How hard is it to blow away a crowd of thousands at your first major elite competition? Just ask Lauren “Laurie” Hernandez ― she had no problem doing it. When all was said and done, Hernandez finished 11th all-around (with a fall on bars) and qualified to the national championships. The gymnastics world liked what they saw, and they wanted to see more. Although Nationals didn't go as well as they would have liked, Hernandez and her coach Maggie Haney had done enough to put MG Elite on the map. It didn't take long for the fan pages to start popping up on social media and for fan mail to start rolling in.
|Laurie with her first fan mail!|
In the next year, Hernandez would find herself among the top junior elites in the country. Following a solid showing at a national team camp, she was added to the junior national team and was looking to continue to prove herself at the 2013 Secret Classic. This time, however, she wouldn't be competing alone. A girl named Jazmyn Foberg had recently begun training at MG Elite and earned her elite qualifying score at the Parkettes Qualifier. For Foberg, this competition was just about gaining experience.
Unfortunately, it wasn't the best competition for Jazzy; she fell twice, resulting in a 26th all-around finish, and failed to qualify to the national championships. Because she was so new to the program, Haney didn't have much time to prepare her for the competition, however it was a valuable learning experience. In their eyes, for her to even make it that far was a huge accomplishment.
For Hernandez, it was a great stepping stone competition. Despite falling off the beam, she managed to finish sixth all-around and win the floor title. Things only went up from there. At nationals, better known as the P&G Championships, Hernandez hit eight for eight and finished second overall, a vast improvement from her 21st place finish the year prior.
Hernandez earned herself a trip to Japan for her first international assignment. She went on to place third all-around. Shortly after, she was off to Mexico with Team USA for the Mexican Open. She placed second all-around and helped Team USA win the team gold- the perfect ending to a very successful "break-through" season.
2014 was a year filled with many emotions for Coach Haney. The year started out on a bad note when Hernandez fractured her wrist after falling off the beam in practice. The good news was Hernandez was expected to be back on track for the summer competition season. However, that all ended when she took a bad fall on vault at a national team camp and injured her knee. This not only meant the season was over for Hernandez, but she had to have surgery and would be out for six months. It was a huge heartbreaker for the gymnastics world, but Hernandez and Haney tried their best to stay positive.
"Sometimes when a kid is out for so long, it starts to seem like they will never make it back. When you realize all the time you are losing, it can be very depressing," Haney said. "Laurie and I worked really hard to keep her spirits up during her time out, and now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel."
While losing Hernandez for the season was tough, the show had to go on. The star inside Foberg was ready to shine. With several new upgrades for the season, Foberg was hungry to show the world what she really had. Her success started at the American Classic, where she won the junior division with a score that was good enough to win the senior division. Her performance gave her one of eight spots to compete in the senior session of the Secret Classic, an honor only given to the junior elites who showed the most promise and potential. It wasn't an error-free meet, but she hit all four events and finished fifth all-around and third on vault.
Things were shaping up well for the P&G Championships. She wasn't necessarily the favorite going in, but with the second highest amount of difficulty in the whole junior division, everyone knew in the back of their minds that Foberg could do big things. Just the year before, Foberg was as far away as she could be from winning the national championships... literally. She was on a cruise with her family in Florida while her friends competed in Hartford, Connecticut. This time, things were very different, but in a good way. She was one of the very few gymnasts who hit all eight of her routines, and for that, she was crowned the 2014 Junior National Champion!
"I didn't believe it at first," Foberg admitted. "I was shocked, but really proud!"
|PC: Charles LeClaire|
In addition to her all-around title, she finished fourth on vault, first on bars, ninth on beam and fifth on floor ― results that were unimaginable for her just the year before. Let this sink in-- in one year Foberg went from not even qualifying to JO Nationals as a level 10 to winning the P&G Championships as a junior elite. Suddenly, there was a new star from MG Elite, and Haney was thrilled. For a year that started out so low, it ended on a high note and gave Foberg all the confidence in the world.
"I think after Jazzy won Championships, it kind of solidified that she belongs," Haney said. "Like, now she knows she's legit."
Foberg and Hernandez spend approximately eight hours training together each day, but apparently, eight hours together isn’t enough for the pair of best friends.
"I can hardly separate the two of them!” Haney joked. “It's so crazy. The nights before we leave for camp, Laurie always sleeps over at my house, and by 8 P.M., they are FaceTiming each other! I guess eight hours together each day is just not enough!"
Although they are teammates ― and also sometimes each other’s biggest competition ― Foberg says she feels no competition between them.
"We always root for each other and want each other to do great!” Foberg said. “I always wish the best for her because she is such a great gymnast and my best friend."
Hernandez's feelings toward Foberg are mutual.
"I'm so happy to have Jazzy as a teammate," Hernandez said. "She is always there for me on my best days and my rough days. I'm so glad I get to compete with my best friend as well!"
