Warriors won WSC Gold last year; Zeffiro returns after state-qualifying junior season.

By Mike Miazga


The Willowbrook boys gymnastics team is poised to build upon its recent successes.

The Warriors return a number of key performers from a 2016 team that won the West Suburban Conference Gold Division title with an undefeated record.

Back for Willowbrook are seniors Baily Heppner (all-around), Zach Zeffiro (vault and floor), Matt Barrantes (pommel horse) and Dylan Leska (vault), along with juniors Matthew Smith (high bar and rings) and Daniel Gonzalez (rings).

Newcomers who will help include sophomores Joel Saldana (high bar, vault, floor), Brendan Bailey (floor, rings, parallel bars), Matt Foley (floor) and Sean Luner (rings).

“We have a strong core group of sophomores who could have an impact on some events,” said Willowbrook coach Caleb Strejc.

But Strejc noted Willowbrook’s key strength is experience.

“We have a good amount of seniors and juniors bring great experience from successful teams the past two seasons either from contributing or being on JV and watching,” he said.

Strejc noted the team’s top events when at full strength should be floor, rings and vault. “We have guys who can put together floor routines with all the requirements and decent difficulty,” he said. “On vault, we have two flipping vaults and one good twisting vault, which should be our three scores. And on rings we have a lot of consistency and guys who are getting new tricks and a dismount to help boost scores.”

And Strejc feels the team’s biggest advancements thus far have come on the horizontal bar (high bar). “We have some more guys throwing giants now or getting closer, so once those are cleaner and we have some connections, they should be in the routines,” he said.

Event specialization is something Willowbrook is focusing on more this season. “To be successful our guys will need to focus in on events they excel at,” said Strejc. “We need to specialize more this season to boost our score. Also they need to buy into fixing up their form on tricks they have rather than trying to work new stuff a lot.”

Strejc likes the progress returning state qualifier Zeffiro and Heppner are making. “Keep an eye out for Zach trying to return to state this year for floor and trying to make it on vault as well,” he said. “Also, Bailey should contribute on a lot of events and have a chance to make it to state on parallel bars perhaps.”

Strejc is seeing progress with the younger gymnasts in the program as well. “One thing I really like about the makeup of the team is all the freshmen from last year returned and have worked hard to improve,” he said. “Being closest in age to the freshmen this year, it gives them an idea of what to strive for. The sophomores making so much progress really should be good motivation for the juniors and seniors to work even harder and not get comfortable where they are at because they could get passed up. It is a good dynamic.”

Strejc said Downers Grove South is the team to beat right now in the WSC Gold. “It looks like Downers South is scoring in the 140s so it will be very difficult to catch them to defend our conference title,” he said. “We will work our best to catch them, but I think an achievable goal would be to beat all the other teams and secure second place.”


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