As the scholastic gymnastics season gets under way this week, several key faces from previous seasons are missing, but area coaches are confident new top performers will emerge.
“We are a very strong team with a lot of new faces,” Wappingers coach Stephanie Sambuco said. “We started practicing in the middle of November and practice every day except Sundays. I really think this team can contend for this section title this year.”
The Warriors will have to do that without longtime star Alexis Mena, the Section 1 all-around champion a year ago and a three-time Journal Gymnast of the Year. Mena is attending Ithaca where she is pursuing a degree in engineering.
Sambuco knows Mena can’t be replaced, but said she has seen promise in her gymnasts.
“It’s impossible to fill her shoes,” Sambuco said, “but Olivia (Frederick) and Kristen (Cirincione) have taken her spot.”
Wappingers finished second in Section 1 to Clarkstown a year ago.
Frederick, an eighth-grader at Van Wyck Junior High School, is looking to build on a first season in which she was selected to the All-Section 1 team.
“When she’s in the gym, she’s nonstop from the second she walks in,” said Sambuco, who has coached Frederick since she was 6. “She has strength beyond belief and is very tough mentally.”
Also returning this season for Wappingers is Megan Kohl, also an All-Section 1 selection in 2012-2013. Both Kohl and Cirincione are juniors. They’ll be joined by senior captains Lauren Miller and Rachel Smith, freshmen Kristina Van Anden and Cristina Fontana, and seventh-graders Olivia and Isabella Vinciguerra, both of whom are in their first season.
At New Paltz, the Huguenots are likewise trying to pick up the slack for the losses of Brianna Dixon and Michele Amado. Dixon reached the state meet in her senior season a year ago. Amado, a junior, did not rejoin the team this year.
“It will definitely hurt not having them, but we have a nice lineup and more girls on bars this year, which is normally our weakest event,” New Paltz coach Harry Cooper said in an email.
Returning gymnasts for New Paltz include senior Ashley Mazzei, junior Peppy Smith, sophomores Novella Cooper, Samantha Kaplan and Kira Magnani, and freshman Alexana Gadaleto.
Cooper highlighted seventh-grader Claudia Kaplan, Samantha’s sister, who “is a hard worker” who will compete on bars and balance beam, and said eighth-grader Samantha Musso may compete in the all-around.
Cooper said he wanted to see all his gymnasts attempt to expand their efforts this season.
“I challenged our backup girls this year to do more than just one event,” Cooper said. “I am hoping this helps light a fire under everyone, since all will be working hard to accomplish more. I hope the other teams can be as strong as last year, as this helped push the girls into raising our scores.”
Coach Yonnie Coughlin’s Franklin D. Roosevelt team returns an experienced group that includes juniors Samantha Ahearn and Jocelyn Grant, sophomores Amanda Mittermaier, Ali Bertolozzi and Olivia Tissot, freshman Taylor Small, and eighth-grader Nikki Filiberti.
“They are (all) all-around competitors,” Coughlin said, “all of whom competed at Sectionals last year.”
Besides the returning gymnasts, the Presidents added a newcomer in seventh grader-Sydney Tomaine, who “has competed privately and demonstrates strong skills,” Coughlin said.
Coughlin sees a lot of promise in her group this year.
“We are a young team this season. We are excited to see the progress of the girls’ skills already during practice sessions,” Coughlin stated. “We are in a very competitive section, with top-level gymnasts. We would like to elevate our team scores at each meet this year.”