When Top Contenders Gymnastics Academy returned from the AAU Age Group National Championship last month, it concluded a spectacular run.
Starting with the AAU Spring State Meet April 26-27 in Daytona Beach, the Brooksville-based gym collected considerable hardware.
At that event, Top Contenders earned team championships at all four levels and boasted multiple All-Americans – an awarded given to the highest scorer in each age group.
In Level 1, Top Contenders was paced by 6-year-old Maria Bozman, an All-American behind a 37.30 all-around score, and 7-year-old Payton Fisher, who placed first in bars (9.00), beam (9.40) and all-around (37.025) for her All-American nod.
Carlee Anselmo, 7, was an All-American in Level 2 behind a first-place 37.475 all-around, as well as a first in the bars (9.45) and beam (9.525).
Alex McCann, 8, was also an All-American at that level with a 39.925 all-around, behind a first in vault (9.75), beam (9.90) and floor (9.725).
Within Level 3, 11-year-old Katie Johnson registered an All-American score of 37.9 after taking first in vault (9.675) and floor (9.775).
Johnson faced an unexpected challenge during the floor exercise when the wrong music was initially played.
“I was really proud of myself that I kept going even though that messed me up,” Johnson said. “I just kept focused. You do your routine so many times you don’t really need the music.”
It was in Level 4, though, that Top Contenders truly cleaned up, totaling four All-Americans: Lorelai Gallo, Shelby Goode, Gabrielle Healis and Charlize Soares.
Soares, age 12, had a clean sweep of her session, taking first in every category with a 9.35 in vault, 9.625 in bars, 9.425 in beam, 9.575 in floor and 37.975 all-around.
“Basically I ‘wowed’ myself. I didn’t know I was capable of doing that,” Soares said. “This last season I worked really hard and this was my second year at this level, so I kind of knew what was coming.”
Healis, 9, came in first in vault (9.20), beam (9.70) and floor (9.675) while placing second in the bars (9.525). She had an all-around score of 38.10.
“I felt amazed at myself,” Healis said.
Goode, now age 9 but competing as an 8-year-old, pulled out a first in the floor (9.625) to go with two seconds in vault (8.95) and bars (9.45). Her all-around score came out to 37.20.
Gallo, 11, had first in the beam (9.275) and floor (9.70), contributing to a 37.10 all-around. She’s only been with Top Contenders for six months, but has already seen improvement.
“I’ve done this level a couple of times and I think it’s just this gym,” Gallo said. “It’s really fun here and there’s not a lot of pressure here. It’s ‘Go out, have fun. You can do it.’ And that’s what I did.”
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At the national meet, held June 12-13 at the Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Kayden Clift, Goode and Savannah Kline placed first all-around in Level 4.
Clift had a first in the beam (9.65) and floor (9.525) as part of a 38.025 all-around. Goode was first in beam (9.70) and had a 38.225 overall.
“I had to try really hard,” Goode said. “Because the first year I went to nationals I didn’t win, but this year I did.”
Kline came out on top in vault (9.45), bars (9.625) and floor (9.575) for a 37.65 all-around. Gallo (37.575) and Healis (38.075) each placed second all-around.
In Level 2, first place in all-around was achieved by Peyton Fearing (38.10), McCann (38.85) and Hannah Summers (38.05).
Olivia Drummond had Top Contenders’ best showing at Level 1 with a third-place 37.75 in all-around, and Angelique Scarano led the gym at Level 3 with a second-place 37.80.
While most of the Top Contenders girls were at states in April, that same weekend Katherine Jones was in Concord, N.C. for the USA Gymnastics Region 8 Level 7-8 Regional Championships.
The 15-year-old Jones came in fifth all-around in her session at Level 8 with a 36.875, buoyed by a first in the beam (9.550) after she fell in the bars.
“I said not to let this get to me. I had one more event, it’s my best event and I’m going to show what I know I can do,” Jones said. “It meant a lot of me to be able to pull through the meet and finish it.”
Beth Solinski, who runs Top Contenders, spread the credit for the gym’s success.
“The support of the parents backing us as coaches; the kids’ dedication and the years of experience of our club,” Solinski said. “I’ve got 34 years of experience. And Vladimir Chertkov, we could not have done what we are doing today without the knowledge and love of Vladimir Chertkov.”
Chertkov, an international coach from Russia who assisted Solinski at Top Contenders, died of cancer last year.
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The Top Contenders boys squad has also made considerable strides, with 10-year-old Tristan Fearing picking up a first all-around at the Boys AAU State Meet on April 6 in St. Petersburg.
Fearing had a first in the floor (10.800), pommel (11.200) and an all-around score of 63.000 at Level 3. Fearing added a first all-around (56.75) at nationals on June 14.
In second at states was 8-year-old teammate Jaidan Prickett, with a 62.900, followed by Charlie Monaghan in third (62.300).
“I believe in myself and I just hope that I place first,” Prickett said. “I go out there to have fun no matter what.”