One number sums up the source of motivation for the Bishop Ahr High School gymnastics team this fall: two.
East Brunswick has won the past two Greater Middlesex Conference titles. Bishop Ahr used to own that meet, winning nine straight from 2002-2010. With the GMC’s top two gymnasts returning, the Trojans are poised for a return to the throne.
“It’s a priority for all of us,” senior Casey Sabino said. “We all want to work even harder than last year because we want to get that back. We all know we can do it.”
The margin for error is slim. Bishop Ahr has just eight athletes in the program, though the quality is there. Sophomore Julianna Drapkin is the GMC’s defending All-Around champion (37.725) and Sabino is the co-runner up (37.025), along with fellow returnee Victoria Lee of Old Bridge.
“I’m hoping they’re going to finish as top competitors in the state this year,” Bishop Ahr coach Brant Lutska said of Drapkin and Sabino. “They’re both dedicated and hard-working athletes who deserve the recognition.”
Drapkin, who hails from Aberdeen in Monmouth County, is recovering from a fracture in her back suffered while doing a jump on beam. She sat out sixth months.
“I started getting healthy enough to do everything in April,” she said. “It was amazing to be back. I missed it so much.”
Sabino, a Dunellen resident, is a second-year captain who embraces Bishop Ahr’s decorated history in the sport.
“Everyone works hard — that’s a big tradition here at Bishop Ahr,” Sabino said. “Once you come here, you know it’s fun but you do have to be serious.”
Sabino said she considers herself “kind of like another coach in a way” and takes that role seriously.
“She is great with everybody,” Drapkin said. “She gives you a lot of confidence, is always positive.”
As good as they are, Sabino and Drapkin can’t win a GMC team title or defend the Trojans’ North 2 sectional crown by themselves. Junior Aria Fairman returns to action after missing last fall with a knee injury, and sophomore Sidne Powers shows improvement.
With East Brunswick losing four strong seniors to graduation, the opportunity is there for a Trojan restoration. But if the last two years proved anything, they’ll have to earn it.
“It just makes it more fun to know you have competition,” Sabino said. “It makes you work 10 times harder to reach your goals.”
AROUND THE AREA
Don’t count out two-time defending GMC champion East Brunswick just because the Bears lost four reliable seniors. Returning all-around performers Natalie Kowalik and Kyle Feldman are proven stars, and senior Michelle Yam is one to watch on beam.
Old Bridge returns one of the best gymnasts around in senior Victoria Lee, who tied for second all-around at last year’s GMC meet but missed sectionals and states due to an injury. She’s back to form now and should be a force. Senior Jessica Rivera-Rincon (beam, floor), juniors Julia Baran (all-around) and Brianna Martins (bars, beam floor) and much-improved sophomore Alexa Kubek (all-around) will contribute.
South Brunswick returns a good amount of the squad that placed third at last year’s GMC meet. Junior Morgan Rybinski was fifth all-around and will get support from senior Stephanie Travers (all-around), senior Ally Berger (vault, beam, floor) and junior Danielle Hecht (all-around).
South Plainfield is led by Nicole Sottiriou, whose strong 2012 campaign included the all-around title at the Raider Invitational. The Tigers also count on senior captain Carly Kensey, who is making her way back from foot surgery. Returning juniors Kayla Massaro and Gianna Marcovecchio are reliable contributors and freshman Meagan Praul is one to watch.