Bethpage's Erin Roach during the Nassau High School girls gymnastics...

Bethpage's Erin Roach during the Nassau High School girls gymnastics championships. (Feb. 8, 2011) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

They say a house divided cannot stand. It can, however, flip.

Two seasons after breaking away from Plainview and losing some of its most accomplished athletes, Bethpage gymnastics made a stirring return to the top, defeating first-seeded JFK and six other teams with a school record 167.325 at the Nassau Gymnastics Team Championship at Oceanside High School Tuesday. Plainview took second with a 163.775.

It was only fitting, coach Kim Rhatigan said, that it was Erin Roach leading the way. Roach, a ninth-grader when Bethpage made the split and one of the team's few upperclassmen, finished with a 34.15, including a 9.0 on beam.

"It feels so good," Roach said. "We've been practicing so hard to get this back - for two years. Once the younger girls came together, they all knew" they could do it.

Indeed, it figures that a team built on reinvention would bring some fresh moves and faces into the fray. For all of Roach's consistency, it was standout performances by eighth-grader Serena Pergola and ninth-grader Sarah Ciresi that gave Bethpage the edge.

Ciresi introduced a tsuk vault for the first time in competition to earn a 8.3 on the event, while Pergola's beam routine - which included a roundoff full-off dismount - earned her a meet-high 9.35.

"Everyone was focused," Pergola said. "I just wanted to scream" when she heard the score. "We were in awe."

Massapequa came in third with 162.250, while Sewanhaka District took fourth with a 153.00. The home school and reigning champs, Oceanside, finished fifth with 152.100. Plainview was led by Melissa Kropf on floor with a 9.075.

For Bethpage, the turning point was on bars, Rhatigan said. The team had struggled all year, but when Alexa Pepe, an eighth-grader, nailed her bar routine, they knew things were going their way, Roach said. Pepe, who had been struggling on the event this year, notched a very strong 8.1 - essentially leading the team to its composite score of 39.775 on the event.

It was certainly a struggle to get back to form, Rhatigan said, but the motto this year came blasting through the speakers the moment the results were announced: "Don't Stop Believin.' "

"They kept on believing," Rhatigan said, taking a few moments to let out a triumphant scream with her overjoyed team. "I can't describe the hard work and perseverance these girls put in. When we split, we lost a lot of kids. Plainview kept winning and Bethpage had to believe."

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