GENEVA – Geneva junior gymnast Ashley Puff switched her floor exercise song from a piece called "When I'm Gone" to "Atlantis" entering the season.
Both selections sound pretty ominous, but the Vikings realize that's just the surface. Teammates and coaches certainly exhale in knowing that Puff isn't headed anywhere for awhile.
On Thursday, her heroics helped boost host Geneva to victory an IHSA regional that included the St. Charles co-op, Batavia, Willowbrook and Geneseo. With Puff winning the all-around (36), vault (9.5) and beam (9.225), Geneva scored 140.75 team points. St. Charles (138.3) and Batavia (131.425) finished second and third, respectively.
"That's still pretty good, with our scores and everything," Puff said. "We just kept it together, stayed positive and everything came together."
Sophomore teammate Dominique Brognia added a bars title with an 8.6, as Chronicle-area athletes swept the qualifying spots in each of the four individual events, plus the all-around.
A full list of qualifiers for Wednesday's Glenbard North Sectional can be found below.
In addition to Puff, multiple qualifiers included St. Charles junior Jesi Ortiz and senior Kaylee Arnold. Arnold, sidelined earlier this season with an ankle injury, decided to be economical about her movement during the awards ceremony at the end of the night.
"Guess I'll just stay here for now," she said, taking a seat on the Mack Olson Gym stage.
The regional team champion automatically advances to sectionals, with the top two non-champions from the entire sectional complex advancing as at-large teams. For individual events, the top five finishers in each event and the all-around advance as ranked qualifiers, with the next 12 scorers from the sectional complex advancing as at-large bids.
On Thursday, Groundhog Day, Geneva expressed anything but resentment over repeating a single day ad nauseam. In this case – unlike the movie – they cherished the events of Saturday, Jan. 28, which figure to fuel them for the duration of the winter.
The Vikings roared to a school-record team score of 144.75 to edge the Waubonsie Valley/Metea Valley co-op (140.75) and capture the Upstate Eight Conference title at Lake Park. Geneva hit its previous school record of 142.125 in the 2010-11 UEC meet, also at Lake Park, and was working to improve its 2011-12 season high of 139.35.
Given a few extra days to prepare before regionals, which began at various sites on Monday, athletes focused on perfecting their landings and the finer points of routines instead of digesting new skills. By far, they took the most repetitions on beam, which had become a sticky area in recent weeks.
For St. Charles, Thursday's scores marked a 2.25-point progression from conference for a team that still is battling injuries as it navigates a hopeful postseason run.
"I think we made huge strides in the right direction," St. Charles coach Amy Lill said. "We still had some mistakes, but I think overall, comparing our performance at conference to this, it's a huge improvement. So I'm really proud of all of them.
Behind an emerging core of freshmen led by Kaylin Clevenger, Batavia topped out in the 132s earlier this season before hitting a relative snag at conference (126.25).
Nerves dominated the team's newcomers as the year opened, but seniors such as Niki Flesvig and Meggan Hagemann provided leadership and relief.
Batavia set itself apart among coach Taryn Boyce's past teams with its work ethic at practice. With Clevenger approaching Level 10 status and a promising group of eighth-graders expected to join the program, the Bulldogs are looking to move up.
Batavia's sectional athletes certainly aren't overlooking a shot at the Feb. 17-18 state meet at Palatine, but still know the importance of the offseason whenever it arrives.
"It doesn't really matter what level you are," Boyce said recently. "If you're working hard, you're going to get new skills."
SECTIONAL QUALIFIERS(listed in order of finish)
Ashley Puff, Geneva, 36
Kaylee Arnold, St. Charles co-op, 35.1
Kelly Gorniak, St. Charles, 35
Haley Carroll, Geneva, 34.125
Sarah Ganster, Batavia, 33.7
Jesi Ortiz, St. Charles, 9.175
Dominique Brognia, Geneva, 9.05
Ashley Puff, Geneva, 8.95
Kaylee Arnold, St. Charles, 8.875
Haley Carroll, Geneva, 8.70
Ashley Puff, Geneva, 9.5
Kaylee Arnold, St. Charles, 9.25
Sarah Ganster, Batavia, 9.2
Megan Beitzel, Geneva, 9.15
Jesi Ortiz, St. Charles, 9.1
Dominique Brognia, Geneva, 8.6
Delaney Wood, Geneva, 8.525
Kelly Gorniak, St. Charles, 8.525
Kaylin Clevenger, Batavia, 8.425
Kaylee Arnold, St. Charles, 8.425
Ashley Puff, Geneva, 9.225
Claire Scatterday, Geneva, 9.0
Kelly Gorniak, St. Charles, 8.95
Kaylin Clevenger, Batavia, 8.725
Kaylee Arnold, St. Charles, 8.55