Crafting the lineup for a gymnastics meet requires all the skill used for baseball or football.
Veteran Lake Forest High School gymnastics coach Robin Straus has spent more than 30 years crafting lineups to meet the competition, and Saturday's Lake County Invitational was no exception. In what turned into a three-team race, Lake Forest finished third behind Stevenson and Carmel with less than three points separating the three teams.
Only three Scouts — Kylie Carlson, Brittany Moccia and Katherine McKeon —participated in all four events and rarely in the same order. The only constant was Carlson as the final Lake Forest competitor in every event.
“Kylie is our pressure kid. She proved herself with a top 10 all-around performance at state last year,” said Straus. “She’s who you want when the pressure is on."
Carlson is the kind of competitor who relishes the role knowing a team victory may depend on her ability to have a little extra speed as she approaches a vault or perfectly dismount an apparatus.
“You always know how well the team is doing. You know what you need to do to help the team,” Carlson said, describing her role as the last participant.
In an unusual start to the meet, Lake Forest led off with floor exercises — normally its final event in a meet — and Straus adjusted her lineup to match the change.
“I’m glad it happened now and we got used to it because it could happen on the road to state,” said Straus.
She used the complementary styles of Moccia and Carlson to set the tone. Moccia scored 9.45 on her routine to place fourth while Carlson followed with a 9.65 to tie for the gold medal.
“Brittany (Moccia) is power, power, power. Kylie (Carlson) throws power with grace,” said Straus, describing how she used the lineup to impress the judges with Moccia and then have Carlson set the standard when scoring every other athlete to be rated for the day.
“It sets a tone you hope the judges will remember," Straus added.
Straus credits Carlson for knowing how to use her personality along with her talent to build a point total.
“Kylie knows how to use her smile to get the room (and the judges) to notice her,” said Straus. “She always knows where she is.”
The day’s final event was the balance beam and Straus shuffled her lineup by putting Katie Meier fourth in front of Carlson after Meier scored a personal best 9.55 a week ago at the Lake Forest Invitational.
Balance beam was one of Meier’s two events. She responded to set a school record 9.7 for the Scouts' other gold medal.
“It’s really exciting. I took it one step at a time, but when I landed I knew I stuck it,” said Meier, describing the feeling she had when she finished her routine knowing it was special.
Lake Forest's best event as a team was the vault (37.5) where Straus inserted Grace Kohlmaier and Melanie Foster into the lineup along with McKeon, Moccia and Carlson. Moccia scored 9.7 to lead and take fifth in the event, but Straus saw great potential in Foster’s 8.9 jump.
“It was a new vault for her and she needs to get the dismount right,” said Straus. “When she does, she will be at 9.5.”
A unique feature of the annual Lake County Invitational is using three junior varsity gymnasts from each team to form an additional squad at each apparatus. A prize is given to the winning group that moves from station to station together.
Lake Forest joined with fifth-place Barrington as each school added members of its junior varsity to form the Cubs All Stars to finish first out of the four combined teams.
Madeline Cleeff, Rachel Sieb, Chris Andersen and Caroline Kelner joined their varsity teammates Saturday morning after competing in the jayvee meet Friday night.
“They finished up at 10 last night and came back to compete this morning,” Straus said.