The addition of Raegan Ernst helped the Dublin Jerome gymnastics team break its record for points in a meet on multiple occasions last season and propelled the Celtics to the state team meet for just the second time in program history.
A breakthrough season by Grace Krouse also contributed to the Celtics' success a year ago.
After qualifying for district in the all-around in 2018, Krouse finished first on vault (9.275), tied for seventh on floor exercise (9.025) and tied for fifth in the all-around (35.7) at district last season to advance to state as an individual while also helping the Celtics earn a district runner-up finish as a team.
However, Krouse will never know for sure what impact she might have had at state had she been able to compete.
On her second vault attempt at district, she tore the ACL and meniscus in her left knee to end her season.
"I had a month where I couldn't walk," said Krouse, now a senior. "I was really disappointed. It was really fun to cheer (my teammates) on (at state), but it was also sad because I wanted to be there and compete. I knew I couldn't have that mindset and that I just had to get back (this season)."
Although her return has been gradual, Krouse could prove to be a difference-maker by the time the Celtics compete in the OCC-Cardinal Division and district meets a few weeks from now. After enduring rehabilitation for about nine months, she was medically cleared at the end of November to compete and slowly has been adding elements to her routines.
On Jan. 11 in the 16-team McGee Invitational, Krouse finished 10th on uneven bars (8.8) and also competed on balance beam.
"(My knee is) still sore and I'm trying to get everything back, so it's going on the upslope," Krouse said. "Bars was the easiest to get back into because I don't really need my leg. I was able to practice it before I was fully cleared, which was nice.
"It's helped that this is my senior year because I know I won't do gymnastics in college. For me, it's just continuing to push to get everything back. We have a lot of younger gymnasts and they're all really good. (Returning to state as a team is) the goal."
Krouse is considering studying sports medicine, a field she already was somewhat interested in before sustaining her knee injury.
With Krouse competing in only two events, the host Celtics scored 136.55 points in the McGee Invitational to finish fifth behind champion Thornville Sheridan (140.775) as Ernst, a sophomore, won the all-around (36.75).
Jerome also finished first (season-best 136.725) in the 12-team Worthington Kilbourne Invitational on Jan. 18. Ernst was champion in the all-around (36.5), while Krouse finished 13th in the all-around (32.675), ninth on beam (8.65) and 10th on bars (8.325).
The only central Ohio team to finish ahead of Jerome at the McGee Invitational was Olentangy Berlin (138.125), which also competes in the OCC-Cardinal.
"It's just going to really depend on who hits (at the league meet Feb. 8) and hopefully it's us, but you never know," coach Kristen Willms said. "The only expectation I have is for us to be improving.
"(Krouse is) getting better physically and I think a lot of it is learning to trust that knee again. We've been trying to save her body as much as we can, but I'd say in the next couple weeks she'll be able to put something out on those other events (in addition to bars and beam). We just have to get her back on vault and floor and we're going to be in a really good spot."
Wrestlers taking big steps forward
The wrestling team continues to show its resiliency, according to coach Matt White.
On Jan. 15, Jerome trailed Olentangy Berlin by two points entering the final match but got a 12-5 victory by Drew Kavinsky at 195 pounds to win the dual 34-33 and improve to 3-1 in the OCC-Cardinal.
The Celtics' other league wins have come against Thomas Worthington (57-24 on Dec. 6) and Kilbourne (50-27 on Jan. 9). Their league loss was to Delaware (61-15 on Dec. 13).
On Dec. 14, Jerome scored 217.5 points to finish second in the 13-team Big Walnut Classic behind Galion Northmor (235).
"This team has been resilient all year," White said. "We've battled through some injuries and sickness but have still been able to put together strong lineups and been able to compete on the mat. We've had to bump some kids around at times and fill some spots with (junior varsity) wrestlers. The best part is we still have the opportunity to get better, and that's a good feeling to have going further into the OCC season and the postseason.
"The team finished as tournament runners-up at Big Walnut. From what I was told, this was probably the first team trophy Jerome has won in almost 10 years."
Through the match against Berlin, Kavinsky was 14-5, Joe Huber was 16-2 at 220 and Jack Viola was 17-2 at 106.
The Celtics are host Thursday, Jan. 23, to Hilliard Bradley, which tied Jerome for third in the league last season at 4-3 behind Hilliard Darby (7-0) and Delaware (6-1).
Jerome competes at Darby on Jan. 30.
"As a team, we've been discussing continuing to fine-tune everything and clean up our simple mistakes," White said. "As soon as we are able to do that, this team will make big strides. We're pressuring these guys each day in practice to find an intensity within themselves they didn't know they had. If we can channel that energy and aggressiveness into our matches, these kids will be tough to wrestle (against)."
Swimmers prep for league meet
The boys and girls swimming and diving teams are preparing to compete in the OCC-Cardinal meet Sunday, Jan. 26, at Kenyon College.
Both teams enter the meet as the defending league champion, with the boys scoring 398 points last year to win easily over runner-up Delaware (183) and the girls scoring 282.5 points to edge the Pacers (262) for the title.
On Jan. 18 in the Dublin Classic at Dublin Recreation Center, the boys scored 131 points to finish first ahead of Coffman (112) and Scioto (66) and the girls were second (125) behind Coffman (157) and ahead of Scioto (27).
On Jan. 11 in the Northeast Classic at Branin Natatorium in Canton, the boys finished third (219) behind St. Charles (227) and North Canton Hoover (224) as 42 teams scored and the girls were ninth (110) behind champion New Albany (311.5) as 44 teams scored.
In the Northeast Classic, Reno James won the 100-yard butterfly (50.96 seconds) to lead the boys and Maya Geringer was first in the 500 freestyle (4:54.04) to lead the girls.
Below are the coming schedules for the Jerome boys basketball, girls basketball, gymnastics, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 24 -- At Thomas Worthington. The Celtics lost to the Cardinals 61-47 on Dec. 10.
*Jan. 24 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington. The Celtics beat the Cardinals 42-22 on Dec. 10.
Jan. 28 -- Home vs. New Albany
Jan. 28 -- At Coffman with Scioto
*Jan. 24 -- Olentangy Berlin at Chiller Dublin
*Jan. 26 -- Cincinnati Moeller at Chiller Dublin
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 26 -- OCC-Cardinal meet at Kenyon College
Jan. 28 -- At New Albany
*Jan. 23 -- Home vs. Hilliard Bradley
Jan. 24-25 -- Marion Pleasant Invitational