Perhaps it was just coincidence that 1985 Lyons Township graduate Janne Klepek was inducted into the Illinois High School Girls Gymnastics Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame Saturday afternoon.
That night, freshman Kelsy Kurfirst added her name to LT gymnastics state history in a big way.
Kurfirst became just the program’s third individual state champion as she shared first place on the uneven parallel bars at the state meet event finals at Palatine High School.
Kurfirst’s 9.6 tied for first place with Glenbard North senior Amanda Quinn among the 11 finalists who had advanced by being among the top 10 scores in Friday’s preliminaries. Kurfirst had scored a 9.625 for the second-highest advancing score.
“She’s amazing—exclamation point, exclamation point,” LT coach Kari Karubas said. “I’m so impressed with her. What a little rock star, and we knew she could do it. We’ve seen her in practice hit routine after routine. We knew this was in her.”
Kurfirst joins Klepek and 2009 graduate Emily Urben as LT’s only individual state champions in the sport. Klepek won or shared 12 state titles, including three uneven bars titles from 1982-84, and earned 19 out of a possible 20 all-state individual medals for top-five finishes. Urben was the 2009 state balance beam champion and also was coached by Karubas and current assistant coach Courtney Douglas.
Kurfirst also qualified for state in all-around and the other three events. She reached the finals on vault and tied for eighth (9.65), .075 shy of an all-state, top-five finish, after her 9.675 shared the seventh-highest advancing score.
“That’s where she has impressed me the most, her ability to handle the pressure (as a freshman). We’re still working on it, but she’s amazing in regards to keeping a level head on her shoulders,” Karubas said. “She’s just hungry, hungry for victory. It’s up to her. We’ll keep her strong, we’ll keep her safe, we’ll keep her healthy and it’s hers if she wants it.”
Kurfirst was not alone in rising to the occasion. In the team competition, the Lions finished sixth with a season-high 144.775 points in the program’s fifth appearance in the eight-team state format in the past six seasons after a one-year absence.
Seniors Ali Stuck and Kalen Iffert, junior Maren Craig and freshman Kelly Ryser also made their state debuts along with Kurfirst in the Lions’ five all-arounder lineup.
The Lions finished just .025 behind fifth-place Lake Forest by eclipsing their previous season-high of 144.35 that won the LT Regional. LT automatically earned one of the eight state team berths by winning the Hinsdale Central Sectional with 144.05, the lowest sectional score among the qualifiers.
“The girls came on, they were on a mission and they achieved it so I’m unbelievably pleased,” Karubas said. “My girls had the meet of their lives. (State) preliminaries was the best thing that has happened to us all season. They really handled their emotions well. We were still adding difficulty (to their routines).”
Kurfirst distinguished herself during the regular season as one of the state’s top all-arounders and swept titles at the West Suburban Conference Silver Division Meet, regionals and sectionals.
She still had more in her. In Friday’s uneven bars preliminaries, she added a half in-half out dismount for the first time in a meet and landed it.
The dismount capped another great performance Saturday when Kurfirst competed second out of the finalists as determined by a random draw. Quinn, eighth on the event last year, competed seventh.
Fremd freshman Sydney Plichta and Carmel senior Kristin Mirski tied for third (9.5), and Lake Forest junior Kylie Carlson and Stevenson senior Ali Castriano (9.45) tied for fifth. DeKalb/Sycamore co-op senior Alyssa Lopez, who won Friday’s all-around competition, had the highest preliminary score (9.7) but suffered a fall Saturday and was 11th (8.4). Six finalists were underclassmen.
“We’ve been training that dismount since most of the season and we just need to wait until she was confident enough. And once again, we can’t risk injury,” Karubas said.
“Right before winter beak, we talked about her goals and what she wanted, and I told her what it would take to get there. A coach can say anything he or she wants. It has to fall on very active, very ready ears, and that’s Kelsy.”
Kurfirst also tied for 11th on balance beam (9.175) and finished 28th on floor exercise (8.9) en route to ninth place in all-around (37.375), just .55 from fifth place. Her beam score missed the finals cut by only .025.
