IN THE SPOTLIGHT
On the eve of a regional gymnastics meet earlier this month, Glenbrook South freshman Sheena Graham worked on the tricky part of her uneven-bars mount.
Over and over and over and …
“She tried to get it right about 10 times,” Titans coach Steve Gale recalls. “And that was probably seven times too many. There’s a risk that comes with working on a move too many times in a practice; the risk is frustration. You don’t want a frustrated gymnast before a big meet.
“But that’s the kind of drive Sheena has,” the coach adds. “She’s a skillful gymnast and a very solid performer. Coachable. And she doesn’t get rattled … OK, she got rattled once this season, only once.”
She displayed nothing but steely resolve on the bars at the Glenbrook South Regional on Feb. 1, smoothly swinging and working her way to a first-place 9.55. Graham’s form was tight, clean, wobble-free — gymnastics’ version of a football spiral.
Graham also advanced automatically to the Niles North Sectional (scheduled for Feb. 6) in the all-around (second place, 37.6), on vault (second, 9.65), on the balance beam (second, 9.175) and on floor exercise (second, 9.225), as the Titans dominated the five-team field with a 147.85-point showing.
Runner-up Stevenson tallied 142.65 points.
“Sheena is a strong gymnast, goes 4-for-4 [in the events] every time for us,” Glenbrook South senior co-captain Bebe Haramaras (with classmate Kylie Kruger) says. “I like to give her pep talks before routines. I always get her going with my, ‘How bad do you want this, Sheena?’ She turns serious as soon as I ask her that question; no more joking around. You should see her face — determined, focused. She then looks right at me and likes to say, ‘I’m ready.’ ”
The daughter of Finlay and Renate Graham started her career in gymnastics at the age of 6 at a club that no longer exists in Mount Prospect.
“I fell in love with the sport right away,” says Graham, now a level-9 gymnast at Dreams Gymnastics in Glenview. “I like to flip, and I’ve always had a lot of energy. You get to the point in gymnastics, after years of working hard at it, when your body just knows, automatically knows, what it has to do in routines.
“When that happens,” she adds, “you gain confidence.”
In a dual with visiting Niles West early in the season, Graham earned a splendid, confidence-boosting 9.8 on her Yurchenko layout vault. Everybody in the gym knew she had nailed the difficult launch the instant her feet hit a mat.
Graham’s thud elicited a thunderous reaction.
“The people in the gym,” Gale says, “went nuts. Gorgeous; that was a gorgeous vault. Got great height on it. Nice, nice landing. You know what she wanted to do after the 9.8? Sheena wanted to do a second vault, like she always does, no matter what her score was on her first vault. That’s Sheena — competitive, driven Sheena. I didn’t let her vault a second time on that night. After a 9.8? No way.”
On the first day of her high school gymnastics career, in November, Graham entered the gym for a tryout session with some of her Dreams cohorts/future Titans teammates. She felt at home in no time.
Graham then heard her teammates cheer loudly for her at South’s season opener and soon realized, This isn’t anything like the atmosphere at a club meet.
“I felt like I was part of a family,” Graham says. “I felt close with all of my teammates. I want to succeed for my teammates now, not for myself. Helping my team, in any way, drives me more than anything else does.
“I love being a part of this team.”
Others love competing on a team with Graham.
“Sheena has grown a lot as a competitor,” says Titans sophomore/Dreams product Jenna Hartley, who had a sensational regional on the home mats last week, capturing the all-around championship with 37.775 points and topping the fields on vault (9.8) and floor exercise (9.525) to go with her runner-up performance on bars (9.3) and third-place effort on the balance beam (9.15).
“She’s more consistent, while doing harder skills,” adds Hartley, an integral member of the Titans’ third-place squad at the state meet last winter. “And Sheena is an awesome teammate, always smiling or laughing when she isn’t competing.”
Notable: Glenbrook South’s gymnastics team ranked first (147.85 points) among the regional champions in the Niles North Sectional, ahead of New Trier (147.6), Carmel Catholic (144.75) and Deerfield (142.425). The Titans’ other automatic sectional qualifiers from the Glenbrook South Regional on Feb. 1: junior Sarah Healy (third place, all-around, 36.075; third, floor, 9.075; fifth, bars, 8.9); freshman Sydney Willits (third, vault, 9.325); senior Bebe Haramaras (third, bars, 9.175); sophomore Emily Wyngarden (fourth, bars, 9.1); and freshman Elena Pauker (fifth-place tie, floor, 8.9). Haramaras and Healy combined for five at-large berths, with one of Haramaras’ non-top-five results coming in the all-around (sixth, 35.425). … Haramaras put off surgery on her injured right ankle until after the season, her last as a Titan. “I have an extra bone in that ankle, and it doesn’t feel right,” she says, adding the discomfort hampers her somewhat at meets. But that pain pales in comparison to the agony she would have endured had she chosen to go ahead with season-ending surgery and miss competing for another elite Titans crew. Tough teen, inspirational teammate.
Glenbrook North: The Spartans advanced to the Niles North Sectional (scheduled for Feb. 6) with a runner-up showing (141.55 points) at the Wheeling Regional on Jan. 29. Glenbrook North senior Brittany Ullrich tied for second place (35.925) in the all-around and also qualified automatically on vault (fifth place, 9.075) and bars (third, 9.325); she earned at-large berths on beam (8.55) and floor (8.975).
Sophomore Roxanne Goldfarb emerged at the Spartans’ other all-around sectional qualifier with a fifth-place effort (34.85). She took fifth on bars (8.825) at Wheeling and extended her season on vault with an at-large mark of 8.975.
North’s other qualifiers: sophomore Lucie Abbott (third, beam, 8.75; fourth, floor, 9.1; at-large 8.775, vault); senior Kelly Lazar (fourth, vault, 9.125; at-large 8.675, bars) sophomore Molly Alcorn (fifth, beam, 8.575; at-large 8.55, bars); and freshman Katie Dahlke (fourth, floor, 9.1; at-large 8.825, vault).