Rachael Underwood had not even looked at the scores from the IHSA’s four gymnastics sectionals to realize she had the highest all-around total.
“It’s kind of exciting, but then again, at state it can be anybody’s day,” said Underwood, a junior at Cary-Grove who competes with Prairie Ridge’s co-op team. “It just matters who’s the best that day.”
Underwood has a chance to be the best all-around performer at the IHSA Girls Gymnastics State Meet, which takes place Friday and Saturday at Palatine High School.
The first session starts at 5:05 p.m. Friday, with the finals in the four individual events starting at 5:45 p.m. Saturday. On Friday, the 10 qualifiers for each individual event will be decided and the all-around competition is completed.
Prairie Ridge’s team and Jacobs' Ally Riedel also qualified for the state meet.
Prairie Ridge coach Lee Battaglia likes the chances for Underwood, who was third in the all-around as a freshman and tied for second last year.
“I’ve got my money on Rachael if she hits four events,” Battaglia said. “I’ve never followed the scores, team scores or individual scores. She should hit four events – I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
Underwood scored 38.4 to win the Conant Sectional, while Lyons Township’s Kelsy Kurfirst scored 38.3 to win at Hinsdale Central. Those two tied for second last year at 38.55, behind Carmel’s Lauren Feely (38.7).
For Underwood and her Prairie Ridge teammates, the focus never changes.
“Our main goal is to hit all our events,” she said. “Just focus on hitting them and we’ll get our scores. It’s just having your mind focused and when you’re on the event, you have one job to do for a minute. You have to stay focused.”
That usually is no problem for Underwood, who has delivered on the state’s biggest stage before.
“It helps knowing that I can be up there, but then again it puts pressure on you to do that well again,” Underwood said. “It’s exciting to see if I can stay up there.”
Battaglia figures Underwood will handle any pressure with her customary aplomb.
“The key for [hitting four events] at this point is mental,” Battaglia said. “All the physical work’s done. It’s just mental, and Rachael’s one of the best at that.”
By Friday night, Underwood hopes to be standing atop the award platform the way former Prairie Ridge gymnast Jenny Covers did as all-around champion in 2011 and 2009.
Prairie Ridge was state runner-up as a team last year and finished third in 2012. The Wolves would have been a favorite for the team title this year, but junior Riley Mahoney, who is on Underwood’s skill level, suffered a knee injury and is out. Defending champion Lyons had the best team score (149.875) out of sectionals, with Prairie Ridge’s 148.525 second-best.
Battaglia wants his gymnasts to think big, even without Mahoney, who had surgery last week.
“With Riley we had a much better chance [of winning state] because we’re counting 9.6s across the board,” Battaglia said. “I told them we don’t have a chance unless we hit our routines. If we hit our routines, and things fall our way, we can beat them. We have to hit our routines, or we have no chance.”
The Wolves’ Maddie Solka, a C-G sophomore, remembers well what happened last year when Lyons came from behind in Saturday’s finals and took the state championship from Prairie Ridge.
“If we hit all our routines, we’re capable of doing it,” said Solka, who also qualified individually in vault, uneven bars and all-around. “After what happened last year, it’s even more motivation to get back at [Lyons]. That was definitely a bummer. We want this.”