It wasn’t the way a team would want to start any boys gymnastics meet, let alone the state finals.
Libertyville was competing in the vault, its first rotation of the team state competition at Hinsdale Central Friday. Senior captain Ben Reichert, the fourth Wildcat to go, landed awkwardly on his right leg during his exercise. A trainer diagnosed him with a hyperextended knee, ruling him out of the competition.
“Our team got down a little from that,” Wildcats coach Josh Cimo said. “It took a while for our team to recover and get our attitude and energy back up.”
The team was still dragging when it got to the third rotation, the high bar. Adrian Metcalf was due to perform third. Like all of the Wildcats participating in their first state meet, the sophomore was nervous.
“He’s been inconsistent the whole year,” Cimo said. “But he’s been producing more and had a better attitude in practice.”
Cimo spoke to Metcalf before his routine — “I said, ‘We need you,’” Cimo said — and the gymnast responded. His 6.95 on the high bar was the catalyst for a rejuvenated Wildcats squad. Senior Alex Pong followed, sticking his routine for an 8.15 score. Excellent team scores on two of the final three rotations (pommel horse and still rings) allowed Libertyville to finish sixth out of eight teams with a total score of 143.30.
Pong, a sectional champion in the all-around, placed fifth in the all-around at state (53.10) Friday, earning a medal. But upon returning home Friday night, he felt tightness in his back.
“It got progressively worse,” Pong said.
Saturday morning, Pong gutted out the preliminary portion of the individual competition, qualifying for the finals in floor exercise, high bar, still rings and vault. But his aching back prevented him from competing in the vault and high bar. He went ahead in the other two events, placing ninth on the floor (8.95) and 10th in the still rings (7.20).
A club gymnast his first three years before joining Libertyville’s program his senior year, Pong said that despite the poor timing of a reoccurrence of a back injury he’s dealt with for years, he’s grateful for his one season as a Wildcat.
“It was awesome. I improved a lot on my technique and skills and learned a few more by the end of the season,” Pong said. “I got to hang out with a lot of people and have fun doing it.”
The state appearance was Libertyville’s first as a team since 2007. And while the Wildcats graduate Pong, Reichert, and Jack Burke, junior Ryan Flores and Metcalf can return in 2015. Cimo said a large freshman class of 12 will likely produce a few varsity competitors next season.
“It was an intense feeling being down [at the state meet]. You could see the energy and atmosphere for the sport,” Cimo said. “In the back of the bus [riding home] they were saying how motivated they are to get back in the gym.”