SJV’s Costello nearly flawless in winning NJSIAA Individual Gymnastics State title

St. John Vianney’s Grace Costello proudly wears the four gold medals – including the All-Around – that she won at the Nov. 9 NJSIAA Individual State Gymnastics Championship at Montgomery High. Costello is the third Lancer in five years to win the state title. Courtesy photo

FROM THE MONITOR

By Rich Fisher, Contributing Editor

Grace Costello is living proof that good things happen to those who have the fortitude to ride out a tough situation.

A competitive gymnast since age 6, Costello showed up at St. John Vianney raring to go, only to discover the team had shrunk to just two competitors her freshman year. It would have been easy to focus solely on club gymnastics, but she hung in there with teammate Sidney Prestup, and the two competed in major meets as independents representing SJV.

“It was a totally different experience than the other years,” Costello said. “We worked hard on getting a team together and sophomore year we pulled together a small team; ever since, the team has been growing.”

The Aberdeen resident has been a major part of the growth, as her high school career culminated in an unforgettable senior season. 

On Nov. 9 at Montgomery High School, Costello became the third Lancer in five years to win the NJSIAA Individual State Championship. Ari Agrapides won it last year as did Kristen Politz in 2015 after she talked coach Tracie Vaz into resurrecting the program. Costello also won the Shore Conference Tournament title for a second straight year, along with the Central Jersey Section I crown.

She was unstoppable at  the state meet, winning three events and the All-Around competition with a score of 38.650, nearly 6/10ths ahead of Freehold Township’s Anna Pagliaro. Costello also won balance team (9.450), floor (9.800) and uneven bars (9.750), while finishing second to Pagliaro in the vault by half of a point. Ironically, she won vault at both the SCT and sectionals.

Vault was actually the first event, which Vaz felt was a good thing.

“She’s the type of gymnast who gets mad and then she pulls through, so she was on a mission after that,” the coach said. “It absolutely fired her up.”

It certainly didn’t ruin her confidence.

“There is so much talent in the state, and there is a lot of good competition,” Costello said. “During the meet, I don’t watch other scores because I focus on myself, and I focused on doing my best. Since the competition was so fierce, it didn’t bother me that I didn’t sweep all of the events.”

Costello has been a Level 10 gymnast since 2017 while competing with Head Over Heels Gymnastics in Parlin. Her mother, Michelle, is a former gymnast, and according to Costello’s Head Over Heels website profile “her parents knew that Grace would be a gymnast when she rolled over at three weeks old and had visible calf muscles when bouncing in her exer-saucer.”

Practicing 21 hours per week with her club team (in addition to high school practices), Costello has enjoyed strong success in her climb from Level 5 in 2010 to her current Level 10 status. As for high school competition, Vaz said that winning the Shore Conference championship a second straight year just added to her already strong assurance.

Proof of Costello’s talent came in sectionals, when she actually suffered a hard fall during her beam routine, and still went on to win two events and the all-around.

“At that point we’re like, ‘She’s on fire,” Vaz said. “She’s got room to play with. But we thought if she hits (every routine), she’s golden. And she pulled everything out she was consistently doing, and she hit. She finished where we expected her to be.”

It was a great way to say farewell to Lancer gymnastics.

“Going into the individual state competition, I was confident and relaxed,” Costello said. “Knowing that it was my last high school meet, I wanted to do my best and end on a high note. I always put one hundred percent into my gymnastics, and to become state champion is amazing. My goal this season was to do my best while having fun, and I did just that.”

Doing well while having fun is almost as tricky as walking across a balance beam shaped like a baseball bat, but Costello managed to pull it off.

“She trains the way she competes, and it shows,” Vaz said. “Grace … went into practice on a mission. She knew what she had to do after practices. She trained everything she needed to do. She just was on a mission, and she accomplished it.”

Costello’s next mission will be to continue her classroom and gym excellence at The College of  William & Mary in Virginia. Along with her gymnastics ability, Costello has a 4.3 grade point average, which is remarkable considering the time she puts into her sport.

“I wanted a school with strong academics as well as athletics,” Costello said. “My dad brought me to William and Mary for a visit and I fell in love with the school. I’m extremely blessed that it all fell into place.”

Costello is once again following in the footsteps of Politz and Agrapides, who are doing Division I gymnastics at Penn State and Iowa, respectively. In comparing her three state champs, Vaz said there are differences and similarities.

“In general, the three of them are just very high level gymnasts. They’ve been through a lot of hard training,” she said.

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