IHSA's Spotlight Hits Gym

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Byline: John Bumbales Daily Herald Correspondent

Some records could fall this weekend when the 39th annual IHSA state gymnastics meet takes center stage at the Forest View Educational Center in Arlington Heights.

Prospect High School will again serve as host for the competition at 2121 S. Goebbert Road.

The spotlight will be on top-seeded Glenbard West and super sophomore Josh Levin, who will try to eclipse his state record of 9.85 on pommel horse.

After finishing second in 1995, the Hilltoppers will be trying to bring back their first state gymnastics title in school history while No. 2 seed Hinsdale Central will try to repeat as state champion.

Homewood-Flossmoor is the third-ranked team in the Elite Eight field coming out of the rugged Downers Grove North sectional while Schaumburg sectional champion Conant fills out the top half of the elite squads.

The Cougars have the longest consecutive string of Elite Eight appearances dating back to 1984 with 13 trips while No. 5 Downers Grove North is a new team competing at the state meet level this year.

Perennial power Addison Trail enters the field ranked No. 6 while Hersey sectional champion Glenbrook South and final at-large qualifier Libertyville round out the 1996 meet.

"Hopefully, this week we can iron out some rough spots, and I don't think there will be much pressure on us to go for the top three," said Libertyville coach Paul Blasko, whose team won the third place trophy last year.

"We're going to try to get some guys in the finals and have some fun."

After hitting four 9.9's on pommel horse already this season, Levin leads the elite field into the meet.

He is considered the best Illinois gymnast since Bart Conner of Niles West in 1974-75.

"He (Levin) does a lot of difficulty on his pommel horse routine, and it's nice to watch," said Conant coach Ed Raymond, who is also an IHSA judge in the sport.

"Glenbard West is way up there, and Hinsdale Central always performs well in the state meet."

As was the case the past three seasons, much of Conant's success has been the result of senior all-arounder Matt Goldstein.

Goldstein has two seconds and a tie for fourth on floor exercise in his previous three state meets while he placed sixth in the state on vault last spring.

The Cougars have plenty of depth on their team with freshman all-arounder Jason Suchy's great progress while junior teammate Chris Stevens is a top performer on floor exercise.

Seniors Ferdie Nazal and Jeremy Bloom join Goldstein on an outstanding still rings team while Jake Kirchner and Stevens excel on vault.

Senior Chris Thorson gives Conant yet another weapon on parallel bars.

"We're trying to make some more improvement, and we have two or three points to improve," Raymond said. …