Avery Faulkner and Rachel Zun engaged in some small talk when they were getting to know each other as eighth-graders at Wilmette Junior High School in 2015.
A conversation went something like this:
Zun: “What sports do you enjoy?”
Faulkner: “I play gymnastics.”
Zun’s initial reaction was a funny one, given what Zun knows about Faulkner today.
“You don’t ‘play’ gymnastics,” Zun said near the end of the Chester Jones Evanston Gymnastics Invitational on Jan. 7. “I thought, ‘Oh, she can’t be a serious gymnast.’ I assumed she was a low-level gymnast.”
Zun — now a freshman gymnast on New Trier’s varsity gymnastics team, just like Faulkner — was off in the assumption.
She later viewed video footage of Faulkner performing gymnastics routines and watched Faulkner execute difficult skill after difficult skill in a gym.
“That’s when I realized, ‘OK, she’s good, really good,’ ” Zun added. “So good that she was intimidating. Her form … it’s amazing.”
Faulkner continued her fine rookie season at the high school level last weekend in Evanston, finishing in a tie for second place in the all-around (37.35) at the 11-team event and earning top-three marks in three events, including a first-place 9.6 on floor exercise for the meet champion Trevians (season-high 145.7 points).
“Avery is incredibly talented, with three years of experience as a level-10 club gymnast,” said Trevians coach Jennifer Pistorius, whose daughter, Maine South gymnast Caleigh Pistorius, tied Faulkner for runner-up honors in the all-around last weekend.
“Avery enjoys the different atmosphere of high school gymnastics,” the coach added. “It’s fun for her and for our other three freshmen [on varsity — Zun, Maeve Murdock and Zun’s sister, Amy Zun].”
Faulkner lived in Texas until the age of eight before moving to Elmhurst and living there for five years. Her family moved to Wilmette a year and a half ago. Her first day as a gymnast — at the age of six — is considered late in gymnastics circles.
“I was walking around the house on my tiptoes, running around and jumping on couches,” recalled the 5-foot-1 Faulkner, now a level-10 gymnast at American Academy in Wheeling. “I had all of this energy. My mom, Jaime [a tennis player], thought it would be a good idea to get me involved in gymnastics, to sign me up for a class.”
The quick learner aced her tests in the gym and received the OK to skip level-4 and start her club career at level-5 in Texas.
Her other scores at the invite last weekend: 9.75 on vault (second place); 9.25 on bars (third); and 8.875 on beam (ninth).
“I like learning new skills,” said Faulkner, adding she recently added a double layout to her bars routine. “All of the [high school] teams are good, and it’s fun to compete with and against my friends. Our team … all of us on it are really close. What I really like about [high school gymnastics) is hearing my teammates cheer; it gets my adrenaline going.
“I would like to compete in college and for as long as I can.”
Off the mats, Faulkner has a magnetic personality, attracting those who love to laugh and talk.
“You can talk to her about anything,” said Rachel Zun, a level-9 gymnast at American Academy who tied for fifth place (9.175) on floor and finished fifth on bars (8.8) at the Evanston Invite. “She’s really supportive, fun to be around and funny. I laugh hard every day I’m around her.”
Notable: The highlight of New Trier junior Emma Jane Rohrer’s fourth-place showing in the all-around (36.45) was her championship mark of 9.4 on the uneven bars at the Chester Jones Evanston Invite on Jan. 7. She also spun a 9.45 floor show, sharp enough for third place. Trevians freshman Maeve Murdock collected four medals at the meet, including a bronze on beam (9.225). The fifth-place finisher in the all-around (36.4) also took fourth on vault (9.5) and fourth on bars (9.0). … NT girls gymnastics coach Jennifer Pistorius found herself doing three things at once in the middle of last weekend’s invite in Evanston. She fielded a question from a sports writer and listened to a question from a Trevian while watching her daughter, Maine South’s Caleigh Pistorius, perform on the balance beam. … Caleigh Pistorius topped the field on vault (9.825) at the invite last weekend. … NT (season-high 145.7) finished comfortably ahead of runner-up Maine South (142.6) and third-place Glenbrook South (140.15) at the Evanston Invite last weekend. NT’s previous season-high score was 143.65, accomplished in a victory at Deerfield High School on Jan. 5.