© John Cheng

By Nick McCarvel

ST. LOUIS – Leader after day one of the P&G Gymnastics Championships junior women’s event, Maile O’Keefe kept her cool – and her cushion – on her way to earning her first-ever national title Sunday.

O’Keefe fended off Riley McCusker and Gabby Perea, who had been 2-3 after the first day of competition, as well, scoring a 115.050 to respective scores of 112.450 and 111.600.

All three girls booked places on the junior national team, as well as Shania Adams, Morgan Hurd and Trinity Thomas, who finished fourth through sixth.

“My coaches really helped me to stay focused and grounded on what I needed to do next,” said O’Keefe, 14, of maintaining her lead. “I just was focusing on what I needed to do. This is so surreal; it’s like I’m in a dream.”

O’Keefe shook off a fall on her uneven bars warm up to hit it in competition, then finished strong with her favorites, beam and floor, placing first in both.

“I’m a big fan,” Sam Peszek, a member of the 2008 Olympic team, said on the USA Gymnastics livestream. “I wanted to see the Dab!”

That was a nod to O’Keefe’s Dab on Friday after a successful vault, though she kept any celebrating in her pocket on Sunday. Minus a beaming smile.

“I was going to do the Carlton but it just didn’t happen,” she said, laughing.

McCusker gave the crowd a smile and a wave after her second rotation, a stick on the vault. She would finish in second place on the uneven bars, floor exercise and balance beam.

“She’s an athlete you always know what you’re going to get,” Peszek said of the 15 year old.

Perea started her day on the event she’d end up as national champion on, uneven bars, sticking her dismount and setting herself up for a day of solid gymnastics.

Shilese Jones was another highlight on floor, where she finished third, Evan Heiter noting on the livestream, “she really wants to smile right now, but she’s holding back” at her conclusion.

While O’Keefe held her nerve throughout the two days, it was McCusker who may have been happiest. Coach Maggie Haney was unsure if she would take her elite this season.

“This is her breakout championships as a junior,” Peszek said. “She wants to keep going.”

“I had no expectations coming in,” McCusker said. “This was my first season as an elite and first P&G Championships. I just came in, did my gymnastics and then waited to see what would happen.”