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St. Charles eyes ‘statement’ at state gymnastics meet

St. Charles co-op girls gymnast Kelly Gorniak turned her focus to her cellphone, her texting fingers atwitter.

Traveling to Niles North for the state’s final sectional last week had netted the ideal result: No more teams leapfrogged St. Charles, which maintained its status as an at-large entry for this weekend’s eight-team IHSA state meet at Palatine.

St. Charles enjoyed the same elation last season, albeit as an automatic state qualifier after winning its sectional. The team finished eighth, however, heightening the objective to eliminate any jitters this time around.

“We started off strong on our first event, but, I mean, it’s just those state nerves,” said Gorniak, a senior. “That’s the first year a lot of us had been there. For me, personally, that was the first year I’ve been in a meet like that where there’s so many people watching and it’s all the pressure. And I think just having that experience going into this year, it’ll help us a little more.”

Coach Amy Lill’s team returns much of its core talent from 2012-13, including sophomore Rachel Dugan, the top St. Charles all-arounder at state.

Dugan was destined for another crack at the all-around this season after automatically qualifying for state as the fifth-place finisher at the Wheaton Warrenville South Sectional, where St. Charles finished second to Geneva in the team race.

Gorniak’s good news revitalized the entire group, giving athletes the chance to spread a positive mantra throughout the past week of workouts at St. Charles Gymnastics Academy.

“Practicing hard and hitting everything here, so when we go there to state it’s really just doing the same stuff,” Dugan said.

Naturally, that’s easier said than done in a sport that hinges so heavily on mental preparedness.

“Oh yeah, definitely, and especially state, you know,” Dugan said. “It’s going to be crowded and loud and it’s going to be intimidating, but I think we can handle it.”

St. Charles dueled with conference champion Geneva throughout the season before winning the York Regional, at which the Vikings did not compete. The meet’s sixth-seeded team is making the program’s sixth state appearance.

Count senior Sidney Copeland as perhaps the most eager to compete. Copeland suffered a partially-torn left ACL during the final event of last season’s conference meet and took three months off to heal.

She underwent surgery on her right knee as a sophomore.

“It’s kind of hard to describe, but the last two years I’ve been injured, and this year to be able to compete at state, it just makes me so happy,” Copeland said.

In the days since learning the season still harbors a team element – not just individuals – Lill has harped on staying healthy and positive.

“This year we’re really focused on it’s not only just making it to state,” she said, “but it’s making a statement while we’re there.”

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