Nia Dennis, Legacy Elite, 43.7
After missing the first half of the season due to injuries, Nia competed as a senior for the first time at the 2015 Secret Classic. Her debout was succesful since she hit every routine she performed. Last year, I would have guessed that Nia would have been one of the athletes with the most difficulty and that she would be fighting against the very best gymnasts in the country for All Around medals. However, it was clear that this would not happen and we had to adjust our expectations to the circumstances. Dennis got injured in the beginning of the year, she had a rough competition at the Pan American Games selection camp and did not make the team and she switched gyms less than two weeks before the competition. Given this situation, I think Nia has every reason to be happy after her performance at Classics. She had one of the highest scoring double twisting yurchenkos of the night, earning a 15 and she posted scores over 14 on the other events she competed. She watered down her beam routine, leaving out her famous standing arabian and her layout but she showed impressive and well executed dance elements, like a lovely 2.5 wolf turn, a tour jete half and a switch half. She was very solid and confident, and the only skill that gave her some trouble was her double pike dismount. Hopefully, she will be able to perform it well once she builds more endurance. On bars she showed high releases and a stuck Double Layout dismount. It’s needless to say that watered down routines are not going to get her a spot in a worlds team. However, throwing out big skills and making major mistakes every time you compete is not going to get her a ticket for Glasgow either. Nia switched gyms because she wanted to become more consistent and I think that doing easier routines she can hit every single time is the best strategy for her at this point. She may not challenge for the worlds team this year, but she will gain more confidence and once she’s healthy and fit enough to upgrade, she will have better chances to perform well under pressure and this is going to be better for her career and her Olympic chances in the long term. That being said, I do hope to see some more difficulty from her during nationals. I don’t want her doing any skills she can’t perform safely, but I would love it if she brought back her standing arabian on beam, or if she added the church she’s been training on bars. Hopefully she will be ready to compete on floor too. We’ve seen her doing double layouts, double arabians and 1.5 step outs into double tucks in training videos so she definitely has the individual skills.
Madison Kocian, WOGA, 29.45
With the reigning national uneven bars champion Ashton Locklear coming back from an injury and uneven bars world silver medalist Kyla Ross struggling, Madison finally got her chance to win a gold medal on her best event. She competed the exact same routine she did at Nanning last year and she was absolutely excellent. She hit her very difficult opening combination (komova + pak + chow 1/2), she flew high during her jaeger and she landed her dismount with only one tiny hop. A couple of her handstands were a bit off but her routine was certainly impressive, especially for someone who hasn’t competed for nine months. She also hit her balance beam routine, which included a standing arabian, a gorgeous switch ring and a stuck double tuck dismount. She had quite a few wobbles throughout the exercise though and she was only 9th on the event. This was definitely a successful competition for Maddie, who had missed the first half of the year due to an injury and it’s a great way for her to return to the elite stage, but the question remains: is one event enough to make her a contender for worlds?
Kyla Ross, Gym Max, 26.8
World and Olympic champion Kyla Ross chose to only compete on two events at the 2015 Secret Classic. On bars she showed some highly anticipated upgrades but it unfortunately didn’t work out for her. She attempted a brand new chow + bhardwaj combination, she didn’t quite get her hands around the low bar and she fell. When she got back on the apparatus, she had a second fall during her toe on full. She pulled herself together and finished her routine but she was clearly and understandably disappointed after this performance. The disaster on bars didn’t seem to affect her performance on beam, where she showed her usually calmness and confidence. The only visible error in her routine was a big wobble after her side somi. All her other elements were solid and well executed and she stuck her double tuck dismount. People seem to think that this performance hurts Kyla’s chances to make the world team. I disagree. I think that a gymnast like Ross, who has proven herself time after time at Nationals and World championships and at the Olympic Games can afford to have one rough competition at Secret Classic. Of course, she will have to pull herself together for nationals but I have no doubt she will manage to do that. I just hope that Marta will give her one more chance to prove she can hit her new combination. It’s such an exciting skill and the fact that she had one fall the first time she competed it doesn’t mean she can’t do it. However, Marta clearly sees Kyla as a solid team player and not as a super star and she has told her not to add certain upgrades in the past so I’m not sure if we’ll be seeing the full twisting pak salto again.
