By ED KENSIK
For Montclair Local
After a couple of years of sub-.500 records, the Montclair gymnastics team appears to be on the road to a revival this fall.
The Mounties raised their record over .500 after they roared past Wayne Valley 98.275 – 47.05 on Thursday, Sept. 30, at Montclair High School. That made it back-to-back victories, after the team nipped Tenafly, 99.4 – 96.95, on Sept. 28 at home.
When the 2020 season was shortened and moved to the spring of 2021, Montclair finished with a 2-4 record.
“This year we are really improving in comparison to the previous two seasons,” said Mounties head coach Lauren Kruse, referring to 2019, when the squad also had a sub-.500 record. “We have had a really successful season so far and are hoping for some more wins throughout the remainder of our season. I am really proud of the team for coming together and working so hard.”
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With the win over Wayne Valley, Montclair was 4-3. But the Mounties could have been undefeated so far this fall. In its three defeats Montclair lost by an average of 1.2 points.
For Kruse, the target is to improve as the season goes along, with the hope to peak for Oct. 25 at Ridgewood High School in the League A Championships, considered the biggest meet of the fall season.
“The team’s goals this season are to continue to work hard, stay on task, improve our overall team score, demonstrate positive sportsmanship and develop the freshman and sophomore student-athletes,” the coach said.
There are also the state individual sections on Nov. 6, with senior co-captain Elizabeth Fitzgerald already qualifying in all four events (vault, uneven parallel bars, beam and floor). Before the Wayne Valley match, junior Bianca La Fazia and freshman Sarah de la Rosa had qualified in the vault and bars respectively for the state individuals.
Against Wayne Valley, Fitzgerald continued to improve and had her best all-around mark so far with 35.425 to take first in the dual meet. She also took first in the floor (9.3) and the beam (8.8). La Fazia finished third in both the vault (8.6) and bars (7.5).
A big plus this season for Kruse has been the senior leadership of co-captains Fitzgerald and twin sisters Margalit and Elana Schwartz.
But there have also been contributions across the lineup, including the new blood, freshmen de la Rosa and Surya Shah. Both have bolstered the team’s scoring on the bars. Overall, 11 of the 17 gymnasts on the team are freshmen and sophomores.
The best victory so far this fall has been the first match, 95.2 – 87.8 over Pascack Hills on Sept. 13.
Although Pascack Hills took the all-around first place, the Mounties swept first in all four individual events. De la Rosa, La Fazia and sophomore Avery Mackay came in first, second and third respectively in the uneven parallel bars. La Fazia took first in the vault while de la Rosa and Elana Schwartz collected first place in the beam and floor exercise respectively.
For Elana Schwartz, there is no doubt which match is on the top of her list so far.
“I think the best match was our first meet against Pascack because the whole team did super well and it was a great way to start the season,” she said, adding that her best event is the floor. “Also, I believe in my past three years of being on the team we have never beat them (Pascack Hills), so getting that MHS win was very gratifying for my last year.”
Her twin, Margalit, is very happy to be competing with her sister. “We are very close, and having this sport to bond over is amazing,” she said. “I have my best friend on the team experiencing everything I am experiencing alongside me. We get to cheer each other on and support each other in our best, and worst, moments.”
Added Elana: “We love cheering each other on during competitions and making each other better gymnasts. As captains together we’ve worked really hard to get our team to bond across all grades, especially after last season, when it was hard to get to know each other well with COVID.”
While Margalit’s best event is the beam, she hopes to qualify for the state individual tournament in the vault. “Before this year, I have never competed in vault at the high school because I have had a mental block,” she said. “Getting over that mental block and having the courage to do vault again has been a huge accomplishment for me this season.”
Teamwise, the Mounties will have a good prep for the League A Championships when they take on Ridgewood on Oct. 14. As of last week, Ridgewood was undefeated in team play.
The schedule: Oct. 5, Ramapo (results not available at press time); Oct. 12, Holy Angels, 5 p.m.; Oct. 14, Ridgewood, 5 p.m.; Oct. 25, League A Championships at Ridgewood, 2:45 p.m.