For several years, Severna Park coach Bonnie Habicht has been surrounded by gymnasts who have honed their skills on club teams, with the Falcons as the primary benefactor.
"She had a neat thing happen where she had a ton of private-team kids all at the same time, which is unusual," said Arundel coach Carol Nutt. "Sometimes, you have one or two, but she had a gang there for a couple of years."
This year is different. Habicht, whose girls won the county championship last spring, said, "We have no one who competed a private club. This is a rebuilding year."
That's true at other schools, as well.
While Annapolis may have its strongest girls team in four years, most coaches agree that Chesapeake has the most talent among both boys and girls.
"Given everything we've seen, it's probably going to be one of the best gymnastics years we've seen in the county in a long time," said Broadneck coach Judy Svec. "It sounds like we've all had the same situations, with [limited use of] the facilities because of the weather, and it looks like we all have a lot of potential this year. And it looks like a lot of people have a lot of youth."
C7 Here's a look at the county's six gymnastics teams.
In the previous two seasons, Annapolis' boys team won the county and state-regional titles. In 1991, it was freshman sensation Peter Lombard who led the way. And after Lombard moved to Florida, coach Neill Russell called upon seniors Dominic Boardley and Jason Hill -- who were injured much of the season -- to provide the points necessary to assure last spring's championships.
Can history repeat itself? Again?
"I don't know what the other teams have," said Russell, who hopes seniors Antoine Thomas and Shawn Taylor, a running back on the football team, emerge this year. Thomas specializes in the floor exercise, and Taylor excels in the vault.
"I have five all-arounders, though. It's the same kids as last year, minus Dominic and Jason," Russell said.
The most polished gymnast, Russell said, is junior Jamie Scott. He should take some of the pressure off Thomas and Taylor.
Other juniors include Alex Smith and Ranard DeLeon.
The captain is senior Ben Finklestein, who, like senior Mark Cochran, scores highest on the pommel horse.
The Panthers' girls will benefit from a healthy Karen Thompson. A senior who has battled injuries the previous two seasons, Thompson won the county all-around championship as a freshman.
Thompson is one of four all-arounders, joining senior Kim Mussog, junior Angela Cheatham and sophomore Sara Johnson.
Cheatham stopped competing internationally two years ago, and one of the county's top newcomers. Mussog and Johnson are particularly strong on the beam.
The captain is senior Suzanne Robbins, a county champion in the vault the previous three years in the "specialist" category.
Annapolis was supposed to open its season yesterday in a tri-meet at Severna Park, but bowed out when Russell determined that his squad hadn't practiced enough because of last week's school closings.
Coach Carol Nutt welcomes back two senior boys -- Mike Whigham and Tom Hamblin. "I'd say two-thirds are beginning gymnasts," she said.
"You always lose a lot of kids; that's how it is in any sport. I have a lot of kids who are coming along nicely, but they're just inexperienced. They have a lot of talent."
Another returning male is junior Mike Perry. "Those are basically the three guys I had on the team last year," said Nutt, whose squad placed first in Wednesday's season-opening tri-meet with Broadneck and Chesapeake.
Out of 14 girls, half are new, Nutt said.
Senior Debbie Chute is in her fourth year on the varsity. There are no juniors, and "a ton of sophomores," said Nutt, including returnees Megan Glaze and Erin Kupstas.
Freshmen Karen Newhard and Michelle Gagnier will offer immediate help. Newhard placed first in all-around in Wednesday's home tri-meet with Broadneck and Chesapeake.
"Other than that, we're pretty young and inexperienced," Nutt said. "We should improve as the season goes on.
"It's hard to say where we're strongest. Like everybody else, we lost quite a bit of practice last week. We're behind, which is unusual for gymnastics. Even the kids who have competed before are feeling a little ill-prepared, but it will be OK.
"Usually, you kind of have a feel for what's happening and what's going on, but it's hard to say. There are so many variables. I don't think we're going to be weak. But this team is so young that I'm looking forward to continually improving, and we should be pretty strong by the end of the season. We can do nothing but improve.
"It's going to be interesting to watch how they mature."
Broadneck senior Todd Keyser got off to a good start this spring, placing first in the all-around in Wednesday's tri-meet at Arundel. He won the rings, pommel horse and high bar, but the outnumbered Bruins boys finished third.
That could be a familiar scenario. Last year, as Broadneck's lone representative, Keyser took second on the high bar and third on the rings and pommel horse at the county meet, then placed first on the pommel horse and second on the high bar at the state-regionals.
This season, he is joined by newcomers Matt Womer (senior), Drew Power (sophomore), Craig Reedy (sophomore) and Aaron Lawson (freshman).
"It's going to be a rebuilding year for the boys," coach Judy Svec said. "They're improving very quickly.
"I expect Todd to do very well."
Her girls placed first at Wednesday's tri-meet, even though Svec said, "It's almost an entirely new team, a very young team."
