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Inexperienced Section VI team places fourth at states

Had the state championships in girls gymnastics been held in November after the Section VI finals, the Western New York all-star team may well have repeated as state champions.

But since some parts of New York hold gymnastics as a winter sport, the state championships come at the end of the winter athletic season.

The four-month layoff between sectionals and the state meet may not seem like much in a sport where athletes train with their clubs nearly year-round, but it was long enough for Section VI to lose four of its all-star gymnasts to injury, including a state record-holder.

As a result, that team was forced to use four middle-schoolers in Saturday’s state championship meet at Kenmore West. The outcome was still a respectable fourth-place finish, but it left the team in an understandably melancholy state following the award ceremony.

“It helps when you have those veterans, and we didn’t have them today,” said Section VI chairwoman Donna Aquino, who also coaches Lancaster. “We had three eighth-graders competing today. They should be proud of themselves.”

Lancaster’s Courtney Bondanza tied for second on vault with a 9.75 and took third in the all-around competition with a 37.625 but couldn’t match her monster numbers from 2014, when she was the state’s all-around champion.

“I struggled on beam this year, that was the problem,” said Bondanza, who trains at Gymnastics Unlimited off Orchard Park Road. “Our team came together really well considering we were out a few people.”

Lancaster’s Rachel Filipski missed Saturday’s competition after having knee surgery. The senior put her name in the state record book last year by scoring a 9.85 on vault.

“We missed her,” Aquino said. “Even though our vaulters did well today, she can put us over the top with high nines.”

Section VI was also without two other key contributors to last year’s state title: Lancaster’s MacKenzie Donner, who scored 9.55 on vault and 9.475 on floor, and Williamsville South’s Lily Szafranski, who scored 9.35 on floor, 9.1 on bars and 9 on beam. Hamburg freshman Katheryn Dehlinger was also lost to injury.

That left Saturday up to Bondanza and teammates eighth-grader Rebecca Obrochta (Orchard Park), eighth-grader Zoe Kyriakopoulos (Williamsville South), Miranda Roberson (Williamsville South), Michaela Kacmarski (Frontier), seventh-grader Gabbi Gare (Williamsville South), Samantha Miller (Hamburg) and eighth-grader Makenzie Castiglione (Lancaster).

Section VI scored the best on vault (47.075), finishing second among all sectional all-star teams. Bondanza’s 9.75 earned a silver medal, while Kacmarski was ninth with a 9.375, Kyriakopoulos was 10th with a 9.35 and Obrochta and Roberson tied for 11th with 9.3s.

Bondanza also placed fourth in floor exercise (9.5) and fourth on the uneven parallel bars (9.35).

Section XI (Suffolk County) won the team championship with 186.35 points, while Amara Cunningham from Section I’s Nyack won the all-around with a 38.3.

Saturday’s event was the sixth and final state meet of Bondanza’s career. She plans to compete collegiately for either New Hampshire or Cortland State.

“It’s hard to stay on top year after year,” Aquino said of Bondanza. “It’s hard to maintain that position. She did it in our section for four consecutive years.”