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LANCASTER'S AQUINO PREDICTING A-STONITSCH-ING SEASON FROM SENIOR

Lancaster girls gymnastics coach Donna Aquino expects senior Karen Stonitsch "to do big things this year." When hasn't she?

Stonitsch (pronounced Ston-ish) is a two-time defending Section VI champion in the all-around, vault and balance beam. Last year she set the sectional record in the all-around and helped the Redskins win their third straight team title.

"She looks great this year," said Aquino. "She's just as strong if not stronger. She's more polished and confident."

About the only thing left for Stonitsch on the high school level is a better showing at the New York State meet. She was sixth as a sophomore, and last year, while battling the flu, she finished ninth.

"I'm doing about the same type of tricks, maybe just done a little better, like better form," said Stonitsch. "You just keep doing the routine until they're as good as you can do them."

State competitors return

One thing about taking a young team to states, is it feeds their desire to get back there.

Returning gymnasts from last year's team are: Stonitsch, senior Lianne Scardino (Sweet Home), freshman Lindsey Marranca (Kenmore/Tonawanda), freshman Christy Gibney (Grand Island), freshman Leanne Bolling (Williamsville South), freshman Amy Slawinowski (Williamsville South), eighth-grader Amy Cuccinota (Amherst), and eighth-grader Lisa Laudan (Kenmore/Tonawanda).

Scardino is eyeing her third consecutive trip to the state meet. Her best finish last year was 12th on the vault.

Senior Jenna Lewis (Williamsville North) missed last year's state meet after breaking her tibia at the Niagara Cup.

Safety takes priority

The sport of gymnastics was in the national news during the summer for the worst possible reason.

During the Goodwill Games in July, Chinese gymnast Sang Lan, 17, became paralyzed after landing head-first during warm-ups for the women's vault competition.

Gymnastics equipment can be intimidating for today's younger-than-ever high school athletes. But local coaches offer plenty of assurances that gymnastics is as safe a sport as any.

Williamsville boys coach Torey Hirsch says injuries can be minimized with proper stretching, warm-ups, good equipment and quality coaching. He added that his higher level athletes will water down their routines if they are uncomfortable with the equipment.

As far as coaching, Hirsch said athletes learn through what he calls "shaping." An athlete learning a new skill starts with a spotter 100 percent of the time and then is slowly weaned from him/her.

Aquino promotes safety by emphasizing clean routines instead of big moves. "That's where their score will be higher," she said. "Our rules are more modified and our difficulty is modified. If a girl isn't ready, we don't push them. The bottom line is to be safe."

According to the National Federation of High School Athletics, there has been one death and seven permanent disabilities (like the Chinese gymnast) among boys and girls gymnasts between 1982-1997.

Noteworthy

Thirteen schools in two divisions participate in Section VI gymnastics. The regular season begins Oct. 1. . . . This year's Section VI meet is Nov. 7. . . . Kenmore/Tonawanda's combined team won Division I last year while Grand Island won Division II.

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