"I expect us to do well," she said. "I know we'll be very competitive this season. I don't want to make any predictions, but I do believe that we have a very honest shot at the county championship, and perhaps the region, if everyone stays healthy."
Broadneck's all-arounders are junior Dawn McAteer and sophomore Lauren Noland. Seniors Claire Plummer and Dawn Pruner, juniors Katie Schlachter and Taryn Barbour, and freshmen Colleen Rossiter, Laura Fitzgerald and Kisha Black-Gallagher also compete.
A tri-meet at Broadneck originally scheduled for next Wednesday
has been moved to April 2 at 7 p.m.
Compared with the other county coaches, first-year coach Bob Lundy has a wealth of talent and experience to work with, most notably junior Kim Johnson.
Johnson took third place in the floor exercise, balance beam and vault at last year's county meet. With Severna Park's Tracie Miller and Beth Hoisington and Meade's Mollie Bell gone, Johnson could emerge as the area's top female in all-around this spring.
"We hope she can continue to build on what she did last year," Lundy said.
Johnson placed third in all-around at Wednesday's tri-meet at Arundel.
Another junior, Mandy Hart, provides the Cougars with a one-two punch in all-around. Competing in the "specialist" category in last year's county meet, she took first place in the floor exercise.
Rounding out the girls team are seniors Dana Pirone and Katerina Palkova, juniors Jamie Suskie, Rachael Jeffords and Nicole Planey, sophomore Valerie Walker and freshmen Tracy Richter and Darlene Garaldo. Palkova is a foreign exchange student from Russia.
The boys team doesn't contain as much star power, but it has an ample supply of veterans. No one was lost to graduation from last year.
Seniors Dan Hinkle and Aaron Manfra are back to compete in all-around, where they finished second and third, respectively, on Wednesday. Juniors Chris Coffman, John Hein, Frank Salvarola and Tom Wargo, sophomores Mat Rush and Matt Pirone and freshman Fran Cavanaugh provide added depth, something other schools in the county are lacking.
On paper, coach Jack Bliss says senior Travis Corbett is the third-best returning all-around competitor in the county. "But that's on paper," Bliss said.
How well the Patriots do on the mats depends on the development of freshmen Phil Duker, Mike Goninan and Scott Essom, and sophomore Brian Crane.
Corbett and junior Scott Roddy are the only returning males, and Bliss said, "Those two are going to have to carry the weight."
Junior Jason Athanas is "a real strong kid," said Bliss, who lost county parallel bars champion Vydas Dulys to graduation.
The girls team includes seniors Kathy Wahl, Bea Trinidad and Julie Reynolds and a potential freshman sensation in Holly Firebaugh, who competed privately the previous four years and went to the nationals two years ago.
"She's not the best one in the county, but she will help a lot," Bliss said of Firebaugh, who is recovering from a broken arm.
Juniors Jen Stockett, Cindy Hickton and Jenny Klimes, and sophomore Shannon Slay also will compete.
"We'll start off slow," Bliss said. "We've got a shot at qualifying for the states this year. It depends on how a couple of these kids come along. We'll start off slow and work to get to that point."
Severna Park lost its two best female competitors in Tracie Miller (Rhode Island) and Beth Hoisington (Towson State).
Last spring, coach Bonnie Habicht called Miller "probably the best gymnast we've ever had coming out of this school," after Miller was named Anne Arundel County Female Gymnast of the Year. She won the county all-around championship and placed third at the state-regionals, despite ankle and back injuries. She won the state-regional all-around title as a junior.
Hoisington took third place in the county all-around two straight years.
"You can't replace them," Habicht said.
The top female among the five returnees this season is senior Sarah Deal, in her fourth year on the varsity. "She usually does very well on the bars and fairly well on the vault. Last year, we added balance beam, and this year, she's competing all-around," Habicht said.
The rest of the girls team consists of juniors Julie Brown, Laura Palme and Tara Vogel, sophomores Michelle Force, Lisa Moxley and Sonia Rippert, and freshmen Amy Baikauskas, Casey Moore, Julie Timko, Jenny Tipson and Michelle Vine.
Baikauskas and Moxley have some private training on the club level, "and I'd suspect that they're going to do fairly well," Habicht said. "Rippert will be competing all-around, and Vogel should do well on the bars."
On the boys side, Jesse Whyte returns for his junior season and is viewed as the early favorite to win the county/regional title at Old Mill on May 5. There is no state meet because not enough schools offer boys gymnastics.
Whyte won the county all-around championship last spring and placed third in the state-regional meet. He was selected as Anne Arundel County's Male Gymnast of the Year.
"He seems very confident this year," Habicht said.
Whyte won't be the only Falcon to score highly this season. Junior Ben Jones "is going to be a big success this year," Habicht said, and junior Jason Erwin has shown vast improvement after working out at the Naval Academy.
Sophomore Jamie Kuch is described by Habicht as "a real dynamo." He joins junior twins John and Mike Henry, who will be strongest on the rings and parallel bars, junior Nate McCabe, sophomore Matt McFarland and freshman Grayson Jones.