Elite and NCAA Gymnast Training Updates – Part 3


Full Twist contributor Anna Rose Johnson recently caught up with some elite, level 10, and NCAA gymnasts to discuss their training, future goals, and more.

Ellie Black, Madison Brunette, Stephanie Day, Jaala Downes, Dakota Earnest, Bailey Ferrer, Katherine Grable, Abigail Milliet, Lexie Priessman, and Hannah Walter provided us with thoughtful insights into their training.


Ellie Black is the top women’s gymnast in Canada right now. Since we previously caught up with her in April, she has won the Canadian National Championships and the balance beam gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. She also placed fourth with her team. “The Commonwealth Games was a great experience for team Canada and myself,” Ellie told Full Twist. “We had a young team there so it was good for us to be at a bigger event and get to be a part of the Games. Overall it was a learning experience for us all, as is every competition. Hopefully we can use what we learned in upcoming competitions. Individually I had some good routines and some tough ones. It was new and exciting for me and I was pleased with the overall result.”

Now that Commonwealths are behind her, Ellie is looking ahead to the World Championships, which will be held October 3-12 in Nanning, China. “Training has been going well, mostly focusing on preparing for the upcoming World Championships and doing my best to help team Canada,” Ellie explained.

She also noted that she has added a couple new skills to her routine this past year, “so right now I am working on better execution and consistency with my current routines,” said Ellie, who is coached by David Kikuchi and Keiji Yamanaka at Halifax Alta Gymnastics.



Madison Brunette is a Level 10 gymnast who trains at Seattle Gymnastics Academy with her coaches George Kostadinov and Teddi Kostadinova. She tied for eleventh at the 2014 Nastia Liukin Cup with a 36.875. “The Nastia Liukin Cup was a great experience for me,” Madison told Full Twist. “It allowed me to compete on a larger stage before [J.O.] Nationals, which helped me a lot with nerves when Nationals did come along. It was the first time I had competed on a podium, which I feel is really valuable experience to have under my belt. Overall, I really enjoyed the meet and all the girls I competed with. I look forward to trying to qualify again this year.”

Madison discussed how her training has been going. “Summer training has been going well,” she commented. “I am recovering from a broken wrist, so training has consisted of regaining skills I have already competed, as well as new skills for the upcoming season. Additions include working double fulls on vault, working Tkatchevs, and [working] double lay full-out dismounts on bars. My beam continues to be focused on consistency but I have also worked on aerials and standing layouts, and on floor, I have been training double layouts, full-ins, double fronts, and front layout connected to a double full.”

“My goals for this season include being more consistent with my routines at meets, as well as qualifying for Nationals and hopefully placing there,” Madison explained. “As for more long term goals, I am open to many different things but I would definitely like to compete in more meets like the Nastia Liukin Cup.”



Stephanie “Gracie” Day is a Level 10 gymnast from Universal City, Texas. She trains at Aerial Athletics with her coaches Heather Schnelzer and Mike Durante. Gracie won floor exercise in the Junior D division of the J.O. National Championships with a score of 9.850. “Reflecting on my past experiences from J.O. National Championships, they may not have been the outcome I always wanted but, I have never been ashamed of any of my gymnastics I’ve competed at that level,” Gracie told Full Twist. “I remember for the past three years of participating at J.Os, I [would] go into the meet with the mentality of I have nothing to lose. My goal is not only to win but perform the best skills I have, and to do everything as unto the Lord. Because without Him I would not be the gymnast I am today.”

Gracie described how her training has been going: “As for my training, I would have to say it’s going quite well. We have started putting together routines and just really perfecting them. One of the things I really love about Heather and Mike is that they don’t wait till right before season to start to put routines together. I’ve already started floor routines with first and last passes (first pass double Arabian, last pass double pike). We are already on full beam routines, full bar routines and comp vaults on a soft surface. I’m really looking forward to this season because I’ve added quite a few upgrades.”

Gracie explained that her goals for this season “are much the same as every year! Go into the season with my head up, and be confident in my gymnastics, because it’s my gymnastics not anyone else’s. I do have standards of my own and standards that have been placed by my coaches to uphold this season. I know it’s almost every gymnast’s goal at this level to want to qualify to nationals and win, but I say take it one meet at a time and know that whatever happens is God’s plan to help and better me for the future He’s placed in front of me. [I] am super excited about this upcoming season and can’t wait to see what it holds for me.”