They may be best friends, but Haney says they are quite different.
"Laurie is very silly, happy and a total performer,” Haney said. “She is always smiling and looking at the world with a positive thought. She is ready to take on anything. Jazzy is very serious and quiet. She doesn't say much; she just listens, processes and thinks things through. She is very smart."
But it’s their differences that have brought out a new side to each of them.
"Laurie has really helped me to bring Jazzy out of her shell as a gymnast and a teenager,” Haney said. “Jazzy has shown Laurie how important it is to pay close attention to what you are doing and to be aware of what is going on around you."
A friendship that has been going strong for over three years will continue on even when their elite days are over. To conclude 2014, both girls committed to the University of Florida, the defending three-time National Champions. But what sealed the deal?
"I saw how beautiful the campus was,” Hernandez said. “The area had such a great vibe!"
Foberg added, "I just fell in love with it! The campus, the gym and the coaches are so great!"
The two will join the team in 2018.
Here we are in 2015, and MG Elite is home to two of the best junior elites in the world, both of whom are considered top prospects for the Olympics in Rio next summer. So far this year, things are off to a great start. Maggie's first goal for Foberg and Hernandez was to make the Jesolo team and just "do the job." In reality, they did that and more. This meet was very important for each of them. For Hernandez, it was her first competition in over a year. For Foberg, it was her first international assignment ever. Both girls had something to prove.
Hernandez had a phenomenal competition, winning the gold medal for each opportunity she had: team, all-around, bars and floor. After being out for so long, Laurie was glad to be back.
"I was so excited to compete again!" she said. "Jesolo was a great experience and the team was great as well. I'm glad I was able to start out the season with this meet!"
Haney noted that she was very pleased with not only Hernandez's performance, but how much she has grown as a person over the last year.
"Laurie is a very special kid and I'm so proud of her for never giving up," Haney said. "Over the past year, she has matured so much; it's crazy. She is so much smarter now and more focused than ever before. I'm really excited for her future."
It was a strong competition for Foberg as well, who said she didn't feel any pressure coming into this season as the reigning National Champion, despite initially thinking that she would. Although she said she was nervous to compete in her first international competition, she was able to relax once she hit the competition floor. She noted that Simone Biles was a big help and gave her some great advice: "Just stay calm, have fun and do what you do in the gym."
Foberg did her job and left Italy with some hardware: a gold medal each for team and vault and a bronze for the all-around competition. Not bad for her first international assignment!
"You never would have known by the way that she carried herself,” Haney said. “She is a very calm competitor and was not fazed at all."
"The hardest part was making sure she understood the expectations and intensity she would be facing. She is still relatively 'new' to it all, so it's a learning process for her but she is handling it all with no problems."
Haney added that overall she was very happy with the outcome of the meet for both of her girls. For her, winning gold in every event final they made was just 'icing on the cake.'
"As a coach, you always have a plan or a hope of how a meet will go down, but it's really nice when it actually happens the way you want!"
With Jesolo in the books, it was back to New Jersey and time to get busy. Their next goal is to prepare for Championships and prove that they can be competitive in the senior division by next year. And although it's top secret, Maggie says there are upgrades in the works for both girls.
"Laurie and Jazzy are both strong all-around competitors, but I need to make them stronger on certain events where they can be valuable to a team," Haney said. "I'm really pushing them on bars, as I think they can contribute on that event. We are working several upgrades on beam and floor as well."
When asked their goals for this season, both girls kept it simple: hit all their events and remain on the National Team, keeping the goals attainable and close at hand.
With the Rio Olympics a little over a year away, Haney says that, although it's a daily ― sometimes hourly ― thought in her head, she doesn't talk about it much with her girls. It can be intense and hard work coaching elite level athletes to their goal, which, in this case, is the Olympic Games.
"We never get a lazy day," Haney said. "I also coach my kids on every event, so that is a big responsibility. I am single handedly responsible for their warm up, conditioning, vault, bars, beam, floor, flexibility and choreography."
Sound stressful? It certainly can be, and Haney is the first to admit it.
However, she added, "It's working for us, so I feel like it's the right choice."
It's hard work now, but it will hopefully be worth it in the end. It's been one heck of a journey so far with climbing to the top of the ranks in just a few short years, and there's no denying the outcome this trio is looking for. When Hernandez and Foberg were asked about their future goals in the sport of gymnastics, Rio was mentioned right away. Both girls also expressed interest in possibly competing at a World Championships after the games since they won't be eligible this year.
Right now, it's one step at a time for Hernandez, Foberg and Haney. They've got a big year ahead of them, and from the way things have been going, it's bound to be a good one! Only time can tell what the future holds, but fans from around the world are hopeful that a trip to Rio is in the cards for the talented trio from MG Elite.