Performance: Farmington United's Elena Vargo

February 7, 2020

Elena Vargo
Farmington United senior - Gymnastics

The reigning MHSAA Division 1 Finals champion continued her undefeated run through high school gymnastics by finishing first in the all-around competition and leading Farmington United to the team title at Saturday’s Canton Invitational, which again featured the majority of the state’s top teams. Vargo scored a 36.950 to edge 2017 Division 1 Finals champion Cate Gagnier of Grosse Pointe United by two tenths of a point, earning the MHSAA “Performance of the Week.”

Vargo had reached the club gymnastics Level 9 and was on a track to compete collegiately, but decided before her junior year to instead focus on academics as part of the Farmington district’s International Baccalaureate program. A student then at Farmington Hills Harrison before it closed last spring, she joined a Farmington United team featuring five seniors and helped it repeat as MHSAA team champion before then winning the Division 1 title the following day. Now a student at Farmington High, she has finished first in every all-around competition during her two seasons at the high school level. At Canton, she just missed a perfect score on vault with a 9.9 and also was first on floor exercise (9.6), seventh on uneven parallel bars (8.875) and 17th on balance beam (8.575). Farmington United is a much younger team this winter with a number of freshman contributors, but posted a team score of 143.675 to outpace runner-up Rockford’s 142.559 and third-place Livonia Blue’s 140.25.

Although Vargo switched to high school gymnastics to free up more time for her studies, there’s no arguing she doesn’t maintain a packed schedule. She carries a 4.0 grade-point average while taking the advanced curriculum and also plays violin in the school orchestra and with her mother Sandra, a middle school orchestra teacher in the district. Additionally, Elena has built a jewelry business where she sells her creations and is a two-time Miss Farmington pageant runner-up. She is considering studying at University of Michigan or Miami University of Ohio, and also is awaiting replies from a pair of Ivy League schools. She’ll base what she studies in part on where she attends college – she would like to major in something in the sciences and potentially pre-medical, with a minor in business.

Coach Jeff Dwyer said: “Elena came onto a very good team her junior year, but she is an elite gymnast that has pushed us to become one of the top teams in the state last year and this year. She is one of the better floor exercise and vault performers in the state. She averages in the 9.6-9.8 range on floor, where she combines powerful tumbling with beautiful dance skills. When her vault is on, it is difficult for anyone to beat her. She performs a laid-out Yurchenko vault which has the highest start value possible (10.0) as it is a very difficult and risky vault to perform. However, she does it almost perfectly – her score of 9.9 at the meet is evidence of that perfection. A slight foot movement on her landing cost her one tenth of a point. When a team has someone who can attain such high scores in high school, it is a big lift to the team score. We have a strong team on floor and vault, but Elena adds that extra punch that can lift us even higher, especially against other strong teams.”

Performance Point: “I actually had a gymnastics career-high of 9.9 on vault,” Vargo said while recalling her Canton performance. “So that was the highlight of the meet for me, getting a 9.90, and if I stuck the landing I’d get a 10.0. So that’s my goal, one of these next meets, to get a 10.0 on vault. Floor-wise, I was happy with my performance. The other two events, I let myself get too much in my head and I wasn’t really focused on the uneven bars or the balance beam as much as I normally am. But what really helps me with those events to barely get by with them is my teammates. With any athletics or sports, your teammates are really the ones to put the foundation to motivate you … (and) my team really helped motivate me with that. … Our team was great. I was so happy we were able to beat the other 17 teams that were there. We see Rockford and Livonia Blue as our competition, and this meet really just was such a determining factor in how we may perform at states against them. Rockford won the Rockford Invite a week or two before the Canton Invite … so it really comes down to the best of the best. It comes down to your team always motivating you, your ability to stay focused in performance. Not just one person on our team is going to win it for us. We all have to work together. We definitely have been working on that, and it definitely showed up at the Canton meet.”