Jaala Downes is a Level 10 gymnast who trains at Champions Gymnastics Academy in California. At the Junior Olympic National Championships (NIT) in May, Jaala won the Junior A division with a 37.600. “NIT was an amazing experience,” Jaala told Full Twist. “Going to Mississippi was great because most of my family on my dad’s side lives there. A lot of my family members flew and drove into Mississippi from Atlanta and Texas to watch me compete at NIT. It was fun meeting new people as well. I can say that the atmosphere in the competition that day was competitive and it was just perfect. I loved my experience so much especially . . . winning gold in the all-around, vault, and beam. It was the perfect Mother’s Day present for my Mom, aunts, and Grandma. But as I keep saying, it was great because my birthday was the day after winning NIT.”

Now that the summer competition season is over, Jaala’s focus has shifted to next spring’s J.O. season. “My training has been going great!” she said. “I just got a new floor routine. I’ve been practicing upgrading my vault for the new season. I’ve been training a lot of new skills and experiencing new things at the gym but overall training has been going great.”

“My future goals are to go to a D1 gymnastics school,” Jaala continued. “In the next year I hope to compete at Level 10 J.O. Nationals.”



Dakota Earnest is a U.S. trampoline gymnast who trains at Acrospirits with her coaches Will Green and Sherry Mulkey. She was a 2012 U.S. Olympic alternate and recently placed third at the USA Gymnastics Championships. “A few weeks before in training, I noticed my hip was hurting,” Dakota told Full Twist. “But just like any other competitor, I just ignored it and did as much as I could. At championships, it started hurting a lot more. I competed as well as I could and ended up placing 3rd. Even though I didn’t do as much as I could’ve, I was very happy that I at least had the opportunity to compete.”

The 2011 Pan American Games silver medalist explained that she has not been able to train since “my hip ended up being fractured and I have a tear in my labrum,” she said. “I am doing everything I can right now to help me be successful for when I come back to trampoline!!”

Dakota told us her goals in gymnastics: “I hope to get well as soon as possible!!! I am not competing for the rest of the season, but next year should be pretty eventful!”



Bailey Ferrer is a U.S. junior who trains at Orlando Metro with her coaches Jeff Wood and Christi Mitchell. She placed 26th in the all-around at the 2014 P&G Championships, with her highest score coming on floor exercise. “My experience at the P&G Championships was amazing,” Bailey told Full Twist. “I was a little nervous on Day 1. I had to get all my little butterflies out. Podium training went well. I went into Day 2 feeling really good and strong. I did great and went up on 3 out of 4 events on my scores and I nailed all my floor passes and went 4/4. I was very happy. I look forward to next year’s P&G’s.”

She commented, “Training has been going very well. I am working on a lot of upgrades on all four events. My goals are to work towards all my upgrades and get them down. To name a few of the upgrades . . . [on] floor I have been working on my double layout and Hypolito. On bars I have been working on my Shaposh and double-double dismount. On beam I have been working on my standing full twist and Arabian, and for vault I have been working on my DTY and Amanar. I will continue at camps in Texas at the Ranch throughout the rest of 2014 into 2015. My future goal is to get on the Jr. National Team and go on international assignments.”

Bailey, who has been invited to the U.S. National Team Training Camp on October 23rd-27th, told us when her next competition might be. “I am only able to do OPEN meets during the level 10 season which begins in January 2015,” Bailey explained when asked when her next competition will be. “I will participate in some to try out my new skills and keep up my ‘meet’ performances. And then of course I will be doing elite season.”



Katherine Grable was a star in the individual finals at the 2014 NCAA Championships, winning both the vault and floor exercise titles and the silver in the all-around. “It was an indescribable weekend for me,” Katherine told Full Twist. “My goal was to go home with a national title but to go home with two of them and a silver was honestly a dream come true. On finals day I remember warming up my vaults and they were all a little off just like how they were on practice day and at prelims. After landing my vault in the competition I knew I nailed it and did the best vault I could have done. Looking back on my weekend in Birmingham is still surreal to me but I would do every moment of it all over again!”

