Girls gymnastics: Defending champion Prairie Ridge co-op is back for more

Prairie Ridge gymnast Gracie Willis performs on floor exercise, an event she won two years ago at the IHSA Girls Gymnastics State Meet.

CRYSTAL LAKE – Prairie Ridge’s last trip to the IHSA Girls Gymnastics State Tournament, in 2020 a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic, ended with two of the more memorable performances in team history.

Gracie Willis delivered a state title floor exercise routine shortly before Gabby Riley hit big on the balance beam to win that event.

Their scores also wiped out a brief team lead by Carmel and gave the Wolves, a co-op team the draws from all four District 155 schools – their third team state championship in six years.

Three of the top gymnasts on that 2020 team – Riley, the all-around state champion, Willis and Paige Magel – are back this season on a team the girls consider even better than the group two years ago.

“We’ve done really well,” said Willis, who will compete at the Air Force Academy next year. “We had a really strong team my sophomore year and won state. This team is even stronger. We have some really good freshmen. We have a lot of strength and we should do really well.”

Prairie Ridge gymnast Paige Magel competes on the uneven bars. Magel was a freshman on the team champion at the 2020 IHSA Girls Gymnastics State Meet.

Magel, a freshman in 2020, battled back from shoulder surgery last year to return to her top form.

“Overall we’ve been good, getting our skills consistent. It’s been nice,” Magel said. “We definitely had a lot of improvement from two years ago. We have more people to rotate in and it gives us a lot of variety.”

Lexi Redmond, the owner of Crystal Lake Gymnastics Training Center, has taken over as head coach for the Wolves after long-time coach Lee Battaglia and his assistant, Lisa Rumford, stepped down. Dennis Breit is Redmond’s assistant coach.

“The girls are sitting really well right now,” Redmond said. “They’re excited to have a (high school) season and be competing this year. The fire in them is still burning. They really want another state championship. They’re looking good.”

Redmond says the girls, who will compete in the club season for CLGTC after high school finishes, enjoy the high school competition.

“High school’s definitely different,” Redmond said. “It’s a team, they’re all cheering for each other and the girls are fighting for each other, not just individually.”

Prairie Ridge gymnast Gabby Riley competes in floor exercise. Riley was the all-around champion at the 2020 IHSA Girls Gymnastics State Meet.

Prairie Ridge has been a state power for more than a decade. The Wolves won state team titles in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2020, and had three runner-up finishes and one third.

The IHSA postseason starts on Monday, Jan. 31 with Prairie Ridge competing at the Hoffman Estates Regional. The Wolves should have no problems advancing to the Hoffman Estates Sectional on Wednesday, Feb. 9.

The State Meet is Friday, Feb. 19 and Saturday, Feb. 20 at Palatine High School.

“We’re doing really well as a team and we can do it again this year,” Riley said. “I feel good, in shape and ready to compete. I’m mentally stronger for having more years under my belt.”

Redmond has not competed her regular lineup yet, holding back so more girls can compete and to save wear and tear on their bodies. The Lake Forest Invitational in early January each year is a good measuring stick with some of the tougher teams in the suburbs.

Prairie Ridge scored 146 to win that meet and Riley, who was at a club competition, was not there.

“It was a little scary missing a couple big people, but we did well and bonded together,” Willis said. “Adding Gabby back into the mix will make us stronger. We have a lot of confidence. We’re trying to clean everything up the next few weeks and go out and do our best.”

Prairie Ridge’s best score was a 148, even without the full lineup. In the bigger meets coming up, Redmond can use her best gymnasts in four events so they can do all-around.

“I try to spread it out (during the season) so they all get a chance to compete and to save everybody’s bodies,” Redmond said.

Prairie Ridge Co-op Girls Gymnastics Roster

Cary-Grove: Gabby Riley, Thea Scheuer, Delaney Wells, Cassidy Barnes, Theresa Cohen.

Crystal Lake Central: Maria Kakish.

Crystal Lake South: Audrey Burke.

Prairie Ridge: Gracie Willis, Paige Magel, Sophia Krcik.

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