Thomas Jefferson, Baldwin gymnasts working toward WPIAL goals

Friday, January 24, 2020 | 5:27 PM

One team is the defending WPIAL and state champion, and has emerged as a powerhouse in girls gymnastics in just three years.

Thomas Jefferson’s gymnasts won their first WPIAL title in 2018-19, capping off three straight seasons of section championships. The Jaguars, who also captured the state title in the gold division at the Pennsylvania Classic, have 16 gymnasts on this year’s squad.

The other team, also a WPIAL qualifier in 2018-19, has been in a rebuilding mode in recent seasons.

Baldwin was eked out for fifth place in the WPIAL by West Allegheny last winter. The Highlanders have seven gymnasts competing this year, and the majority of the squad is young.

But TJ and Baldwin do share a few common elements — their coaches, their gym and their camaraderie.

Both teams are guided by veteran coach Jodi Cummings, who is assisted once again by the trio of Becky Revo, Sam Duttine and Kristen Weber. All four have strong backgrounds in gymnastics.

The teams train, practice and compete together, and the girls root for each other to perform well at their high school meets.

Through Jan. 20, Thomas Jefferson was undefeated in section action with victories against Pine-Richland, North Allegheny, Chartiers Valley.

“TJ has been doing well,” Cummings said. “We haven’t had our full team yet due to injuries. We are hoping to get everyone healthy for WPIALs and states.”

Four catalysts for the Jaguars are seniors Natalie Galioto, Natalie Moore, Demi Kondos and Maria Costa. Galioto, Moore and Kondos have been stalwarts in the program for four years, and helped tremendously in establishing the TJ team. Costa is in her second year of competition.

“This is a strong group of seniors that we will miss next year,” Cummings said. “Most scores that we count from them are mid- to high-nines. They all lead their team and work together great.”

Galiato captured the WPIAL all-around championship in the advanced division last year. She has made a verbal commitment for gymnastics with Brockport.

“Natalie is a pretty strong all-around gymnast,” Cummings said. “It’s hard to pick one event that she excels at because she is so strong all-around, but I would say it’s beam because of her calmness when she competes.

“Beam is a tough event. There is a lot of pressure on you, and she always handles it well and keeps her team calm.”

Moore was a gold medalist on the vault in the WPIAL advanced division last season.

“Natalie has a very difficult vault that no one else in the competition (attempted),” Cummings said. “It’s a blind landing vault, and she nearly performed it perfectly.”

Moore has signed with Fairmont State, where she will compete in the acro and tumbling program.

TJ’s squad also consists of juniors Anna Weber, Erin Gruber and Jackie Guenther; and sophomores Kaylee Rehak, Kamryn Kameg and Sophia Stoicovy.

Top freshman prospects include Ella Costa, Jordon Sinclair, Katelynn Inks, Kayla Matey, Elisabeth Fry and Mikayla Bilbie.

“TJ has a big team so we have options on who will compete at each meet,” Cummings said. “They are working on consistency in each routine.”

Baldwin is led by Alaina Wodarek, a third-year competitor and the lone senior in the program. She won the floor exercise at the WPIAL finals last season.

“Alaina is a great leader for Baldwin,” Cummings said. “She’s a team player and has awesome leadership skills.

“Alaina’s strongest event is definitely floor. She is a great performer and captures your attention when she’s competing.”

Wodarek also is a captain on the WPIAL championship competitive spirit squad at Baldwin. She is hoping to continue her cheerleading career in college at Kentucky.

“This year’s team is pretty similar to last year’s,” Wodarek said. “We did not gain any teammates but lost four girls. We hope to qualify for WPIALs and states this year.

“My goal is to perform my floor routine better than last year to hopefully defend my WPIAL title. Most important for me is to be a good teammate and to be a leader and motivator.”

Wodarek has been joined by six sophomores this season: Emily Schwab, Mia Dougherty, Hanna Kuchnicki, Haley Staab, Abbey Herrle and Bailey Harding.

“Baldwin has a small team again this year,” Cummings said, “but the team is looking strong. They are young and are focusing on consistency at practice.

“They have been hard at work adding difficulty to try to max out their start value of each routine.”

Baldwin and TJ train together at Premier Gym, along with several independent gymnasts consisting of senior Ashtyn Grill (Carrick), sophomore McKenna Price (West Mifflin), and freshmen Ashlyn Cummings (Elizabeth Forward), Cassidy Rega (Seton LaSalle) and Scarlett Valley (Peters Township).

Cummings, the coach’s daughter, has danced all her life and is a member of the varsity cheerleading squad at EF. She is competing as an individual in gymnastics.

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