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Niles West’s senior gymnasts went from novices to fifth in state

HINSDALE — Niles West came into the boys gymnastics state championship team competition ranked fifth out of eight teams, and they ended the night at Hinsdale Central ranked fifth in the team standings.

It was a victory to the Wolves, though. They held their own with the state powerhouses on May 16: They scored 148.6 points, finishing almost 13 points shy of champ Wheaton Warrenville South.

The majority of Niles West’s points came from nine seniors, none of whom had much experience in the sport as freshmen.

“As freshmen, we never thought we’d get here,” Paul Dugo said. “As seniors, it’s huge. I still can’t believe we’re here, so it’s pretty awesome.”

Unlike some other schools, Niles West doesn’t have a club team that feeds gymnasts into its system. Instead, coaches have to recruit and sell athletes on the sport, and then the gymnasts gain experience by attending summer camps and hitting the gym whenever it’s open. Only one Niles West gymnast, sophomore and leading scorer Dalai Jamiyankhuu, belonged to a club team.

“They came in, they didn’t know what chalk was or how to swing or anything like that, and they just worked their butts off to get to where they’re at,” coach Adrian Batista said of the seniors. “That’s what makes it a little more special, too.”

After a 3-3 season in 2012 and a 6-3 campaign last year, the team believed before the season that things could come together this year. If there was any year that Niles West would reach state as a team, Batista said, this was it.

Niles West went 9-0 this year. Seniors Dugo and Harris Khan were two of the leading scorers on the team. Dugo scored a combined 24.5 points in the floor exercise, still rings and vault in the team event on May 16, and Khan scored 32.95 combined points in the floor exercise, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar.

While they pushed for a respectable team score, the seniors also left their marks in the individual events at state on May 17. Dugo, Khan, Timmy La, Ryan Tang and David Nipas combined to compete in eight individual events, and La had the best finish, taking ninth in the pommel horse with a score of 8.5.

“The meet that we had isn’t really what we wanted, but I’m still happy,” Khan said of the May 16 team event. “We made it to state, and we’re a top-five team in the state of Illinois, so that’s good.”