Next week's Montgomery County Gymnastics Championships, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, will carry greater significance this year than recent seasons.
For the first time in a decade there will be no state meet this spring. Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties were the only two school systems in Maryland to field gymnastics programs and competed in an unofficial state meet.
But Anne Arundel school officials discontinued the sport this year after only five schools participated last spring.
Meanwhile Montgomery County gymnastics added two teams in as many years — Walt Whitman and Springbrook — to bring its total up to eight teams.
“It's nice to see that it's growing [in Montgomery County] now that we're the only county in the state that is competing,” said Walter Johnson coach Ursula Bright, who competed at Gaithersburg High in the late 1990s. “There are kids out there in other schools who are pushing for it. It's not a big sport because it takes a lot of time and there is a lot of equipment to set up but I'm really happy we still have it.”
Defending county champion Walter Johnson (7-0), 2011 state champion Montgomery Blair (5-2) and B-CC (6-1) are the top contenders for Tuesday's championship. Whitman (4-3) and Sherwood (2-3) will also compete for top-five finishes.
The host Barons won the title from 2007-10.
Each school can enter six athletes in each of four events in Tuesday's meet: balance beam, vault, uneven bars and floor exercise. The top five finishers in each event earn points.
Winning a championship, B-CC coach Dana Creager said, largely comes down to which team has the strongest Nos. 4 and 5 gymnasts.
For the first time in four years the Wildcats do not have one particular standout. Last year's all-around county champion, Shannon Mitchell, is now competing on scholarship at the University of Kentucky and sophomore Ella Wu left the team after two meets to compete nationally.
Nevertheless Walter Johnson is a more complete team this spring, Bright said.
The Wildcats might not win the all-around competition or finish first in every event but they could have three athletes in the top five across the board and those points are invaluable.
Junior Grace Leslau and freshman Hope Slieger are Walter Johnson's top all-around competitors. Tremendous offseason improvement from sophomores Shannon McDonough and Annie Heffernan has added depth to the Wildcats' lineup, Bright said.
B-CC has defeated Blair this season and only lost to Walter Johnson by 1.3 points.
Creager said she counted eight falls, which at .5 points deducted per fall, cost the team four points.
“I think that was great motivation for the girls to realize how close we were,” Creager said. “We have set goals for what we want at the county championship and the girls are really psyched going into it.”
Julia Konner, Lizzie Orr and Bergen Kassoff are the Barons' top all-around contenders.
Due to injury Michaela Socolof has specialized in the bars and beam this spring.
Sophomore Ellie Wiersma and junior Sara Ruben are Sherwood's most experienced athletes looking to perform well Tuesday.
“Right now there are four teams scoring in the 160s and they are Walter Johnson, B-CC, Blair and Whitman,” Sherwood coach Gary Peters said.