developing her skills."
Sophomore Amber O'Brien is another key contributor. She missed last season due to injury, but has been scoring well as the Bulldogs' best all-arounder this winter.
"The season has been stressful but also fun," O'Brien said. "We have had our ups such as wins and our downs with injuries. Our team works and trains hard. We have all grown super close and hope to go far this season either as a team or individually."
Domzalski believes O'Brien and Polanski benefit from some healthy in-house competition.
"Amber has been a bit stronger than Katie, but Katie could surpass Amber at any moment," Domzalski said. "The better the both of them get, the better off we will be as a team."
Domzalski is pleased with the progress of freshmen Zoe Mazurkiewicz, Nina Thomas, Savannah Bishop and Mia Giurini. Mazurkiewicz stepped up for the team when the Bulldogs were not at full strength. She moved up from jv to the varsity quickly as one of the team's most improved gymnasts. Thomas also has performed well, while Bishop is very good on vault, beam and floor.
"Since I am a freshman, I would say that the number of practices is pretty challenging," Bishop said. "It really does bring improvement quickly. Even if we aren't the best team in scores, we make up for it in passion. I'm sure all of my teammates love this sport because they put so much work into it."
Giurini is recovering from a broken finger and a bout of pneumonia has limited her impact. Returning to full strength is the primary goal for Giurini.
"The season started out a bit rough for me," Giurini said. "I missed the first three meets due to illness. It was very hard not being out on the competition floor with my team. My motivation for getting better was being aware that my team needed me and I needed them. Once all of this passed, the season started finally meeting the team's expectations."
Sophomore Sydney Lindenberg, a contributor last season, fractured her tailbone on the first day of practice this season. She's particularly strong on bars but out for the season.
"I've worked with our freshmen [before high school] and it's great to see them come in and improve," Domzalski said. "It's hard for freshmen though coming from club, because they don't understand that high school gymnastics completely different. It's always a struggle to re-teach freshmen what they can and can't do to earn points in high school gymnastics."
Nevertheless, the RBHS gymnasts have shown a good work ethic which has hastened the learning curve. The Bulldogs won the aforementioned Maine West Invite and finished fifth at the Sandburg Invite.
"Our goal is to break a 130 in scoring," Domzalski said. "We've been close and we're trying so hard. Hopefully, we can do it sometime in the next few meets."
While plenty of hard work will be required and perhaps even a little luck, the Bulldogs can achieve multiples goals before the season is over.
"We still have a long way to go because we have yet to reach our goal of a 130 but we have come very close," Polanski said. "With the talent on our team and the incredible support everybody gives to each other, I believe we can achieve our goal and set new ones to achieve as well."
RBHS visits Morton East in Cicero on Thursday, Jan. 11 at 5 p.m. On Saturday, Jan. 20 at 11 a.m., the Bulldogs host their annual invite.