LINCOLNSHIRE — Every time Matt Scislowski goes through a pommel horse routine, it’s an exercise of his body and mind.
“It’s a lot of upper body, knowing when to push and how to pull,” Scislowski said. “You also have to be thinking about the rhythm to it.”
Unlike his teammates who compete in multiple gymnastics events, Scislowski is a specialist. A back injury he suffered as a middle schooler is the reason. Scislowski said he was given the choice to pick one event as a freshman.
“They gave me a chance to do [pommel] horse. I came in, learned circles the first day and I was like, ‘Hey, I’ll go with it,’” he said.
During two-hour practice sessions, he works exclusively on the pushing, pulling and the mind tricks needed to master the pommel horse. All of those repetitions paid off last week.
At the Stevenson Sectional May 8, Scislowski earned a score of 8.0 on the pommel horse. It wasn’t good enough to earn an automatic berth in this weekend’s state meet — the top five finishers at sectionals earned automatic bids, and Scislowski was sixth — but he gained entrance as an at-large qualifier. It’s the second year in a row Scislowski will be competing at state.
His coach, Zach Crandall, said Scislowski’s consistent work habits separate him from other competitors.
“He does the same thing every day, day-in [and] day-out. He just swings and that’s what you have to be to be good [at pommel horse],” Crandall said.
Another point of separation is Scislowski’s curiosity. A pommel horse routine does not typically go more than 30 or 40 seconds. There are only so many tricks a gymnast can insert in that limited amount of time. Scislowski masters certain moves while learning new ones.
“As you do pommel, you get a sense of how things work. You have to know what a trick is supposed to look like,” Scislowski said. “I’ll watch on YouTube if I’m first learning a trick. Or they have a book you can read and [you can] start working on a trick by yourself.”
Scislowski said the team will typically take a road trip each winter to the University of Illinois-Chicago to watch a meet.
“We’ll pick up something there. If it looks cool, I’ll try it out,” Scislowski said.
Although Buffalo Grove did not qualify for a team trip to the state meet, its third-place finish at Stevenson was the result of several top performances.
Junior Jake Siebert made the state cut with a fourth-place finish in the still rings (8.15). By way of his fourth-place finishes in the vault (8.90) and parallel bars (8.30), junior Tyler Cho will also be competing this weekend at Hinsdale Central (Cho was an at-large qualifier in the floor exercise and pommel horse). Junior Sasha Varvaruk earned fifth-place honors (8.65) to qualify in the floor exercise, and senior Steve Pauley will join him, snagging an at-large berth (8.50). Scislowski will be joined by senior Jeff Burns, who was an at-large qualifier in the pommel horse (7.50) and parallel bars (7.95).
When asked about his expectations for the state meet, Scislowski is vague. He is clear about this: He plans to strengthen his body and expand his mind.
“I have the potential to get to the state finals. I’m going to try for that,” Scislowski said. “If I can’t, it’s all about next year.”