MUNDELEIN — As Carmel rebuilds its girls gymnastics program, its top gymnast is rebuilding her career.
Last December, Cassie Wilson was competing in a floor routine during an invitational at Rolling Meadows when she landed awkwardly while attempting to complete a front full layout. She knew something was wrong with her left knee. The diagnosis was a torn ACL.
“I was so devastated,” Wilson said.
Surgery followed, then six months of physical therapy. Wilson came to practices and meets during the season, and she cheered on teammate Lauren Feely when Feely won the all-around state championship in February.
Wilson attacked her therapy with vigor, although in the back of her mind she wondered whether she would ever return to competition.
“My doctor was confident that I’d be back,” Wilson said. “But I had a friend I’d known who had torn his ACL and had been out for eight months. Another friend re-tore her ACL. That made me skeptical.”
Wilson practiced for the first time over the summer. Her knee would swell after workouts, but the pain was manageable and ice was the only remedy she needed. Confident that her knee would hold up to more intense drills, she prepared for her senior season.
Carmel gymnastics won three consecutive team state titles from 2010-12. Success of that magnitude breeds expectations. This year’s team features four freshmen (Madison Graff, Alyssa Legarreta, Arianna Mormino and Anna Osowski) and one sophomore (Antonia Durnil). Corsairs coach Nicole Stroup said she is grateful to have Wilson as an anchor.
“This is a pretty young team. We are excited about the potential they have,” Stroup said. “But it’s hard to get freshmen acclimated, to get routines for high school, to make adjustments and get comfortable. We are relying on Cassie. She’s leading the team back through.”
That mentorship is the part of coming back that Wilson didn’t know she would like so much. With the age gap between her and her teammates as much as four years, Wilson is starting to understand that she’s seen as more than an accomplished gymnast.
“I feel like they are my kids and I’m teaching them how the team works,” Wilson said. “I talked to one of the girls and she said how she’s never had this experience. She loves it and that makes me really happy. It’s great to see them coming out of their shells.”
A second-place showing at the prestigious Conant Invitational Dec. 14 is an early sign that the Corsairs might be better than advertised. And with each meet, Wilson works her way back.
She competed in the floor exercise at Conant, and she has her sights set on the high bars and possibly the balance beam later in the season. As she gets stronger and more confident, she leads not just herself, but her teammates and her school.
“In the beginning, the girls had not heard of Carmel and we had to teach them what the school is all about,” Wilson said. “They are really understanding the legacy and starting to believe how far we can go.”