We’re getting closer and closer to the 2015 Secret U.S. Classic, happening this Saturday in Hoffman Estates! Before we get everything started, we’ve said time and again that you need to get to know the gymnasts you’ll see live from the Sears Center Arena.
So far, we’ve introduced you to most of the juniors and a handful of seniors, many of whom are new to the scene or still working their way up the elite ladder. This next group is probably full of girls you know somewhat well – including world champions, one of last year’s junior stars, and even an NCAA superstar. These ladies have been around the block, but all have experienced setbacks or breaks in elite training leading up to this meet, which is acting as a sort of comeback for all of them. Check out the list below for a refresher course on these super resilient young women.
1. Brenna Dowell, GAGE
The Comeback Story: After Brenna was chosen as the alternate to the 2014 World Championship team, she ‘retired’ from elite gymnastics to attend the University of Oklahoma. She had a standout freshman season where she earned a perfect 10 on bars and the silver medal on floor at the NCAA National Championships. In early June, Brenna announced that she would be deferring for a year to attempt to make the 2016 Olympic Team. Although we haven’t seen any Brenna compete in the all-around as an elite since March of 2014, she appeared to be in great shape throughout the collegiate season. Brenna’s success will depend on her ability to regain her elite skills while competing with the consistency and confidence that she gained in college.
2. Madison Kocian, WOGA
The Comeback Story: Madison injured her wrist just weeks after her gold medal-winning performance at the 2014 World Championships. She had surgery in November and was still in a splint as late as the January training camp. She’s been missing at camp all spring, so it will be interesting to see how Madison looks, especially on bars, where she earned a 15.4 at last year’s U.S. Classic.
3. Polina Shchennikova, TIGAR
The Comeback Story: Polina was dubbed ‘the new Nastia’ by many fans when she made her elite debut in 2011, sharing similar skills and the same long lines as her gym hero. After sitting out the 2014 season due to a major back injury, Polina will compete in her first U.S. Classic as a senior this weekend. Polina has developed quite a bit over the last year and seems to be more comfortable with her stature than she did as a 14-year-old in 2012. She won bars this year at the American Classic where she earned an impressive 15.0.
4. Ashton Locklear, Everest
The Comeback Story: Ashton placed fourth in the world during the uneven bars final in Nanning last year after her shocking rise to elite prominence, going from a relative unknown in July to the girl who seemed most likely to save the U.S. on bars. The reigning national bars champion tore her rotator cuff after World Championships and had reparative surgery in March. Ashton has stated that she’ll just be competing her “basic routines” this weekend as she’s still recovering. Will that be enough for a second consecutive bars title?
5. Sabrina Vega, GAGE
The Comeback Story: Sabrina was a consistent staple on the national team from 2009 to 2012. She contributed to team titles at the 2009 Junior Pan American Championships, the 2010 Pacific Rim Championships, and the 2011 World Championships. After not being selected for the 2012 Olympic team, Sabrina initially disappeared from the elite scene. In late 2013, news arose that she had moved to GAGE to train with Al Fong. After struggling with multiple injuries, Sabrina returned to camp in fall of 2014 but still has not competed since Olympic Trials three years ago. With this gap in her history, numerous injuries (including a recent surgery), and the move to a new gym, she’s definitely the biggest wildcard we’ll see this weekend.
6. Nia Dennis, Legacy Elite
The Comeback Story: Nia earned the silver all-around medal in the junior division at the 2014 U.S. Classic, but then suffered a knee contusion that limited her training over the winter and spring. For awhile, she trained only on bars with USA Gymnastics sharing a video of her work there at the January camp, and she was not selected for the Jesolo team a couple months later. In June, Nia was selected as an alternate for the Pan American Games team and then last week she shocked fans by moving from Buckeye to Legacy Elite. With this major change and not having competed full routines since last summer, it’s hard to say how she’ll look this weekend in her senior elite debut.
Article by Bekah Harbison