Andrew sophomore Kelli Hayes wasn't about to miss Monday's season opener, even after injuring her ankle during warmups.
"I tried to talk her out and tell her she could sit out. (I said), 'I won't be upset.' But she wanted to fight for it," Andrew coach Allison Hack said. "She took third (place) on everything and fourth on one event so Kelli did great."
The Thunderbolts enjoyed a successful opener as they edged Glenbard East 121.05-119.30 in Tinley Park.
Returning 2010 state qualifier Jamie Valla led the way by taking first in all five events -- all-around (35.40), vault (9.3), uneven parallel bars (8.75), balance beam (8.7) and floor exercise (8.65).
Andrew was the last established team in the state to have its first meet while this was already the fourth meet for the Rams. Andrew's schedule gets hectic quickly with another meet Wednesday against Sandburg/Stagg co-op and the annual freshman invitational Saturday.
"A lot of people were ready for the meet, some people were just nervous but now that the first one's done, it's going to be a lot better," Valla said.
"It's the first meet so I don't really have too many expectations. You have your good events and your bad events but overall I did pretty well. I'm just trying to aim for higher scores on Wednesday."
It was a new start for Andrew in many ways. The Thunderbolts used seven gymnasts on varsity, none of them seniors. Valla, Hayes and sophomore Jesse Gorka competed as all-arounders. Juniors Emily Nanfeldt (vault, floor), Megan Carmichael (beam) and Samantha Oleksy (vault) and sophomore Marisa Barone (beam, floor) were specialists.
This also was the debut of former Andrew gymnast Hack as head coach after being the assistant under longtime leader Char Nutter, who retired.
"I guess the highlight was just to get the meet in general," Hack said with a laugh. "That was the main highlight, surviving, but overall the girls did well.
"It's completely different (as head coach), so much more that I have to remember to do. I felt like I couldn't even be there to coach (at times). I have to be running around, doing a lot."
Despite her injury, Hayes competed in everything and took third in all-around (30.85), beam (7.7), uneven bars (7.5) and floor (7.35) and fourth on vault (8.3). Gorka (28.50 all-around) tied for fourth on floor (7.3).
Valla unveiled a beam routine with many changes and a new floor routine, where she made a great save from falling on her final pass.
"It's hard to go last (on floor) after all of those events. I just really tried, tried my best," Valla said. "We're a really young team. A lot of girls just coming are learning new skills so they're just trying to aim for doing better the next few years, getting the hang of things."
Valla had a great freshman season but is hoping to accomplish more. Besides qualifying for state in all-around in uneven bars, she put herself on the Andrew leader board, mostly behind Hack's teammates from earlier this decade.
Valla also enters this season as the team's most experienced varsity gymnast. Already, she is ranked No. 2 in Andrew program history's highest scores for all-around score (37.00) to Tina Hitz (37.20 from 2000-01), vault (9.6) to Ashley Howe (9.8 from 2001-02) and floor (9.45) to Howe (9.7 from 2000-01) and is fourth in uneven bars (9.4).
"I think she's doing excellent but she's really hard on herself so, of course, she's not where she wants to be. (But) I couldn't ask for anything more at this point," Hack said. "She wants to break all of the records on our boards right now so that's what she's aiming for."