Earlier this week, I introduced you to six relatively new seniors, all of whom have experience in elite gymnastics but who haven’t yet become as well-known in the gym world.
In contrast, you definitely know this group of seniors, but you don’t really know them as seniors. Because this is the first time any of them have competed at this level (like, Jesolo aside). Junior to senior transitions are sometimes amazing, sometimes awkward, sometimes terrifying, but always mind-blowing, for both the gymnasts and the fans.
These four are all going through the transition this year, and it just so happens that I’ve watched three of them since they took their elite baby steps, so it’s a very emotional time for The Gymternet.
1. Amelia Hundley (Cincinnati)
Oh my goodness. Amelia as a senior just does not feel right to me. It’s funny because her junior career felt like it went on for decades (maybe because she was taller than most seniors at 14?), but now that she’s an actual real live 16-year-old senior elite, I refuse to accept it. Because it means I am one thousand years old.
Amelia had a stellar junior career, marked with progress from start to finish. I forgot the competition – maybe last year’s nationals? – but I overheard someone saying to coach Mary Lee Tracy, “can you believe Amelia getting this far?!” and MLT was like, “I know, right?!” Amelia was the kid who in 2009 placed 31st in the Cover Girl Classic. Almost everyone else from that year’s Classics – including girls who placed 25 spots higher than her – disappeared from elite within a couple of years. How did the girl in 31st earn major national team assignments before finally becoming the junior national bronze all-around medalist in 2013?
Basically, what I’m trying to say is that Amelia is magical. She has truly built on every performance, getting better every year and never giving up. She always had a smile on her face and a ton of heart, not missing a single season of competition until this past spring as she dealt with her first “yeah, I should probably take some time off” injury. When she botched a skill or missed out on a medal, she remained genuinely gracious, and she put every ounce of her soul into her floor routines, consistently making her the most fun to watch even if her tumbling or turns aren’t always perfect.
I don’t know what to expect from Amelia, not having seen her compete in almost a year. Part of me wants to say she’ll be amazing from the start, but the other side of me knows how difficult it is to transition from junior to senior, a feat made even more challenging by coming back after time off with an injury. I don’t want to put my expectations for her through the roof, but at the same time, I have a feeling she could be very exciting. Especially because she’s steadily good across all four events, kind of like Aly Raisman in 2010. You can count on Amelia always to be there for the team, and I think that’s her edge going into her senior career.
During junior beam finals at Pac Rims in 2012, I watched Amelia sit in a chair by the uneven bars with her eyes closed and head down while her [now former] teammate Lexie Priessman went through her routine. This will be me when Amelia competes next weekend.
2. Alyssa Baumann (WOGA)
My first memory of Alyssa is from the Cover Girl Classic in 2010. Having gone straight from L9 to elite in just a matter of months, she looked so tiny and so…terrified! I think she fell on beam, and then I’m sure she fell on bars at some point at nationals later that summer because I remember her walking off the podium trying not to cry while a gaggle of WOGA teammates led by the equally tiny and terrified Katelyn Ohashi comforted her.
When she disappeared from the elite scene, I wasn’t terribly surprised, not because she lacked anything in her gymnastics but because she seemed very young and not quite ready for such an intense competitive experience.
But I also wasn’t surprised when she reemerged last year. It was one of those things where you knew she probably just needed time, and though it was an injury that unfortunately kept her out, it thankfully did nothing to deteriorate her physically…and emotionally, she came back a million times stronger.
The Alyssa who made her debut at the 2013 WOGA Classic after two years without competing was completely different from the 12-year-old who looked like a leaf could break her in 2010. Though she didn’t have the best day, it didn’t phase her. She had learned how to pick up and move on, ending up with gold in the all-around and on beam and floor during the elite qualifier in the morning and silver on beam during the international session later that evening. She then went on to earn all-around silver at the Houston National Invitational behind Olympian Jessica Lopez, where she also improved her WOGA Classic all-around score by over two full points.
