HIGHLAND PARK — Right before their season-opening meet at Highland Park, members of the Maine South girls gymnastics team gathered in a circle.
Hawks gymnasts from all three levels — freshman, JV and varsity — knelt on both knees in the circle, and senior Nicole Nieder delivered her first speech as a varsity captain on Dec. 3.
“[Nieder] just tries to get us pumped up and motivated, and just tells us to try our best no matter what,” Maine South sophomore Carly Berns said. “… [Against Highland Park, the message] was try your best, have fun and we’ve been working really hard. It’s the first meet, so it doesn’t matter how you [score] — just do your best.”
Maine South broke the circle by pounding on the floor in a rhythmic fashion and finishing the chant with an emphatic “Let’s go Hawks!” The Hawks went on to beat Highland Park 133.9-119.95.
Nieder’s speech before the meet was something new for her, as she wasn’t a captain last season. The senior said the leadership characteristics she showed on Dec. 3 — she offered words of encouragement throughout the meet, tried to help build the confidence of less-experienced gymnasts and watched each gymnast attentively while they did their routines — are things she tried to do last year, even though she wasn’t a captain.
“I’m trying to do the same thing as last year — just cheer everybody along, have everybody do the best they can do and just try to support them,” Nieder said. “I try to have them be as confident as possible whenever they go. Just have fun and do their best.”
This season’s Hawks team is much less experienced than it was a year ago.
Haleigh Sir, who was Maine South’s lone state qualifier, and Nicole Allegretti were the team’s senior captains last season. Maine South coach Tessa Robinson pulled up three freshmen to varsity this season, and she said all three are expected to stay up the entire year.
Nieder and Kaitlyn Conway, the team’s other captain, are the only seniors. Berns, along with freshmen Alysa Chiovatero, Sara Ignoffo and Erin Clements are underclassmen.
Robinson said Nieder, whose top score was a 9.0 on floor exercise at Highland Park, has displayed several positive characteristics during the opening weeks of her senior season.
“Throughout high school she’s grown in that leadership ability,” Robinson said. “Last year she did kind of take on that role, too, even though she didn’t fill the role of captain. She definitely, even more so this year, has stepped up as far as in the gym — leading stretching, leading conditioning, giving encouragement and support. [She is] just giving extra coaching and encouragement on the sidelines, and through practice and meets. She’s definitely doing a great job of being a captain so far.”