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Local gymnasts head to nationals
Mia Weathers (left) and Carmen Derriso pose on a balance beam at America's Finest Gymnast in Statesboro. The duo is travelling to Texas as part of a national showcase held by USA Gymnastics. - photo by MIKE ANTHONY/staff

    During a time of year where many of Statesboro’s younger athletes are concerned about state tournaments, the town is also home to a pair of gymnasts with national aspirations.
    Carmen Derriso, 9, and Mia Weathers, 7, are members of America’s Finest Gymnastics of Statesboro. Both are part of USA Gymnastics’ Talent Opportunity Program (TOPs). The program is aimed at girls, aged 7-10, and uses an educational program and talent evaluations to identify the elite talents throughout the country.
    Derriso is one of 100 girls in her age group that will travel to the USA Gymnastics National Training Center in Huntsville, Tex. - about 60 miles north of Houston - for this weekend’s national evaluations. The youngest age group is even more exclusive with its national invites, making Weathers one of just 50 7-year olds to make the trip to Texas.
    “I was able to come here last year, so I think I know what to expect,” Derriso said. “My mom was really happy for me that I (qualified again). I think (coach Adi Comen) already knew.”
    Derriso said she is excited to prove herself against the best from the rest of the country, but was equally as thrilled that she’ll get to meet 2016 Olympic gold medalist Laurie Hernandez while at the event.
    “It was exciting knowing I was going (to nationals) and my parents were really happy,” Weathers said. “I’m excited to do it again this weekend. I haven’t been to Texas and this is my first time on a plane, so I’m a little nervous about that.”
    As would be expected of athletes competing at such an elite level, both girls have been training since they were old enough for their first tumble.
    Being able to send a pair to the national evaluations is a big honor and privilege for Statesboro AFG owner and coach Adi Comen.
    “I think it shows just how good these girls are and how hard they work,” Comen said. “There are 130 gyms in Georgia and only two girls are (going to Texas).”
    The TOPs testing for Weathers and the other 7-year olds will consist of grading ability on six physical exercises including a rope climb, handstand hold, press handstands, leg lifts, cast-to-handstands and a flexibility test.
    The 8-10 year old groups will take the same test and will also showcase basic skills on bars, the balance beam and floor exercise.
    Standing out against the best of the best will be a tall order, but their coach anticipates a good showing.
    “It takes a lot of commitment to get to their level,” Comen said. “They are extremely hard working. They’re here almost every day and they’re always pushing to do new things and get better at the things they know.”