eschickler@bcnnew.com

Repeating as FCIAC champions may be a reach, but that hasn't deterred the Staples gymnastics team's optimism. Staples lost some top guns from last year but it's confident it could surprise some teams this year.

"I'm pumped and I'm excited for this year," said Lady Wreckers coach Melissa Zigmont. "It's a rebuilding year and I don't have high expectations. I lost four phenomenal seniors and their families and they were amazing as well."

Zigmont was referring to Rachel Sanfilippo, Ariel Steinglass, Jessie Boas and Bizz Wiggin, who graduated from last year's team and were First Team All-State or Second Team All-State at some point in their careers. Sanfilippo was an All-Stater, the team's top scorer and MVP last year and competed for Team Connecticut at the National Gymnastics championships Memorial Day weekend. Although Wiggin missed the season with an injury, she helped out as a captain and was selected All-FCIAC Honorable Mention because the FCIAC coaches felt she would have earned an honor if she competed. Steinglass eclipsed the 1,000-point mark and Boas was especially strong on bars.

Compounding the hurdles for Staples is the loss Megan Kratky, who would have been a senior captain this year, and juniors Charlotte Black and Lauren Kratky. Megan Kratky is a two-time All-State and competitor at State Open but hung up her leotard to focus on diving. Black was a First Team All-Stater and team MVP freshman year and Second Team All-Stater last year but suffered a career-ending injury. Lauren Kratky competed at State Open freshman year and gave up the sport to focus on soccer.

Working in the Lady Wreckers' favor is the return of senior captain Emma Vaimberg, a high caliber all-around gymnast who has more than 1,000 points and was a Second Team All-Stater three straight years, competing in State Open sophomore year. Vaimberg has a strong work ethic and is very encouraging towards her younger teammates.

"I'm really excited and we have a great team this year," said Vaimberg.

Junior Zoe Heller competed on floor exercise at State Open freshman year and is also a reliable scorer on vault. With the high attrition rate, Zigmont hopes to use Heller as an all-around. Heller has stepped up and is already up to speed on the balance beam and is working hard on the uneven bars.

Kara Tricarico is the other junior on the team and is coming along slowly after suffering a season-ending ankle injury in January. Tricarico showed a lot of promise and improved immensely since freshman year before her mishap and Zigmont is confident she'll be a contributor once her injury is mended.

Three freshmen competed mostly as JVs last year and Emily Fishman leads a cast of four sophomores. Fishman competed on bars at the varsity level last year and is expected to be an all-around. She worked hard in the offseason and has improved.

Katie Blumenfeld and Michelle Elsas return from last year's JV experience and will see some varsity time. Blumenfeld is expected to help on floor while Elsas is going to contribute on vault and bars. Morgan Cravenho is a club gymnast and joins the team her sophomore year after not competing for Staples last year. Cravenho is expected to perform on vault and beam.

A familiar face, Lindsay Ross, joins the team as its assistant coach. Ross was Zigmont's first captain for the Lady Wreckers, serving in that role in 2004 and 2005 before graduating. The new assistant coach also broke 1,000 career points.

"Obviously, Lindsay is very experienced," said Zigmont. "She's been coached by me and knows the deal."

Zigmont hopes for the team to finish in the top four at FCIACs and qualify for states. She's confident the future is bright because there are some strong eighth graders waiting to join the team next year.

Vaimberg would like to have the team place in the top three at the FCIACs championships.

"We're going to get stronger and stronger as the year progresses," said Vaimberg. "We have to work hard in practice and so far, that's what we've been doing."