Ward Melville gymnast Claire Dempsey teetered nervously at the beginning of the runway as Cydney Crasa yelled encouragement from near the vaulting table. Crasa tested the springboards for her, secured the foam guard and measured its placement.
Then she held her breath.
Dempsey, who suffered a concussion performing her Yurchenko vault in the fourth meet of the year, returned Tuesday to perform her first since then -- a roundoff onto the springboard and a back handstand off the vault into a tuck dismount -- to score a 9.15 and emotionally propel a Patriots team that cruised to a score of 175.925 at the Suffolk team championships en route to their third straight county title.
WM also won its fourth straight league title this year.
"I was so scared," Dempsey said, "and I haven't done any at all," in competition since the concussion. "I just had to believe in myself . . . I'm so relieved."
Meanwhile, Crasa, who in addition to still being an elite gymnast has emerged as a second coach, and, as Dempsey called her, "the mom of the team," scored a meet-high 37.85, including a 9.85 on her own flawless Yurchenko vaults.
"Everyone was hyped up after [Dempsey]," Crasa said. "I was really proud of her, to be able to come back and do her vault for the first time" at the championships.
Ward Melville never trailed, and was further bolstered by Katie Bowe (37.025), the seventh-grader whose blind back flip on the beam -- one of the only such aerial attempts -- helped earn her a 9.30.
Smithtown was second with a 165.20. Bay Shore, behind Hayden Davidson's Yurchenko (9.35) and Mattea Gravina's tsuk pike (9.175), took third with a 165.075.
"This was maybe one of our best meets of the year," WM coach Caryl Crasa said.
As for Dempsey, who wasn't even on the original vaulting rotation, the coach said: "I didn't want to put pressure on her, and you could see how scared she was . . . "
She erupted into a grin.
"But she did it! And she stuck it! She stuck it."