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Trio of gymnasts take their skills to the national level


The Docksiders, the competitive arm of Maryland Gymnastics Inc. of Millersville, will be represented at two U.S. Gymnastics Federation-sponsored national championship meets -- one of which begins today in Boston.

Leigh Cappello, a junior at Severna Park High School, already is in Boston, where she will compete in this weekend's USGF Level 10 National Championships. Level 10 gymnasts are one level below the Elite Division, which supplies the United States with its Olympic gymnastics team members.

The 16-year-old gymnast qualified for the national competition through her performance at a regional meet in March. Out of 60 gymnasts who participated, Cappello finished in the top 14.

"She's come from just your average recreational-type kid to one who has won several state and regional meets over the past couple of years," said Docksiders coach Mark Weber, who believes Cappello's best event is the uneven bars and most consistent event is the floor exercise.

"It's been a long, slow development, but she's strong and she's always had the drive to stay with it. With all the distractions that go on in a teen-ager's life, she's somehow managed to stay focused and been very motivated."

Cappello said, "I worked really hard for the regionals, and it paid off. When you get to the regional meet, it's all mental confidence. I learned through past regional meets to prepare myself mentally.

"Now, the pressure is off at the nationals. I just want to have fun and do my best."

While Cappello is off trying to do well in Boston, two of her teammates -- Meghan Vernon and Megan Nicolini -- are gearing up to give it their best at the Level 9 National Championships that begin Wednesday at the Holidome Arena in Baton Rouge, La.

Vernon, 16, a junior at Severna Park High School, earned a spot in the national meet through her performance at the regionals, which included a seventh-place finish in a field of 100 gymnasts.

As one of the top seven regional performers, Vernon's scores will count toward a regional team score. Vernon's Region VII squad, which represents the eight mid-Atlantic states, will be defending its title in Baton Rouge.

"Meghan is a great dancer, but she's never been classified as being an explosive or powerful gymnast, and she's really worked on that this year to bring up her difficulty level," said Weber, who also serves as an assistant gymnastics coach at Towson State University.

"She's always been more artistic and used a lot of finesse, but she's always been very consistent all-around."

Nicolini, a 17-year-old senior at Annapolis High School, has been a member of the Docksiders for only six years, but her progress has been a pleasant surprise to Weber.

Her eighth-place finish at the regionals forced her to accept an alternate role on the regional team, but met the qualifying standard that enables her to compete as an individual in all of the events.

"Megan started in our classes, and she has worked extremely hard to get where she is," said Weber, who helped Nicolini earn an athletic scholarship to the University of Nebraska.

"This is her first trip to the nationals, but everything seems to be coming together for her now. She's not at the pinnacle, but she's peaking at the right time."

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