After capping off her senior year at Arkansas with her immense success at Championships, Katherine was a finalist for the gymnastics category of the prestigious Honda Sport Award. “The week following nationals I remember being crazy busy with interviews and finishing school,” Katherine recalled. “I went home for a month in the summer and when I returned to Arkansas I completed my internship requirement and officially graduated in August. I competed in the Pro Gymnastics Challenge Cup Series and will be competing at the next Pro Gymnastics Challenge! Since the beginning of August I have been working at the same place I completed my internship, The Williams Center, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It is a dance and gymnastics center where I am coaching team and some rec classes.”

When asked if she might try elite, Katherine said, “I was training all summer and since I graduated I have taken a break to get used to my new work schedule. I have never competed elite before and I think it would be a great experience for me. I will start training again very soon. So to answer the question, yes I would love to try it (as long as my body stays healthy throughout my training)!”



Abigail Milliet is a former U.S. elite gymnast who is preparing for her first year at Auburn University. “Training has been getting better and better,” Abigail told Full Twist. “I came in with a bone bruise and it has been slow getting back but every day I get a little bit better.”

When asked about adjusting to collegiate routines, Abigail said, “We haven’t quite started working on routines, but the training is a lot different than I have been used to. Getting used to the scheduling and hours has definitely been an adjustment.”

Abigail, who competed at last year’s P&G Championships and placed 8th in the all-around, explained that her goals for 2014 “are to be SEC freshman of the year, and for our team to make nationals this year.”

Abigail also commented on the possibility of returning to elite gymnastics: “As of right now I’m not sure that I will return but you never know what life’s got in store for you so we’ll see.”



 Lexie Priessman is the 2012 Junior U.S. National Champion and the 2013 Secret U.S. Classic champion on floor exercise. She was set to compete at the 2014 Secret U.S. Classic, but was injured prior to the competition. When asked earlier this month how her recovery has been going, Lexie told Full Twist, “It’s for sure a tough process right now seeing all the girls preparing for worlds selection camp! Makes it a little bit harder for me! But overall I’m feeling great and I can’t wait to be healthy and stronger than ever!”

This past summer, Lexie moved from Cincinnati Gymnastics to Perfection Gymnastics School in West Chester, Ohio. She now trains with coaches Enrique Trabanino and Lucas Wasson. “First off I can’t thank everyone enough at Perfection for making it a second home to me! You walk into the gym with a smile on your face and even after a rough day you walk out with a smile still! I never end a bad day on a bad note. They always make sure we are happy! They know mistakes happen and all they want is for you to give 100%!  I love training with Enrique and Luke! They know how to make you work hard but have fun at the same time!”

Lexie noted that her goals for the remainder of 2014 are “mostly to get healthier and stronger!” When asked when she might be back at camp, Lexie replied, “I am thinking January! I might compete a few meets as level 10 just to compete again!”



Hannah Walter is a U.S. rhythmic gymnast who trains at Gymnastics Unlimited-Orchard Park with her coach Gail Walter. At the USA Gymnastics Championships in July, Hannah placed 12th in the all-around in the senior rhythmic division and placed eighth in hoop. “Being a three time USA Senior National Team Member and current Senior Elite athlete, I felt that at this year’s USA Gymnastics Championships I have achieved a new understanding of the new code of points,” Hannah explained to Full Twist. “My favorite part about the new rules is that we are allowed to have one of the four events with words in our music. It was such an amazing experience to be competing with other athletes in sport acrobatics and trampoline. I feel that it was a great opportunity to show a larger audience what rhythmic gymnastics truly is.”

The 2011 U.S. bronze medalist in ribbon described how training has been for her: “Our season ended early this year; therefore I took some time off this summer getting ready for the upcoming school year. I was also a former artistic gymnast and I was very excited to watch the P&G Championships,” Hannah added. “Since my mom is my coach I have been continuing with off-season training for fall.”

“I want to continue staying active in rhythmic gymnastics, being a role model for younger girls,” Hannah said when asked about her goals in gymnastics. “My goals are to learn and maintain new skills in the upcoming year.  I want to enjoy the time I am putting into my sport.”

Special thanks to the gymnasts for chatting with us! Stay tuned for Part 4, in which we’ll provide updates on Elisabeth Seitz, Gabby Jupp, and others!

View Elite and NCAA Gymnast Training Updates Part 1

View Elite and NCAA Gymnast Training Updates Part 2

Image via Getty Images.

Leave a Comment

Powered by WordPress | Deadline Theme : An AWESEM design

  • RSS
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Flickr
  • YouTube