Last season, Jessica Lopez had to sit out two events in the state qualifier to allow the inflammation in her back to subside slowly, snuffing out her very real hopes of being an all-around contender in the state gymnastics tournament.
It was sad, she said at the time, and the weeks she missed in the regular season were downright frustrating. Still, she got things done: Lopez made the state tournament as a specialist, and she led Plainview JFK to a county title and a season-high point total of 172.375.
Which is exactly what makes this season so very exciting for Plainview. "All my girls from last year are returning,'' coach Debbie Rut said, "and as of right now, Jessica is 100 percent.''
Lopez, a ninth-grader who previously fractured her back, leading to the flare-up, will headline a team that is even stronger than last year's. Top to bottom, Plainview is loaded with young talent and enviable depth and looks to be a favorite in Conference I. Joining her will be Ashley Bellino and eventually Miranda Lund, who is nursing an injured elbow. Lund, a ninth-grader, burst onto the scene in Lopez's absence last year, helping to carry the team and qualifying as an all-around in the state tournament. Torre Muhlbach, who missed last season, also will be a standout.
Hot on their trail, as always, will be Bethpage, one of only two teams to defeat Plainview last year. Although the Golden Eagles had some major losses, both to graduation and injury, coach Kim Rhatigan's team is always stiff competition. Junior Lexi Fraher, a tough gymnast who can throw a front-front vault, should be one of their top scorers. Alexa Pepe, a seasoned captain, and Chelsea Welsch, an up-and-coming eighth-grader, will round them out.
Alyssa Firth, one of Nassau's state competitors in the all-around, will miss the beginning of the season with a back injury, Rhatigan said, but could return.
Sewanhaka District should be extremely strong, bolstered by Stephanie Jennings, Liz Giannattasio, Corinne Alleyne and Daniella Limpert. Mike Capone's expertly trained Massapequa squad also will be tough. The Chiefs, as always, are very deep, and will be led by Emily Caulfield, Ally Wick, Julianne Smith and Heidi Baldinger.
The top seed in Conference II is a very young Carle Place team, led by Sabrina Cross and Amity White. Garden City is the favorite in Conference III behind Andrea Laisure, Emily King and Jackie Morris.