By Patricia C. Duffy

Night one of senior women’s competition is a wrap. Our recap revisits the happenings of prelims and features an updated all-around prediction for Sunday night’s finals.

Feature photo by Grace Chiu.

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The 2017 P&G Championships kicked off for USA Gymnastics’ senior women on Friday evening. Unsurprisingly, 2016 Olympic Team Alternate Ragan Smith (Texas Dreams) led the pack with Riley McCusker, Jordan Chiles, Margzetta Frazier and Trinity Thomas rounding out the top five.

The atmosphere of the women’s prelims was much different than the men’s prelims just the night before, with a larger crowd and an exciting buzz surrounding the arena. UCLA gymnasts opened competition with a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, and then the race was on!

Rotation 1

On vault, 2017 U.S. Classic champ Alyona Shchennikova started the competition with a double twisting Yurchenko on vault with a small hop, scoring a 14.350. Elena Arenas posted a huge 14.600 for the same vault.

The excitement was with the uneven bars group for much of the first rotation. Deanne Soza performed a stunning full twisting double layout dismount, despite only earning a 13.150 for the performance due to a low difficulty score. Chiles (13.950) and Frazier (14.100) followed with solid performances before Smith took the stage.

Smith’s routine opened with a close-to-the-bar catch on her first release before she relaxed and breezed through the rest of her upgraded routine, finishing with a small hop on her dismount. The routine is stacked with difficulty, so despite a relatively average execution score (8.300), her routine still scored a 14.300.

Over on beam, Thomas started her night with a strong beam set and solid double back to dismount (14.200). Leah Clapper followed but struggled on her opening flight series, falling off the beam (12.100). Morgan Hurd rounded out the beam group, posting a 14.000.

Jade Carey’s routine was the highlight of the rotation on floor. Her laid-out full-in was slightly short, but her double double and tucked full-in dismount made up for any errors in execution early in the routine. Her score of a 14.100 would be enough to tie for second in the apparatus standings heading into finals.

Rotation 2

Emily Gaskins started the rotation on vault with another DTY. Beautiful form through the air and only a small hop on the landing, Gaskins earned a 14.500 for the performance. McCusker performed a watered down vault, sticking with a single twisting Yurchenko instead of a double, but still posting a 13.250. Carey showed off her two vaults with obvious adjustments to cleanliness and form from her U.S. Classic performance just a few weeks ago (14.700).

2016 Olympic Team Alternate Ashton Locklear started her night on bars with a routine lacking in difficulty but still featuring her signature quality technique throughout including completely vertical handstands, floating releases and a stuck dismount (14.350). University of Georgia freshman Marissa Oakley posted a strong bars set of her own, finishing with a double-double dismount and a score of a 14.250, which would be enough for 5th in the apparatus standings by the end of the night. Shchennikova would jump ahead of Locklear in the event standings. She rounded out the group, looking the part of a potential Worlds team member with her long lines and stuck double layout dismount (14.500).

Smith let her difficulty and precision do the talking during her beam routine. It wasn’t at the level of the routine she performed at U.S. Classics, with a few balance checks and a slight uneasiness at times, but the 14.500 was still enough to remain untouched by her competitors the rest of the night.

On floor, fan-favorite Morgan Hurd struggled. After sticking her double double pass to start the routine, she went out of bounds on her second pass and fell on her third pass. The frustration was visible on her face and rightfully so since the routine is one that, when consistent, could compete with many of the current top gymnasts. Shania Adams followed Hurd, posting a 13.450. Her Arabian double front soared through the sky and was easily one of the most well-performed skills of the night on floor.

At the halfway mark, Shchennikova led the pack with Carey and Smith following close behind. Thomas, Gaskins and Frazier rounded out the top five.

Rotation 3

Hurd attempted to redeem herself on vault with a quick-twisting DTY, and she succeeded, posting a 13.900.

McCusker had her best performance of the night with a 14.550 on uneven bars. After struggling the past few months with illness and injuries, her routine was reminiscent of teammate and Olympic champion Laurie Hernandez’s routines leading up to Rio last year. The girl even makes simple skills like handstands look beautiful with her long lines and perfectly pointed toes.

Beam was a struggle for two of the top beam workers in the competition. Shchennikova (11.950) fell on her beginning Wolf turn while Locklear (12.800) came off on her first flight series (back handspring to layout step out). Both gymnasts were relatively solid throughout the rest of their routines, but they will need to regroup and improve heading into finals.

It was an exciting floor rotation with a packed lineup set to perform. Frazier, Smith, Soza and Chiles performed and impressed, but Smith’s performance was the standout, yet again. Her new floor routine has a slight Vegas and el toro feel to it but featured her go-to skills, including her beautiful opening double layout. The 14.200 would be enough to take the lead on the apparatus.

The top five started to shape up heading into the final rotation. Smith and McCusker were one-two with Thomas and Frazier following behind. Despite the fall, Shchennikova held onto the fifth place spot.

Rotation 4

Smith finished her night with a seemingly easy DTY with just a small hop (14.400), keeping her in first place heading into Sunday’s finals. Chiles proved why she could be an irreplaceable asset at Worlds on vault with her Biles-esque Amanar that seemingly gets better with every competition (15.150).

Thomas continued her consistent string of performances with a beautiful routine on bars. She flew through her releases, resembling Gabby Douglas in her early days, and finished with an almost perfect double layout. Besides slight leg separation on her bar transitions, it was a great routine for Thomas to finish her first night (13.700).

Over on beam, McCusker secured her second-place spot for the night with a clean beam routine (14.400) that put her just behind Smith in the apparatus standings.

On floor, Shchennikova struggled with cleanliness and posted another low score (12.950) to drop in the all-around rankings despite a relatively high level of difficulty in her routine.

Updated all-around predictions:

Barring an uncharacteristic performance during Sunday’s finals, Ragan Smith should run away with the first U.S. title in four years not held by Simone Biles, further cementing her as the new face of USA Gymnastics and an almost guaranteed lock for this year’s individual Worlds team. McCusker is in the hunt to play spoiler to Smith’s AA lead and earn an uneven bars individual title for herself. Meanwhile, Chiles, Frazier, Thomas and Shchennikova are still in the hunt.

Standings heading into Sunday:

All-Around top 5:

  1. Ragan Smith – 57.400
  2. Riley McCusker – 56.100
  3. Jordan Chiles – 55.850
  4. Margzetta Frazier – 55.400
  5. Trinity Thomas – 55.300

Vault:

  1. Jade Carey – 14.300*

Note: Carey is the only competitor who performed two vaults.

Uneven bars:

  1. Riley McCusker – 14.550
  2. Alyona Shchennikova – 14.500
  3. Ashton Locklear – 14.350
  4. Ragan Smith – 14.300
  5. Marissa Oakley – 14.250

Balance beam:

  1. Ragan Smith – 14.500
  2. Riley McCusker – 14.400
  3. Trinity Thomas 14.200
  4. Morgan Hurd – 14.000
  5. Shania Adams – 13.900

Floor exercise:

  1. Ragan Smith – 14.200
  2. Tie: Trinity Thomas & Jade Carey – 14.100
  3. Riley McCusker – 13.900
  4. Abby Paulson – 13.650

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