Southern Regional Gymnasts Edge Barnegat to Snap Bengals’ Win Streak
When the Southern Regional and Barnegat high school gymnastics teams square off in their annual meeting, the competition often is a friendly one. Still, the rivalry matters, and the more-established Rams always seem to have a leg up on the Bengals. However, with Barnegat heading into their Oct. 17 matchup with an undefeated record and Southern coming off its best team performance of the season, this year’s battle was expected to be one of titans.
“Barnegat has really good girls this year, and our key was to not get distracted by how their girls were doing,” said senior Ashley Hemenway, who led the Rams – a 100.15-99.1 winner – with an all-around score of 33.925. “We knew this was going to be a tough meet ,and we had to focus and do what we do best.”
The Rams’ best occurred on the uneven bars and floor, as they erased an early 1.325-point deficit following the vault with a stellar team effort on the bars before clinching the victory with a floor exercise total of 26.5. But to Hemenway’s point, this victory was far from an easy one.
On the vault, the Bengals’ Kylie Picaro, who ultimately finished second with an all-around score of 34.3, took the top spot on the vault with a 9.225, while freshman Gabi DeLillo scored a 9.1 and junior Maddy Neuner added an 8.4 to put Barnegat out front at the outset.
Despite DeLillo’s top score of 8.35 on the bars, the Rams received three solid routines from Hemenway, Sarah Possidel and Gabby Conforti, who registered scores of 8.0, 7.525 and 7.25, respectively, to go up by a half-point halfway through the contest.
On the balance beam, things got even tighter, as Southern’s lead dwindled to a quarter-point. DeLillo led the way with a beam score of 9.125, while Picaro recorded an 8.75 and Heather O’Connor scored a 7.85 to give the Bengals an event total of 25.725. Southern’s 25.475 came as a result of an 8.85 from Conforti, an 8.325 from Hemenway and an 8.3 from Possidel.
With only the floor exercise left, the Bengals (7-1) needed big points to overcome the Rams (6-2). Picaro grabbed the second spot with an 8.975 and DeLillo fell in right behind her with an 8.95, while Neuner managed a 7.775, but it wasn’t quite enough. Hemenway won the event with a 9.1, followed by an 8.75 from Conforti and an 8.65 from Olivia Lattanzi to post a team total of 26.5, 0.8 ahead of Barnegat.
“We’re a lot better than last year,” Hemenway said. “We have a lot of seniors, and we’re making the most of our last season together. There’s more positive energy on this team. We’re having a lot of fun together this season.”
For DeLillo and the Bengals, which have three juniors and two freshmen putting up all the points, their 7-0 start is unprecedented.
“We’re working really hard,” DeLillo said. “We’re helping each other out. We’re having a lot of pep talks before meets. And we’re all focused on improving as much as we can from one meet to the next. I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do so far. We’re having fun, but we’re going one meet at a time.”
Unfortunately, the loss to Southern snapped the Bengals’ win streak, but first-year coach Morgan Capezzera expects the program to build from here.
“We didn’t do our best today, dropping two points because of falls,” she said. “But, so far, this has been a great season, and we’re making a lot of progress. The best part is they have the potential to be even better than they’re showing right now.”
Last week, both the Rams and Bengals posted big team scores against Jackson squads – Barnegat knocking off division rivals Jackson Liberty, 98.65-90.65, on Oct. 14, while Southern dropped a 105-103.6 decision to Jackson Memorial, also on Oct. 14.
Against the Jaguars, Hemenway recorded top scores of 9.05 on the beam, 8.7 on the vault and 8.3 on the bars to come away with the best all-around score, 34.95, while Possidel managed a 33.7, which included an 8.675 on the vault. Conforti posted a 9.1 on the beam, and Lattanzi also scored a 9.1 on the floor to help secure Southern’s high score of the season.
Meanwhile, Picaro scored a 35.5 and DeLillo added a 34.65 to send the Bengals to victory. Picaro led in three of the four events, scoring a 9.0 on the vault, an 8.6 on the bars and a 9.25 on the floor, while DeLillo won the beam with a 9.2. Neuner added an 8.95 on the vault as well.
— David Biggy