GLEN ELLYN – St. Charles co-op girls gymnasts held back joyous tears for a crush of photo-ops late Tuesday night.
Official word of the team's victory at the Glenbard West Sectional elicited plenty of emotion, even from a group that made advancing to the state meet a goal from the first day of workouts.
St. Charles narrowly earned the sectional's automatic berth to the Feb. 15-16 state meet at Palatine, edging the host Hilltoppers 143.775 to 143.3.
"We had no idea how close it was," said freshman Rachel Dugan, a St. Charles East student. "When we heard them announce our name, oh my gosh, it was just the best feeling in the world."
Geneva (142.825) placed third, and remains in the hunt for one of four at-large state bids, to be determined by week's end.
Vikings Dominique Brognia (all-around, floor exercise) and Ashley Puff (all-around, vault, floor) clinched individual state berths.
Only sectionals at Fremd – held Monday – and Glenbard West are in the books. Competitions at Hinsdale Central (today) and Stevenson (Thursday) remain, creating a waiting period that's far longer than the brief delay between the time a gymnast finishes her routine and the judges award a score.
In addition to the four at-large team berths in the balance, 12 at-large spots for each individual event and the all-around must be decided.
There's no such suspense for St. Charles, whose coach, Amy Lill, joked she finally could get a good night's rest Tuesday. The co-op knows where it will be in two weekends after capturing its first sectional crown since 2008.
"We kind of knew we had to step up our momentum and just pull it together, because we all wanted it so much. I think the want and the crave for it just really brought our team together," said Jesi Ortiz, a St. Charles North senior. "I want to cry and I feel awesome and it's awesome for my senior year, just knowing that my whole team is going to be there."
St. Charles was especially steeled in its performance considering the recent partial ACL tear that ended teammate Sidney Copeland's season.
Dugan's fourth-place score in the all-around (36.625) helped keep the team afloat, as it was sandwiched between Brognia (third, 36.875) and Puff (fifth, 35.95), who advanced to state in that discipline.
None of Batavia's sectional contingent – senior all-arounder Sarah Ganster and young vault competitors Megan McGee (freshman) and Courtney Glassman (sophomore) – finished in the top five of their respective events.
Batavia coach Taryn Boyce still spoke optimistically of the season, and not just because she had returned to the same gym where the Bulldogs won a sectional in 2009.
"Coming into this, we said, 'You never know, you never know,' " Boyce said. "And we proved that a few years ago. But we'll be back."
Geneva led after the first two rotations, executing arguably its best two events, the vault and floor exercise. The Vikings nearly carried a one-point edge on the host Hilltoppers at that stage – 73.575-72.725 – with York, St. Charles and the DeKalb-Sycamore co-op no more than 3.7 points off the pace.
St. Charles finished with the same two events, and wound up a narrow second overall in the vault and first in floor.
In January, the co-op tallied a program-best 146.8 team score, surpassing its previous-best score of 146.2 from 1998, one year after Lill graduated from St. Charles High.
After struggling on the beam at times during the regular season, Geneva counted zero falls in regionals, when the host Vikings registered a program-best team score of 146.275.
In the week entering competition, Geneva coach Kim Hostman recruited several students to sit in the stands and simulate a crowd when the Vikings practiced beam.
While there wasn't heckling, the mood – and room – were anything but stoic. Students moved about, cheered and talked.
Eventually, Geneva felt almost as comfortable at Glenbard West as its home digs, the Mack Olson gym.
Sectionals marked the team's first appearance here this season, but the Hilltoppers' home is well known to many Vikings from past winters.
Warm-ups allowed athletes to get reacquainted, which is an important concession.
"The feel of the equipment is a little different every gym you go to," Hostman said. "It's nice to have a nice warm-up to the apparatus and have that comfort before the night starts."