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2023-24 Woodstock Academy gymnastics season preview

It’s not a large team numbers-wise.

But as Woodstock Academy gymnastics coach Kasey Tocchio points out, that’s nothing unusual.

“We did pretty well (last season), being small in numbers, and we’re pretty close to the same as last year. We had a surprise addition with Rhea (Desota). She is a gymnast, not from (Deary’s Gymnastics in Brooklyn) and we’re really excited to have her,” Tocchio said.

Desota, a freshman, comes in from a gym in Massachusetts and is an experienced gymnast.

Her addition brings the team up to seven gymnasts for the season as junior Angelina Auger also returns from a knee injury which kept her sidelined last year.

The two will replace the two athletes the team lost to graduation, Taylor Markley and Madison Martinez. Markley, now at the University of Bridgeport, was unable to compete last year due to injury.

The nice thing for the Centaurs, everyone comes into the season healthy including junior standout Olivia Aleman and sophomore Julia Kerr who has recovered from ankle surgery this past summer.

“Olivia is healthy. We’re knocking on every piece of wood because all of them seem pretty good right now as far as health is concerned,” Tocchio said with a laugh.

The small team last year did do well as it captured the 13th consecutive Eastern Connecticut Conference title for the Centaurs with Aleman walking away as the individual ECC champion.

Woodstock Academy went on to finish third in the CIAC Class M state championship and fourth in the State Open with Aleman taking second overall individually at the Open.

Aleman then placed sixth in New England.

“I think our team will do pretty well this season. We’re starting to get back into the groove with things. The first meets are never the best because we’re just starting to get back into it but we really improve as we go along,” Aleman said.

Aleman said she is just trying to take the season day-by-day and whatever happens, happens.

“I just want to go out there, do my best and have fun while competing,” the junior said. “I just want to be a little more confident out there when I compete and I think that’s what we’re all trying to do.”

Aleman was confident at the ECC meet a year ago where she posted a 9.35 to tie for first in vault. She followed that up with second-place finishes in the bars (9.2) and beam (9.2) before putting together a sparkling routine to win the floor with a 9.65 total.

It all added up to a 37.4 All-Around total and the title and she carried that confidence into the State Open and New England’s.

“I think she should have another great year, hopefully, being even more successful and helping lead the team. She is just such a naturally-talented kid that just puts in the work and is, all-around, really awesome,” Tocchio said.

Fellow junior Livia Gerum will serve with Aleman as captains.

Junior Allie Boyd also returns as does sophomore Emma Long to round out the seven-person squad.

“Emma has stepped up tremendously, she is like a new kid this year. She has already, just in the preseason, added so much more difficulty to her routines this year. I think she is going to be a strong scorer for us this year. Olivia and Julia can put up some big scores but I think the rest of them have just really worked on being consistent and trying new skills to get start values. Emma has really stood out but I think I can say the same about all of them,” Tocchio said.

The biggest point of emphasis for the whole team, as always, is the beam.

“I think we just have to get numbers in on beam and be confident. Everyone gets shaky legs when they compete and those nerves throw you off. We just have to get up there and be confident in our skills,” Aleman said.

Tocchio said the team is pretty even throughout their events although the bar routines may be a step ahead of last year.

They, like so many Centaurs teams before them, will have to try and keep the streak of ECC titles going.

“There is some underlying pressure but we try not to focus on that and just take it day-by-day,” Aleman said of keeping the streak intact.

“I sure hope we can make it 14 in a row,” Tocchio added.

But the target will loom large on the Centaurs’ backs with the other team that Tocchio coaches, Killingly, being the biggest threat.

“Killingly looks pretty good this year, They have a couple of freshmen that will be helpful to them. It’s really neck-and-neck and they push each other along,” Tocchio said.

Aleman agrees that having your closest competition in the same gym every day is not a bad thing.

“I think it’s good because we really do push each other and it’s nice to have that rivalry in the gym but we’re also all friends,” the junior said.

As far as the States are concerned, Tocchio said it will be a work in progress.

“I think being consistent is our best bet. In the past years, we had depth through the number four scorers and in all six of our lineup. With the gymnasts on the team currently, if we can be consistent, that is the key. We can beat a team with higher difficulties if we stay on the beam. That’s our main goal,” Tocchio said.

The work for the Centaurs begins on Friday when they and Killingly meet at Deary’s Gymnastics  in Danielson at 1:30 p.m.