No doubt, Whitefish Bay senior gymnast Aly Yurkowitz has much to be grateful about.
The Blue Dukes are defending WIAA state division 2 champions, and she's defending WIAA state all-around champion, won in an emotional moment last year, where afterward, she ran over and hugged her mother, who was still in treatment for cancer at the time.
Mom is doing much better right now, cancer-free and trying to adjust to her rapidly growing hair, said her much-relieved daughter.
Yurkowitz, in the meantime, has adopted a leader's role. She is one of three returnees from the 2016 champs. Furthermore, injuries and illness have shortened the lineup at many times during the season. But she is happy to note that the team is getting healthier, the scores are rising and she is still improving even as her gymnastics career is coming to an end.
After their impressive win in the WIAA D2 sectional Feb. 23 at Waterford, the Blue Dukes will be favorites to win their third state title in Yurkowitz's four-year career March 3 and 4 in Wisconsin Rapids.
"I'm definitely very motivated right now," said Yurkowitz. "I'm working on each skill, each routine, still trying to get better. I'm really going to try to absorb it all this weekend. It will honestly be more emotional than I thought it would be, because this is it. I'm not continuing gymnastics in college. It's been such a big part of my life for about 14 years and now it'll be over.
"I'm just going to try and do my best I can and what happens, happens."
Veteran coach Mary Liniewski has no doubt that Yurkowitz's best will be more than good enough.
"She keeps getting better and better every week," said Liniewski. "She's so consistent. She has little mistakes, but her score keeps going up and up because she makes up for them on other events. Just amazing."
Liniewski is happy this moment has come, because with injuries shortening up the team, this is a much greener bunch than she's used to having.
Aside from Yurkowitz, a co-captain, the only other experienced hands are fellow senior co-captain Jess Fetting and junior Abby Timms.
A major linchpin to the Blue Dukes' potential success in the team portion of the competition, which will commence at 2 p.m. Friday, March 3, is the return to health of freshman Sarah Kirchner, who had to sit out much of the first two months of the season with a kneecap issue.
But since her recent return, she has stabilized the Bay lineup and given others the freedom to try more daring and highly rewarded skills.
"She's frequently the fifth scorer, so her mark doesn't always count but she gives us a buffer and a push," said Liniewski. "She gives us depth so the others can try the big skills knowing there's a good score behind them."
The West Salem co-op is Bay's most serious challenger in the team competition.
"We're not going in overconfident," said Liniewski. "Our main goal for the week is to stay healthy and safe. I know everyone sees us as the team you can never count out and that we always seem to have a trick or two up our sleeves, but because of all the injuries, we had to do skill development so much later this season.
"We're in good shape, no doubt, but I know that there are no guarantees out there."
Yurkowtiz is also excited by the opportunity.
"We have come so far," she said. 'We started out at about 132 points (for a team score) and now we're around 142, even with all our injuries. Things have just started to click for everyone and we know what we have to do now. Things have come along fast and it's all fitting into place."
The pair should be feeling good after the Blue Dukes cruised to a 13-point win in the eight-team sectional with 142.075 points as Waupun earned the other state meet team berth with 129.25.
Bay dominated every event in the meet. Yurkowtiz had wins in all events and a top all-around score of 38.075, which won the competition by close to four points. Timms in third (33.875) and Kirchner in fifth (33.25) also advanced to state individual competition in the all-around.
Individual events will be contested Saturday, March 4.
Yurkowtiz won the balance beam with a 9.575 as Fetting also advanced with a third-place effort of 9.075. Yurkowtiz also led a one-through-four sweep in the floor exercise with a 9.7 mark as Julia Patek was second (9.25), Ava Flemming third (8.975) and Timms fourth (8.875).
That also happened on the uneven bars as Yurkowtiz turned in a 9.35 mark, Fetting an 8.525, Timms an 8.4 and Kirchner an 8.3. On vault, Yurkowitz dominated the competition with a 9.45 mark while Timms advanced with a third place 9.3.
Liniewski said that Patek was a huge help this day, calling it "the meet of her life."
Yurkowtiz felt good about her day, too. She has been turning in strong scores recently, but coming up just short against high-level D1-level competition. A slight mistake cost her the North Shore/GMC all-around title the previous week and has been a driver ever since for her.
"We just want to finish the season out strong," she said. "We'll just focus on performing our best."