Freshman Meet and Greet: UCLA

It’s a good thing this UCLA freshman class [used to be] so deep because the Bruins are contending with a lineup exodus unmatched by any other team. Four vaults, three bars, three beam, and two floor routines from last year’s Super Six lineup are gone, which is why sending that last minute bat signal to Jenni Pinches may end up being such a crucial move. They need routines, not just to replace the lineup but to create backups that didn’t exist before. The depth was not awesome at any point last year, and that must improve.

In assessing the level of freshman contribution we can expect, it’s going to be everywhere, all the time, and lots. Aside from the solid position Olivia Courtney has carved out on three events and spot routines from Francis, De Jesus, and Sawa, there are few returning constants to these lineups. Even with the injury comebacks (and assuming an automatic return to previous level after a major injury is a fool’s game), UCLA will need to see a number of routines from this new group.

I would start with Peng Peng Lee, but she is out for the season once again this year and everything is the worst. What’s the point anymore? Taking away Marissa King and Vanessa Zamarripa from us was bad enough, and now this? I will leave the videos below as a tribute to what could have been.

Vault – 2012 Olympic Test Event

Bars – 2012 Olympic Test Event

Beam – 2012 Pac Rims

Floor – 2012 Pac Rims

Obviously, the Lords of Round Lake received none of our animal sacrifices designed to keep Peng healthy. I’m beginning to believe they don’t exist. 

It’s clear that now the Great British Pipeline is becoming just as important to UCLA as the Great Canadian Pipeline always has been, and its newest product is Jenni “My Name Is a Complete Sentence” Pinches, who made the 2012 GB Olympic team and would have qualified for AA finals if not for two-per-country. The Pinch is exactly the gymnast UCLA was missing last year, the one who can contribute that 9.850 on every event so that they don’t have to scrape off some 9.750 that had congealed at the bottom of the depth barrel and force it to compete. She was retired before signing with UCLA, so it may take a bit more time for her to get back into gymnastics form, depending on just how retired she was.

Vault – 2012 British Championships

Bars – 2012 British Championships

Beam – 2012 British Championships

Floor – 2012 Olympics Team Final

You know that thing where you’re looking for videos of Jenni Pinches’ vaults on Youtube, and then you end up watching the entirety of 2012 Olympic qualifications instead? Translation: this post was supposed to go up yesterday. 

Floor is probably my favorite event for her because she works with definite stickitude. She has the level of difficulty in the tumbling (some issues of form on her E passes but much will depend on which tumbling they put in her routine this year), but more importantly she is consistently able to find those landings without being all bouncy. Control of tumbling could be a huge asset for her scoring on this event. On vault as well, she has shown the power to complete a DTY in the past without suffering from Commonwealth vault-itis, so there’s no reason to think she can’t be a vaulter for this team. She has also competed handspring vaults before. They’re not a strong as her Yurchenkos, but I’d like to see the team at least try to make one competition ready because her handspring potential is the only thing standing between UCLA and a second consecutive season of 6 Yfulls.

When I see Pinches on beam, all I can think of is Christine Still during the broadcast of one competition dropping all professional pretense and shouting, “Oh, JENNI!” after she had a fall. I suppose it’s not fair, but any time she falls, I will be shouting, “Oh, JENNI!” in my best Christine Still voice. Hopefully the consistency will come because she does tend to work with good rhythm and without tentativeness. 

Mikaela Gerber
Bars – 2012 Elite Canada

Beam – 2012 Olympic Trials

Floor – 2011 Pan Ams

Now, in this globetrotting tour of UCLA freshmen, we’re heading back to Canada for the premiere of Mikaela Gerber: Return of the Gerber. It’s easy to assume that she would be a repeat of Aisha, and while UCLA would take that in a second, the two don’t have entirely equivalent strengths as gymnasts. It’s less likely that we’ll see Mikaela on vault but more likely that we’ll see her on floor, where she managed a silver at Pan Ams in 2011. Floor was the primary reason Gerber made 2011 Worlds for Canada, and she led the team on that event.

Her icicle of a frame helps her look on bars, and she regularly shows the toe point and controlled handstands we would expect from her. This routine could become a thing, but she was held back in elite by not having much of a dismount (that is such a trend among freshmen this year), and if she is to compete here, they’ll have to give her a full turn+double pike or something, which is what Aisha competed before learning the double arabian. 

The big wildcard in this class for me is Hallie Mossett because we haven’t seen any gymnastics from her in so long. She’s similar to Gerber in that it’s very challenging to have any expectations about their contributions since we don’t know where they are gymnastically, but at least Gerber competed in the 2012 trials process. Mossett last competed as an elite in 2011, which is so long ago to be almost completely irrelevant. It will be a wait and see for her.

Vault – 2010 Visa Championships

Bars – 2011 Visa Championships

Floor – 2011 Visa Championships

Still, this is what she has shown in the past. Watch that floor routine from 2011 Nationals. It’s good, and she didn’t trail Raisman, Bross, and Wieber by that much on floor after the first day. Those kinds of hits were few and far between for her as an elite, but that was the routine that first made me take notice of her. There are bits and pieces on the other events that give the indication that they might become things. On bars, the jaeger is high and that tuck full is comfortable. Her Yfull on vault is also sufficiently powerful, but once again, that was from 3.5 years ago. It’s an eternity.  

Angi Cipra
Vault – 2013 JO Regionals

Floor – 2012 JO Nationals

Angi Cipra is the one scholarship girl in this class who didn’t do elite, and I knew nothing about her before she was tied to UCLA. The announcement of her verbal came not long after she won floor in her division at JOs in 2012 with the above routine, so the easy narrative was “Yes, UCLA, floor, dance, yes, we get it,” but she’s not just a floor girl. That Yfull is not remotely bad, and she also shows a deliberate but composed style on beam with strong basics. It will be easy to overlook her in this class, but I hope we get enough opportunities to see her compete. She definitely has the skills to be in the lineup conversation.

The other members of this class are GymJam walk-ons Jessy MacArthur and The Waller Child, and it will be a challenge for them to get a look in on this team. That said, they are not those occasional UCLA walk-ons who are on the roster for three seconds, never appear at a single meet, and then vanish forever, and Alex Waller isn’t simply hanging around because she’s a Waller. She finished 7th in her division at the JO NIT this year and won beam, so there are at least a couple routines there. 

3 thoughts on “Freshman Meet and Greet: UCLA”

  1. If you could write more in Christine Still's voice I think the entire blogosphere would rejoice. Is she the greatest commentator of all-time? Survey says: Yes. More Christine Still please. And thank you.

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