Santoro, R-B can relax after strong start vs. Morton


Junior Kristen Santoro often is a calming influence for her Riverside-Brookfield teammates but that was difficult even for her to do Monday.

After all, it was the season opener.

"I'm really nervous. I guess I hide it well because I look really calm when I'm on the (balance) beam and stuff," Santoro said. "I think just the first meet everybody's really nervous, but then after a while we get used to it."

Santoro and the Bulldogs still enjoyed a solid start. Santoro responded with first place on beam and three other top-five finishes, and R-B topped visiting Morton 108.60 to 100.20.

While Morton junior and returning sectional qualifier Andie Alanis won all-around (29.45), vault (8.6), floor exercise (7.4) and the uneven parallel bars (6.85), Santoro scored 7.8 on beam. R-B sophomore all-arounder Ariel Moon was a top-three finisher in all five events.

"This is our first meet and we're pretty much at the same level that we were at the end of last year. (And) I think we have room for improvement, which is good," Santoro said. "I thought it went really well (as a team). I think we did well under pressure so that's good. I did well, which I'm happy about, and we won so I'm guessing we did pretty well."

The meet marked the debut of new R-B head coach Tom Sisulak, but both teams returned several gymnasts with previous varsity experience. R-B graduated just one senior and returns all seven underclassmen who competed at last year's regional, comprising 18 of the 20 routines.
Santoro and Moon both were all-arounders at the regional, where R-B scored 113.10. On Monday, Moon (28.00) and Santoro (27.95) went 2-3 in all-around, and Moon also was second on beam (6.8) and third on vault (8.2), floor (7.0) and uneven bars (6.0). Also second for the Bulldogs were senior Jackie LaManna (6.55 on uneven bars) and sophomore Rachel Decosola (8.3 on vault).
The Bulldogs beat their 105.40 opener from last season, and that was even with concerns of this season's new scoring system and having a meet right after Thanksgiving break. Sisulak said he made an unsuccessful attempt at combining Monday's meet with Wednesday's home dual against Geneva.

"I was hoping we were going to (score) in the 90s and then I figured we might even be able to make it to 100 if things went well. (We scored) a 108, so that was extra pleasing," Sisulak said. "We started where we ended last year, so that's even better to hear."

Alanis also is trying to build upon last year's finish. She advanced to the 2010 Hinsdale Central Sectional in all-around, beam and floor -- one of the few Mustangs to even reach sectionals in recent memory.
Morton returns eight gymansts from regionals, two of them seniors, who combined for 19 routines. That also includes sophomore all-arounder Rachel Kelly, who was second in floor (7.2) and third on beam (6.7) Monday. The Mustangs scored 107.20 in the season-opening loss to Fenton (123.05) Nov. 22, the first day of interscholastic competition.
"(Reaching sectionals) helped a lot. I really think that all I need is motivation and as long as I have my motivation, I know I can do anything," Alanis said. "(I'm trying) pretty much to make my skills harder and the skills I already have, to try to make them better, stronger."
Alanis would especially like to qualify for state on beam, where she suffered three falls Monday. She has been working in practice to upgrade her vault to a tuck Yurchenko.
"I have no doubt that she can make it to state, but not unless she starts going about things more aggressively," Morton coach Lynette Polchan said. "She can be better than last year, but she just has to keep working harder. She (sometimes) lets her emotions get in the way."
Santoro got better as the meet progressed. She had a solid beam routine and followed that with one of her best floor performances. She added and executed a twist to her back tuck on floor after she tried it successfully in warmups.
"I think floor (is my best event) because I get a lot of adrenaline and I usually do well under pressure," Santoro said.
Being at home might have helped. For home meets, floor routines remain in the small practice gym, unable to be seen while the Mustangs competed on beam. Beam, vault and uneven bars are performed in an adjoining gym separated by a wall.
"I'm so much more comfortable here than at other places because I've grown up in this gym. I'm really used to it," Santoro said.
She and the Bulldogs should continue to improve. Even after the team received congratulations, assistant coach Carrie Kozak discussed Santoro getting new -- and stronger -- floor and beam routines.
"Kristen, I thought, did a fantastic job tonight," Sisulak said. "I kind of cornered her in the hall before the meet and said, 'If you can get the other ladies and (Kozak) relaxed (it would help our team).' She's so collected and calm."