Freshman Meet and Greet: Oklahoma

When this 2014 signing class started to take shape for the Sooners, it became clear that this class would signal Oklahoma’s official entry into a new category: favorite. This is no longer the group of plucky little underdog overlooked Level 10s supporting an elite or two already put out to pasture by the wider gymnastics community. These are many of the top recruits in the country, and the 2014 Oklahoma roster is stacked. It’s no longer adorable when Oklahoma finishes second at Nationals like it was in 2010. It’s an expectation.

The Sooners will benefit from a huge infusion of depth this season, losing Brie Olson’s 3.5 routines (beam was always touch and go) but gaining five gymnasts capable as a group of putting together something like 11-14 routines that could at least contend to make competition lineups. There are some fascinating decisions ahead. It could be another year of few AAers and a bunch of people each contributing on two events. Even someone like Taylor Spears may not get a ton of time as an AAer because . . . does she make this vault lineup now? Let’s begin.

McKenzie Wofford was a standout junior elite for a couple of years early in the last quad. She wasn’t simply a member of the second tier of elites but was legitimately discussed as a potential future bars solution who could compete at the highest levels. Then, she had some #WOGAProblems and gym switching times, and it became clear that Level 10/NCAA was the ultimate path for her. She did hang on to compete elite in the 2012 season and scored well on bars but wasn’t in a position to hit the other events well enough to qualify to Trials. This year, she competed as a Level 10 and finished 4th in Senior C at Nationals, winning bars and placing highly on beam.

Vault – 2012 elite

Bars – 2013 JO Nationals

Beam – 2013 JO Nationals

Floor – 2012 US Nationals

In another national incoming class marked by strength on vault and floor (it’s an epidemic), those who are already extremely advanced on bars are that much more valuable, and such is the case with Wofford. The handstands are a beauty, the releases are high, and the tuck full is quite comfortable. End of story. She should fit in nicely at the back of that bars lineup. Wofford has the potential for a bunch of difficulty, including the tkatchev 1/2 she competed as an elite, but that skill is not necessary in NCAA. I appreciate the originality and difficulty of it, but tkatchevs with rushed little half twists at the end aren’t the prettiest skills in the world on anybody, and it would likely be a deduction trap in NCAA. 

On beam, she possesses those areas of elite refinement that will help her stand out, the straight legs in her skills, the hit split positions. Expect this to be another go-to routine, and I’m eager to see what KJ can do with her presence and sense of performance on this event because there is still some residual WOGA arm flapping and elite demureness in her 2012 and 2013 performances. It’s a start.

While Wofford was heralded as an elite primarily for her bars and beam work, and I do expect those to be her most important areas of contribution, the other events are NCAA ready. Her vault is not the most dynamic in the world, but she still manages to get the 1.5 around well and the shape and form are fine. She downgraded to a clean and successful full in 2013, which is a much more realistic option for her in NCAA. Her vaulting is similar to her floor tumbling—not the most powerful or notable, but the form and basics are there.

[LINEUP TANGENT] It will be interesting to see who makes the floor lineup this year for Oklahoma and how much difficulty is incorporated, especially at the beginning of the lineup. Difficulty has been the big point of contention over Oklahoma’s floor work in the past. They haven’t had the big tumbling of some of the other teams, and it’s so much easier for the judges to underscore a clean, basic routine in the first position than a difficult routine. Difficulty wakes them up. If I were Oklahoma, I would play around with the floor lineup this season, throwing in one of the most difficult routines at the beginning to see if that bumps up the scores for the cleaner, simpler routines later on. It could be an effective strategy in this instance, as long as it doesn’t turn into an Ashley Sledge on bars situation where they’re clearly throwing away the best score in the lineup by putting it first. [/LINEUP TANGENT]

In addition to Wofford, Charity Jones is another potential major contributor for this team, and she should complement Wofford well because she has primarily the opposite strengths. Jones became a name when she smoked the whole 2012 season, winning Nastia and JOs, and became one of the the most sought-after L10 in this year’s class.

