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After showing progress and some upgrades at the Core Hydration Classic a few weeks ago, it’s time for Gators Leanne Wong, Kayla DiCello, and Skye Blakely to take the next step toward World Championships by competing at Xfinity National Championships.

They will be joined by Shilese Jones, who sat out at Classic to continue recovering from several injuries, including a torn labrum and a foot injury she sustained about a year ago. She shared in the mixed zone yesterday after podium training that she is trying to heal without surgery, but it is unknown how long ago her labrum tear occurred and what other options she has explored for treatment. There are gymnasts who have successfully competed with labrum injuries, including the high-profile Olivia Dunne, but their longevity and consistency can be significantly impacted. This would obviously not be ideal for Jones, who hopes to make Paris before coming to Gainesville for her collegiate career.

As far as we know, Jones still plans to be a Gator in the future, but her entry year remains a mystery, as does the number of years of eligibility she will maintain, considering how many times she’s deferred.

Despite announcing her comeback to elite recently, Trinity Thomas will not be vying for a berth on the World Championships team this year, and therefore will not be competing at this meet. She has been spotted training with Wong in recent videos, so at best guess, her first meet back in the elite world will be Winter Cup come 2024.

Now that we’ve talked about all the Gators to keep an eye out for, let’s talk about their chances. If you go back to our Classics liveblog, you’ll see that Wong and Blakely both performed quite strongly, but DiCello still has quite a ways to go before she’s back to the 2021 form that earned her an Olympic alternate slot.

Wong had added several difficult skills back into her repertoire at Classic. She switched back to a Yurchenko double full to be more competitive with her elite peers after competing the Podkopayeva in college and increased her bars difficulty with a Bhardwaj, one of the most difficult releases in the code. She had also configured a new floor routine to be both difficult and consistent, competing a double double, double layout (a new pass for her!), whip half to front full, and double pike. This was a team effort between choreographer Armine Barutyan, Wong’s former club coach, and her Florida coaches.

However, for Nationals, Wong is training several connection series to continue to elevate her difficulty score. On bars, she is connecting her Maloney, pak salto, and van Leeuwen all one after the other, as well as attempting a difficult side aerial to switch leap to wolf jump full combination on beam. One calculation put her at a potential 6.2 D-score, which would put her among the top beam workers in the world at the moment.

Jones shared with press yesterday that she only feels like she’s at 75-80% of her capacity, but really, the only place that seems to show in her podium training is in her landings. She appears to have most of her difficulty back from last year, competing a Yurchenko double full on vault and a stalder full-Chow-immediate Tkachev, a toe full-Church-pak salto combination, and a double front dismount on bars.

That alone would make a solid case for her at Worlds with a mild but consistent beam and floor set, but she didn’t stop there. She’s planning a standing Arabian to split jump and a handspring-handspring-two foot layout series on beam, as well as a 1.5 through to double back, double double, and full in on floor. She is well prepared to make her case for another World Championships berth, provided she stays healthy.

Blakely showed three strong events at Classic, but she passed on competing floor, pacing herself to return to all-around competition here at Nationals. She competed two vaults for the first time at Classic – a Yurchenko double full, like her future teammates, and a Yurchenko half-on, layout half off. She may have an intent to upgrade that in the future, but I haven’t seen a clip from podium training to see its current state this week. On bars, her routine features a stalder half to piked Jaeger, a Downie to pak salto, and a double front half out dismount.

But beam is Blakely’s specialty – she has a difficult and quick set that includes a standing full, a front handspring-punch front-split jump mixed series, and a front aerial-straddle jump-bhs. She also trained a double double on floor, which would be a new addition for her if she puts it in.

DiCello is a bit of a mystery – no one has posted clips of her from podium training yesterday, but some eagle-eyed Twitter users have spotted a few upgrades. She has her Yurchenko double back, upgrade from the full at Classic, and is reliably connecting her pak salto to van Leeuwen in her bars set, as she has been capable of but rarely done in college. It seems likely she will also upgrade her beam and floor, if she wants to make a play for worlds, since at Classic she was significantly behind the field difficulty-wise.

Overall, Jones, Blakely, and Wong all feel likely to be in the mix if all goes to plan, and DiCello could make some moves this weekend if she’s added more than expected and cleaned up what she had. Much will depend on the health of Jones and Sunisa Lee, as well as the consistency and cleanliness of folks like Jordan Chiles and Joscelyn Roberson. Of course, Simone Biles is a lock now that she’s back, so the team will fill in around her.

But as head coach Jenny Rowland often says, these Gators know that all they can do is control their controllables and do the best job they’re capable of – they can’t affect how others compete, so they’ll stay in their bubbles and focus on their own gymnastics.

Join us for a liveblog Friday night at 8pm ET as we watch along on Peacock – see you then!

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