Chardon peak­ing as post­sea­son beck­ons

Hill­top­pers eye­ing first-ever sec­tional ti­tle at West Geauga this week­end

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - Front Page - By Mark Podol­ski mpodol­ski@news-her­ald.com @mpodo on Twit­ter

Chardon will en­ter the West Geauga Sec­tional as the first seed for the first time in school his­tory.

Kasey Eichele isn’t afraid to think big with her Chardon gym­nas­tics team.

With this col­lec­tion of tal­ent, it’s un­der­stand­able why the Hill­top­pers coach thinks so highly of her club.

Chardon will en­ter the Feb. 17 West Geauga Sec­tional as the first seed among the field for the first time in school his­tory.

Also of note: The Hill­top­pers have never won a sec­tional cham­pi­onship. That’s some­thing Eichele hopes changes at West G.

“There will be great teams at our sec­tional — Solon, Hud­son, Men­tor,” said Eichele. “But the team feels it, they do. They be­lieve they can be on the podium at state. We talk about our goals, and goal set­ting, and we be­lieve in our goals.”

The cur­rent task in front of Chardon is the sec­tional, and be­ing the top seed al­lows it to pick its or­der of events Feb. 17.

“It’s a huge deal in the world of gym­nas­tics,” said Eichele. “It al­lows teams to be­gin with their best events, and go from there, so we’re very ex­cited.”

The Hill­top­pers will start on the beam, then con­tinue to the floor, vault and bars.

Lead­ing the way are the team’s book ends — se­nior Kayla Ben­jamin and fresh­man Mar­garet Ha­mu­lak. Eichele calls Ben­jamin her “rock star” and Ha­mu­lak her “rock star in wait­ing.” An­other un­der­class­man, Chloe Budd, gives Chardon strength at the top of the ros­ter. There’s also nice depth with solid con­trib­u­tors in se­nior Emily Phillips, plus Emma Drake, Mor­gan Dani­son and Lau­ren Phillips.

The head­liner, though, is Ben­jamin. Eichele said she’s been out­stand­ing this sea­son after bat­tling knee in­juries as a sophomore and ju­nior. Be­ing healthy this sea­son has made all the dif­fer­ence, said Ben­jamin.

“I’ve never felt more ready for post­sea­son,” said the se­nior, who was fifth in the all-around at last sea­son’s state meet. “This is the best I’ve felt in a while. It’s a re­lief after the last two sea­sons. There’s still some sore­ness, but not nearly as bad as last sea­son. The key has been prac­tice. The more reps you get in, the more con­sis­tent you are. Then, when you get to meet, you’ll hit.”

That’s what Ben­jamin and Co. hope to ac­com­plish be­gin­ning with the sec­tional meet.

“We’re peak­ing as a team at the right time,” said Ben­jamin. “We’re re­ally con­sis­tent,

and fo­cused on hav­ing fun. When we do that, that’s when we do our best rou­tine. We have a lot of po­ten­tial.”

That po­ten­tial was on dis­play in the last big meet for the Hill­top­pers. On Feb. 2 in Cincin­nati, they won the team ti­tle at the Win The Day meet with a 145.85 points. Men­tor was sec­ond in the team race. Chardon’s team score was im­pres­sive. It would have been good enough for third place at last sea­son’s state meet.

“I wasn’t blown away by our score,” said Eichele. “We know what we are ca­pa­ble of do­ing.”

An­other key this sea­son for Chardon has been the ad­di­tion of an as­sis­tant coach. Last year, Eichele coached the team on her own, but Brett Am­brose was hired in the off­sea­son.

“It’s awe­some to have an ex­tra set of eyes,” Eichele said of Am­brose. “He’s a great mo­ti­va­tor, and very in­tense.”

Other gym­nasts to watch at the West G sec­tional and po­ten­tially be­yond are Madi­son’s re­turn­ing state champ in the vault Gabby Black­ford, and Men­tor’s Kelsey Mor­gan, who was eighth at last sea­son’s state meet on the bars.

Black­ford has been solid all sea­son at her mar­quee event with sev­eral 9.5 scores on the vault. She won state last sea­son with an out­stand­ing score of 9.725.

“I’m not think­ing about last year,” said Black­ford, who will at­tend Cleve­land State and room with Ben­jamin start­ing next fall. “I’m just work­ing hard, and hop­ing to peak at the right time.”

COLEEN MOSKOWITZ — THE NEWS-HER­ALD

Chardon’s Kayla Ben­jamin took first in the all-around ear­lier this sea­son at the Win The Day meet in Cincin­nati.

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