© John Cheng

By Nick McCarvel

ST. LOUIS – Three weeks ago in Hartford, 18-year-old Matt Wenske found himself in an unfamiliar spot: Side-by-side with Jake Dalton atop the podium after the men’s vault event, co-champion at the P&G Gymnastics Championships.

This weekend Wenske, the lone junior to have competed in senior nationals, looks to translate that confidence into a junior national championship. He leads the 17-18 division after day one, winning four out of six events and posting a score of 84.450, giving him a commanding five-point advantage over Mitchell Brown, 79.250.

“Having won seniors on vault, I wanted to come in here and have that same quality,” Wenske said. “I felt pressure with that, especially with vault being my first event. I hit that and that just set the tone for the day.”

Wenske was the lone gymnast to fly over the 15-point mark, hitting 15.300 on vault, which was in fact the lone score to go over 15 on the entire day.

In the 15-16 division, Shane Wiskus won two out of six events and maintains a two-point lead over Bennet Huang, 84.850 to 82.850. Wiskus won the silver at this event a year ago.

“I tried to take it one event and one skill at a time,” said Wiskus, “It was one of my best routines on parallel bars and high bar that I’ve done all season. I was super psyched with that. And I had a new personal best on pommel horse.”

Wiskus struggled through a mistake on rings, his last event, but said he was happy to “keep his head in the game” to finish out the day.

“That’s fight,” said 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Raj Bhavsar on the USA Gymnastics live stream as Wiskus recovered to finish on rings. “That’s what you find deep in your heart.”

Alexei Vernyi and Davis Grooms, who is the defending national champion, rounded out the top four in the 15-16 division.

In the 17-18 division, Brown might have plenty of ground to make up on Wenske, but he was happy with his day overall.

“I did what I wanted to do out there,” he said. “My training has paid off. Although today was good, there were still little things I could have done better. I want to improve on them on Saturday.”

Bailey Perez is just two tenths behind Brown in third place, followed by Andrew Brower.

Perez got a high-five from coach Paul Hamm after what was a “gorgeous” high bar routine, as Bhavsar put it on the livestream.

“That wraps up a solid day for him,” added live stream host Evan Heiter of Perez.

The junior men’s event concludes on Saturday with finals, as 13 spots are up for grabs on the junior men’s national team – 10 in the 15-16 division and three from 17-18.