While the NCAA gymnastics season is still several months away, the USA Elite gymnastics season is in full swing. And normally, as a casual Florida gymnastics fan, you wouldn’t need to worry about this season — but this year, you should definitely be paying attention.
Not only is budding Florida superstar Trinity Thomas taking the rare step of competing in elite competitions after her freshman NCAA season, but a whole slew of future Gators —verbal commits, for the moment — are also competing elite this summer.
(For clarity’s sake, the years denoted for the recruits will be the season that they will begin competing for Florida, not the year that they will enter the University of Florida — for some reason gymnastics cannot seem to lock down a standardized way to talk about this.)
Recruits for NCAA gymnastics programs — especially top ones, like Florida’s — generally come from one of two tracks, Junior Olympic (JO) Level 10 (the top level of the USAG JO system) or the Elite track (either U.S. or International). I will be recapping the most recent Elite-level meet here — the GK US Classic, held in Louisville, Kentucky on July 20th, saw eight current or future Gators compete — but I do want to note that at JO Level 10 Nationals in May, Florida recruit Ellie Lazzari (2022) won her division (Junior F) in the all-around, beam, and floor. Her beam will be linked at the bottom of the article and you will definitely want to check it out. (If you have any burning questions about this or anything else about this rather technical dive into non-Olympic, non-collegiate gymnastics, feel free to sound off in the comments, as I’m happy to chat about it.)
The GK US Classic had two sessions, Junior (born 2004 or later) and Senior (born 2003 or earlier). Three future Gators competed in the Junior Elite session: Olivia Greaves, Sophia Butler, and Kayla DiCello, all of whom are expected to join the Gators for the 2023 season. Greaves had a standout meet, winning her best event, uneven bars, (14.2) and placing third in the all-around (54.75). Greaves is known for her beautiful long lines and pointed toes on the bars. Butler competes a huge double twisting Yurchenko vault — you will remember this as the vault that Alex McMurty competed — and an expressive and entertaining floor routine; she came in third for both (VT: 14.3, FX: 13.35). DiCello, who was seen as a favorite for the title coming in, had an uncharacteristically shaky day on beam and floor, but her bars routine was stunning and she scored a 13.75 to tie for third on the apparatus.
In the Senior Elite session, four future Gator recruits competed, as well as current Gator Thomas. Riley McCusker and Morgan Hurd were among the headliners — along with, of course, the incredible Simone Biles — in the Senior Elite field, and both are Olympic aspirants who graduated high school this year and plan to join the Gator Gymnastics team for 2021 after deferring a year to try to make the U.S. squad headed for Tokyo. (And though there has been some doubt about if either gymnast will go pro, both have recently confirmed that they still plan on being Gators). Shilese Jones (2021) and Sloane Blakely (2022) also competed at this meet.
The future for Florida gymnastics looked bright on that night, as McCusker came in second in the all-around (57.90) and on beam (15.1), Hurd came in sixth in the all-around (56.5) and first on bars (14.7), and Jones finished ninth in the all-around (55.05).
But while the far future looked bright because of Florida’s stash of recruits, the near future looks nearly as bright because of Trinity Thomas.
Thomas is the first NCAA gymnast since Mackenzie Caquatto (2011) to compete at US Elite summer meets after a full NCAA with intent to return to NCAA training in the fall. Both Brenna Dowell (Oklahoma) in 2015 and MyKayla Skinner (Utah) in 2019 competed at Elite summer meets before deferring a season to try for the Olympics.
And because Thomas has already qualified to August’s Nationals (I believe through her results at Pan American Games last year), she decided to ease back into Elite competition by only competing bars and beam. For her new Elite bars routine, she added several new elements. Thomas kept her clear hip, Van Leeuwan, and double layout dismount from the routine performed throughout her NCAA season, but also added several upgrades (Weiler 1/2 and toe-on full pirouette, among others). Her handstands had all the control and technique from the spring, even with the more challenging combinations like the clear hip to Tkatchev to immediate Pak. She scored a 14.2, which was good for sixth place within a very strong field. Of note, she tied for second place on E-score (elite scores are a combination of execution (E) and difficulty (D) scores – feel free to ask questions about this in the comments) with an 8.7.
On beam, Thomas showed a lot of new elements including two new leap combinations and a new mixed series (straight leap to front aerial to split jump to Korbut). Her new skills were executed with precision and she scored a 14.00 for seventh place. Thomas showed that even after competing the entire NCAA season she is ready to hang with the top American Elites — a feat that’s sort of like speaking two languages fluently, given some of the disparate skills necessary for success at each level. And we haven’t seen all of what Thomas has added to her repertoire, either: I personally can’t wait to see her upgraded floor routine that she is planning on bringing out at Nationals.
Based on their results at the GK Classic, McCusker and Hurd were selected to compete for Team USA at the Pan American Games, which was held this past week in Lima, Peru. Team USA picked up a gold medal with a huge margin in the team competition, and McCusker was a huge part of it, qualifying to four finals (all-around, bars, beam, and floor), and picked up another three medals there (bars gold, all-around silver, and beam bronze).
riley mccusker fights for that dismount and her incredible difficulty helps her earn a 14.533 for first place! // pan american games 2019 bars ef pic.twitter.com/wjkYVGUuPC— gymnast relate (@gymnastrelate) July 30, 2019
riley mccusker 2019 pan american games uneven bars gold medalist pic.twitter.com/iZepkEiCrJ— gymnast relate (@gymnastrelate) July 30, 2019
Thomas and all of these future Gators will be competing again next month for the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, August 8-11 in Kansas City, Missouri. I’ll make sure to keep you updated on that!
And as always, for your viewing pleasure, here are some videos: Thomas’ bars and beam, Greaves’ and Hurd’s bars, McCusker’s beam, and Butler’s floor, all from the GK Classic, and Lazzari’s beam from Junior Nationals.