The 8 U.S. Juniors Who Could Lead the Way

Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya, tomorrow! The Secret U.S. Classic is only a day away and we’re excited to bring you a preview of some of the biggest names in the competition. You’ve definitely heard of all of these young ladies, most of whom have international experience and titles beyond their years.

Half of the junior competitors on this list turn 16 next year making them eligible for the Olympic Games while the other half are gearing up to be major standouts in the next quad. Their scoring potential is all pretty tight, so a single fall tomorrow could be all the difference between a gold medal and finishing off the podium. Who do you think will win it all?

1. Laurie Hernandez, MG Elite

Age: 15

Why She Could Win: Laurie missed about a year and a half of competition due to a hand injury sustained in early 2014 followed by a torn patella tendon and dislocated kneecap on vault several months later. Two major injuries in a row could be devastating for any gymnast, but what did Laurie do when she got back into the swing of things at Jesolo? She won three gold medals. With an all-around score of 57.65 and standout routines on all four events, Laurie looked like she never even left. It’s a tight field this weekend so anything could happen, but if I had to bet, I’d say Laurie will win it.

2. Maile O’Keefe, Salcianu

Age: 13

Why She Could Win: Though she only just turned 13 in February, Maile has one of the most impressive junior beam routines in the country and is also known for her excellent floor work. Last year, she pulled off 6th place at Classics, an awesome result for a first-year elite and that was with being slightly held back by an FTY and low-difficulty bars routine. A good day tomorrow should see her at the top of the rankings once again!

3. Deanne Soza, Arete

Age: 13

Why She Could Win: Not even a mysterious infection in her eye that almost left her blind could hold Deanne back. Despite missing months of training due to a very serious situation, Deanne managed to get back into excellent shape, winning the silver medal at the American Classic in May. Bars and beam are her standout events, with her bar routine full of unique and difficult skills and her beam always fluid and clean. She does have the task of defeating other top talent, but the challenge is definitely within her grasp.

4. Morgan Hurd, First State

Age: 14

Why She Could Win: Morgan is my choice for the next big thing when it comes to bars/beam specialists. She’s made a ton of improvements over the past year and has added so much to her bars and beam, posting the top score on bars and the second-highest on beam at the American Classic in May, where she earned the bronze all-around medal with a 56.5. She also posted a huge 14.9 on beam at the LA elite qualifier! This definitely puts her among the best in the country, though vault could hold her back – she has just an FTY in a world of DTYs, but if she hits it well, she could easily factor.

5. Jazmyn Foberg, MG Elite

Age: 15

Why She Could Win: As the reigning national champion, Jazmyn – known as Jazzy – is the gymnast to beat. She earned the gold medal on vault at Jesolo this year, where she also placed third in the all-around. She is a true all-around gymnast and was the only junior last year who managed to hit a 14 or better on every event. In addition to her great tumbling combinations, watch out for her jam-packed bar routine, which includes a Tkatchev to pak salto, a Gienger, and a full-in dismount.

6. Jordan Chiles, Naydenov

Age: 14

Why She Could Win: Jordan is the reigning U.S. Classic champion whose high-flying tumbling, stylistic beam, and stuck DTY set her apart from other competitors last year and may bring her to the top again this weekend. It is worth noting that Jordan has struggled significantly on bars in the past, so if she can hold it together on her trickiest event, she has a great shot at a second title.

7. Emily Gaskins, North Port

Age: 15

Why She Could Win: Emily’s recent move to train with Steve Nunno, the man who coached Shannon Miller to seven Olympic and nine World medals, could be a great thing. Like former coach Mary Lee Tracy, he’s tough but knows what he’s doing and could be the man to bring out her very best. At nationals last year, Emily looked like she was going to finish on the podium after posting the second-best score on day one, but a disastrous bar routine the next day knocked her all the way down to 6th. For her, it’ll all be a matter of hitting under pressure.

8. Ragan Smith, Texas Dreams

Age: 14

Why She Could Win: With a DTY and top-notch routines on beam and floor, Ragan is easily one of the top juniors in the U.S. But she’s like a pint-sized Alicia Sacramone in that she and bars just do not get along. At all. She averages just a 12.52 there over the past two years, and even her hit routines leave her falling short. Bars are definitely her kryptonite and could keep her from challenging for the top spot, but if she manages to hit, a podium position isn’t out of the question.

Article by Bekah Harbison and Lauren Hopkins

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