It's small wonder Annapolis gymnastics coach Neill Russell was smiling from ear to ear late in yesterday's boys county meet.
With the Panthers already leading the seven-team field, their last rotation took them to the pommel horse.
"And that's our strongest event," Russell said, the smile widening even more.
Annapolis successfully defended its county championship, notching 136.2 points to outdistance runner-up Old Mill (132.9). Those two teams advance to the state-regional meet Tuesday at Hammond High School in Howard County.
Severna Park sophomore Jesse Whyte took the all-around title, winning two events, tying for first in another and placing second in another.
"He's been working real hard," said Falcons coach Bonnie Habicht. "He had the capability last year, but not the confidence to try new skills. In gymnastics, form is everything. He's mastered that, now he has to work on the skills."
Whyte said, "I've never seen myself as a good gymnast, but I guess this shows I am."
Last year, it was freshman sensation Peter Lombard who led Annapolis to its first county title.
Lombard moved to Florida over the summer, but he didn't take the Panthers' hopes for a repeat with him.
Senior Jason Hill, who had to compete in the "specialist" category last year when a leg injury limited him to fewer than six events, battled through the pain of a stress fracture in his left wrist to take second in all-around.
"This was my first time up on the equipment in four weeks," Hill said. "I had to take a lot out of my routines."
Another of the Panthers' walking wounded, senior Dominic Boardley, placed third in all-around. Boardley was taking part in his first competition of the season because of a torn deltoid muscle.
"Like Jason, I was doing watered-down routines. I had to take out anything that would aggravate my shoulder," he said.
Boardley scored a meet-best 7.0 on the high bar, ending with a double-back dismount that had Coach Russell pumping his right fist in the air. Boardley followed with an 8.3 on the vault, but that was only good for second on his team behind Hill, whose handspring-full vault scored an 8.5.
Teammate Shawn Taylor scored an 8.1, and Antoine Thomas had a 7.7.
"The team's having its best performance today," Hill said during a break. "All the practicing is paying off."
Hill's injury didn't show on the rings, either, where he ended with a double back flip to secure a 7.4.
Annapolis totaled 69 points in the first round to lead Severna Park and Arundel (both 67.3) and Old Mill (65.9).
When asked if he expected his team to be in the hunt for a county championship after graduation and injuries had seemingly decimated the Panthers, Russell shook his head and said, "No way. I never expected the kids to do this well. It's been a total team effort."
Whyte tied Hill in the vault at 8.5. Last year, he took first place with an 8.8.
Like Annapolis, the Falcons were especially strong in this event, with Ron Green scoring an 8.1 and Ben Jones at 8.0.
Whyte said he most surprised himself with his 7.1 on the parallel bars.
"I was getting 3s and 4s most of the season. It's been one of my worst events," he said.
Broadneck's Todd Keyser literally was a one-man show. The Bruins' lone representative, Keyser scored an 8.0 on the vault.
Team scores: Annapolis 136.2; Old Mill 132.9; Arundel 129.6; Severna Park 126.4; Chesapeake 91.9; Meade 71.5; Broadneck 33.8
All-around: Whyte (SP) 43.0; Hill (Ann) 42.3; Boardley (Ann) 41.6
Rings: Whyte (SP) 7.6; Hill (Ann) 7.4; Keyser (Br) 7.3
Vault: (tie) Hill (Ann) and Whyte (SP) 8.5; (tie) Boardley (Ann) and Hagensick (Ar) 8.3; Gonigan (OM) 8.2
High bar: Boardley (Ann) 7.0; Keyser (Br) 6.3; Hill (Ann) 6.2
Pommel horse: Boardley (Ann) 7.4; Hill (Ann) 6.2; Keyser (Br) 5.8
Parallel bars: Dulys (OM) 8.0; Whyte (SP) 7.1; Hill (Ann) 6.5
Floor exercise: Whyte (SP) 8.6; Boardley (Ann) 8.0; Goninan (OM) 7.6