High school sports present a unique — and increasingly difficult — balancing act for coaches.
Winning the right way, of course, is their main objective. But it’s also important for every athlete to have fun and contribute to their team’s success.
Rarely does all of that come together during the same season, but when it does, it’s nothing short of magical.
In this case, Medina gymnastics coach Darcy Ranallo pulled it off without resorting to a rabbit in a hat.
The Bees became the first Medina County squad to reach the state team gymnastics meet in six years. They finished seventh at Hilliard Bradley High as Ranallo skillfully used all eight girls on her roster during the pressure-packed event.
Medina also qualified an area-high four gymnasts to the state individual meet — led by All-Ohio sophomore Samantha Borrelli — and claimed a sectional championship along the way, earning Ranallo top honors as The Gazette’s Winter Sports Coach of the Year.
“What a wonderful season it was with these girls,” Ranallo said. “As with any endeavor, there were bumps along the road, but every one of them did everything they were capable of to help us achieve our ultimate goal, which was making it to state as a team.
“Having a group of girls who are so dedicated to their sport and their team makes going to the gym enjoyable each and every day.”
Making the Bees’ success more impressive, they were just one year removed from barely being able to field a team because of high pay-to-participate fees at Medina and the lure of club gymnastics.
Two years prior to that, in 2010, the Bees failed to advance out of the sectional meet on their home floor.
Yet, Ranallo never panicked or let the girls know how concerned she was when the waters got rough. The 28-year-old Capital University graduate became even more resolute, assuring her gymnasts that better days were ahead, while doing her best to keep them smiling at long meets and practices.
“I’m so happy for Darcy winning this award because she’s such a great coach, and she’s also like a big sister to all of us,” said junior McKenna Baluch, a three-time district qualifier. “We want to do well for her, ourselves, our teammates, our families and for Medina.
“At the same time, she wants us to have fun, but we’re all business when it comes time to compete.”
The Bees’ ability to switch from their game faces to, ahem, goofy faces the second they step off the mat speaks to Ranallo’s strong skills.
Yellow and black, fluffy bee pillows and slippers were always part of their meet gear — as was Baluch’s giant tape ball that she named “Joe” — while post-meet treats kept them motivated from just off the competition floor.
At the Medina Sectional, sophomore Natalie Radice rushed to give Ranallo a quick hug after completing her strong day, then leapt off the spring-floor to grab a chocolate covered strawberry.
“I have been waiting all day for this moment,” Radice said. “Eating this was the only thing on my mind during the last event.”
Ranallo not only laughed at the sequence, she pointed it out to reporters, saying, “Make sure you put that in the paper: Gymnast says chocolate is more important than anything else.”
There were plenty more light moments during the month-long postseason as Borrelli, Baluch, and sophomore Kira Palmer were known to break out dance moves between events, while seniors Megan Kerrigan and Madeline Yurkoski stressed focus and fun.
Junior Gabby Lynskey and sophomore Shannon Moran also played critical roles in Medina’s success by adding events to their repertoire when Kerrigan and Baluch both suffered major ankle injuries.
It truly was a one-through-eight, total team effort for the Bees in a sport that can be plagued by cliques and catty behavior.
“Darcy has this unique ability to bond with the girls to get the most out of them, but she’s also able to toe the fine line between being a coach and a mentor and their friend,” Medina athletic director Jeff Harrison said.
“The way she can do that in a very professional and appropriate way is what makes Darcy so successful. We’re very fortunate to have her at Medina.”
Luckily for the Bees, Ranallo has no plans on leaving the program anytime soon. She is pursuing a master’s degree at Kent State University while working at Ferrell-Whited Physical Therapy and Head Over Heels Gymnastics.
Medina also figures to have a very strong squad in 2013-14 with state individual qualifiers Borrelli, Palmer, and Lynskey returning, along with state team meet participants Baluch, Radice, and Moran.
Not surprisingly, all six of those girls and Ranallo began talking about their goals for next season while still at this year’s state meet.
“Commitment is a huge factor here, and these girls are committed to themselves, their teammates, and to represent Medina,” said Ranallo, who resides in Bath.
“It’s also about teamwork as a small group of high school girls ends up like a family of sisters. Yes, they will argue and at times not get along, but in the end, they all love each other inside that gym and want nothing more than the best for each other.
“That’s all I could ask for, and I’m so proud that we could experience this ride together.”
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.