Scores soar for Darien gymnasts on senior day

For Darien senior co-captains Nikki Carlo, Lily Fairleigh and Sofia Fea-Ruiz, their last home gymnastics meet was a memorable one.

The Wave topped their previous high score by nearly four points and had their best meet of the season against teams from Trumbull and Staples and individual competitors from St. Joseph and Norwalk high schools.

Darien totaled 130.95 points, just 0.75 behind last year’s Class L runner-up Trumbull (131.70) and ahead of Staples (124.4). The other schools were not eligible for the team competition.

Head coach Judy Zakim was especially proud of her seniors

“This was our last home meet and they each had their best performances to date,” Zakim said. “Nikki remained consistent by nailing her routines and earning her first 9 on vault this season. Lily has increased her difficulty levels in her bar and floor routines which has made a positive difference in her scores. Sofia has gotten stronger and also added skills on bars and floor which are just amazing.”

Darien outscored Trumbull on three of four events, starting with the first rotation on vault where every Wave gymnast scored over 8.1 for a team total of 34.7, also a season high.

Freshman Sommer Schmidt and Fea-Ruiz both scored 8.3 for their twisting vaults and sophomore Lauren Grandon made the most of her season debut on vault, earning 8.4. Junior Lana Schmidt matched Carlo for the highest vault score of the team competition with 9.0.

Though the Wave had a few bobbles on bars, they still improved their team score by two-tenths. Freshman Maggie Russell hit her best routine so far to start the scoring, followed by sophomore Lucy Collins who earned 7.1. Lana Schmidt’s switch kip and layout dismount earned 7.5 and Fairleigh nailed her release and swung to her season high score with 7.7.

The balance beam competition was a dream for the Wave, who scored 34.55 with no falls by any of their six competitors. Darien improved on their season high score by two points, and outscored Trumbull by 2.35 on the event.

Fairleigh landed her leap combinations to add 8.4 to the team total followed by Collins who was rock solid on her back handspring for 8.5. Carlo was steady through her routine and cartwheel to full twist dismount for 8.65 and Lana Schmidt scored the team’s first 9.0 of the season on beam with her skill-packed routine.

Finishing on floor, the Wave again had the highest team score with 33.00. Standout freshman Megan Cutler landed her front tuck combination to set the pace. Fea-Ruiz added a half twist to her second front to earn 8.2 for her last floor routine at home. Lana Schmidt’s impressive layout passes to score 8.4. Carlo closed out the meet with her final home floor routine featuring her signature power tumbling and leap combinations for 8.65.

For the gymnasts in the team competition, Merritt Stephenson of Trumbull earned the top All-Around score with 35.70. Lana Schmidt was second with 33.90 and Fairleigh was fourth with 31.90, new season high AA scores for both Darien gymnasts.

As the meet concluded, the seniors reflected on their experience.

“It’s been an incredible honor to be a captain of this team for the past two years,” said Fairleigh “I’ve truly seen how gymnastics brings out the best in a person. My teammates have supported each other through so many challenges. I’m so inspired by how everyone on the team has been working to add new elements and improve their technique and today it really paid off with our best meet so far.”

“Today was amazing proof of how far this team has come,” Fea-Ruiz said. “We had our highest score of the season and brought out some new skills. I am so grateful for an amazing four years on this team with such awesome teammates. I will be so sad to leave them after this year but I couldn’t have asked for a better last home meet.”

“We all did so great and yet again improved and got our highest score,” Carlo said. “We all have a super uplifting and positive attitude which I think helps us going into every meet. I’m sad that the season is near its end, but I’m grateful I got to spend it with the most amazing girls.”

“I am so proud of the way the girls competed,” Zakim said. “We are on an upward trend and know that it will keep going into the FCIAC and CIAC championships,” but added, “All in all, it was a bittersweet day for me as I started coaching Darien four years ago, so this is my first group of seniors. I continue to be impressed by their hard work and dedication. They positively represent Darien High School and the Blue Wave gymnastics tradition.”