Showing the way: “I believe that I’ve always been a leader for our gymnastics team. I do do a higher level of skills. (But) the girls always ask me for advice on how to do specific skills, and I’m always there to help them and give them drills and different ideas. Even though I’m more on quiet side while I’m training and more focused on myself, I’m always there to motivate them and give them advice, and they do the same towards me. I want my entire team to perform just as well as I do.” 

Always a Hawk, now a Falcon too: “Yes, I really do miss Harrison. Harrison was our home and we had a connection not just with the building but all of the people there. Coming to Farmington, originally there was a disconnect between Harrison and Farmington students and teachers. But I think because it’s been a few months, we’re all OK now. People-wise we’re fine, it’s just the building that’s changed. … It was pretty tough at the beginning, but it’s good now.”

Gymnastics is part of me: “I’m a gymnast at heart. Ever since I was 3, I’ve done gymnastics. It’s a part of my identity. I literally don’t know what I would do if gymnastics was not in my life. Practice is the place I can go to (and) forget about everything else and (for example) focus on my flips. I just have such a strong passion for going out on the floor and showing off what I’m able to do. It fills me so much with energy. I look forward to my practices and having fun with my teammates. It’s been a part of me for so long, it’s created who I am today. And I know when I’m older, I hopefully want to be a coach. Because gymnastics, the knowledge, the skills behind it, there’s so many different elements that have captured my heart.” 

EV the entrepreneur: “My jewelry business is called ‘Designs By E.V.’ I specialize in custom jewelry and essential oil diffuser jewelry. So I make rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and I go to a bunch of different art fairs and jewelry shows year-round, and I set up my booth and I sell my products. … I make jewelry, basically to, kinda like gymnastics, (it’s) how I can escape from reality. I’m able to express my more creative side, and it actually helps me relax more.”

– Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Past honorees

Jan. 31: Michael Wolsek, Trenton swimming - Report
Jan. 24:
Kensington Holland, Utica Ford bowling - Report
Jan. 17:
Claycee West, White Pigeon basketball - Report
Jan. 10: 
Seth Lause, Livonia Stevenson hockey - Report
Dec. 5: Mareyohn Hrabowski, River Rouge football - Report
Nov. 28:
Kathryn Ackerman, Grand Haven swimming - Report
Nov. 21:
Emily Van Dyke, Southfield Christian volleyball - Report
Nov. 14:
Taylor Wegener, Ida volleyball - Report
Nov. 7:
Carter Solomon, Plymouth cross country - Report
Oct. 31: 
Jameson Goorman, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian soccer - Report
Oct. 24:
Austin Plotkin, Brimley cross country
- Report
Oct. 17:
Jack Spamer, Brighton cross country - Report
Oct. 10:
Kaylee Maat, Hudsonville volleyball - Report
Oct. 3:
Emily Paupore, Negaunee cross country - Report
Sept. 26: 
Josh Mason, South Lyon soccer - Report
Sept. 19: Ariel Chang, Utica Eisenhower golf - Report
Sept. 12: Jordyn Shipps, DeWitt swimming - Report

PHOTOS: (Top) Farmington United's Elena Vargo competes on floor exercise during last Saturday's Canton Invitational. (Middle) Vargo won that event with a 9.6 and also vault and all-around. (Photos by Roger Playle.)

MHSAA Winter Sports Start with Extended Basketball Schedules, New Wrestling Weights

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

December 13, 2022

The addition of two games to basketball regular-season schedules and a new series of wrestling weight classes are likely the most noticeable Winter 2022-23 changes as an estimated 65,000 athletes statewide take part in 13 sports for which the Michigan High School Athletic Association sponsors postseason tournaments.

Girls gymnastics and boys ice hockey teams were able to begin practice Oct. 31, with the rest of those sports beginning in November – including also girls and boys basketball, girls and boys bowling, girls competitive cheer, girls and boys skiing, Upper Peninsula girls and boys and Lower Peninsula boys swimming & diving, and girls and boys wrestling.

