Jessica Lopez returns to lead Plainview JFK to gymnastics team title

Jessica Lopez of Plainview JFK concludes her floor

Jessica Lopez of Plainview JFK concludes her floor routine during the Nassau gymnastics team championship at Long Beach High School on Feb. 12, 2014. (Credit: James Escher)

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Jessica Lopez put her will and determination into it. Her back, too.

After sitting out the latter part of the gymnastics season because of inflammation stemming from a healed stress fracture in her back, and watching her all-around hopes get dashed when the same problem forced her to sit out two events in the state qualifier last week, the Plainview JFK eighth-grader returned to prominence in a big way.

Lopez competed in all four events to help her team to a season-high score of 172.375, unseating two-time defending champion Bethpage (168.825) at the Nassau team championship Wednesday night at Long Beach.

"She was so sad, because she could've made that state team as an all-around," said coach Debbie Rut of Lopez, who earned one of the top spots last year. This year, she'll compete as a specialist. "And tonight, I said, 'Three or four [events]?' She said, 'I'm going four.' "

Lopez performed well in the two events she skipped last week -- floor exercise and beam. She earned a 9.25 on floor, matching her bars score, while her back handspring-back handspring connection and side aerial paced her to a meet-high 9.375 on beam. A 9.3 on vault was good for a 37.175 all around, tops for the night.

And though Plainview JFK, a team with only eight gymnasts, is tiny, they were fierce. Miranda Lund, Plainview's top-scoring gymnast in Lopez's absence, earned a 9.1 on bars (only she and Lopez earned 9s or higher), and 9.4 on floor.

Ashley Bellino snagged a 9.0 on vault and Jamie Simon, competing on an injured foot, had an 8.15 on floor. Lauren Bernstein scored an 8.6 on beam, and Renee Vulin earned an 8.1 on vault, as no girl earned less than a 7.50 all night.

Bethpage's Alyssa Firth had meet highs in both vault (9.425, a Yurchenko pike) and floor (9.450). Sewanhaka District came in third with a 162.775, and Massapequa was fourth with a 156.65.

Bethpage had defeated Plainview in both regular-season meetings this year.

"This is great because we were really worried," Lund said. "And Jess' back was hurting and Jamie's foot was hurting, and it felt really good to win."

Lopez was cleared by her doctor last week and practiced with her club gym until she felt no discomfort. Wednesday, "I felt a little pain," she said, "but barely anything . . . and it was good to see all our work pay off."

And though Lopez was gung ho after the disappointment of the state qualifier, Rut was cautious. "We had to be really careful," she said. "We had to water down her routines."

That was watered down?

"Well, it was still awesome."

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