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Evanston's Clara Gruger and Shannon Fitzgibbons aspire for more difficult vaults

02/24/2014, 9:15am CST
By Eric Van Dril | For Sun-Times Media | @VanDrilSports

The juniors were inspired by watching their fellow competitors at the sectional tournament.

Evanston’s Clara Gruger competes on the vault

Evanston’s Clara Gruger competes on the vault during the Niles North girls gymnastics sectional meet on Feb. 13. Gruger did a half on, full off and finished with a score of 8.525. | Brian O’Mahoney/for Sun-Times Media

At the beginning of Evanston’s girls gymnastics season, junior Emily Varua and sophomore Andrea Glaser were thought to be the most likely to qualify for the Niles North Sectional. Injuries prevented the squad’s top-two gymnasts from competing, however, as Varua suffered a torn ACL in her right knee during the season and Glaser injured her ankle during warmups at the sectional.

That left juniors Clara Gruger and Shannon Fitzgibbons as the team’s lone competitors at the Feb. 13 sectional. Simply qualifying for the sectional was an accomplishment for both, they said, because of how their gymnastics careers have gone since they trained together at Wilmette Gymnastics in middle school.

Gymnastics is Gruger’s secondary sport — volleyball is her main focus — and this season was Fitzgibbons’ first doing gymnastics in four years. She went to Loyola as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Evanston, which she said she did partly because of athletics.

“I did gymnastics when I was younger and I really enjoyed it, and a lot of my friends do it,” said Fitzgibbons, who was on the cross country team in the fall and intends to go out for the badminton team. “I wanted to try it out and I liked it.”

Gruger has been on Evanston’s gymnastics team since she was a freshman. She and Fitzgibbons view the sport in a similar way. She continues to compete “for the fun of doing it, not for being really intense about it.” 

Neither one said she has plans on doing that much offseason training.

Gruger and Fitzgibbons only competed on vault at the sectional — Fitzgibbons scored an 8.35 on her half on, half off vault, while Gruger did a half on, full off and finished with a score of 8.525 — and they were part of the fourth and final rotation. They had to wait a long time to compete and that allowed them to watch as other girls did more difficult, flipping vaults.

“Me and Clara are definitely going to try to get [a Tsukahara on vault] next year,” Fitzgibbons said. 

“I just think it would be [an accomplishment] for my senior year to get a good vault and be able to show something that’s not as easy as a half-half is. It takes hard work, so that would be a good way to close off my senior year.”

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