Worthington Kilbourne High School gymnastics coach Cindy Fushimi said it will take a collective effort to fill the scoring void left by her daughter, 2013 graduate Selena Fushimi-Karns.
The Wolves, who opened Dec. 11 against Dublin Coffman and OCC-Central Division opponents Delaware and Dublin Scioto, are seeking their fifth consecutive league title and a second consecutive district championship.
"To have another season like the one we had last year, we'll need to replace last year's seniors (including Paige Martinski) with a group effort," Fushimi said. "Selena handled pressure well from meet to meet and was pretty consistent and Paige was a good leader.
"We've picked up three freshmen who will help with that, and each of the girls we have coming back worked hard over the offseason to add harder skills to their routines. Our girls have each improved a little bit here and a little bit there and hopefully that will be enough to make us as strong as we were last season."
The Wolves have returned three individual state qualifiers from last season in senior Jaclyn Turner and juniors Allie Guist and Kayla Rice.
In the individual state meet a year ago at Hilliard Bradley, Guist placed 10th on uneven bars (8.775 points), Rice placed 13th on balance beam (8.875), Turner finished 25th on balance beam (8.45) and Fushimi-Karns finished 23rd in the all-around (34.8) and 26th on floor exercise (8.7) and tied for 22nd on vault (9.0).
Also on the team are seniors Katie Armstrong, Celeste Fushimi-Karns and Emily Juhola, juniors Maddie Beal, Sam Ingham and Kaitlin Troutner and freshman Bethany Lange.
"We've got a lot of talented girls back and they have good attitudes," Fushimi said. "Bethany has competed in club gymnastics before, so she could help us score right away."
Last season, Kilbourne won all five OCC-Central duals, finished first in the league meet with a season-high 137.45 as Hilliard Davidson (127.225) placed second and finished first in the overall league standings with 24 points as Olentangy Liberty (18, 4-1) and Hilliard Davidson (18, 3-2) tied for second.
Kilbourne also won its first district championship since 2000 and qualified for state as a team for the third time in four seasons.
The Wolves placed sixth (137.53) in the 12-team state team meet behind 10-time defending champion Brecksville-Broadview Heights (148.33).
"We had such a good season last year and there are expectations that we can do it again," coach Fushimi said. "We may be somewhat favored to win the OCC again, but it's hard to predict because another team may pick up an experienced club gymnast who makes their whole team better. I've heard that Dublin Coffman has added a girl with high-level club experience, so winning district is going to be very difficult. We just want to do our best and see where that puts us."
Cardinals looking to return to state
One of the area's top gymnasts a year ago, senior Leah Carloni has returned to lead Thomas.
Last season in the individual state meet, Carloni placed fifth on both beam (9.25) and bars (9.15) and finished eighth in the all-around (36.2).
Other key returnees are senior Chandler Adamaitis and juniors Haley Carnahan and Erica Roggenkamp.
Rounding out the team are senior Lexey Parish, juniors Megan Fierro and Paloma Rios, sophomores Liesl Ludwig and Rachel Mackov and freshmen Kiara Coleman, Olivia Engle, Johnna Helfer, Anna Konieczynski and Zoe McIntosh.
"Leah is back, but we can't rely on just a few people to do our scoring," said 18th-year coach Marci Skeen, whose team opened Dec. 9 by scoring 126.8 points to finish fourth of seven teams behind Hilliard Bradley (130.2), Hilliard Darby (128.25) and Westerville Central (126.85). "We don't have a lot of depth, so we need to stay healthy and strong. Everybody's going to be important to our success this season."
The Cardinals are looking to challenge Coffman for the OCC-Ohio title. Last season, they went 4-1 in league duals, placed second (134.8) in the league meet behind Coffman (141.2) and second (20) in the overall standings behind Coffman (24, 5-0).
Carloni won bars (9.175) in the league meet and placed second on vault (9.1) and the all-around (35.75). She also won the district title on bars (9.175).
The Cardinals advanced to the state team meet for the four consecutive season a year ago, placing 10th (133.95). Carloni had the team's best score on beam (9.15) and bars (9.15) and Roggenkamp had the team's best score on vault (8.825).
"It's hard to keep making it back to state year after year, but our biggest goal is to make it back for a fifth year in a row," Skeen said. "I'm going to assume that Dublin Coffman is still going to be good in the OCC, but the only team we can worry about is ourselves and making sure we continue to get better."