A focused Kurfirst and team made the difference Friday. The Lions started on floor and were somewhat disappointment with a 35.80 event score. That included Kurfirst falling at the end of her first tumbling pass, an automatic .5 deduction that cost her a spot in the event finals and hampered her all-around.
The Lions responded on the next two events with the fifth-highest team scores on vault (37.30) and uneven bars (36.075). In the tough position of finishing on beam, LT scored 35.30 and counted just one fall.
“I spend a lot of time with them on just how to regroup, how to turn things that could be an obstacle into an opportunity,” Karubas said. “Of course, any coach can say anything to anybody, but the fact that they received it and ran with it, I have to give all of the credit to them.”
Karubas and Douglas deserve credit as well. When the commitment was made to a lineup of five all-arounders, that meant any major injury probably would end any hopes of major team success.
Besides the mere challenges from the constant impact in gymnastics, Craig (back) and Ryser (ankle) came into the season battling injuries after joining late from diving.
“I had to balance a very fine line of pushing but not breaking the girls so kudos to (the coaching staff) for keeping five girls healthy all season,” Karubas said.
“I had to be really smart with these five girls. They had to be cherished every single day. We had no window, no margin of error at all. We added difficulty (since sectionals) because we had nothing to lose, but, heaven forbid, a month ago, two months ago, there could have been injuries. It was a very precarious situation.”
Competing as all-arounders for the team, Craig (36.20), Ryser (34.75), Stuck (career-best 34.70) and Iffert (34.075) all enjoyed highlights and great memories. Score highlights included personal-bests by Stuck on vault (9.325) and Craig (9.05) and Iffert (8.6) on uneven bars as well as 9s by Ryser on floor (9.1), Craig on beam (9.0) and Craig (9.175) and Iffert (9.125) on vault.
“I’m going to really miss Ali Stuck and Kalen Iffert, irreplaceable, amazing competitors,” Karubas said.
Carmel (151.775) won its third consecutive state title, followed by Stevenson (149.175), Prairie Ridge co-op (148.175), Fremd (146.65), Lake Forest (144.50), the Lions, Glenbard North (143.55) and New Trier (141.775).
LT indoor boys track
The Lyons Township indoor boys track team dominated its season-opening home quadrangular Feb. 17 in Western Springs.
The Lions collected 341 points, well ahead of Benet Academy (71 points), Plainfield Central (51) and Nazareth (15), in the meet that combined results on the varsity and frosh-soph level.
In varsity competition, LT’s Matthew Harris won long jump (22 feet-7 inches), the 55-meter high hurdles (7.9 seconds) and the 55 (6.5). Other varsity winners were Mike Accettura (3,200 in 10:24.4), Thomas Bryson (11-6 in pole vault), Michael Matusiak (1,600 in 4:42.1), Ed McCarter (800 in 2:09), Lino Mogorovic (55 low hurdles in 7.6), Antwan Swan (400 in 55.7), Mike Thomas (200 in 23.8), the 3,200 relay (Liam Callahan, Jonathan Dombro, Ryan Speir, Ben Groya in 8:57.3), 4-by-160 relay (Connor Wambold, Mackenzie Koziarz, Lawrence Nisivaco, Daniel Miklosz in 1:19.6) and the 1,600 relay (Miklosz, Swan, Michael Dost, Mogorvic in 3:40.3).
Winning two frosh-soph individual events was James Rhode in the 400 (55.2) and 55 high hurdles (10.0). Other winners were Michael Collins (8-6 in pole vault), Trevor Edgerton (18-2 in long jump), Matthew Grider (5-6 in high jump), Quentin Haraldsen-Sanchez (200 in 24.6), Jimmy Jones (37-6 in triple jump), Nicholas Layden (1,600 in 5:03.3), Alejandro Lima (800 in 2:14.8), Keefe Mulligan (3,200 in 11:24.9), Giovanni Young (55 in 6.8), Lucas Van Nest (55 low hurdles in 8.6), the 3,200 relay (Layden, Joseph Mayer, Michael Flaherty, Daniel Patterson in 9:32.5), the 4-by-160 relay (Haraldsen-Sanchez, Leonard Ross , Edgerton, Grider in 1:19.5), the 1,600 relay (Rhode, Young, Joseph Dillon, Grider in 3:52.2).