A variety of changes are in effect for winter sports this season, including a several that will be noteworthy and noticeable to teams and spectators alike.

Basketball remains the most-participated winter sport for MHSAA member schools with 33,000 athletes taking part last season, and for the first time, basketball teams may play up to 22 regular-season games. This increase from the previous 20-game schedule allows more games for teams at every high school level – varsity, junior varsity and freshman.

Another significant change has been made in wrestling, as the majority of boys wrestling weight classes have been adjusted for this season in anticipation of a national change coming in 2023-24. The updated boys weight classes are 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 144, 150, 157, 165, 175, 190, 215 and 285 pounds. Only 215 and 285 remain from the previous lineup. There is also one change to girls weight classes, with the 255 class replaced by 235 to also align with national high school standards.

A series of notable changes will affect how competition takes place at the MHSAA Tournament levels. In hockey, in addition to a new classification process that spread cooperative and single-school programs evenly throughout the three playoff divisions, the MHSAA Tournament will employ two changes. The Michigan Power Ratings (MPR) will be used to seed the entire Regional round, not just the top two teams, and prior to the start of Semifinals, a seeding committee will reseed the remaining four teams in each division with the top seed in each then facing the No. 4 seed, and the No. 2 seed facing No. 3.

Bowling also will see an MHSAA Tournament change, as the Team Regional format will mirror the long-standing Team Final with teams playing eight Baker games and two regular games at both levels.  And as also applied during the fall girls season, there is a new qualification process for divers seeking to advance to Lower Peninsula Boys Swimming & Diving Finals. In each of the three divisions, each Regional will be guaranteed 10 qualifiers for the Finals, with six more “floating” qualifier entries to be distributed to the Regionals that have one of the previous year’s top six returning Finals divers in their fields. If a team changes division from the previous season, any floating top-six spots are added to the six already allowed in the school’s new division.

A gymnastics rules change provides an opportunity for additional scoring during the floor exercise. A dance passage requirement was added in place of the former dance series requirement to encourage creativity and a more artistic use of dance. The dance passage requires gymnasts to include two Group 1 elements – one a leap with legs in cross or side split position, the other a superior element.

In competitive cheer, the penalty for going over the time limit in each round was adjusted to one penalty point for every second over the time limit, not to exceed 15 points. The new time limit rule is more lenient than the past penalty, which subtracted points based on ranges of time over the limit.

The 2022-23 Winter campaign culminates with postseason tournaments, as the championship schedule begins with the Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Swimming & Diving Finals on Feb. 18 and wraps up with the Boys Basketball Finals on March 25. Here is a complete list of winter tournament dates:

Boys Basketball
Districts – March 6, 8, 10
Regionals – March 13, 15
Quarterfinals – March 21
Semifinals – March 23-24
Finals – March 25

Girls Basketball
Districts – Feb. 27, March 1, 3
Regionals – March 7, 9
Quarterfinals – March 14
Semifinals – March 16-17
Finals – March 18

Regionals – Feb. 24-25
Finals – March 3-4

Competitive Cheer
District – Feb. 17-18
Regionals – Feb. 25
Finals – March 2-3

Regionals – March 4
Finals – March 10-11

Ice Hockey
Regionals – Feb. 20-March 1
Quarterfinals – March 4
Semifinals – March 9-10
Finals – March 11

Regionals – Feb. 13-17
Finals – Feb. 27

Swimming & Diving
Upper Peninsula Girls/Boys Finals – Feb. 18
Lower Peninsula Boys Diving Regionals – March 2
Lower Peninsula Boys Finals – March 10-11

Wrestling – Team
Districts – Feb. 8-9
Regionals – Feb. 15
Finals – Feb. 24-25

Wrestling – Individual
Districts – Feb. 11
Regionals – Feb. 18
Finals – March 3-4

The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.3 million spectators each year.