Whitney Stoops has her eyes on the grand prize as she begins the stretch run of her high school gymnastics career.
The Avon senior has won the Division I state vault championship twice and finished in the top three all-around each of the last two years. She has been All-Ohio (top eight) 11 times in her career. But Stoops wants to be among the elite Ohio high school gymnasts of all-time. To accomplish that, she must win this year’s elusive all-around championship.
That won’t be easy. Brecksville junior Michaela Romito also returns this season. Romito was second (37.525) in last year’s all-around behind Mentor senior Kayla Kosmerl (37.8). Stoops was third (37.2).
In 2010-11, the roles were reversed. Stoops was second (37.375) at state and Romito third (37.325) behind Magnificat senior Kelly Nortz (37.475) — Stoops’ teammate at Great Lakes Gymnastics.
“It would mean so much,” Stoops said. “I’ve been working at it every year and have been so close. It would be really satisfying to finally win and have all my work pay off.”
Unlike other individualized sports sponsored by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, there’s only one overall “winner” for girls gymnastics because there is only one division.
“Every year I’ve qualified I have had some type of regret,” Stoops said. “There have been small mistakes, but there’s always going to be small mistakes. I’m going to do my best to minimize them so that I don’t have any regrets.”
Natalie Turek is Avon’s second-year varsity coach. But Stoops has another ace in her corner, her mother.
Janet has coached Whitney at the private-club level since her daughter was two, first at Peak Gymnastics in Perrysburg and since age 12 at Great Lakes Gymnastics in Avon Lake.
“In some ways it’s tougher because my mom will try to be harder on me because she doesn’t want to be easier on me,” said Whitney, who is 5-foot-5 and weighs 130 pounds. “She’s actually a lot harder on me than she is on everyone else. She knows all my personal struggles. She knows everything about me.”
Without question, Whitney has a deep-rooted respect for her mom. A former Kent State gymnast, she understands what her mom went through as an athlete and her role as a coach.
“I’m around her so much,” said Whitney, whose dad Tom is also a Great Lakes coach. “I’m at the gym all the time. The only time I’m away is when I’m at school.”
Whitney grew up in Perrysburg, where her parents owned and operated a gymnastics school, Peak Gymnastics. She attended Prospect Elementary and Eastern Heights Middle School in Elyria when her family first moved to Lorain County.
“This season is going to be bittersweet,” Janet Stoops said. “It’s hard for me to think of her leaving for college. You’re with her and critiquing every single thing she’s doing 24-7. Most kids try to get away from their parents. It’s hard for her, it’s hard for me.
“When I’m with her, I have to make sure I treat her like I would treat any other gymnast, not my daughter. To try to put that aside is difficult.”
Great Lakes Gymnastics has produced more high school state all-around champions (10) than any other gym in Ohio. The 10 Great Lakes gymnasts have accounted for a combined 17 state all-around titles since 1990.
Of the 10 state champion Great Lakes gymnasts, four have ties to Lorain County: Avon Lake’s Kara Matus (1990-91, ’93), North Ridgeville’s Hollie Chapek (1994), Midview’s Callie Ryals (1998, 2000) and Avon’s Kayla Kmiecik (2008). All competed for Magnificat, except for Ryals.
“There are days that the gym is closed and she’ll ask if we can go in,” said Janet. “I’ll say, ‘Are you kidding me? Really? We’re there every single day. This is our break.’ But I admire that so much about her. She’s so dedicated, no matter what. She wants to make sure that she gets her work done.
“She’s given up so much while her friends go out on the weekend. That’s hard for her. Sometimes I don’t understand how she can give it up. I did it when I was young because I loved it so much. I can see she loves it just as much if not more than I did.”
Whitney plans to walk on at Kent State University next fall.
“I like it because it’s close and they have a pretty good team,” she said. “My goal is to try and earn scholarship money by my sophomore year.
Stoops plans to compete in varsity track for the first time this spring. She sprinted and long jumped at the intramural level as a middle school student.
Still, there is no question that she is zeroed in on first ending her high school gymnastics career — without regret.
Last year, Stoops won vault with a score of 9.725 — the second-highest mark in the 40-year history of the state tournament behind Medina’s Emilie Rymer (9.8) in 2005. She tallied 9.7 in vault at state during her sophomore year, which was tied for third best all-time. Stoops finished fifth in bars (9.25), sixth in balance beam (9.05) and 10th in floor exercise (9.175) in her other state tournament events last year.
“Vault has always been my strongest event,” she said. “Bars definitely were a rough spot when I began high school. It’s still not my best event, but it’s the event I’ve come the farthest.”
Contact Paul Heyse at 440-329-7135 or email@example.com.