Jamie Otwell said she wanted to go out with a bang.
But the Evanston senior isn’t finished just yet.
Otwell earned Evanston’s first regional gymnastics championship since 1999 and advanced to the sectional round of the Illinois High School Association series for the fourth year in a row after qualifying at the Glenbrook North regional Monday night.
Otwell captured the floor exercise title with a winning score of 9.1. She’s the first ETHS gymnast to win a postseason event since Liz Iacuzzi won the uneven bars and all-around titles at her regional competition back in 1999.
Otwell also qualified on bars (tie for 4th place), balance beam (3rd), vault (5th) and all-around (2nd) to keep her season alive. She’ll move on to the Mundelein Sectional along with Evanston teammate Ava Axelrood, who scored top 5 finishes all-around (5th) and on beam (2nd).
The top 5 finishers in each event automatically advance to the sectional, along with a dozen at-large qualifiers per sectional grouping per event.
The Wildkits bounced back from a 129 point effort at the Central Suburban League South division meet and raised their team score to 133.30, a strong finish but not enough to challenge team champion Glenbrook South (143.725) or host Glenbrook North (137.875). Niles West also competed as a team, finishing with 122.20 points.
Otwell, who has represented ETHS in the state diving finals, is aiming for her first trip to State in gymnastics. Her all-around point total of 36.275 included that 9.1 on floor, a 9.3 on vault, an 8.75 on bars and a 9.1 on vault.
The realization that she’d made some history produced a one word reaction from the Evanston senior —“Wow!”
“It felt really good, and I’m really excited to win!,” Otwell exclaimed. “I try not to check scores during the competition, although sometimes I do glance at them, but a friend of mine told me that 9.1 score was the highest score they saw, so I had an idea,
“Floor exercise is my favorite event, and about 2 days before the conference meet I put in a back one and one-half twist. I felt like I wanted to finish my senior year with a bang, so why not go for it? And I felt pretty comfortable with it. It’s just amazing to think that I made some history tonight.”
Evanston head coach Meghan Koons tweaked Otwell’s routines in a couple of events to help her reach the next level. It paid off especially on floor.
“What I try to do is just make suggestions to the girls,” said Koons, who last week was recognized as CSL South Coach of the Year. “Jamie just put that one and one-half twist in — that was my suggestion for floor — also she also added a pike tsuk on vault and a twist dismount on bars. She just said OK every time I suggested something. I threw a lot at her, and she stepped up and did it!
“I’m thrilled beyond belief for Jamie. I just told them all just do your best, that this is what you’ve been working for. Throw your skills and see where you get to.”
Axelrood, a sophomore, chalked up her best balance beam score of the season at 9.30 and trailed only Glenbrook South’s Elena Pauker (9.425) in that event. Axelrood also posted an all-around score of 34.60, with non-qualifying finishes on vault (12th), uneven bars (9th) and floor (10th).
“There’s been just phenomenal improvement for Ava from last year to this year. She has high superior skills now and she’s really picked it up in every event,” Koons praised.
“When I was a freshman I really didn’t understand the importance of these (end-of-the-season) meets, even though I was proud of making it to sectional as a freshman,” said Axelrood. “And at the conference meet this year I let my nerves get to me. But I knew what I did wrong there and I was able to work on it. And I understand now that I don’t need to go all-out in the warmups.
“Beam has always been my favorite event. Coming over from club to Evanston, Coach Koons made me feel real comfortable on beam. She’s really helped me improve in that event. I worked in the summer on a bunch of new skills and now I’m able to express myself and show my artistry more.
“Now I think I earned it a little more and it’s a bigger deal for me to make it to sectional. This year I’ve been able to push more and expect more of myself.”
Otwell has fought her own personal battle for her high school career. She took up diving, she hasn’t really worked on her gymnastic skills in the off-season and never knows if she can find the necessary skill set when that season ends and the winter campaign begins.
So far, so good.
“I feel like one of my biggest strengths is my consistency,” she said. “I am really proud of how well I’ve been able to compete over the past 4 years, because I don’t do a lot of gymnastics in the off-season. With the breaks between the seasons, I’m most proud of how I’ve been able to get back to where I was the year before, or maybe even better.
“I was a little bit worried that tonight might be my last meet ever. I just want to see how far I can take it now, and that’s what makes today even more special. At the sectional, I just want to do my best — not fall — and be consistent.”