By Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor
Bang! That was the sound of Ari Agrapides concluding her high school gymnastics career.
On Nov. 10 at Montgomery High School, the St. John Vianney senior won her first-ever outright NJSIAA state individual gold medals in her final attempt. Agrapides stamped herself as the state’s top gymnast by winning the all-around competition with 38.475 points. She also won the floor title with a 9.75.
“It was definitely my goal,” the Bayville resident said. “I’m a senior and wanted to end it with a bang.”
It was more like a “ba-boom!” as she finished second on vault (9.8) and uneven bars (9.55) and sixth on beam. Agrapides shared gold medals in the uneven bars as a freshman and the vault last year. She has also won Central Jersey sectional golds, but this is the first time she has owned state titles all to herself.
Looking back on it, Agrapides said, “It’s amazing. It’s still really exciting.”
It culminated 10 years of hard work, as Agrapides began gymnastics at age 7. At age 9, she began doing elite training at Monmouth Gymnastics in Morganville, and was home schooled from fifth to eighth grades. Elite is for those with Olympic or international aspirations. In eighth grade, she moved over to Premiere Gymnastics Club, also in Morganville, and dropped to Level 10 training.
“Level 10 is kind of like travel gymnastics, if you’re comparing it to other sports,” explained Agrapides, who won a Level 10 national vault gold medal in 2013.
Agrapides enrolled in Holmdel’s St. John Vianney in ninth grade and promptly took second in the NJSIAA state meet behind senior teammate Kristen Politz (now at Penn State). She took her sophomore year off to do strictly club gymnastics, since that is where college recruiters focus their attention.
By the end of 10th grade, she had committed to the University of Iowa.
When reminded that New Jersey’s busyness will be replaced by Iowa’s cornfields, Agrapides laughed and said, “Yeah, the college is like a little city, so it’s nice there. But you go off campus and there’s not a lot to do.” Which Agrapides figures is a plus since it will allow her to focus on gymnastics and academics.
After making her college choice, Agrapides returned to the SJV program, which head coach Tracie Vaz has built into a state powerhouse. During Agrapides’ year off, the Lancers did not have a team, but only two gymnasts competing as individuals.
“It was tough being away,” said Agrapides, whose early age Olympic dreams have been downgraded to focusing on college gymnastics. “But going back junior year, it was really exciting because we were able to have a bigger team, so it was fun being with all the girls again.”
Last year, with Agrapides leading a full team, she won all-around in leading SJV to the Shore Conference title. She finished second in all-around in the Central Jersey Group I sectionals and third in the state meet. This season, she finished second in the SCT meet – earning the first perfect 10 of her career on vault as the Lancers won the title again. Ari then won Central Jersey all-around, although SJV finished second to Freehold Township in both that meet and the state dual meet championships.
Agrapides said in approaching the final state individual meet of her career, she maintained her same routine.
“I just try to go through everything I usually do in my mind, just stay calm and do the routines I’ve been practicing in the gym and try not to get too nervous,” said Agrapides, who is of Greek Orthodox descent but an eager member of SJV’s Catholic Athletes For Christ. “I try to think I’m not competing and just think I’m at practice and having fun with the girls. And usually the routines are pretty solid.”