The WAG Juniors To Watch in Antalya


Isabella Ajalla

The women begin their competition at the second ever junior world championships in Antalya, Turkey tomorrow, beginning with six subdivisions of team competition and individual qualifications.

As with the men’s competition, tomorrow’s sessions will not be live streamed, but finals will be shown live on the FIG’s YouTube and you can follow live scores via Longines.

The Top Teams to Follow

The women from the United States are coming into junior worlds as the heavy favorites after winning bronze at the inaugural competition four years ago. With this year’s Winter Cup champion Hezly Rivera and last year’s national all-around silver medalist Jayla Hang headlining the team alongside Izzy Stassi, who recently moved to Buckeye and finished second behind Rivera at the trial meet earlier this month, this team is super well-balanced across all four events and has a great combination of solid difficulty, clean execution, and lovely presentation that will be hard to match.

With Russia, the reigning junior world champions, out of competition and with China looking a bit weaker than we might usually expect, the rest of the podium is pretty wide open, but I’d bet on Japan as taking one of the medals. Japan is led by standout all-arounder Yamaguchi Sara, who finished eighth all-around at the NHK Trophy last year, scoring similarly to the seniors who made the worlds team and putting up the best scores on beam and floor, before going on to win the national beam and floor titles at the All-Japan Event Championships a month later (beating world gold medalist Ashikawa Urara on the former in the process).

Yamaguchi is a star and should also be one to watch for the all-around final, while Mizuno Mika should put up big scores on vault and floor and Nakamura Haruka is a brilliant bar worker who also has beautiful skills on beam. Their standout events help cancel out weaker events to keep them afloat in the all-around, and if all three athletes combined do what they’re capable of, I’d consider them massive threats here, and think they could potentially even get the upset for gold depending on how things go for the U.S. women.

Both Italy and Germany are coming back from great team performances at both Euros and EYOF last year, and should continue to be in the mix for the podium here. Though the Italian team is pretty different from what we saw last year after most of the top juniors in 2022 have since graduated to the senior level, July Marano brings experience and big scores on vault and floor to help newcomers Giulia Perotti – a tremendous young athlete with big potential as an all-arounder – and Caterina Gaddi contend for a medal here. For Germany, star Helen Kevric returns with one of the best junior all-around programs in the world, and if she’s at full health (which is questionable based on what she performed at the DTB Pokal Team Challenge a couple of weeks ago, though my hope is that they were holding her back a bit there) she has what it takes to lead teammates Marlene Gotthardt and Silja Stöhr to the podium.

Otherwise, my favorite team to sneak onto the podium is Argentina, led by South American Junior Games and Pan Ams all-around bronze medalist Isabella Ajalla and South American Junior Games all-around, vault, and floor champion Mia Mainardi. Known for her artistry, Ajalla should contribute top scores on bars, beam, and floor, while Mainardi is a powerful vault and floor worker who also does well on beam, though she’s been a bit inconsistent there in the past. The team also includes Emilia Acosta, who is a it behind the other two overall but has a beautiful beam routine and could provide an important routine should either of the others falter.

The team from China – featuring Jiang Shuxuan, Qin Xinyi, and Yu Hanyue – has a lot of talent but not quite the difficulty seen by other programs. Typically, the Chinese women have been a bit behind on vault and floor, but can make up for this with fantastic work on bars and beam, and while this group of athletes has potential on both events, it’s not going to be quite as easy to hold on to a top spot as it’s been in the past. As with the men, I’m being a bit conservative with my estimation here and hoping they’ll step it up once they compete, but I do think they’ll need to rely on mistakes from other teams in addition to hitting their own at a hundred percent.

Great Britain, Canada, and France should all have some great performances. Abigail Martin – who just became her country’s junior national all-around title last weekend – leads the British team. Having competed at both EYOF and Euros last summer, she brings lots of experience in addition to her power and finesse on vault and floor, while Jemima Taylor is simply lovely on beam and floor, and Ema Kandalova has a consistent program across the board. For Canada, all three athletes – Cristella Brunetti-Burns, Victoriane Charron, and Zoe Tsaprailis – are strong all-arounders, with Brunetti-Burns an especially talented beam worker. For France, the standout should be Lilou Viallat, a lovely all-arounder with big potential on bars and beam, while Ming van Eijken is a top vault contender, and Lana Pondart should balance them out across all events.

The other teams I’d consider for my top 10 are Romania, Brazil, and Belgium. The Romanians were top medal threats at the continental meets last season, but having lost most top juniors to the senior ranks, they’ll likely take a pretty big dip this year, while Brazil has some stunningly talented beam and floor workers, but it’s unlike they’ll be able to overcome a weaker bars rotation. Belgium could be interesting – they weren’t among the stronger teams last year, but many of their athletes have grown exponentially and could surprise here and finish higher than I expect them to.

The Top Individuals to Follow

Outside of the top teams, there are several athletes from smaller team programs or competing here as individuals I’d love to see make individual finals.

One of my favorites is Vanesa Masova of Czechia, who is a promising bar worker and strong all-arounder with a solid skill level across all four events. Wiktoria Grzesikiewicz and Maria Drobniak of Poland are both also good all-arounders with 48+ potential, and I’m very excited to see what Allanah Portalatin, who trains at Parkettes but is representing Puerto Rico internationally, is able to accomplish here…and the same goes for Amber Ward Wen Si of Hong Kong, who trains in Australia and finished sixth at nationals there last summer.

On beam, I really enjoy 2022 Balkan all-around champion Mila Prpic of Croatia and Tatiana Tapia of Panama, while on floor, I find Yali Shoshani of Israel and Colleen Hong of Singapore super compelling, while Hwang Seohyun of South Korea is a bundle of energy and a joy to watch.

Article by Lauren Hopkins


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