When Wantagh's Brianna Quinn takes the mat at the gymnastics state qualifier Monday evening at Hicksville High School, it'll be four years since her last appearance in that meet, with an entire lifetime of high school gymnastics experience sandwiched in-between.
"I cannot wait to see her compete Monday," Wantagh coach Eileen Keener said. "She can pull the bigger stunts now . . . She's inspiring to all the girls on the team."
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Quinn, a 17-year-old senior, burst onto the scene as an eighth-grader, earning a spot on the state team in the all-around and placing 13th out of 32 gymnasts. A foot injury right before the qualifier derailed her in ninth grade, and she took a year off to focus on her club team and being recruited in 10th grade, her mother, Sharon Quinn, said. In 11th, she injured herself again. This time, the other foot.
All the while, Quinn, now an accomplished Level 10, has been a talented, if understated presence on the varsity scene. A few months ago, she accepted a full scholarship to attend the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. With her injuries fully healed, she was one of the driving forces behind the Warriors' Conference II title -- an accomplishment that will earn them a spot back in Conference I next season.
"She's come a long way," Sharon said before Brianna's final dual meet against Garden City last week. "In ninth grade, she was looking to win it and that injury right before counties was upsetting. I think it took her a few years to get back into the game and focus, and now she's back into it."
Her daughter agrees, though she says her turning point was a gradual climb that began in ninth grade. "In eighth grade, I just wasn't as competitive as I am now,'' Quinn said. "I moved to and ever since then, my coaches have been helping me and pushing me through."
This year she is vying for a spot on the state team in the all-around. She hopes she can help propel Wantagh to a top-three finish in the team competition Feb. 9. She was courted by Bridgeport and Quinnipiac College, and was dogged when it came to being recruited.
"You just have to email the coaches a lot," Quinn said. "Just keep bugging them and bugging them and keep visiting them." Finally getting the offer for all her efforts "was a good moment."
With her scholarship in hand, Quinn emerged as a leader on a high school team that suffered relegation because of rampant injuries last year, Keener said, adding that she was "so, so glad that I was able to coach [Quinn] her senior year."
Of course, that level of commitment adds up, Sharon said. Quinn generally spends 20 to 30 hours at her club gym a week, and then attends high school practices to help her teammates on their routines.
"Gymnastics, for her, is like a part-time job," Sharon said. And though the high school events can sometimes be less glamorous than the club competitions, Sharon said she couldn't wait to see her daughter end her senior year on a high note.
"She's worked very hard, in school and in gymnastics," she said. Watching her Monday will be "nerve-wracking and a little sad. I tell her every time she goes out on the floor to compete. I tell her, do your best and have fun."
After all, the hard part is over.