Malia Hargrove had to miss the biggest event in her sport last year, the Junior Olympic National Gymnastics Championships, due to a knee injury.
The McQueen (Reno, Nev.) senior gets one more chance at it, though, next weekend in Indianapolis, before she embarks on her college gymnastics career at Arizona.
Hargrove has her college spot locked up, and has since she gave a verbal commitment after the eighth grade. But for many gymnasts, the regional and national championships are the only way to be seen by college coaches, since gymnastics is not a high school sport.
Hargrove does not want to miss competing with the highest-level gymnasts and is determined to go to nationals this year.
“It still kind of hurts, but I can still make it to nationals,” Hargrove said of her knee.
Two days, 700 gymnasts in Indianapolis
There will be almost 700 young gymnasts competing in the Junior Olympic National Championships, May 18-19 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. The two-day National Championships showcase the country’s top Level 10 Junior Olympic gymnasts. Level 10 is the highest level in the Junior Olympic program, just under the elite level.
The Junior Olympic National Championships is the culmination event for the competitive season. The gymnasts are vying to become Junior Olympic national champions in the all-around, as well as in all four events: vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. The top four all-around athletes in each age division are named to the 2019 Junior Olympic National Team.
Hargrove placed second on vault and beam at the Regional Championships, and was fifth in all-around, to earn her spot in the nationals.
Next step: college athletics
Hargrove said competing in her final meet before college is bittersweet, but she is looking forward to college and new experiences.
She will receive a full scholarship to Arizona and might study chemical engineering with a dual major in international relationships.
Training at Arizona will be similar to what she has been doing, but in college there are competitions every weekend for 12 weeks. As a youth gymnast she competes in five or six meets all season, starting in January.
She started in gymnastics in the baby classes at Reno Flips USA and quickly progressed.
“This is a really hard sport to stick through, and many injuries can occur,” she said. “It’s long and harsh on your body, but, in the end, if you’re able to snatch a (college) spot, it’s really worth it.”
Many Junior Olympians have gone on to make the U.S. National Team and represent the United States in international competition and/or to compete in collegiate gymnastics.
Suzi Otuafi, her coach and the owner of Flips, said even the top gymnasts might not get college offers.
“Not everybody that is even a really good gymnast gets a college scholarship,” she said. “You have to be at the top.”
She said since Hargrove already had a college scholarship, they decided to have her sit out nationals last year, to avoid further injury to her knee.
“It’s an awesome experience to go to nationals, but not worth getting more injured and being hurt through college,” Otuafi said.
Otuafi said Hargrove is a special athlete and had high-level skills at a young age.
Otuafi said committing to a college early can be a big relief for young gymnasts.
She said previously college coaches were able to talk to young gymnasts in eighth grade, but rules have changes so college coaches are not allowed to contact young gymnasts until after their sophomore year in high school.
Otuafi said some later developing athletes will have a better chance to go to college with the change.
“I’m not sure a seventh grader knows where they want to go to school for their education,” Otuafi said. “They’re just looking at who is the best in the nation.”
She said there are about 100 Division I colleges in the country that offer gymnastics, with about 12-16 gymnasts on each team. Some smaller schools also offer gymnastics.
The next Level 10 gymnasts, currently at Levels 8 and 9, will be competing at Regionals this weekend in Spokane, Wash.
Level 8 Flips USA gymnasts are JaNyea Millikin and Sidney Phillips and Level 9 Flips USA gymnasts are Mackenzie Kelly, Sage Melkonian, Emma Schrady, and Melissa Venzon.