Catherine Steegmueller became Niles West’s first girls state gymnastics qualifier since 2009 by tying two other competitors with a 9.4 score on vault at last week’s Mundelein sectional.
Meanwhile at the Lake Park sectional, Maine South fell short of qualifying an individual for this weekend’s state meet at Palatine, but qualified its entire team for sectional for the second time in coach Tessa Robinson’s 12 years at Maine South. The Hawks placed sixth with 135.85 score.
Misfortune struck Steegmueller, a four-time sectional qualifier, at sectionals last February. She was about to dismount from her bars routine when the tension bar gave way, causing her to injure herself. She was allowed to re-do the routine, but ended up a point shy of qualifying for state.
But that’s in the past, and the Niles West senior is thrilled to be among the state’s best gymnasts. The last Wolves gymnasts to qualify for state were Katelynn Johnson on bars, floor and all-around, and Calli Sher on bars (both in 2009).
“It’s so well-deserved,” said Niles West coach Susan Arcus. “She worked harder than anyone else in the gym. She has such a great work ethic that it’s nice to have her be rewarded it for it. She put in a lot of time and effort. She’s the all-around package.”
Interesting enough, Steegmueller is going downstate on vault, rather than in the event in which she experienced her mishap last season. She tied Carli Betman of Glenbrook North and Katie Wahl for the fifth and final qualifying spot out of the Mundelein sectional.
“I think vault would probably be one of my stronger events,” said Steegmueller. “It’s (going to state) something I’ve always wanted to do. To go to state is just amazing.”
The opportunity for Steegmueller to compete at state this season nearly was torpedoed during a meet against Glenbrook South in mid-December. After completing a vault, she landed on the vault mat, but bounced off the mat and hit her head on the concrete floor which resulted in her suffering a concussion.
“I had a lot of headaches and dizziness that really didn’t make practicing very safe (after that),” said Steegmueller, who also developed an inner ear problem related to the concussion that affected her balance.
Steegmueller missed six weeks of the season, but was cleared to resume competition Jan. 23 and took part in the Niles West invite the next day. She said the problem with her inner ear also has cleared up.
“I’m good now,” she said.
Steegmueller, of course, wants to place as high as she can at state, but she says she’s going to treat state just like any other meet.
“Every gymnast wants to go to state,” she said, “and the fact that I’m able to do it, I’m really grateful for it.”
“It’s phenomenal,” Arcus said. “It just shows her work ethic. She worked so hard to come back and get her skills back. We just really want her to enjoy the experience (at state) and take it all in.”
The Hawks, who have been dealing with assorted injuries and illnesses throughout the season, got a double-whammy of bad news on eve of the sectional meet.
Sophomore Anna Seenarain sprained her ankle in practice and was limited to participating in three events. However, senior floor specialist Lauryn Rotonda couldn’t compete at all after apparently breaking a bone in her left foot as she was wrapping up practice.
“I was doing one last dance run-through (at practice),” Rotonda said. “I’ve been really working hard all season on my jumps and I went a little too hard and just came down right on the side and I heard the crack. I tried to get right back up and I just couldn’t do it.”
Rotonda entertained thoughts of trying to make a go of it the morning of the meet, but “I can’t even walk on it. It swelled up.”
Rotonda’s best score this season on floor, a 9.475, earned her a spot on Maine South’s record board for that event. She may very well have contended for a state berth last Thursday had she not been injured.
“She would have had a really good shot at it,” Robinson said. “I think she thought (right after the injury), ‘OK maybe it’ll be better tomorrow,’ but she woke up and she couldn’t even walk. It’s kind of a tough end to the season, but I’m proud of the season we had. We had a successful season. I’m proud of them; they pushed through and did their best.”
Rotonda will be difficult to replace in the lineup, but the Hawks’ future looks bright because they’ll have everyone back next season, including sophomore all-arounder Alysa Chiovatero, who narrowly missed qualifying for state in all-around. Chiovatero scored a 36; Kelly Johnston of Rolling Meadows, who locked up the final state qualifying spot at the Lake Park sectional, totaled a 37.075.
“She had a really good meet,” Robinson said. “She couldn’t have done any better of a routine on bars; vault and floor were strong too. Her beam was solid but she had one fall. Missing by tenths is huge.”
The Hawks were strong in the floor exercise at Lake Park with sophomore Sara Ignoffo scoring a 9.25 and Chiovatero a 9.175.
“Carly (Berns) is a junior so she’ll be back next year for us and we’ll have other girls coming in next year,” said Robinson, whose team this season was made up predominantly of sophomores and freshmen. “We had a good season and we’ll definitely look forward to coming back strong next year.”