Entering her second year as coach of the South Side gymnastics team, Ashley Harney wanted to get a little tougher and push her girls even harder to help them reach a higher skill level. So far, that strategy is paying off.
The Lady Cyclones have won five of their first six meets this season, including the last four, and are starting to build a strong foundation of youth in each event. Of the six girls that have already punched their tickets to the state qualifier, three are freshman and another is in eighth grade.
Harney, a former club coach in Commack, is more comfortable in her role and decided to implement a more tough-love approach now that she has gotten accustomed to the girls’ individual personalities.
“Last year, I think I was a little lenient with them,” she said. “It was my first season and I really didn’t know how to treat them. I didn’t want them to walk all over me and I didn’t want to be mean at the same time, so I think this year I’m a little more on top of them and try to be a little harder on them.”
After splitting its first two meets, South Side posted victories over Long Beach and Wantagh before amassing its highest scoring output of the season (163.45) against Hicksville on Jan. 11. The Lady Cyclones edged Sewanhaka 158-157.05 five days later.
“A lot of them have stepped it up a little bit that have been on new events this season,” she said. “I know they’re willing to try new stuff, so that’s awesome. They already had the skills needed to get these high scores.”
Eighth-grader Payton Waller has overcome the finger injuries that plagued her debut season of 2016-17 and continues to produce at a high level. She won the all-around with a score of 33.25 to lead the Lady Cyclones past Wantagh and advanced to the state qualifier because of her strong performances on the vault and bars, which peaked at an 8.3 at the Long Beach meet.
“She’s just fearless and she will do anything you ask her to,” Harney said. “She works very hard at practice.”
Freshman Erin Agoglia keyed the victories against Great Neck North and Hicksville by finishing first in the beam and floor exercise in each meet. Harney is also impressed with her workmanlike attitude and never being satisfied with a score, no matter how high it is.
“Even though she’ll score so high, she’ll always ask what she can do to improve her score,” Harney said. “She’s a very hard worker and is always looking to one-up what she did the last time.”
Senior Sydney Abate has always thrived on the vault and placed first in that event against Great Neck North (8.05), Long Beach (tied with Agoglia with 8.1), Wantagh (8.3), Hicksville (8.25) and Sewanhaka (8.2). Freshman Jewels Diaks and Sydney Brancaccio and senior Katie Rosshirt are also having strong seasons en route to the state qualifier.