We’re less than a week away from the end of our long national nightmare. The GK US Classic has finally appeared on the horizon and is slowly chugging its way toward us to usher a glorious month of nonstop meets (real, actual meets with rules and standards!) back into our lives. And none too soon.
So let’s begin Celebration Week with a preview of the hors d’oeuvres. I mean junior session.
The highlight of any domestic junior competition is, of course, the wildly different heights and skill levels that populate the field. There’s nothing more entertaining than when Amelia Hundley is still somehow a junior in 2013 despite being age 37, and she’s introduced next to an actual 3-year-old who’s like, “I have a kip!” And they’re just in the same meet for some reason, and you go, “Is this a dream?” Yeah. Junior Classic.
This year, none of the juniors are being promoted to compete with the seniors (last year Malabuyo, O’Keefe, Dunne, Lee, and Kenlin competed in the later session with the big girls). I prefer this way. We have age group delineations in place, so let’s follow those rules and not confuse things. If you’re a senior, you’re a senior. If you’re a junior, you’re a junior—even if you can score better than most of the seniors.
Let’s discuss those gymnasts first, the ones in contention to win the juniors and who would make the senior national team if old enough.
We have a pretty amorphous and open junior field in the US this year because so many of the very best juniors aged out of the system after 2017, like Malabuyo, Perea, O’Keefe, Kenlin, and Dunne. A bit of a power vacuum was left in their absence, but in the last few months, we’ve seen a solid four rise up to establish themselves as the new junior cabal, and they’ll be expected to fight it out for the title here.
Coming in with the highest scoring potential of the entire bunch is Sunisa Lee. With the D-score advantage that Lee possesses—performing 6+ difficulty on bars and beam—her performance typically dictates how these junior competitions play out. If she hits those big routines, the others will not have the difficulty to catch her, even if they perform perfectly.
Hitting, however, is the big question. Lee can be susceptible to a fall that allows the lower-D competition to pass her, and mistakes on both bars and beam at Pac Rims took her down to 4th in the all-around standings.
That could be where someone like Kayla DiCello comes in. Her D scores alone will likely see her give up more than a point to Lee (maybe closer to 1.5 depending on how things play out), but going 4-for-4 at American Classic allowed DiCello to dominate the field with a 55.400, a score not too far off the pace of what Lee should earn for a hit meet. DiCello showed precise work and execution upon her elite debut last season, and in the past year she has upped her D scores from the 5.0 territory to the 5.3-5.5 territory, which allows her to stay right with the top scorers.
Life changes quickly in the junior ranks. Last year at Junior Classic, DiCello placed 24th, ahead of Jordan Bowers in 32nd, and now they’re two of the most convincing favorites for the title in 2018.
Bowers won the all-around at both Pac Rims and Pan Ams this year (outscoring DiCello and Lee at Pac Rims, and outscoring Leanne Wong and Tori Tatum at Pan Ams) which speaks to her solidity and equal strength across the four events. Bowers does not rely on any one or two apparatus scores to pick up her all-around total, which means she is better able to absorb any mistakes that might crop up because she can make up those tenths on any of the other three events. Continue reading US Classic Preview – Juniors