It probably seemed like the only thing Clay girls gymnastics coach Nick Distel could do last year was throw his hands up in the air and say, “why us!?”
Distel returned the bulk of a squad that had competed at the state meet two years in a row, but injuries decimated the Eagles in 2012-13.
• Ashley O’Neal tore a hip flexor muscle, yet still qualified to the state meet in the balance beam.
• Erin Gyurke suffered a concussion while ice skating.
• Jodi DeMeo suffered a stress fracture in her back.
• Amtheyst Floyd suffered a torn ACL.
Get the picture?
“I think these girls have a lot to prove,” said Distel, last year’s Three Rivers Athletic Conference Co-Coach of the Year. “We’ve talked about it as a group, about getting better as the season goes on. With the athletes we have coming back and if we can stay relatively healthy, I think the girls have a legitimate shot at making the top two teams at districts. I think that’s a goal of all the seniors. We’re working to get better for each meet and trying to peak at the right time.”
The Eagles’ seniors include Gyurke, DeMeo, Floyd, Sydney McGath and Emilie Roman, who avoided the injury bug last year en route to earning first-team All-TRAC honors.
“Emilie should have a solid season,” Distel said. “She’s going to compete all-around for us, and her strongest event is vault. I’m looking for her to get top five in the vault at districts, at the very least. If she can keep coming around in all her events, hopefully she can advance in the all-around.”
Gyurke, one of the top cross country runners in the state, went through some physical issues at the end of the season this fall and has only been in the gym a little over a month, Distel said.
“She is a fun-loving, hard-working kid,” the coach said. “I’ve had her in the gym since she was about 7 years old. She has come back in the gym and it doesn’t take her long to get her skills back. She is not doing vault this year. She’s had heel problems in the past and I would feel bad if she landed bad.”
DeMeo competed in only a couple meets last season due to the stress fracture, but she was an all-state performer in the beam as a sophomore. Distel said DeMeo is one of the team’s best performers in the all-around.
“That kid is awesome,” Distel said. “She just looks you straight in the eye when you give her a correction, and you can tell she really loves the sport. She’s always there, always on time and always trying to get better. Her gymnastics are so clean. If she stays healthy, hopefully she’ll compete in top five at districts for a spot at state. She’s upgraed her skill level.”
Floyd competed in the bars and beam at the end of last season and has been coached by Distel since around age 8.
“She’s still a little (injured) and will be getting an MRI on her knee, but it’s not an ACL,” Distel said. “She’s really upgraded her skills on bars.”
McGath will compete in the vault and is looking to improve her endurance, Distel said.
“For her, being a senior and sticking through gymnastics, I give her a lot of credit,” he said. “We have five seniors and she’s really good with the girls. Just a good kid to have on the team.”
The rest of Clay’s squad includes junior Sierra Watson and sophomores O’Neal, Kayla Dickerson, Katelyn Ploof and Madison Slovak.
Distel said that O’Neal, a second-team all-conference performer a year ago, will not compete in the vault this season because of her hip flexor tear.
“That (vault) is the one that takes the most pounding,” Distel said. “She’s fine with not doing that. The three events she will compete in, she will be real solid. If we can get her skill level back up on floor, she’ll do well on floor. She’s a powerful tumbler.”
Dickerson, an honorable mention All-TRAC performer, is strongest on the bars.
“Kayla really helps out the team on bars,” Distel said. “She has gotten better on each event. We’re hoping she can finish with some TRAC honors again as a sophomore.”
Distel said Watson has increased her skill level in all four events and adds depth to the team, as will Ploof and Slovak. Ploof will be a key for the Eagles on the vault and she will also compete on bars; Slovak is still nursing a sprained ankle and will add “tons of depth” on the floor exercise.
“She’s progressed really well,” Distel said. “She’s another powerful kid on vault and floor. She will also compete on some beam, too.”
Clay’s first big meet is Friday at the Beauty and the Beast event at Findlay High School.
“This team is going to be a work in progress this year as far as getting our conditioning and skill level up,” Distel said. “I think we’ll be competitive, but it will take us a little bit of time for them to get their routine endurance up.”