Gymnastics: Sam Phillip, Ava Sullivan take the lead for young Oswego co-op team

Sullivan won beam and floor, Phillip second on vault at first invite

Oswego's Sam Phillip competes in the preliminary round of the floor exercise Friday, Feb. 17, 2023, during the IHSA Girls State Final Gymnastics Meet at Palatine High School.

Leaders find a way for a team to succeed.

While their role as high-scoring all-arounders remains the same, Oswego co-op juniors Sam Phillip and Ava Sullivan now are adjusting into new roles this winter as leaders who influence and guide a young Oswego co-op girls gymnastics team.

“We’ve been lucky to have a good amount of leaders come through here like Sophie Perez, Olivia Valenti and Kelsie Freundt,” Sullivan said. “Good people have stepped up into that role.”

Good people like Sullivan and Philllip are the latest athletes to take on such a role. They also are among the most experienced gymnasts at Oswego co-op. While Addison Murray is also a junior, the rest of this year’s roster consists of underclassmen.

Emily Kroll, Gabby Schulte and Frani Valenti are sophomores while Katie MacDonald, Makenzie MacDonald, Alenna Holden and Francesca Schulte are among the freshmen who cracked the varsity roster.

“We have a young team and I am not upset about it at all,” Oswego co-op first-year coach Mike Borge said. “The crew up at the top is a couple of juniors leading the pack who are very seasoned, very competitive. Sam and Ava are leading the way among the older athletes. They’re physically stronger and more experienced than what the freshmen have got, so they are the top dogs, but the freshmen are a strong group.”

Sullivan won beam and floor and Phillip placed second on vault on Nov. 22 as Oswego co-op placed second in the season-opening Hornet Invitational at Hinsdale South with a 132.65.

“When I first came in I didn’t have any say as an underclassmen, but now that I’m a junior I’ve connected with people so fast on this team,” Phillip said. “They all are welcoming and they make me feel special and happy all the time. That’s one of the reasons I love coming to practice and being with these people.”

Oswego's Ava Sullivan competes in the preliminary round of the floor exercise Friday, Feb. 17, 2023, during the IHSA Girls State Final Gymnastics Meet at Palatine High School.

Most high school gymnasts have a story to tell when they join the team. What they don’t know is that their own story could very well help others.

“I didn’t do [high school gymnastics] my freshman year, but I quit club,” Sullivan said. “It was really intimidating walking into this because I knew it was completely different from club, but I wasn’t exactly sure how. Everyone was super welcoming and warm and friendly so I didn’t have a hard time adjusting to the high school gymnastics environment.”

She’s striving to ensure her young teammates have a similar experience.

“We have a really good team and everyone gets along so well,” Sullivan said. “No beefs, no cliques or anything. I think we do a really good job of that.”

Sullivan has set out to improve her bars routine, noting that the team lost some key contributors to its bar score from a season ago. Phillips has tweaked her vault with hopes of doing the same.

“I am twisting my vault now so that’s one of the things I’ve been working on,” Phillip said. “And since me and Ava are leaders on this team I’ve been working on trying to build up my confidence so it can affect other people and make them like the sport. It shouldn’t be scary. It should be just like a team thing, like a family and be fun.”

The team got a kickstart over the summer as many practiced at the Oswegoland Park District. While working on skills, they also worked on getting to know their teammates.

“Almost all of us were practicing at the park district over the summer,” Sullivan said. “It helped a lot because coming to high school when nobody knows anybody is kind of hard.”

It’s kind of hard to believe, but even the cheering is different in high school.

“All the girls cheer for you, which for me, helps a lot,” Phillip said. “I get really nervous, but with cheering, it calms me down. It makes me feel good.”

While the new gymnasts adapt and the returnees adjust to their extended roles, Borge will try to figure out how to maximize the team’s potential , especially by the time the conference meet and postseason arrive.

“We’ve got a lot of time to figure out what our best combinations are,” he said. “What’s going to put this program at its best for the end of season? Obviously, we want both levels to repeat as conference champs and we’d love to repeat as regional champions again.”

Oswego co-op last qualified for state as a team in 2002.

“A state bid is not out of the question, not out of the realm of possibility,” Borge said. “But it’s not a forgone conclusion by any stretch of the imagination.”