North Andover teammates inspire Stevens at states
WORCESTER — While her teammates lined up to compete, the sophomore who helped catapult the North Andover High girls’ gymnastics program back into relevancy was sitting near the vault with a long-sleeve shirt pulled over her leotard during Wednesday’s state championship meet at the DCU Center in Worcester.
North Andover coach Jennifer Mangano looked to the stands for Nicole Stevens’s parents, who signaled a thumbs down for the vault exercise, and gave Stevens, who was in contention for the top all-around score, the bad news.
The young gymnast, dealing with a sprained ankle suffered last weekend while leading the Scarlet Knights to a North sectional title, would not compete. Instead, she stepped up as a student assistant, adjusting the padding beneath the vault, moving the mats into place, and distributing knowledge and love to her teammates.
Watching from the sidelines can hurt. But for Stevens, moments like these are what keep her going.
After training at Brestyan’s gym in Burlington, home to Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman and many others, Stevens was ready to quit, according to Mangano.
“She was burned out,” Mangano said. “High school gymnastics helped her realize it could be fun again. She realized there’s more than individuals to gymnastics. You have someone depending on you here. She started loving the sport.”
Without Stevens, North Andover would have likely remained on the outside for postseason competition again this year. With Stevens, along with promising freshmen Madeleine Shea and Julia Montecalvo , North Andover registered a 144.125 to take the sectional title.
With her 37.975, Stevens was second in all-around competition only to Beverly’s Heather Gomes , who scored a 38.1.
Her injured ankle wrapped in a brace, Stevens adapted simpler routines for the state final Wednesday and produced a 28.275 through three events. Had she competed on the vault, assuming one of her typical scores of about 9.3, Stevens’s all-around total of 37.575 would have left her third in the entire competition.
Even without the bells and whistles in her floor routine, she dazzled to “Mango,” an upbeat Spanish song by Johannes Linstead, dancing and gliding her way around the mat with grace. She registered a 9.25.
On the bars, she shook off her coach’s request to use a simple dismount and instead sprung into a double-back rotation. She stuck the landing and was awarded a 9.4
“I was so mad,” Mangano said. “But she’s a stubborn kid. If she wants to do something, she’s going to do it.”
Stevens had not practiced all week, trying to let her ankle heal. But with hundreds watching from the stands, with an array of the state’s best gymnasts awaiting her performance, she felt compelled to go for it.
“Coach didn’t want me to do my double-back dismount but I felt like I should do it,” said Stevens, who works out at Ace Gymnastics in Ipswich. “I know how to do it and it’s the same landing.”
And on the beam, Stevens was a natural, according to Mangano, who has coached the prodigy since she could walk. She scored a 9.425, third-highest in the competition.
The beam is where she shines, with her ability to balance on the 3.9-inch wide surface, drawing rave reviews that could land her a college scholarship.
“She makes the beam look like it’s nothing,” Mangano said. “It’s like floor exercise for her. She just gets up there and makes it look easy. She doesn’t get nervous. No fear. There are kids who get up there and instantly get real nervous. Nicole doesn’t seem like she gets nervous. It’s just her personality.”
What made Stevens’s performance more impressive was that it was done on crisp, firm equipment that the DCU Center provided (in preparation to host the 2013 American Cup on Saturday).
“The equipment is brand new, so it’s a little tight,” said Duncan Chase , coach of the Barnstable squad, which won its ninth state title in 13 years. “Landing is tough on the ankles.”
Watching Stevens operate Wednesday, it would have been hard to tell.
“I’m proud of myself for sticking with gymnastics,” she said. “I’ve been doing it for 12 years. I love the high school. That’s what keeps me going. These girls help me. Without them it’d be so different. They make me love it.”
A line in time
Thirty years coaching the Bowdoin College men’s hockey team, and Terry Meagher swears he’s never seen a line perform like what he witnessed last Saturday in a NESCAC quarterfinal against Hamilton College.
With eight minutes left and Bowdoin down 3-2, Meagher sent out his top line of Kyle Lockwood,Rob MacGregor, and Reading’s Rob Toczylowski, who prepped at Proctor Academy.
Within 4 minutes, 11 seconds, the trio produced a pair of goals, both assisted by Toczylowski, to turn defeat into victory.
“They were down and willed it,” Meagher said. “They were inspiring and found a way to get the job done at a key time in the game.”
Toczylowski, a senior, has 10 assists and 13 goals, five of which are game-winners, this season.
“He finds ways to win,” the coach said. “He knows what it takes. Rob has done that his whole life in hockey. That’s not by accident. They’re inspiring goals, too.”
The Polar Bears (20-3-2) were scheduled to play Middlebury Saturday night in a NESCAC semifinal.
Franklin Pierce senior defenseman Brendan McCarron (Andover resident/Central Catholic grad) was named to the All-Northeast-10 first team, posting seven goals and nine assists for the Ravens this season.
“I just didn’t get the right bounces last year,” he said. “I wasn’t really shooting as much as I am this year. I got my confidence back and once a couple goals came, a lot more came.”
Off to Merrimack
Pingree School senior running back/linebacker Nick Antenucci signed his letter of intent to play at Merrimack College next year. Antenucci was a three-time Evergreen League All-Star and two-time All-New England selection.
Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at email@example.com.