Burrell gymnastics team beaming at chance to compete at WPIAL championships

Thursday, February 13, 2020 | 5:43 PM

For a long time, Burrell has been represented at the WPIAL individual gymnastics championship.

But when Renee Ruggeri took over last season, her goal was to build a program that could compete with the best teams in the district.

In two years, the Bucs have found their way into that conversation by qualifying for the WPIAL team championships, which are Friday at Moon.

The Bucs finished third in their section and earned a big win over Baldwin to qualify. There are seven girls on Burrell, and they’re thrilled to see how they stack up against the WPIAL’s best.

“It’ll be a good experience, and it’s good recognition through the school to know that they do gymnastics,” Ruggeri said. “A lot of times, gymnasts’ friends don’t know that they do gymnastics. It shows everyone that they are doing well.”

Senior Lexi Daniels, juniors Kelsea Arabia and Raquel Ruggeri, sophomores Chloe Werner and Georgia Brothers and freshmen Sophia Ruggeri and Layla Jeffries make up the roster. Sophia and Raquel are Coach Ruggeri’s daughters.

Burrell will compete against Thomas Jefferson, Pine-Richland, Moon, Central Valley and West Allegheny. Thomas Jefferson is the defending champion, and Coach Ruggeri said they will be a favorite to repeat. Moon also has been a traditionally strong program.

Enjoying the team aspect of the WPIAL weekend for the first time and trying to put together a podium finish are Burrell’s goals for Friday.

“If they can do the best they can do and maybe get the best team score they’ve had all year, that would be a good night,” Coach Ruggeri said. “It’s going to be tough to compete with some of the teams there that have higher-level gymnasts from private clubs. We have a few, but some teams have more.”

Six of Burrell’s seven gymnasts will participate in the individual championships Saturday at Moon.

Sophia Ruggeri is in the Advanced division in floor and vault. Daniels, Raquel Ruggeri, Brothers and Arabia are in the Intermediate I division. Raquel Ruggeri and Arabia will compete for the all-around title. Daniels is in bars and beam, and Brothers is in bars, beam and floor. Werner is in Intermediate II and will compete for the all-around title.

“I think a lot of our girls have a shot at a medal on Saturday,” Coach Ruggeri said. “I feel like Raquel has a good shot to medal in some events. She’s a really strong vaulter and has always been good on beam. Georgia also has a really good shot on beam and vault. Sophia is going to be in the hardest division, because she’s a Level-9 gymnast, so she has to compete there. She’s a very good gymnast.”

Deer Lakes’ Lizzie Orosz will compete for the Advanced all-around title, and Plum’s Sara Kvortek will compete for the Intermediate I all-around.

Ruggeri coaches Kvortek at Ultimate Gymnastics and is happy she qualified for WPIALs for the first time.

“She’s excited to be part of WPIALs,” Ruggeri said. “The girls from Burrell and the other independents that we have are treated like one big team. She’ll wear a different colored leotard, but we’ll all be out there cheering her on.”

“I expect her to do well. She’s a good gymnast. She’s clean and she has some higher-level skill. She’s come a long way this year.”

Fox Chapel will be represented by four gymnasts Saturday: senior Jenna Tupponce, sophomores Claire Hamilton and Aubrey Mah and freshman Zoe Fitzsimmons.

Tupponce is in Intermediate I, and Fitzsimmons, Mah and Hamilton are in Intermediate II.

Hamilton and Tupponce will compete in vault. Mah and Fitzsimmons qualified for vault, beam and floor.

Tupponce and Fitzsimmons are making their first appearance at WPIALs, and Hamilton and Mah are competing at WPIALs for the second time.

Foxes coach Nadine Buchanan has seen improvement from each of her qualifiers throughout the season.

“I’m happy that my senior (Tupponce) gets a chance to compete at WPIALs,” Buchanan said. “With it being the second year for (Man and Hamilton), their scores have increased, so they could medal if they stay on the beam, have a clean floor routine. It all depends on how they hit their events. Zoe has been a wonderful addition to the team this year. She has a great attitude and has done well in all three events she’s qualified for.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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