Since then, she’s managed to perform well both domestically and abroad. Now 16, she has a shot to make the World Championship team for her lovely beam. Consistency will be key for her as a senior, as she does still have a tendency to get lost in her routines on occasion, but I think the steady improvement we saw from her throughout 2013 could mean even more progress this year.
3. Veronica Hults (Texas Dreams)
What gym fan didn’t follow Nica’s achievements as a young gymnast via YouTube? As she learned skills, made progress, and climbed through the levels, I felt like I was living vicariously through her, and I think anyone who watched regularly just knew she was going to make it to elite one day.
Coincidentally, I happened to be at the WOGA elite qualifier when then 12-year-old Nica made her first attempt to reach that level back in 2011. It wasn’t a good bars day for anyone, Nica included, but what set Nica apart from other competitors was the fact that she smiled while saluting the judges, even after two falls. This was at the same meet where I saw one younger girl cry after her bars falls and a low-scoring teenager scream at her mother in front of an entire section of people when she asked if they should stay to watch her friends get medals.
In the midst of all the crying, pouting, screaming, and cursing, Nica kept her cool. She moved onto beam like nothing happened, nailed her set, and got a 14.0, the highest junior score of the day on any event by about six tenths.
Nica went on to earn her qualification scores at the ranch, and by the end of the summer, she was the 2011 Cover Girl Classic beam gold medalist, and also competed on bars and beam at nationals. She raised her all-around score about two full points throughout 2012, and then by almost three points the following year, winning the bronze all-around and beam medals in addition to gold on bars at the 2013 Secret U.S. Classic before placing sixth all-around at the P&G Championships, where she finally got her national team spot.
Now that she’s a senior, I think of Nica as the total package specialist. Her vault and floor are solid so she could go up in a team final on either if needed, but her bars and beam are standouts. If she hits and stays consistent on her two strong events, she could make a World Championships final on both, and be a tremendous help for a team especially – and oddly – lacking on beam this year. Like her skills, her consistency and mental game have grown leaps and bounds over the past three years. If she can show the consistency to match her already difficult and technically gorgeous routines, and she’d be an incredible threat at both the national and world levels.
4. Rachel Gowey (Chow’s)
Okay, technically this is Rachel’s second year as a senior elite, but she missed everything but the qualifier in 2013, so we’re including her on this list as a technical senior. Besides, she doesn’t turn 17 until October, so it’s totally legit.
I don’t know as much about Rachel as I do about the others, if only because she kind of snuck onto the elite scene rather quietly. She had a stellar L10 season in 2012, making it through the year nearly undefeated as an all-arounder, aside from one 4th place finish early on and then a silver (to go nicely with her beam gold) at J.O. nationals.
By the time 2013, rolled around, she was entirely dedicated to elite, making her debut at the Parkette qualifier where she earned a 51.55 after rough outings on bars and floor. Despite the senior qualifying to the summer competition season and attending camps at the ranch, she was forced to sit out the rest of the season with back problems.
Oddly, and in one of the most unprecedented gymnastics career moves in recent memory, her next competition was not another qualifier or national meet, but rather the 2014 City of Jesolo Trophy. After a strong showing at a national team training camp, Martha Karolyi named Rachel to the existing senior national team and gave her an assignment in Italy. She impressed with an all-around score that was over five points higher than the score she earned at her qualifier a year earlier, making her one of the most talked-about U.S. gymnasts this season…something that continued when she showed off some major upgrades – including an Amanar vault – at the ranch in May.
Since Rachel didn’t have a junior elite career and isn’t one I watched from an early age, it’s hard to talk about her future in relation to her past…but since Classics are her domestic senior elite debut, let’s pretend everything up to now was her junior career. As a “junior” she had some big tricks, but a lot of little messes to tidy up. I think as she approaches the coming season, she’ll want to hold off on adding more difficulty until she can clean what she already has, which is a lot of skills. It’s usually difficult to manage high difficulty with great execution, but I’d like to see her master that as she grows as an athlete. It could make her unbeatable.
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Article by Lauren Hopkins