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The Hand gymnastics team captured its 10th straight conference title with a first-place finish at the SCC Championship meet at Law High School on Feb. 9. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Senior co-captain Erin Naclerio earned the Most Outstanding Performer Award for the Hand gymnastics team at the SCC Championship. Naclerio finished first in the all-around, the vault, and the beam at the meet. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
The Tigers’ gymnastics team has now reigned atop the Southern Connecticut Conference for the past decade after once again placing first at the SCC meet. Pictured from Hand are senior captain Erin Naclerio, Head Coach Kelly Smith, and senior captain Delaney Skelly. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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Although several top contenders tried their best, once again, there was no team that could knock the Hand gymnastics squad off its pedestal atop the Southern Connecticut Conference this season. For the 10th consecutive year, the Tigers took first place at the SCC Championship to claim the conference title.
The Tigers entered the SCC Championship as the nine-time defending champions and were coming off of an undefeated regular season. During that perfect stretch, Hand narrowly edged out rival Mercy by 0.55 points on Jan. 25. Mercy made a solid run at the SCC meet, but it wasn’t quite enough, as the Tigers scored 133.4 points to defeat runner-up Mercy (131.25) and win their 10th straight conference crown. Senior co-captain Erin Naclerio led Hand with a score of 36.5 to finish first for the all-around and earn the Most Outstanding Performer Award at the meet.
“It really meant a lot to win SCCs again in my senior year. I was really focused on winning for our team, because we’ve worked incredibly hard, and that helped take some of the individual pressure off,” said Naclerio. “I felt I had a really good meet. I’ve been trying to stay consistent throughout the season and just do a lot of numbers in the gym trying to perfect every tiny detail and have fun while doing it, because it’s my last season. I’m incredibly proud of the team. We just tried to focus on ourselves, and we had a ton of energy, and I know for myself and for the team, the win was well deserved.”
Naclerio took first on the vault (score of 9.2) and beam (9.2), and she was also runner-up for the bars (9.0) and floor (9.1) at the SCC Championship. Junior Grace Rogers finished fourth for the all-around (33.65), second on the beam (8.5), third for the floor (8.7), and tied for seventh in the bars (8.2) with junior teammate Schylar Saliba. Junior Lexi Theel scored an 8.0 on the beam for seventh place. Naclerio, Rogers, Saliba, and Theel all made the All-SCC Team for Hand.
Rogers said that after the Tigers graduated many quality seniors from a year ago, they knew they would have to hit every last detail at SCCs in order to defend their title.
“Winning SCCs once again was such a nice surprise. After we lost so many great seniors last year, we weren’t sure if we could pull off another win. But with all the hard work we have put in this year, it definitely paid off,” said Rogers. “It really came down to the pointed toes and straight legs that earned us those tenths [of a point].”
Other solid scores for Hand on the evening came from junior Kelley Levis (8.0 on floor), sophomore Carly Barba (8.35 on vault), and junior Alara Nahar (7.8 on beam). Freshmen Kayla Cataldo, Grace Segnere, senior co-captain Delaney Skelly, and fellow senior Marisa Padelli also competed for Hand. Head Coach Kelly Smith said the Tigers had a few stumbles at the SCC meet, but they quickly recovered, and refocused on the prize.
“We’re so thrilled with this win. It doesn’t get old year after year and, this year especially after losing such a big part of our team to the graduating class, we were unsure of how we´d score this season,” said Smith. “Mercy is a very talented team, and we had such a close meet with them two weeks ago, so we anticipated this being a close meet. We gave away a little bit with some falls on beam, but the girls showed mental strength in recovery from mistakes...We were able to absorb some of those mistakes because of our depth and their ability to push through and stay focused.”
Coach Smith said that each one of her teams is built differently, and she feels the athletes on this year’s edition of the Tigers showed their selflessness by stepping outside of their comfort zone for the good of the squad.
“We lost five seniors last year, four of whom were three- to four-event competitors in our lineup, and we only had two freshmen come in. That meant all of the team had to step up their skills, their routines, and step in to lineups where they may not have been before..There’s such a pride in our program and its success that I think the girls want to keep the tradition going and, when they get the call, they answer,” Smith said. “Every athlete is ready to compete at any time...If every athlete can learn something new, make some kind of improvement, then the group as a whole finds success.”
The Tigers came into SCCs with a record of 13-0 after scoring 134.05 points to defeat Stonington (128.5), Pomperaug (121.8), and Nonnewaug (109.25) on Feb. 6. Naclerio recorded a career-best score of 37.2 for the all-around by taking first on vault (9.1), bars (8.9), beam (9.5), and floor (9.6). Also competing for Hand were Rogers (3rd on vault, 8.4; tied for 3rd on beam, 8.4; 2nd on floor, 8.85; 2nd in all-around, 33.85), Saliba (tied for 3rd on floor, 8.45; 31.75 all-around), Cataldo (30.65 for her first career all-around, 8.35 on floor), and Segnere (8.1 on vault).
“This was our highest team score so far this season and was certainly spearheaded by Erin’s career-high all-around. This was the best performance I’ve seen from her, and she’s been working hard to fine-tune the little things, all of which she performed pretty flawlessly today,” said Coach Smith. “Our other all-around [participants]—Grace, Schylar, and Kayla—all turned in solid performances on all four events also to help lead the team to such a high score.”
Hand now focuses on winning its sixth straight state title and its 19th in program history. The State Championship meets will take place on Saturday, Feb. 24 at Pomperaug High School. Teams are assigned to either Class L, M, or S based on their collective average score for their second-best through sixth-best scores during the regular season. As her team gets ready to compete among some of elite gymnastics squads in the state, Coach Smith said the Tigers are solely concerned about what they can control.
“Our goal will be to go in and have a great day and to see where the cards may fall...There is no defense in gymnastics—only offense—so all we can do is prepare ourselves to the best of our abilities, and it doesn’t matter who we go against at states,” said Smith.
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