Five year reigning league champs return to winter season
By JENNIFER GENTILE
MELROSE — One of the most successful sport teams at Melrose High School returns to the mat this weekend as the Melrose Lady Raider gymnastic team takes flight this Friday, Jan 2 in their season opener against Stoneham. Quintet league champs five years straight, Melrose always brings great expectations from their group of tumblers.
While the Lady Raiders remain a bonafide dynasty in the Middlesex League, it returns to competition this season without its ace in the hole, state champion Annalisa DeBari, who earned Melrose’s first ever individual gymnastic State Title on Feb. 16, 2014. A consistent 9.0+ performer on all four routines, DeBari was a big reason the team advanced to the North Sectionals last season. But Melrose always has reserves on hand to continue their legacy of success.
“You can’t replace someone like Annalisa,” says Melrose head coach Denise Valdez, who returns with upperclassmen who know a thing or two about league perfection. Captains Audrey McFarland (senior) and Isabel Judware (junior) along with senior Hannah Jordow have not lost a meet under Valdez’s guidance in four years. It’s that kind of flawless season fans have come to expect. “Every year is different, but our goal is to win the league again and return to sectionals. So far we are looking good,” says Valdez. “Some rules and requirements changed in the offseason by the federation and so far the girls have risen to the occasion.”
New this season is the home base, now stationed at the YMCA MetroNorth Gymnastic center in Saugus. Good news for fans – it means no more crammed meets in the blue building on Tremont Street in Melrose. “We are very happy with the new facility and are excited that we will have seating for people to watch the meets now,” chuckles Valdez. Melrose will host three home meets and travel for four, so fans and budding gymnasts should mark their calendar for home meets on Jan. 9, 14 and 23.
The team boasts two experienced captains who will help guide the team this season. One is a four event senior, Audrey McFarland. Says her coach, “Audrey has a beautiful tumbling routine.” Co-captain Isabel Judware, another four event athlete, could be a high point earner on the beam. “Izzy has great work ethic, she gets mad if she has a bad day – she’s always working hard. She looks good in all her events.”
Melrose’s toughest routine is normally the beam McFarland and Judware will compete on it with returnee Tania Dutra. Junior Brooke Norris is another returning Lady Raider who could dazzle on the floor. Juniors Lauren Cincotta, Emily DeCelle and sophomore Stephanie Dutra also return, along with newcomers Shay Fannell, Mya Marshall and Isabel Albuja.
Last season Melrose swept the Middlesex League once again at 8-0 and earned the top spot at the league meet, with Winchester and Burlington giving Melrose the biggest threat. The landscape may remain the same as Melrose seeks their sixth straight league title. That journey begins this Friday night at 7:15 p.m. at the Saugus YMCA gymnastics center.
Fri 1/09 7:15 p.m. vs. Stoneham (YMCA – Gymnastics Center)
Wed 1/14 7:30 p.m. vs. Burlington (YMCA – Gymnastics Center)
Fri 01/16 4:30 p.m. @ Wakefield
Fri 01/23 7:30 p.m. vs. Reading (YMCA – Gymnastics Center)
Tue 01/27 7 p.m. @ Arlington
Thu 01/29 4:30 p.m. @ Woburn
Tue 02/03 7 p.m. @ Winchester (Gym and More, Woburn)