The USAG National Championships were held at the University of Bridgeport between 12 and 14 April. It was an exciting and intense competition, as expected, but it was also a very emotional one, as it was UIC’s final one. All teams and fans showed heartfelt support to the Flames’ programme and at the end of the Event Finals competition on Sunday, everyone began to shout ‘UIC, UIC, UIC’. UIC also won the two main honorary awards of the competition. Senior Mikailla Northern won the Mari-Rae Sopper Spirit Award, while head coaches Peter and Mary Jansson won the Ken Anderson Coach of the Year Award.
The team final was a close, exciting competition, which came down to the very last rotation. An outstanding final rotation determined the title, and who better than the dream team could deliver that? Lindenwood, the team of the year, the Cinderella of NCAA gymnastics, the team that last week qualified to their first Regional Championships, had an insane final rotation on beam, where they scored a 49.500, a score even the top-teams in the nation would be more than happy with. Taylor Colwell scored a 9.900, Breanna Franklin a 9.925 and Katie Bailey an outstanding 9.975. Gosh, I wish I could add it to my list of perfect 10.0s!!! Lindenwood started well on floor, counting two 9.850s (Colwell and Franklin), and did well on bars too (Courtney Mitchell posted a 9.850), but had several hiccups on vault, which almost cost them the title. Vault is certainly the apparatus on which they have to work the most moving on.
UIC started well on bars, with Serena Baker scoring a 9.875, and survived beam (Kayla Baddeley was the best with a 9.825), but the Flames caught fire on floor, where they had an outstanding rotation. The lowest score was a 9.800, the elegant Alisa Sheremeta posted a 9.900 and the powerful Mikailla Northern a 9.925. UIC was leading after the third rotation and ended their competition well on vault (49.000 overall), but it was not quite enough to overcome the beam power of Lindenwood. It was a heartbreaking finish for UIC on what was likely to be their last competition. This team gave everything they had this season and showed what loyalty and respect for each other really means. We are all so proud of the UIC Flames and so heartbroken to see them go. The Flame is already starting to weaken. It is news of today that junior Toni Alicke has decided to retire and will not seek to compete her final season at another school. I will keep you posted on what will happen to the rest of the team.
Bridgeport, the home team, started on beam with some nerves but also produced one of the best routines of the competition on this apparatus, Maya Reimers‘ 9.900. Maya went on to score another outstanding 9.900 on floor, Bridgeport’s best rotation. The Purple Knights suffered a bit again on vault, where four counting scores were in the 9.7s, but they also counted a huge 9.900 by Julianna Roland. Bridgeport ended on a positive note on bars, where they posted a 49.000, with Kathryn Doran leading the team with a 9.825.
Air Force took fourth after having to count two falls on beam. The Falcons looked a bit rattled throughout, but had an outstanding rotation on bars, where Anna Salomone impressed with yet another 9.900. I am still gutted that she did not qualify to Nationals… On floor, Air Force counted two excellent 9.850s (Tyler Davis and Heidi Sand), but unfortunately they also had to count two scores in the 9.6s. Vault was better, the lowest counting score was a 9.700 and the Falcons counted two 9.825s (Salomone and Sand) and impressive was also Emily Luers solitary 9.875 on beam.
The all around title, awarded during qualifications on Friday, was won by Seattle Pacific’s Darian Burns with a career-high 39.225, while tied for silver were UIC’s Kayla Baddeley and Air Force’s Tyler Davis with two 39.175s.
UIC’s Kayla Baddeley won the vault title with a 9.8500, ahead of Seattle Pacific’s Darian Burns (9.7750) and of Air Force’s Anna Salomone (9.7625). Most gymnasts attempted a full-twisting Yurchenko and Kayla’s was the best: high chest, legs glued together, only a small step on landing. Air Force’s Heidi Sand attempted a Yurchenko 1.5 but unfortunately crashed it.
Air Force’s Anna Salomone and Brown’s Mei Li Costa shared the bars title with two 9.850s for two outstanding routines. Anna competed her usual flawless set, including her full pirouette into Gienger, while Mei Li impressed me with her straight lines: her bail was particularly pretty. Tied for third were Lindenwood’s Katie Bailey and UIC’s Serena Baker (9.8000), who also performed two excellent routines.
Cornell senior Kaitlin Green, on the very final routine of her career, notched the balance beam title with an outstanding 9.9000. It was a gorgeous set, which scored a couple of 9.9500s. Second was SEMO’s Anna Kaziska with a 9.875 with a solid set, while it was a three-way tie for bronze among Lindenwood’s Ryan Henry, UIC’s Kayla Baddeley and Centenary’s Navia Jordan (9.8500). Lindenwood’s Katie Bailey, who scored a 9.9750 on Saturday, had another solid set, though not quite so precise, and was fourth with a 9.8250. Brown’s Julia Green impressed with a unique dismount: a round-off directly into a back tuck dismount – scary but beautiful!
Air Force’s Tyler Davis won the floor title with an outstanding 9.950 for another precise and captivating routine. The battle for silver ended with a four-way tie between UIC’s Alisa Sheremeta, SEMO’s Anna Kaziska (who also competed on floor at Regionals last week), Seattle Pacific’s Darian Burns and Centenary’s Navia Jordan. They all scored 9.8750s for solid routines. As I always have feelings on floor, I also need to mention West Chester’s Jessica Meakim‘s energy and smile on floor and Bridgeport’s Kelly Aycock, who wore black wrist protections, which matched her black and purple leotard – class act!