We'll spare the suspense: For the third year in a row, Ward Melville will be the team to beat in Suffolk girls gymnastics. And for the third year in a row, it'll be tough to do it.
Despite losing two of its biggest contributors, the Patriots -- two-time county champs and undefeated last year -- ride on the capable shoulders of sophomore Cydney Crasa, the All-Long Island select who was in third in the state meet.
Crasa is bolstered by a quickly reloaded squad: Kate Bowe, a seventh grader who competes at Level 9, Taja Slade, an All-County junior, Claire Dempsey, also a Level 9, and freshman Aria Voli.
Seniors in Kristen Cannon and Sharah Amblard put them over the top.
Mikaila Hartigan, a 2011 standout, returns for Babylon, which might be enough to help them climb the ranks in League I. She and Kayla McCarthy will be a substantial 1-2 punch. They'll be challenged by Kings Park, which returns with a state competitor in sophomore Skylar Haas. Junior Dylan Kowalski takes the reins as captain.
Smithtown, the league runner up, will have to overcome a handful of injuries but will no doubt put on a good show behind a slew of seniors, including Alyssa O'Connor and Taylor VanNostrand -- both state gymnasts.
Despite losing a lot of talent -- including Newsday Gymnast of the Year Olivia O'Connor -- Bay Shore has a number of bright spots: Hayden Davidson, Sarah Trupp, and Mattea Gravina. First-year coach Alex Marra thinks all three may have a chance at the county tournament. Jordan Ceccarini, the Miller Place independent who took second on floor and sixth all-around in the state meet, will compete with Half Hollow Hills.
In League II, West Islip hopes to feed off last year's conference title, its second in a row. Despite being in what coach Karyn Storan called a "rebuilding year," the league is full of parity and the Lions have significant talent in county qualifier Sydney Matone and Hanna Battaglini. Connetquot, up from League III, features Nikianne Otto and Tara Schindlar. Lindenhurst boasts one of the best gymnasts in the county in 2011 state team qualifier Elyssa Pretter. Oksana Fostakovska may also contend for a county spot.
In League III, Whitman returns Rachel Uhrich and Natalie Dunn.
Kellenberg starters Kelsey Occhino, Allison Chin, Kathryn Murray and Colleen Oriani try to unseat St. Francis Prep in CHSAA. An improved Holy Trinity returns four-year gymnast Alexa Mendicino and Taiya Taylor, and St. John the Baptist hopes to be strong behind Mary Guardino, Teresa Cusci and Sara Seaquest.