By Matt Le Cren
For the Bugle
PALATINE – Maine South sophomore Caleigh Pistorius has been attending the girls gymnastics state meet for as long as she can remember.
For just as long, she’s wanted to take home a souvenir.
“She has been coming here since she was a baby,” her mother, Jennifer, said. “When she was little she always wanted to get a T-shirt or something.
“I said, ‘no, you’re going to get a state finals shirt when you earn it.’ So last year she got the shirt.”
Now Pistorius has something even better.
Pistorius became the first female state champion in program history – and just the second female gymnast to win a medal – when she tied for first on balance beam with New Trier freshman Maeve Murdock on Saturday at Palatine.
Pistorius’ score of 9.425 was an improvement on Friday’s preliminary round score of 9.2, which was good for eighth place.
The top 10 finishers on Friday advance to the event finals, where the top six win medals.
“It was really special,” Pistorius said. “I can’t even comprehend how it happened.
“I’m just so excited. I don’t know how to explain it. I was just trying to stay focused.”
Pistorius also captured medals on vault and floor exercise. She was seventh on floor with a 9.475 and ninth on vault at 9.425.
Ironically, vault was considered to be Pistorius’ best shot at a title.
She was ranked second in the preliminaries, tallying 9.75 after landing her difficult layout Yurchenko so cleanly that she opted not to try a second vault.
“That’s really special to me,” Pistorius said Friday. “It’s always been my goal.
“You get your picture on the wall at school. It will be great because everyone at school is so supportive.”
Maine South isn’t the only school that supports Pistorius.
Jennifer Pistorius is in her 26th year coaching at New Trier and got to witness both of her daughter’s vaults.
“She had a beautiful vault in warm-ups and I said, ‘just do it like you did in warm-ups,’” coach Pistorius said Friday. “She’s been practicing this for years.”
Pistorius has competed in plenty of meets where her mom was coaching, but this one is the most memorable yet.
“I’m really excited because I’ve been here since I was younger with my mom,” Pistorius said. “So that’s always been my dream and it’s so special that I get to do it.
“She’s really supportive. She wants me to do really good. She probably wants me to do good more than I do.”
As a freshman, Pistorius qualified for state on vault and floor exercise and finished 12th on vault, missing the finals by .025. But she was just happy to be at state after missing a month with a badly sprained ankle.
This year she was healthy and the ankle hardy.
“It feels like the best one I’ve done,” Pistorius said Friday. “I just try to run as fast as I can. It sounds kind of dumb, but you have to run really fast.”
One has to be really good to earn bragging rights in the Pistorius household. Her older brother, Jack, played on Maine South’s state championship football team last fall.
“It’s kind of a running joke at home,” Jennifer Pistorius said. “She’s set a lot of records at Maine South. He jokes with her, ‘hey, I’ve got a state medal.’”
Now Caleigh has a state championship and she got it on the most difficult apparatus. Her skills include a flip-flop layout step-out tumbling pass and a flip-flop to a full on the dismount.
“In warm-ups I was doing too much because I didn’t want to (overdo it),” she said. “Everyone was telling me to stay as calm as I was during warm-ups.
“When I was on the beam I tried not to think too much and just focused.”
Pistorius, who finished 12th in the all-around with a 37.175, was happy to be cheered on by all of her teammates, three of whom competed on Friday. Maine South, which missed advancing to state as a team by 0.95 points, had its largest contingent ever.
Freshman Collette Ross was 14th on uneven bars (9.2), sophomore Cristina DeFilippis was 38th on vault (8.8) and junior Jessica Saul placed 31st on uneven bars (8.375). All three were making their state meet debuts.
“We had a lot of potential but sectionals was a rough meet for us and we had some troubles staying strong,” Pistorius said. “Everyone on our team is so happy that we’re here. We have four individuals. We’ve never made that many before so that was really great for us.”