To the outside observer, Bethpage gymnastics looks exactly the same as it's been. The team continues to dominate in the league, it's undefeated so far, and its top gymnasts will be jostling for a spot on the state squad soon. With two straight county championships under its belt and another one in its sights, that accomplishment, too, seems a very real possibility.
Yawn. Totally expected. What else is new?
A whole lot, actually. Because while Bethpage continues to hum along with the same ol' consistency, the gears of this particular machine have been gutted out and reassembled. They lost 10 seniors, their longtime captain graduated, and it would take a lot of work to continue to look effortless.
Enter Alexis Fraher and Sarah Ciresi.
"The two of them are pillars of the Bethpage gymnastics team," coach Kim Rhatigan said. "I'm so lucky to have such talented and hardworking kids. Sarah is a great role model for the younger kids and Lexi will follow in her footsteps."
Despite the overhaul, there's been nary a hiccup thanks to the tag-team of Fraher and Ciresi, a freshman and a junior who made it on to the state team last year, the former as an all-around and the latter as a vault specialist. Ciresi, now a co-captain, has won the all-around in all seven dual meets this season. Fraher, recovering from a sore back, debuted her front-front vault -- a front handspring, front tuck with a starting value of 10.0.
"It's very important for me to be up there," in terms of accomplishment and leadership," Fraher said. "I want to be part of a college team, and, since I'm a freshman, that just means I have to keep working."
A good portion of that work comes in the girls' club gyms -- Fraher at Farmingdale Gymnastics and Ciresi at Mid-Island in Hicksville -- but that's not to say they don't have more high school-oriented goals. Without hesitation, both say they'd like to beat Plainview JFK in a dual meet, something that's eluded Bethpage in both county championship years.
"It's there," Ciresi said. "Obviously we can do it, because we won the team championship, but we want to win both and we've been trying to do that for a couple of years . . . And even if we want to win, we want others to do well, as well."
Fraher is logical in parsing the situation. The vaulting runway at both teams' home gym, Jamaica Avenue Elementary, is typically shorter than the one at the team championship site. The floor, a mat placed on the gym hardwood, is less springy than the one at the club gym. They'll have to earn higher scores on bars and beam. In a word, in order to manage a clean sweep, they'll have to adapt.
"It's like dealing with a whole new set of skills," Fraher said. "And the skills are there, it's just about execution."
Even with all the modifications, the situation is well in hand most of the time. Major credit goes to the girls who shifted roles and picked up skills to fill the void left by those who preceded them, assistant coach Vicky Vitale said.
"I remember Sarah coming on in the beginning and struggling to learn on this floor," Vitale said. "And now she's won all seven meets. She really upped it from last year.
"We need both these girls to win. One helps the other, and without one . . . "
She doesn't give a resolution to that sentence, other than a repetition of, "we need both." It's very similar to the situation last year and the year before, when Erin Roach was the backbone of the program. The personnel has shifted, but the expectations haven't.
Turns out, a lot of things have changed, but not that.