Earlier this month, thirty-five Junior Olympic gymnasts of Levels 8, 9 and 10 represented North Stars at the Excalibur Cup. As a result of their preparation and solid performances, many of the gymnasts captured first place titles, including Nicola (Nikki) St. Louis. St. Louis not only won the all around in her age group, but for the first time in her gymnastics career she qualified to compete in the Nastia Liukin Cup.
The Excalibur Cup was organized by Excalibur Gymnastics and held February 17-19 at the Virginia Beach Convention Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This year, approximately 3,000 gymnasts of all levels competed in the meet. Participating athletes traveled from over 25 states and 10 different countries, allowing it to be one of the largest and most diverse meets on the east coast to date.
The Level 8 gymnasts from North Stars competed on Saturday. Karina Lankamer, Alana Walker and Reese Wylie were among the first place winners for their age group. Lankamer won vault and the all around, Walker won vault, floor and the all around, and Wylie placed first on the bars.
The Level 9 gymnasts competed on Sunday. Madison Vitolo, Isabel Lin, Mia Davis, Raine Smith, Emily Castiglia and Hannah Loyim were among the first place winners for their age group. Davis, Smith and Castiglia each placed first on vault. Lin and Castiglia won beam, while Davis, Smith and Loyim placed first on floor. Vitolo was named Level 9 all around champion.
The Level 10 gymnasts also competed on Saturday. Nikki St. Louis, Madison Nigro, Anneliese Silverman, Olivia Orlando, Katherine McGowan, Emma Itoh and Nicole Kane were among the winners for their age group. Together, the Level 10’s from North Stars had the highest all around team score. Orlando placed first on vault, while Silverman and McGowan placed first on bars. Itoh, Kane and Nigro placed first on beam, with Nigro also winning the all around. St. Louis won vault, beam, floor and the all-around. Based on her scores in the Excalibur Cup, St. Louis was awarded the opportunity to compete against other top-tier Level 10 athletes in one of the most prestigious gymnastics meets in the country, the Nastia Liukin Cup.
For St. Louis, it was a pleasant surprise when she learned from her coach, Ashley Umberger, that she’d be competing in the 2017 Nastia Liukin Cup.
“I didn’t realize I qualified (for the Cup) when the meet was over, but before awards, Ashley brought me downstairs to the gym and told me that I had qualified,” explained St. Louis. “I felt excited because this was what I’ve been working toward this season,” she added.
The Nastia Liukin Cup honors the top 18 junior and top 18 senior level 10 gymnasts in the United States. The junior division consists of gymnasts under 16 years old, while the senior division consists of gymnasts aged 16 and up. Each gymnast must qualify through one of the Nastia Liukin Cup Series invitational meets, which are held throughout the season leading up to the event. St. Louis will compete in the Cup as a junior, while her teammate, Rachael Lukacs, who qualified through the Greensboro Classic Invitational, will compete as a senior.
Lukacs has competed in the Cup for the past three years and was named all-around champion last year. This year, St. Louis looks forward to competing alongside her teammate in the meet. “I have cheered for Rachael the last few years from the stands, so now to be out there with her is surreal,” she said.
Over the next few days leading up to the big meet, St. Louis plans to maintain her focus throughout each practice and remain calm. “I try not to overthink it,” she said. “My goal is to just go out there, compete to the best of my abilities and enjoy the experience.”
The 2017 Nastia Liukin Cup will be held on March, 3 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.