Vernon Hills sophomore Alli Tran still is trying to gauge what she how far she go in her first high school season.
"I have no idea what the competition is at that level as far as making it to state, but I really hope I will," Tran said. "I'm really happy with how I'm doing so far. I wasn't really sure how it would end up because I've never done it before, but as of right now, it's really good."
So far, Tran has proven herself among the state's stronger all-arounders. On Saturday, she enjoyed five top-five finishes to lead the Cougars at Hersey's Michael Meyer Memorial Candy Cane Invitational. Vernon Hills (121.425) finished eighth of 12 teams in a format of just four gymnasts per event with each score going toward the team total.
Tran's 37.025 all-around total (9.26 average) took second to Glenbard North junior Amanda Quinn (37.05), another first-year high-school gymnast, by just 0.025. Tran also was second on the uneven parallel bars (9.5) to Quinn's 9.6, third on vault (9.2) and balance beam (9.15) and fourth on floor exercise (9.175).
Sophomore Sarah Lopez, another first-year gymnast for Vernon Hills, was fourth in all-around (34.90) and second on beam (9.2) to Glenbard North's Christina Rini (9.25).
"We’ve added two new sophoores that are about at Level 9. Overall it’s been a good year so far," Vernon Hills coach Denise Caton said. "Alli's usually about 36, 37 (all-around) most meets, and Sarah is just a little below that. (They became interested by) talking to the team. A lot of their friends were on the team, and they thought they would just give it a try, see how it is. Now that they’re on the team, they’re like part of the family already."
A club gymnast since she was 3, Tran comes most recently from Ultimate Gymnastics in Gurnee and Lopez from The Spot in Mundelein.
They add to an already young team. Returnee Jessica Echales is the only senior on varsity and among only two of 25 girls in the program.
"I didn’t do (high school) last year because I wanted to finish Level 9 in club," Tran said. "It took up a lot of my time so I just wanted to do something a little different (this season) so I did high school. Since that’s just the winter season, I have spring and fall free for other things to do but I can still do what I love.
"It’s a lot different, but it’s a good different. The whole team (concept), is a whole different thing. We’re so much closer. It’s really nice. It’s a little more easy going, which is also nice, but I still get it done."
It's no surprise that uneven bars earned her highest score.
"I love it all but bars is really my favorite," Tran said. "It comes naturally to me and I like it the most. Beam, I have to work too hard. It just doesn’t fit with me."
Julia Gartsman competed on three events and sophomores Dana Alsamsam and Amber Egan, returnees from the 2010 regional lineup, also saw action.
"Overall we're definitely growing as a team compared to the last five years," Caton said. "Finally we’re making those steps, we’re gaining skills, and our team scores continue to go up."