Vault – 2013 Nastia

Bars – 2013 Nastia

Beam – 2013 Nastia

Floor – 2013 Nastia

Jones has added her named to the growing number of DTY girls in the JO ranks, and she competes it quite well. Like Ashleigh Gnat, whom I covered in the LSU post, she blocks with a big of crazy legs, but this is exactly the kind of power that Oklahoma has been looking for and should beef up that vault lineup just one more notch. Also, she gets points for having a super silly run. Love a super silly run.

This floor routine is equally important because of the power and difficulty, and that full twisting double back gives the team another E pass to work with in the lineup playing I just suggested. It’s not just Scaman with the difficulty this year. I love that she does the full twist before initiating the double back. It’s that somewhat less common look that makes a familiar skill stand out a bit more. Yes, the posing in her above routine is killing me, but fixing that is what college is for. 

On bars and beam, she uses her more powerful style to her advantage, showing a double back dismount on beam and a strong double layout off bars (in the past she has also trained adding a full twist to that DLO). There is some tentativeness to her beam work, however, and the splits and dance elements can be a struggle. On bars, she doesn’t have the natural swing and has to muscle through a bit more. On another team, it would be a solid early-mid lineup routine, but that bars lineup is going to be an absolute beast to make at Oklahoma this year.

Kara Lovan tied with Utah’s Baely Rowe for the Senior C victory at JOs this year, winning bars and recording top-10 finishes everywhere but beam. You know, just another JO national champion to add to the incoming class.

Bars – 2013 JO Nationals

Beam – 2013 JO Nationals

Floor – 2013 JO Nationals

Even though she had her worst result on beam at JOs, the routine is clean as all get out. She doesn’t really rely on acro on beam (and her series ends in a bhs, which is a growing pet peeve), getting her difficulty from that sheep jump, etc., so I do wonder how much a relative lack of acro difficulty will hold her back. For me on beam, the important thing is to have some kind of standout quality – that can be acro difficulty, but it can also be unique skill selection, or exceptional flexibility, or interesting choreography. As long as there is a distinctive quality to the routine somewhere. That’s the same philosophy I take to gainer full and gainer back pike dismounts. If you have an interesting or difficult routine on the beam itself, I’m going to care a lot less about the lame dismount.  

Cleanliness without a ton of difficulty seems to be characteristic of her gymnastics. She scores very well on floor with this routine, even though the tumbling is straightforward and she mounts with a front 1.5. It’s a contrast to most of the floor routines that we see scoring well in JO, with their tuck full in mounts and often sloppy legs. It’s another one to watch in the Oklahoma floor difficulty saga, but she has the potential for good musicality already. I want to see what they put together for her.

Interestingly, Lovan tied with Wofford on bars in their division at JOs. I think Wofford’s routine was stronger, but there’s a ton of potential in Lovan’s work with her precise form (I’m already looking for synonyms for clean to describe her) and that loverly pak and toe point. The DLO is a little whippy, but sticking helps always. 

Chayse Capps
Vault – 2013 JO Nationals

Floor – 2013 JO Nationals

Capps had a fairly low placement in Senior B last year, almost entirely the result of a fall on beam, but I don’t think that’s characteristic. Beam could be one of her potential contributions, but I’m most interested in her vault. It’s regularly her highest score, and she shows a Y1.5 with good flight that maintains strong body position throughout. As we look for areas where Oklahoma can break out of the reputation of being a bars and beam team, this vault stands out.

Also, watch that floor routine and tell me if you get as much of a Chellsie Memmel thing as I do, with the brown hair and the ponytail and the wrists. Just me? Of course, she would enjoy stealing Memmel’s tumbling too, but it starts with the wrists. 

As for the fifth new one, Reagan Hemry, bars is probably her most realistic event. She doesn’t really have the standout skill set elsewhere, but her legs and longer look give her nice presence on bars. Still, given Oklahoma’s depth on the event, it’s going to be a tough one.  

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