OPRF sophomore Natalie Weeks was 26th on the balance beam (7.675) and 29th in all-around (32.475) and vault (8.6) at the Glenbard North Sectional. (Submitted photo)

Oak Park and River Forest High School sophomore Alyona Jochaniewicz was adopted from Russia and arrived in the United States at the age of 6.

Her new life included trying activities – lots of them.

“I actually did ballet, tap, jazz and then gymnastics, too. I kind of stuck with gymnastics because I wasn’t good [at the others],” said Jochaniewicz as she began to laugh.

“Tap – wasn’t good. Gymnastics was the plan.”

When Jochaniewicz eventually enrolled in gymnastics at Tri-Star Gymnastics in Forest Park, she caught the eye of a classmate who would become a close friend to this day – OPRF sophomore Natalie Weeks.

“I had been at Tri-Star my whole life,” Weeks said. “I was like, ‘Wait, I remember her. We did dance together.’ I remember she had just come from Russia and she didn’t speak that much English.”

Now teammates with the Huskies, both sophomores made significant progress this gymnastics season. Last week, they and senior Isabel Beebe competed as individual qualifiers at the Glenbard North Sectional.

Jochaniewicz came the closest to advancing to the state meet. On the uneven parallel bars, her 8.475 with one fall, an automatic .50 deduction, tied for 22nd and missed the 9.10 at-large state cut.

Jochaniewicz also was 21st in all-around (33.075) and 29th on balance beam (7.35). Weeks was 26th on beam (7.675) and 29th in all-around (32.475) and vault (8.6). In her first sectional berth as a senior, Beebe was 30th in all-around (31.575).

The next gymnastics season for Jochaniewicz and Weeks could be their best.

“I’m excited. They’re both sophomores. It’s just that flame underneath a little bit [that we need],” OPRF coach Kris Wright said. “I’m real proud of them. We plan on coming back and kicking some derriere next year.”

Wright, who coaches at Tri-Star, has seen the sophomores grow as gymnasts and people. In 2014, they qualified individually for sectionals but only on uneven bars.

“I definitely feel stronger and more confident in myself, not as shaky. Definitely more experience [has helped],” Jochaniewicz said.

Jochaniewicz gave all that she could to reach state on uneven bars. Her typical routine usually receives high 8s and sectional judging was tight.

At the sectional, Jochaniewicz added a toe shoot handstand to increase her scoring potential but fell while transitioning both feet from the higher bar into her handstand.

“I don’t know what happened. I was coming in too excited for it, and I just needed more time to practice it,” Jochaniewicz said.

“It’s a trick that’s not 100 percent there, but in warmups she made it,” Wright said. “I didn’t want her to do it, and she goes, ‘I really want to do this.’ I’m like, ‘Well, it’s your meet. Go for it. I don’t want you to have any regrets.’ “

Floor is Weeks’ favorite event, an opportunity to combine years of gymnastics and dance training. Her older sister, a dancer, choreographed the routine.

“I did dance when I was younger and then I had to choose ballet or gymnastics and I chose gymnastics,” Weeks said. “I just have fun performing my routine. I want to up my difficulty because I think I have all of the requirements but then I don’t have the bonus [skills] like Alyona has.”

Besides uneven bars, Jochaniewicz recently added a double full twist and single twist to tumbling passes on floor and is working towards a flipping Yurchenko vault.

“I just want to advance more and just grow in gymnastics,” Jochaniewicz said. “Definitely I’m going to work for it, just focus harder in practice. I definitely want to end up at state.”

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