US Junior and Senior Nationals took place last weekend alongside MAG Olympic Trials in St. Louis. In the absence of 2016 Classics winner Irina Alexeeva, who couldn’t compete at National Championships since she isn’t a US citizen yet, and 2016 Jesolo AA Champion Jordan Chiles who pulled out at the last minute due to a bone bruise, the door was open for some surprises and new faces were able to prove their worth.

Competing at her third Nationals, 14-year-old Maile O’Keefe won Gold after two very solid days with scores in the 57-58 range. Vaulting a DTY, O’Keefe scored in the high-14s both days after small hops on the landings, while bars was her lowest scoring event due to some late pirouettes and missed handstands but she performs a really cool double arabian dismount to make up for it. Beam on the other hand was her best event, with scores just below 15 on both days for difficulty packed routines that included two acro series of three elements each: aerial to LOSO to LOSO and BHS to BHS to layout. Finally on floor, O’Keefe performed a lovely routine to Phantom of the Opera that included a high full-in, a 1.5 to 2.5 twists, a double tuck and a double pike, finishing off with a great smile, knowing the AA title was hers. In addition to AA Gold, Maile also won Gold on beam and floor and Bronze on vault and made the US Junior National Team for the 2016/2017 season.

In second place was first year elite gymnast Riley McCusker from MG Elite with scores of 56, after solid performances across all events. On vault, McCusker performed a clean and floaty FTY, while on bars her low difficulty held her a back a bit and a super low landing on her dismount on day two also hurt her score. Beam was solid with a series of BHS to LOSO to LOSO for scores in the low to mid-14s and floor was very expressive as usual by MG Elite gymnasts, including a full-in, a memmel turn and a front double full (WITH NO FHS BEFORE IT!), for scores in the low-14s. In addition to Silver in the All-Around, McCusker also won Silver on bars, beam and floor, making her this year’s Silver Princess.

Rounding up the podium was Gabby Perea with scores around 55.5-56. On vault, Perea presented a FTY for scores in the high-13s, while bars was her best event with scores in the mid-14s for a 6.2-difficulty routine that included a stalder full to Chow half, a toe-on full to pak and the straightest double layout dismount of these Championships. Beam didn’t go so well on day one with big wobbles on her layout and side somi and taking several steps on her 2.5 twist dismount, but day two was much better improving her score by nearly seven tenths. Finally floor was her lowest scoring event in the mid to high-13s, due to low difficulty and landing issues. Besides AA Bronze, Gabby also managed to win Gold on the uneven bars.

Fan favorite and big contender for the podium Morgan Hurd unfortunately had a bit of a rough meet finishing fifth after mistakes on bars and beam on both days, yet was still able to win Bronze on bars despite a fall on day one. Another disappointing performance was Alyona Shchennikova on the uneven bars, flying over the bar on her piked Tkachev on both days and finishing 26th on the event, despite being one of the favorites for the podium. But nothing was as heartbreaking as Denna Soza’s competition. Starting on bars, Soza had one of her best routines of the weekend including her creative Ezhova transition to low bar and a full twisting double layout dismount. But next on beam things started going the wrong way right from her very first skill, a switch leap, when she couldn’t avoid a fall, getting back up just to fall again on her next skill, a back pike. She continued her routine and had yet another fall on her side aerial resulting in a total score below 11. Next on floor, her routine went very well until the last tumbling pass where she fell on her double pike, though she was able to regroup and still perform well on her DTY on vault. Day two started on beam with a similarly rough routine, falling on her side aerial and sitting her double pike dismount. After such disappointing performances, Soza scratched the rest of the competition and didn’t make the National Team leaving many gymfans sad and heartbroken (myself included).

As for the event medalists, on vault, Chae Campbell won Gold after two nice DTYs for an aggregated score of 30, followed by Madeleine Johnston in second and a tie for third place between Maile O’Keefe and Shilese Jones with scores in the high-14s. On bars, Gabby Perea won Gold with scores in the mid-14s on both days, while Riley McCusker won Silver  and Morgan Hurd won Bronze despite a fall on day one. Beam Gold also went to AA Champion Maile O’Keefe with scores in the high-14s, followed by Riley McCusker in second and Shania Adams in third, both over half a point behind O’Keefe. Finally, floor was also won by Maile O’Keefe, while Silver went once again to Riley McCusker and Bronze went to Shilese Jones, all with scores around 14.

The top 6 AA gymnasts earned automatic spots for the Junior National Team in addition to Jordan Chiles and Emma Malabuyo, who didn’t finish the competition after a bad landing on her DTY. Therefore, the 2016/2017 US Junior National Team members are Jordan Chiles, Emma Malabuyo, Maile O’Keefe, Riley McCusker, Gabby Perea, Shania Adams, Morgan Hurd and Trinity Thomas. Most of these gymnasts were born in 2001 and will be Seniors by January so new faces should be added to the team as the season goes along.

Full results here.


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