Sophia Butler, the 14-year-old of Discover Gymnastics in Houston who surprised with her big gymnastics to finish eighth at nationals in 2018, wowed her hometown crowd in the elite competition at the Houston National Invitational last week, where she won gold in the all-around and on every event but beam.
As a junior competing in a mixed junior and senior field, Butler showed a tremendous level of talent to get a decisive three-point win in the all-around, putting up a 54.150 total to lead ahead of fellow U.S. junior Eva Volpe of Pearland Elite, who was second with a 51.100, and first-year senior Sakura Nakaguchi of the Wakayama club in Japan, who finished third with a 49.750.
Though she had a fall on beam, Butler hit her three other routines to finish first on every one, and despite the beam fall, she still managed a 12.500 there, which was the fourth-best score on the event. A standout performer with big tumbling and creative and energetic choreography on floor, this was a fantastic season debut for Butler, who is hoping to be one of the gymnasts considered for several international assignments this year, including Jesolo next month and the first-ever junior world championships in June.
Volpe, 13, hasn’t actually yet qualified elite. Last year, she attempted to get her Hopes scores at a few different qualifiers, and though she fell short, she seems to have grown tremendously in her skill level and ability since then. Volpe looked very strong here, especially on beam and floor, and hopefully we’ll see her at the elite level soon!
One of three gymnasts visiting from the Wakayama club in Japan, Nakaguchi had a solid senior debut, and her teammates Yuri Kahata and Nanase Katsuragi also looked good, finishing directly behind Nakaguchi tied in fourth place with scores of 49.550.
Tienna Nguyen, who lives and trains in the U.S. but began competing internationally for Vietnam in 2017, competed all events but bars here, and she looked fantastic, winning the gold on beam with a 13.650 as well as finishing second on vault and floor. At 17, Nguyen – who competed at world championships for the first time last year – is hoping to qualify a spot at the 2020 Olympic Games later this year, so it’s good to see her getting some early experience before she begins that process.
We also saw a couple of very strong events from Daniela Briceño, a first-year senior from Mexico. The silver all-around medalist at last year’s junior national championships, Briceño is hoping to add depth to the senior team this year and got off to a great start, matching Nguyen with the second-highest vault score in Houston in addition to also winning the silver medal on bars with a 13.250.
Also competing here were Claudia Villalba of the Spanish club Catalunya in sixth with a 49.150, Morgan Perumal of Zenith Elite in the United States in seventh with a 48.950, Etna Abella of Catalunya in eighth with a 48.900, Camryn Richardson of Pearland Elite in ninth with a 47.950, Kristina Undheim of Sweden in tenth with a 47.550, Greys Briceño of Mundo in Mexico in 11th with a 47.500, Carlota Rodriguez-Fischer of Catalunya in 12th with a 47.400, Aina Puig of Catalunya in 13th with a 46.300, Jessica Sanchez of Mundo in 14th with a 43.575, and Nina Laurito of Pearland Elite, who competed on bars where she earned an 11.550.
The HNI meet also included a men’s competition, which was dominated by U.S. gymnasts Allan Bower, Colin van Wicklen, and Trevor Howard. Bower, the all-around champion with an 84.500, was at his best on floor and vault, while van Wicklen matched Bower’s 14.400 on floor and also put up a 14.600 on high bar to finish second with an 83.700, and Howard was best on rings and parallel bars, winning the golds on both to finish third with an 83.100.
Andres Perez of Puerto Rico finished fourth all-around with an 81.400, Carlos Calvo of Colombia was fifth with an 80.400, Mauro Martinez of Argentina was sixth with a 76.500, Kaitlyn Turner of Puerto Rico was seventh with a 75.900, Ruben Lopez of Spain was eighth with a 75.800, and Daniel Mendieta of Spain was ninth with a 70.500.
We also saw a few events from Michael Reid of the United States, who won the gold on pommels with a huge 15.000 and from Javier Sandoval of Colombia, who earned a 13.500 on the same event to take the bronze.
Additional competitors in the men’s field included Jamie da Silva Lugo and Jose Lopez of Puerto Rico, and Juan Castro of Colombia.
Full results from the women’s and men’s competitions are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins