Boys gymnastics aims to continue string of successes, focus on growth

“The [2019-20] COVID season, we had a really good team—one of our best. We opened with our highest score ever. Then, boom, no season. We just had one meet and that was it,” head coach Frank Erwin explains.

Thus, last season was defined by rebuilding, persistence, and, most importantly, success for the Kits. Despite less than ideal circumstances with entirely virtual competitions, the squad was able to take third at Conference, send three athletes to state and even produce a Sectional champion on the floor.

Going into the early days of this season, Evanston hopes to build upon its earlier achievements.

“l’d like to see us do better than third at Conference. I think we can have our highest team score in probably 40 years,” Erwin elaborates. “Our high last year was 130, and I think we can beat that by at least five points, maybe more. Last year, we had three state qualifiers—let’s see if we can double that this year.”

But, in order to achieve these goals, the squad has faced an abundance of challenges—starting with the constraint of time.

“It’s almost like you’re doing six sports because there’s six events, and they’re all different, and it’s very challenging if you’re working all six events, and a lot of these guys are,” Erwin notes. “It’s a challenge to coach those six all at the same time, and it’s a challenge for the gymnasts to get good. You only have so much time and so many hours in the day.”

Besides their battle with clocks, the Kits have also had to focus on remaining injury-free.

“We had a couple of serious injuries last year, and two top guys were out. We still took third. I don’t think we could have taken second even if it hadn’t been, but we would have had a much higher score, and these two top guys sustained staying healthy,” Erwin reflects. “That’s the key thing— avoiding injuries that keep you out of competition, [while] staying together and getting routines.”

However, it’s not just physical health at the top of the squad’s priority list. Every performance means a mental struggle for the athletes, and, without being in the right mindset, an entire routine could come crashing down.

“You have to remain focused. If you miss or you lose focus, that’s when you get injured. That’s when you don’t perform as well. So it’s extremely important to be focused while competing, as well as in training,” Erwin says. 

The Kits took this advice to heart on March 8, as Evanston made its winning debut against Deerfield and Highland Park. That day, senior Aryeh Lesch dominated, finishing first for the floor exercise, still rings, vault, parallel bars, and horizontal bars, while narrowly receiving second in the pommel horse. Other impressive performances were made by sophomore Xavier Probst finishing second in the floor exercise, and Mo Frischer taking third for vault. 

“First meet, you never feel ready for, and I sure don’t feel ready for it now, but hopefully we will be a little bit more ready [by March 8],” Erwin said prior to the competition. “But the first meet is always a little rusty. You’re not going to be where you want to be early in the season. I’d like to see some routines done well with not as much difficulty as I think we’ll have at the end of the season. So I want to see some simple routines that are performed well, and that’s really all I expect.”

Since then, the squad has performed at Niles West for the John Brunel Invite, where they placed fifth out of the 12 teams competing. Individually, Lesch took second for the floor exercise, third for the vault, and fifth for the horizontal bar. 

Erwin concludes on the growth that has allowed the athletes to triumph so far this season.

“I like seeing good performance at meets, but I like to see gymnasts develop, and [I like] helping them to develop at any level, the freshman, sophomore, beginner or whatever. I enjoy helping them reach their goals.”