A Secret Classic Post Without a Pun in the Title

And it was really hard to resist, but I think we can all agree that this particular well of rolling eyes has been more than exhausted. Yes, secret is an actual word and a sponsor of an event. We get it.

But first, time to keep up with a little NCAA talk. I’m soooo changeable.

Earlier this week, Jenni Pinches announced she will be attending UCLA for the 2013-2014 season, giving a big, unexpected boost to the Bruins for next year. The UCLA scholarship situation is always a little bit of witch’s brew (eye of newt, toe of frog, Kaelie Baer – we don’t know what’s in there), so it’s not yet clear whether there was an opening or whether the team had to play “Eeny, meeny, miny, medical retirement.” We’ll see in time.

Pinches brings early or mid lineup potential on all four events, a tremendous piece of security for a team losing half of its Super Six routines from last season. While the injury comebacks and the already-committed freshmen would likely have prevented a repeat of the depth problems from last season, some holes still presented themselves. On certain events, the Bruins would have had enough routines to get by but perhaps only about 7 that they would really want to compete, while the others made up the depth charts. That’s assuming seamless comebacks from the injured, which is hardly assured, and would not be enough for any degree of confidence. One person gets injured, someone else needs time to get back into form, and it’s Alyssa Pritchett’s 9.750 on vault all over again. Pinches provides breathing room and solid .050s here and there over what otherwise could have competed.

Back in the elite realm, the Secret Classic is just a week away. The roster was released early this week, and it features 17 seniors and 46 juniors.

The senior roster contains the usual batch of “OMG you guys! I qualified elite!” mixed with the “Look at me Martha! Please! Look at me! She knows my name, right?” mixed with the “See you in Belgium, beyotches!”

That’s part of the fun of the first year of the quad, the mixture.
It’s when everything seems possible, even to the people for whom it’s not. That’s why we see so many juniors competing elite this year, with all their hopes and dreams that we are far too jaded to understand. The bevy of juniors is large but falls slightly short of the 49 we saw compete in the junior sessions of Classic in 2009. That year, there we so many juniors and so few seniors that the most prominent juniors who were seen as having the most potential were invited to compete with the seniors. That group consisted of Sabrina Vega, Amanda Jetter, Bridgey Caquatto, and Briley Casanova. Meanwhile, Kyla Ross, Aly Raisman, and McKayla Maroney competed in the normal junior session (finishing 1st, 12th, and 24th respectively). So yes, don’t get too excited or unexcited by the junior results. Everything’s going to change. No one knew too much about Kyla Ross going into 2009, but her 15.200 on vault was the first routine of the competition and made everyone say, “Is this someone?” We learned a lot from that very first piece of gymnastics of the elite season in the new quad.

From those 49 in 2009, only Amelia Hundley is still competing junior elite four years later. From the 47 juniors who competed in 2010, Hundley, Bridget Dean, Polina Shchennikova, Alyssa Baumann and Ashton Kim are still junior elites. We’ll be playing the long game with some of these juniors.

In truth, the biggest lesson we learn from Classics each year is that if you make people wait long enough, even something kind of lame and insignificant seems like an extravaganza. The event is more anticipated than Nationals simply because of the wait, yet it is a minor blip on the overall landscape, the results of which are only minorly relevant come team selection. Classic will probably teach us less about who will make the Worlds team and more about who will be going up 4th on bars for UCLA soon. (Seriously, Olivia Courtney won in 2009 and Mattie Larson won in 2010.)

But because it is not actually in the vicinity of being as significant as Nationals, this competition is an opportunity for someone unexpected to place well and start becoming more than second tier if she can take the opportunity. If there is a narrative to be changed, this is the year to do it because enough is still up in the air with so many years to go. The majority of the top competitors, especially the veterans, will be aiming to peak later and will not bother with the AA at Classic. “I’m only competing two events at Classic” means you’re either in the “OMG you guys! I qualified elite!” group or the “See you in Belgium, beyotches!” group.

People in the middle group will have a chance to be featured and start sculpting identities for themselves. If we look back to Classic from 2012 and 2011, when most of her contemporaries were showing up at about 70% or competing one or two events, Aly Raisman was hitting four events every time out and won the title both years. She may have had her first staring moment at American Cup in 2010, but she didn’t truly become Sturdy Aly, the girl who can’t be left off a team, until later. Watch out for those who use the opportunity of a limited, slightly underprepared field to be the momentary queen.