As a two-time state qualifier on the event, Libertyville senior Leah Herchenbach should have been happy to start Saturday’s Mike Williams Big Purple Inviational on the uneven parallel bars.
Unfortunately, she suffered a fall during her routine. Later in the meet, it was discovered that the bars actually had been installed backwards.
“We kind of all thought something was wrong, but no one really checked until Fremd went (in the third rotation),” Herchenbach said. “I was a little bit upset. I didn’t know at the time for sure that they were upside down. After I fell I was just like, ‘All right, I’ve just got to get up and make (balance) beam and everything really strong because I have to make up for it.' It wasn’t really something to bring me down. It was more to motivate me.”
Herchenbach responded with a sparkling first-place routine on beam and went on to win the all-around title at the annual 12-team invite at Downers Grove North. She also helped the Wildcats take second to Fremd (103.75 to 103.00) with Lyons Township (101.425) third.
The Vikings won their 18th consecutive Big Purple team championship.
Instead of the usual five gymnasts per event with the top four scores accounting for the team total, the invite allows just four entries and the top three scores count. Another element that makes the meet tough is the presence of two state-level judges per event.
Fremd senior Maegan Wochinski took second in all-around (33.85) and captured beam (9.025). Fremd swept the other three titles. Freshman Christine Jensen took vaulting (9.25), sophomore Emily Pinderski won uneven parallel bars (8.70) and Wochinski prevailed in floor exercise (9.20).
Herchenbach contnued her early success this season by winning all-around (35.025). She broke the the 37.00 barrier in the Wildcats’ previous two duals.
“It just shows everybody that you need to work really hard, (because) those will be the state judges and you want to impress them,” Herchenbach said. “It was frustrating because the scores were a lot lower (than the duals), but it was consistent. It worked out. I wasn’t expecting to get first, though, not at all. But I’m happy. And I stuck my beam routine finally.”
An individual state qualifier the past two years, Herchenbach hopes more joy as the season winds down. She'd like to reach the state event finals.
“That’s really a big goal for me. Those last two meets were the first times I’ve ever gotten 37s so I’m hoping to do that a lot more,” Herchenbach said. “I added a couple of new things, but those are still my watered down routines, so I still have a lot more to come. I just need to make it more consistent in practice and I’ll add (difficulty) later in the season.”
Jensen and Pinderski displayed Fremd’s depth in winning their first individual invite titles. Jensen was the invite’s first competitor, leading the Vikings’ vault rotation. Pinderski was Fremd's second competitor on uneven bars.
Currently the only freshman in another powerful Fremd lineup, Jensen landed a piked Yurchenko vault that she’s acquired since doing twisted handspring fulls last season for the Palatine Gymnastics Club.
“I’ve been working on them for a while and I wanted to compete them in club, but never really got them good enough. Then for high school I prepared myself enough to,” Jensen said. “I was kind of actually a little discouraged before the meet because I wasn’t having great warmups and I wasn’t sure how it was going to go.”
A key uneven bars contributor, Pinderski was followed, as usual, by two outstanding seniors. However, Alyssia Van Duch (8.25) fell once and Wochinski (7.25) counted three falls, including those on her recently inserted Jaeger and dismount. That left Pinderski's score to carry the team.
“A few things that I need to practice, but otherwise I thought it was pretty good. There’s always room for improvement, but (winning is) a really good feeling, I guess,” Pinderski said. “I love bars. I just love swinging and stuff. It’s all about your strength. (Our bars lineup is) definitely motivation. You love when everybody does well so you want to do well too to just keep everybody’s sprits up and keep the thing going.”
Fremd junior Stephanie Uhrich will be out about a month with a bone chip in her foot suffered during warmups in Tuesday’s season opener against South Elgin/Bartlett/Streamwood co-op and Rolling Meadows.
Libertyville posted its highest Big Purple finish since taking second in 1998, but also is hurting. Junior all-arounder Sarah Chaitoff broke her leg last week and was lost for the season. She underwent surgery Friday. Junior Lindsay Schweitzer also has been battling injuries, but still took second on beam (8.925).
“We’ve got three new freshmen that have potential and are good so we’re hoping to make up with our loss of Sarah,” Herchenbach said. “It’s very sad. But before we go (on events) we’re always like, ‘Do it for Sarah.’ That’s like our motivation.”