Lauren Navarro, Gliders, 26.6
The beautiful Lauren Navarro made her senior debut at the 2015 Secret Classics, where she competed on her two best events, bars and beam. She showed impressive difficulty on bars and she started her routine with a tricky endo 1/2 + chow + stalder + tkatcev + pak combination but then, she wasn’t even close to catching her van leeuwen. She was much more successful on her next event, where she performed a beautiful routine, which included a back handspring connected to two layout stepouts, a front tuck and the prettiest side somi you will ever see. She finished with a stuck double pike dismount. Lauren will never be one of USA’s strongest athletes but she already is one of their most beautiful gymnasts. Her lines, her toe point and her style are absolutely beautiful and I can’t wait to see more of her.
Polina Shchennikova, TIGAR, 26.25
Polina is 17 years old but she also made her senior debut at Classics because she missed her first senior year due to injuries. She started on her best event, the uneven bars. The beginning of her routine was spectacular. She hit her difficult opening combination with only minor errors, and she had good form and amplitude throughout her skills. But then, she underrotated her full in dismount and fell. This was heartbreaking because Polina could have scored above 15 and be among the country’s best on this event. She wasn’t able to recover from that mistake and she also had a rough beam routine, scoring only a 12.250 with a 5.3 D score. If I’m not mistaken, Polina has already qualified to nationals as a vault and bars specialist from the American Classics, where she got a 28.5 total for those two events so she will have a chance to prove she can do her routine well.
Brenna Dowell, GAGE, 26.15
Brenna took a brave decision when she chose to give elite an other try after her freshman year at college. One of the biggest differences between elite and NCAA gymnastics is the number of skills you have to compete in order to be competitive and most college gymnasts struggle to get back the endurance they need in order to be able to have 8 difficult elements in their routine. This is also the case for Brenna. She has all her skills back. Her tweddle + ezova and her church + pak combinations were as spectacular as ever. Her full twisting double layout dismount was fantastic. Her punch front mount was beyond impressive and her kochetkova was fabulous. However, she wasn’t able to hit any of the routines she performed. Dowell has a couple of weeks to prepare before having an other chance to prove herself at nationals, but given the fact that she has never been Marta’s favorite and that there are so many amazing athletes in the country right now, I’m not sure how realistic her chances are.
Sabrina Vega, GAGE, 25.7
Seeing Sabrina competing for the first time since the 2012 Olympic Trials was absolutely delightful. She was trying to come back for so long, she moved away from home, she switched gyms and she had to recover for plenty of injuries so I’m sure she was excited to just have the chance to be out there. On beam, she showed impressive skills and combinations, like a front tuck mount, a back handspring connected to two layout stepouts, a switch ring, a double wolf turns (she’s a GAGE girl now after all) and a double tuck dismount in combination. She hit her routine with a few wobbles, and even though she had some visible form breaks and plenty of big pauses between her skills, I think that the 7.0 E score she received was quite harsh. She started her floor routine brilliantly with a stuck full in and she also stuck her whip to double tuck. I’m not sure if the double twist as a second pass was planned or not, but what really hurt her score was her fall on her double pike. I’m not surprised to see an athlete who has been away from competition for so long to be struggling with endurance and consistency, but I did expect something more from her in terms of artistry. She has always been such a graceful and expressive gymnast and her new choreography is not really showing that.
World champion, Ashton Locklear only competed bars and beam as an exhibition, which means she was not scored for her routines. She is still coming back from an injury and she wasn’t quite ready to perform full routines but she wanted to show that she is working hard and she still is capable of some impressive elements. She had said that she was only doing basic routines at Classics and she had surgery only a few months ago so I was actually impressed by the skill level she’s capable of. On bars, she did the same routine that earned her a ticket to Nanning last year minus the inbar stalders. She also needed her coach to spot her during the dismount, but I think she will be ready to compete at nationals. On beam, she showed well executed aerials and nice leaps before dismounting with a simply layout. She was very solid and confident and I hope she can get at least a double full for nationals. Ashton made the team as a bars specialist last year, but as we said before, USA’s bars are much stronger now and she is not really needed. That means that she would have trouble making the team even if she was completely healthy so her injury make it even more difficult from her. However, with the Olympics only one year away, it’s always important to prove yourself as a solid, consistent athlete and I hope Ashton does that during nationals.