Winter Cup preview — NCAA news — Thoughts from Konnor McClain

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Jessica Taylor Price, February 26, 2022

The Winter Cup is upon us! I’m so excited to finally see some elite competition again — it feels like ages since we’ve seen the top U.S. talent in action. 

Continue reading with a subscription to The IX

Get unlimited access to our exclusive coverage of a varitety of women’s sports, including our premium newsletter by subscribing today!

Join today

It’s very, very early in the elite season, so this will definitely be a dustoff competition. It will also be our first look at the U.S. program as we head into the new quad, with some names sticking around after the 2021 season and some junior stars making their debuts. But there’s also something bigger at stake here — not only does this competition act as a qualifier for nationals, but the results of the Winter Cup will help determine the team for the DTB Pokol Mixed Cup and Team Challenge in Stuttgart, which kicks off next month. The top three all-arounders will automatically make the team. 

Here are the athletes I think are most likely to make it. First off, Katelyn Jong. Jong is making her senior debut here, which is so exciting considering all she was able to accomplish at the junior level. Jong is the 2021 junior national champion and the 2021 Junior Pan American Games all-around champion. She’s one of those solid all-arounders who’s good at everything, and if she looks the way she did at Pan Ams, then I definitely see her in Stuttgart.

Konnor McClain is kind of a question mark here after a rough couple of years, but after posting high marks at this year’s WOGA Classic, and debuting a new full-twisting double layout in podium training, I can see her making a splash here. McClain was a high-scoring all-arounder on the junior circuit and a hopeful for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic team until a well-publicized fallout with her coach led her to switch over to WOGA to train under Valeri Liukin. Still, she made the 2021 worlds team, and did well there in qualifications. In December, though, her father tragically passed away from COVID. McClain still appeared at a January national team training camp and at the February WOGA Classic and she’s on the roster here. While I hope to see her do well, I also hope she’s putting herself first and isn’t feeling pressured during this difficult time.

Like McClain, Skye Blakely was a junior star who found herself in contention for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic team when the Games were postponed. But her 2021 ultimately turned out to be disappointing — after coming in seventh at nationals, she was forced to withdraw from Olympic contention with an elbow injury, and didn’t try out for the worlds team. It’s great to see her back in competition mode, and thriving on beam, her signature event. She scored a 14.250 there at the WOGA Classic, winning the event.

Also in the mix is eMjae Frazier, who made last year’s worlds team after placing second at trials with a 54.050, and who has a nabieva+pak combo; Ciena Alipio, who placed second on beam at the U.S. Worlds Trials in 2021 but was left off the team; and Addison Fatta and Zoe Miller, who placed 11th and 12th, respectively, at Olympic Trials. And then there’s whoever else might come along and surprise us!

Junior Pan American Games silver medalist Kailin Chio was supposed to make her senior debut here, but she unfortunately scratched.

The senior women’s competition will be held on Saturday at 1pm ET, with the junior women competing Sunday at 1pm ET. After their breakup with Flo, USA Gymnastics has created their own app to broadcast streams, called FlipNow. It costs $9.99/month, and proceeds will go toward athlete support programs.

NCAA quick hits

In NCAA news, most teams have an NQS at this point, putting the current top four at Michigan, Oklahoma, Florida, and Utah, in that order. Here’s what went down in the rest of week seven:

  • On Saturday, Oklahoma, Denver, Stanford, and Washington met at the Metroplex Challenge, where Oklahoma won with a 198.175.
  • On Sunday, Missouri upset Arkansas and LSU at home with a 197.3500; LSU scored a 197.2000. UCLA was upset by Arizona State, with UCLA earning their lowest bars score in 17 years (h/t Gymnastics Coaching) and finishing the meet with a 195.475. This is obviously a disappointment for the team, and the tension at UCLA has become palpable.
  • On Monday, Utah beat Washington with a 197.950.

Kicking off week eight:

  • On Friday, Iowa met Minnesota, which won with a huge 198.025, a program record, including a 10 from Mya Hooten; Alabama (197.500) beat Missouri (196.775); Florida beat Oklahoma 198.100 to 197.750, and Trinity Thomas won the all-around with a 39.850, including a 10 on floor; LSU beat Centenary, Pittsburgh, and Texas Woman’s with a 197.625; Auburn beat Kentucky with a 197.925, a program record, and Sunisa Lee did the nabieva for a 10; and Utah fell to Arizona with a 196.775.
  • Next, Michigan heads to Nebraska on Saturday and Washington faces UCLA Sunday.

More NCAA news:

  • Mia Sundstrom is out for the rest of the season with an Achilles injury.
  • The ladies of Sac State know how to party.

Check out scores at Road to Nationals, and an up-to-date schedule at College Gym News.

Elite news

Tweets of the week

I don’t understand this, I’m too old, someone please help:

On a more serious note:

Five at the IX: Konnor McClain

Konnor McClain spoke to the media shortly after Winter Cup podium training. Edited for clarity and length. 

Can you tell us how your beam has changed with the new code?
The new code hasn’t affected me much … My coaches constructed my routine and it’s still the same as worlds. It’s about around a 6.6 if I make all my connections.

Last year at Winter Cup, you said you were feeling a lot of pressure. Tell us about your mindset now going into a new quad.
I feel completely different than last year. I feel like everything’s changed for me. I honestly feel calm, I’m excited to be here, and it doesn’t feel like I have to be here. So I’m excited to get out there and compete all-around again. 

How did your experience at worlds impact you and what are you taking away from that meet?
It gave me a lot of confidence for this season. Even though I only competed beam and vault, it gave me a lot of confidence for these upcoming competitions, just to get out there and just to have fun.

You look even more powerful here than you did at worlds. Do you feel more powerful and is that helping you with your FTDLO?
Yes, definitely it’s helping. My legs actually feel a lot stronger. I just started training again after I missed a whole month of gym, so it took me a second to get back into it but I feel a lot stronger and better now.

How long have you been back in the gym and able to do full routines before today?
I went back to the gym in the middle of January, so like a week and a half before January camp. And I’ve only been doing routines for the month of February.

Have you and your coaches talked about specific goals for this competition?
They told me the other day at practice that my goal was just to do what they tell me to, and they don’t care what happens or where I end up. So that was their goal for me. My goal for me is just to get back out there again. I haven’t competed all-around for two years, so just to do that again will be awesome. I don’t have a big goal for myself, but I have little goals that are not as important as you would think.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parkerThe IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Anne Tokarski, @annetokarski, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer