The first U.S. women’s elite qualifier kicked off on Friday at the Vegas Cup in Las Vegas, Nevada, where 11 gymnasts earned the scores required to qualify to the elite level, as well as to the next stage of national qualifying meets – the Winter Cup, the American Classic, and the U.S. Classic.
A total of 17 gymnasts entered the senior competition, spread out over three sessions on Friday, with five ultimately earning above a 50.000 in the all-around to get their qualification out of the way on the early side, giving them the chance to focus on prepping for next month’s Winter Cup.
The top competitor was WOGA’s Kaliya Lincoln, the 2021 junior national and Pan Ams floor champion and an LSU commit who missed all of last season due to injury. Now 16, Lincoln earned a 52.900 – the highest all-around score of her career – while also putting up the top senior scores on vault with a 13.55 and on floor with a massive 14.1, as well as the second-best score on beam with a 12.9. It’ll be exciting to have Lincoln back in the mix at the senior level, especially if she’s already looking this strong so early on. She should be among the stronger group of seniors at the Winter Cup, and I’m hoping that and the early camps this season will lead to a spring international assignments.
Also qualifying were Michelle Pineda of Metroplex with a 51.800, Gabriella Disidore of GAGE with a 51.150, her teammate Eveylynn Lowe with a 50.600, and Chloe Cho of Gymnastics Olympica with a 50.450. Pineda competed as a junior last year, but had a bit of a rough time at nationals and was unable to earn her 2023 qualifying score there, so it was great to see her back in great shape, posting the second-best senior scores on vault with a 13.15 and floor with a 13.3.
Disidore, the older sister of already-qualified Amelia Disidore, is a first-time elite qualifier and posted the top score on bars with a 13.35, while Lowe is back for her second year after competing at the junior level in 2022, though she narrowly missed out on qualifying to nationals then. Cho, who finished 10th all-around at Hopes Championships in 2019, first qualified elite as a junior at the KPAC qualifier in 2020, but this meet was cut short as the world came to a halt due to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s great to see her finally come back to earn her first senior elite status at nearly 17, and her compulsory score of 37.6 is a fantastic one, so I’m looking forward to seeing more from her.
Georgia Elite gymnast Bryn Bartman got close, earning a 49.400 total to fall just about half a point shy, though she had a great bars set that earned a 13.3, the second-best score among seniors. Also missing out at this level was Leigh Anne Elliott, first-year WOGA seniors Paloma Spiridonova (back for the first time since 2021 after dealing with an injury), Avery King, and Finley Weldon, all of whom struggled on bars, and Twin City Twisters beam standout Temple Landry, who had a great performance on that event to earn the top senior score of 13.05, though wasn’t quite up to par on the rest of her events.
Some seniors who qualified through national championships last year competed on a few events apiece here. Nola Matthews competed all but vault, getting her best score on floor with a 12.8, while Myli Lew shared the top bars score with a 13.35. We also saw the returns of Lyden Saltness and Mahleea Werline, both of whom competed two events each, but came up shy of the two-event qualifying score of 26.000.
In the junior field, five gymnasts earned above a 49.000 to qualify, including Tyler Turner of Airborne with a 51.900, Simone Rose of Pacific Reign with a 50.250, Tatum Drusch of Flips with a 49.650, Reese Esponda of Roots with a 49.200, and Jazmyn Jimenez of Gymnastics Olympica getting just over the bar with a 49.050.
Turner had an excellent day, earning the top junior scores on vault with a 13.3 and on bars with a 12.85 in addition to the second-best floor score of 13.0, while Esponda topped the group on floor with a 13.1 on top of her third-best vault score of 13.1. It was great seeing Rose, who was limited to just two events at nationals last year, back on vault and floor, where she had the third-best junior score of 12.85, and Jimenez had the second-best vault score of 13.15.
Just missing out were two of last year’s junior elites, Carly Weinberg of Buckeye with a 48.700 and former national team member Ella Kate Parker, now of WOGA, with a 48.600. Weinberg had a great met going until her last event, bars, took her out of the running, while Parker did a fantastic job on beam to earn the junior best total of 13.1, though she came up short on the rest of her routines now that she’s a bit downgraded compared to how we saw her start last season.
Also among last year’s junior elites competing were Sage Bradford, who missed out here by just shy of a point, and Kieryn Finnell, who had the best bars score with a 12.85 and is already qualified. Additionally, there were some of last year’s Hopes athletes hoping to bump up a level here, including 13-14 national champion Camie Westerman, who earned a 47.400, and Catherine Guy, who had a rough routine on bars but tied for the top junior beam score with a 13.1.
Guy has already aged out of Hopes eligibility, but Westerman and a number of other gymnasts who attempted junior elite can instead compete at the Hopes level this season, assuming they don’t earn their junior scores at one of the later qualifiers. In addition to Westerman, this group includes Harlow Buddendeck, Charleigh Bullock, Cora Burke, Ally Damelio, and Trinity Wood.
We saw a glimpse of 2022 junior national vault/beam champion and all-around silver medalist Jayla Hang, who is already qualified based on her nationals scores and likely made an appearance to get a bit of a practice underway before the Winter Cup. Unfortunately bars didn’t seem to go her way, and her beam score was below what she’s been capable of in the past, but I think getting over bumps like these is exactly why she made an appearance, and I’m sure she’ll be one of the top juniors to watch at the Winter Cup!
The final junior to qualify, Isabella Anzola of Georgia Elite, is actually one who registered in the Hopes 13-14 competition, but performed so well, her score of 49.000 was exactly what she needed to graduate (this once wasn’t allowed, but now that the 13-14 division is no longer using a modified code of points, there can be some swapping between the levels at qualifiers).
Anzola was fourth all-around and the floor champion at Hopes Championships last year, and at this weekend’s qualifier, she had the top Hopes scores on vault with a 12.85 and floor with a 12.3, as well as the top beam score of the entire competition – yes, including seniors and juniors – with a 13.7, more than half a point ahead of the rest of the gymnasts in Las Vegas. Her beam and floor are truly lovely, and I’m excited to see more of her this season!
With Anzola out of the Hopes 13-14 picture, only two athletes actually qualified at this level, Including Kaitlin Marcussen of Arizona Sunrays with a 46.900 (and the second-best scores of this division on vault, bars, and beam) and Gabby Mitchell of Georgia Elite with a 45.150 (she also posted the best bars score of the division with an 11.6).
Five of the eight gymnasts in the Hopes 11-12 division also qualified, including Mattie Mae Young of Georgia Elite with a 46.500, Amia Pugh-Banks of World Class with a 44.950, Amariah Moore of First State with a 44.700, Alden Dante of Precision with a 44.200, and Danica Sedacca of Gymnastics Olympica with a 43.800.
A full list of gymnasts who have qualified to elite and/or to national championships for 2023, as well as all qualification guidelines, can be found on our tracker, and we’ve also posted the complete results from the Vegas Cup. Up next on the calendar is the Buckeye qualifier next weekend in Columbus, Ohio, followed by the City of Lights qualifier in Orlando beginning February 10, and then the WOGA qualifier in Frisco beginning February 17.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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