It was less than a year ago when Annapolis gymnastics coach Neill Russell proclaimed freshman Peter Lombard "the best gymnast ever to compete in Maryland."
"He's the best I've ever seen all around," Russell said of Lombard last May. "If he stays healthy, no one will touchhim."
And no one did.
Lombard went unbeaten in the all-around competition, set a state record with an 8.7 on the high bar, and led the Panthers to a sweep of the county and regional/state meets.
Unfortunately, the transient life of a child of the military forced the 15-year-old gymnast to move his act to Florida, apparently leaving the Annapolis team reeling in his slipstream.
Such was not the case.
Neill claims he has someone "even better than Peter," and sees no reason why his team shouldn't repeat.
Enter Dominic Boardley.
Boardley, a senior, took first in the state in the floor exercise and third all-around last season, making him the state's strongest returning all-around performer.
"He's phenomenal," said Russell, who was chosen the Anne Arundel County Sun's Boys Gymnastics Coach of the Year last season after guiding the young Panthers from last to first in thecounty.
Second on the list of "gymnasts to watch" for Annapolis is senior Jason Hill. Hill captured first in the state on pommel horselast season, but was forced out of the all-around competition by an ankle injury.
"Dominic and Jason are the two best gymnasts in the state," Russell said. "Jason is just a notch behind Dominic, but they're both totally dedicated to gymnastics and both want to earn scholarships.
"They've gone full thrust in gymnastics since 10th grade, and they've gone from being nominal gymnasts to the best in the state. If they can stay healthy, anything can happen. They should carry this team."
Injuries have surfaced at the top for Annapolis, with Boardley expected to return from a strained deltoid muscle with plenty of time to spare before the boys county meet May 6 at Chesapeake.
Also smarting is the Annapolis girls team, which Russell says is in a"state of rebuilding."
Junior Karen Thompson, a standout for the Panthers her freshman year, is making a comeback after missing all oflast season with torn ligaments in the back of her knee. Another junior, Suzanne Robbins, is the Panthers' best tumbler and will be seeking a title at the girls meet May 8 at Broadneck.
Old Mill's defending county champion girls team lost a lot when Caryn Sanders departedfor the University of Illinois at Chicago. Sanders captured the all-around county title last year before settling for second place behindSeverna Park's Tracie Miller at the regional/state meet.
Leading the way for the Patriot girls this season are seniors Amy Blucher, Katie Garrett and Katie Baker, while seniors Kurt Gorrell, Vydas Dulys,and Rick Gunigan pace Old Mill's boys.
"I think those three guys can do it, but they are going to need some help," said Old Mill's 17-year boys coach Jack Bliss.
"If they can continue to perform like they have, without injuries, we should be OK. Going into the season, I thought we would finish fifth or sixth. Everybody is rebuilding this year, so I feel we have a good shot at making a run for the county title."
With Miller back for Severna Park, Coach Bonnie Habicht ishoping her girls can improve. But the Falcons will be hard pressed to improve after finishing as runners-up at the county and regional/state meets.
"Tracie will do well as long as she stays healthy," said Habicht, who withheld Miller from the county meet last year after acontroversy arose concerning her eligibility. "I'd like to see her better her scores, if she could, and I'd like to see her go to the nationals."
Senior Beth Hoisington is expected to emerge from the shadows of Miller and Jenny Banks (who graduated). Junior Sarah Deal andsophomore Janet Rupert return and will be joined by first-year senior Cheryl Poussard.
Severna Park's boys team is deep but inexperienced. The Falcons will rely on senior Travis Kobolla and sophomores Jesse White, Ben Jones and Jamie Kuch for the bulk of their scoring.
Chesapeake boys coach Tony Tyler has seven boys to work with this season, but Melvin Long and Andy Densmore were lost to graduation. Longfinished second last year in the all-around behind Lombard at the state/regional meet, while Densmore followed in fifth place.
Junior co-captains Dan Hinkle and Aaron Manfra, and sophomores Steve Ferguson and Chris Coffman, also should contribute.
"We're starting from scratch and trying to build around those four," said Tyler. "With Danin the lineup, I think we have a good shot at finishing second or first."
Mary Bliss, the Cougars' girls coach, has the numbers, but admits that many of her gymnasts have little experience.