Thomas Jefferson gymasts chasing another section title

Saturday, January 13, 2018 | 4:12 PM

Thomas Jefferson's girls gymnastics team took a big step forward in its quest to repeat as section champion.

The TJ girls captured first place at their first meet of the new year with a sparkling 145.5-point total, defeating North Allegheny (143.05), Hampton (137.55) and Baldwin (125.85).

“This is a high score (145.5), but it's well-deserved,” said Jodi Cummings, who coaches the Thomas Jefferson and Baldwin squads. “The TJ team is strong this year, and we still aren't at full scoring potential, either. Natalie Moore was just released from a hand injury and has not posted her highest scores yet. Once she is completely healthy and we have her scores in the mix, our team score may even go higher.

“I'm hoping a section title is in our future. We still have to compete against some strong teams. I think in our section North Allegheny is probably our biggest threat, but I'm not writing off Pine-Richland.”

Thomas Jefferson and Baldwin are members of Section 1, along with Burrell, Fox Chapel, Hampton, North Allegheny and Pine-Richland.

The Jaguars were led in their home opener by the one-two punch of sophomore Natalie Galioto and junior Courtney Kelley, with season-high all-around scores of 37.8 and 36.5, respectively.

“Natalie keeps getting stronger and more confident,” Cummings said. “She's solid on all four events.

“Courtney is really becoming stronger in the all-around. She has improved her vault, and is becoming more consistent every meet.”

Galioto posted a career-high all-around point-total, thanks to her consistent marks of 9.4 on vault, 9.5 on bars, 9.45 on beam and 9.45 on floor exercise.

“I was excited to receive my highest all-around score so far in my high school career,” Galioto said. “We knew going into the meet that North Allegheny and Hampton would be our toughest (section) competition. We were thrilled to take first place. Every member on our team put forth a fantastic effort in contributing to our win.”

Kelley tacked on high scores of 9.4 and 9.3 on the vault and bars, along with an 8.9 on both the beam and floor exercise.

“We hit one of our highest all-around scores as a team against Hampton and North Allegheny, two of our biggest competitors in our section,” Kelley said. “It felt amazing beating them by almost two points because we have worked so hard to be able to do that. We can't wait for what the season has in store for us.”

Moore, who is a sophomore, complemented Galioto and Kelley in the Jaguars' team scoring.

“Natalie was just coming back from her injury,” Cummings said. “It was her first meet back so she was a little rusty, but expect big scores from her in the future. She added a vault that not many do at the high school level. It's called a front-front.”

All five gymnasts on last year's section-winning team at TJ are back this season, and the Jaguars added five girls to the roster in 2017-18.

Rounding on the squad are juniors Angelina Gambino and Adara Getsy, sophomore Demi Kondos, plus freshmen Anna Weber, Erin Gruber, Jackie Guenther and Kaylee Rowland.

Thomas Jefferson and Baldwin practice together and compete at Premier Gym and Cheer under the guidance of Cummings, who is assisted by Becky Revo, Sam Duttine and volunteer coach Kristen Weber.

“(It) was a great meet for both the teams (TJ and Baldwin),” Cummings said. “They both showed huge improvement from the prior meet, and I am very happy with the progress.

The Baldwin girls were paced at their home opener by the trio of senior Hanna Kalwarski, sophomore Alaina Wodarek and junior Haili Cordell.

“It was Hanna's first full meet back since her injury and surgery,” Cummings said. “She had a solid meet, and is just looking to add more difficulty.

“Alaina added difficulty to her routines over Christmas break and is a solid all-around score for the team. Haili had a consistent meet. She also helped the team with her solid all-around score.”

Kalwarski, a fourth-year gymnast who also is a pole vault specialist in track and field, is the lone senior on the Baldwin squad. Following a long rehabilitation process for a knee injury, she has provided an added spark to the Highlanders' lineup.

“I'm glad to be fully back, but I'm ready to go full throttle,” Kalwarski said. “I had to water down my routines just to get back into the feeling (of competition).

“Our team is coming along. I'm so proud of all the girls for working hard and not giving up. I hope this drive will take us all the way to WPIALs and states.”

Wodarek is one of four sophomores on the team, while Cordell is one of two juniors.

“I'm having a really great time competing for Baldwin gymnastics this year. I was happy with my performance, but I am always striving to get better every time I compete,” Wodarek said. “I have a great group of teammates; we get along so well. We have been working very hard, improving, and getting stronger every practice.

“We are young but have big hopes and dreams for this season.”

Other team members consist of junior Erin Winkowski, sophomore Paige Young, sophomore twins Abby Zuder and Emma Zuder, and freshman Julia Stipetic.

The Baldwin and TJ gymnasts are joined at their practices by sophomore Ashtyn Grill from Carrick and freshman Amanda Mitchell from Pittsburgh CAPA (Creative and Performing Arts).

Baldwin and TJ will compete Jan. 20 at the annual Moon Invitational.

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.

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