If you don’t already know the names I’m going to mention as Florida Gators present and future who performed earlier this month at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships? Well, you should read the recap of the GK US Classic. But if not, knowing the names Sophia Butler (set to compete in 2023), Kayla DiCello (2023), Olivia Greaves (2023), Sloane Blakely (2022), Shilese Jones (2021), Morgan Hurd (2021), and Riley McCusker (2021) will be helpful here.
Because, yeah, of course you know Trinity Thomas. But those other seven gymnasts are also parts of what should be a strong spine for Florida’s gymnastics program in the future — and some may be as good or better than Thomas at the collegiate level.
First, though, some of them have even bigger dreams to chase.
To preface this recap with some proper nouns: The U.S. Gymnastics Championships is USA Gymnastics’ (USAG) National Championships event that occurs every summer. Over four days, junior and senior elite men’s and women’s National Champions are crowned on all events and in the all-around. USAG also names the new National Team. Each division has two days of competition, and the scores are added up to determine the medals.
The women’s competition started on Friday, August 9th with the Junior Elite session, which included Butler, DiCello, and Greaves. The competition started off strong. Greaves and Butler started on the vault and both turned in high scores, 14.4 and 14.65, respectively. DiCello started on the beam and had a very strong routine for a 13.9. This put all three future Gators in the top five after the first rotation. They would continue to have a good day, with highlights including Greaves’ bars routine, DiCello’s floor/vault, and Butler’s floor. After the first day of competition, DiCello sat in second in the all around, Greaves was in third, and Butler in eighth, thanks to a fairly rough beam routine by her standards. Greaves led the bars standings, and DiCello led the vault and floor standings. It was a great first day of competition for our youngest future Gators.
Competition for the women continued on Friday evening with the senior session, which was broadcast on NBCSN. Morgan Hurd and Riley McCusker were expected to duel it out with other all-around favorites (Sunisa Lee, Leanne Wong, and Grace McCallum) for the coveted spot of standing on a podium next to Simone Biles, the overwhelming gold medal favorite. Unfortunately, Blakely, Thomas, and Jones were not shown on the broadcast, because ... uh, well, NBCSN made some interesting decisions. Fortunately, you can go to USA Gymnastics’ YouTube channel to check out their routines, and I will include some at the bottom of the article.
The day was not without drama for almost all of the top players.
Hurd had three excellent routines (vault, bars, and beam) and was in second going into the fourth rotation. On floor, Hurd made a most uncharacteristic mistake, balking on her front double full, and then improvising a double layout on the fly to up her difficulty only to fall again. This one routine pushed her back to eighth in the standings on an otherwise stellar day. McCusker also fell prey to some errors on the first day of competition: She fell on a handstand in her bars routine, which took down her score and stepped out on floor. Regardless, she was able to finish the first night in fourth place.
One of the most dramatic parts of the night did not have anything to do with the gymnastics. The broadcast on NBC did not show any of Trinity Thomas’ routines, even though there was considerable talk about NCAA gymnastics in relation to MyKayla Skinner, a Utah stalwart who is skipping the 2020 collegiate season to try to make the Tokyo-bound 2020 U.S. Olympic team. Twitter erupted after the competition in support for Thomas, as everyone hoped that she would be included in the broadcast for the second night of competition. (Full disclaimer: I was not the first one to tweet about it, but I may have been the most vocal.)
Even though we did not get to see Thomas’ routines, I can report that she ended the first night tied for fifth place in the all-around, debuted new floor passes including the Biles (although technically she turns earlier than Biles herself does, so it is a slightly different skill), and hit a technically excellent bars routine to sit in third place on the event. Aside from a small balance check on beam, which even she looked amused at, it was a stellar night where she showed off how she has only gotten better since training at Florida.
The second day of junior competition was exciting. Despite coming into the competition ranked second, DiCello started the competition off with a nearly perfect double twisting Yurchenko to pass Konnor McClain in the all-around standings. The two would keep pace with one another throughout the day and pull away from the pack to duel out the title between them. Ultimately, after an exceptional floor routine (14.1 – 8.4 E score), DiCello came away with her first Junior National All-Around Title. En route to the all-around title, DiCello also picked up gold medals on vault and floor, as well as tied for the bronze on bars.
Greaves also had a good second day of competition. Her beam and floor routines were not as strong as on the first day, but she was able to hold on to third to take home the bronze in the all-around. She competed another impeccable bars routine (14.5 – 8.6 E score) to win the event gold medal. Butler — dressed in the Gator spirit, thanks to a blue leotard studded with orange stones — increased her beam score by almost a full point, but struggled when she went out of bounds twice on floor to fall to 10th in the all-around. Her strong vaulting, however, earned her a spot on the podium and a bronze event medal.
And because all three placed in the top 10 of the all-around, all three future Gator Junior Elites were named to the Junior Elite National Team.
Sunday night’s final night of senior competition was high-flying and exciting. As expected, Simone Biles took home the all-around gold, as well as gold on vault, beam, and floor — also debuting a new triple double on the floor. New senior Sunisa Lee (an Auburn commit) came away with the silver medal in the all-around and the gold medal on bars. Grace McCallum (Utah commit) improved significantly on her rough night one performance to take the bronze in the all-around.
But among the Gator commits, fight was the order of the day.
Hurd showed plenty, starting on the floor and showed that Friday was just a fluke: From her opening tumbling pass, a stuck Silivas (double twisting double tuck), to her last pose, her routine was nearly perfect. She scored a 13.75 (8.4 E score), which was over 1.5 points better than her night one performance. She continued her solid day to rise to fourth in the all-around standings, and to take home the silver medal on bars. Hurd, strong across all events, has handstands and form that are rapidly putting her in the top of the pack on bars, and her Olympic aspirations remain legitimate largely because of that specialty.
McCusker started her day with a strong vault, but ended up having to pull out of the competition after bars due to illness. She did, however, increase her scores on both vault and bars from the first night, so I expect if she was able to finish the competition, she would have remained in the top group of all-arounders. Both Jones and Blakely finished with their own clean competitions, Jones showing off one of the best double twisting Yurchenkos of the group on vault (9.3 E score) and Blakely flashing some impressive connections on beam.
Finally, Thomas did ultimately make a cameo on the NBC broadcast for her floor routine, but it was a poor depiction of her performance over the two nights. In her night two floor routine, she fell on her Biles and then had another huge fall on her double pike — completely uncharacteristic, and perhaps situational, as she noted after the meet that she had never competed on this particular type of floor. While this was the only routine that was shown on the broadcast, she competed another good vault and increased both her bars and beam scores on night two. She ended up ninth in the all-around, dragged down by the floor routine, but took fourth on bars.
At the end of the night, Hurd, McCusker, and Thomas were all named to the Senior National Team. Thomas’s place on that National Team is particularly impressive because she has only been training her elite skills since the end of the NCAA season! Jones was also invited to the World Championships selection camp in September, which will include the National Team and invited athletes.
This is the end of the American elite season, but National Team members will continue to have camps and international assignments through the fall. The next big competition will be the World Championships in October.
The traveling team, which will be selected at the selection camp, could very well have some Gators on it.
Some routines to watch: