Freshman Notes: Florida and Utah

Let’s continue the mission of chopping a path through the 2015 freshmen by moving on to Florida and Utah. The Gators and the Utes boast two more large incoming classes, both bursting with all-arounders who are pretty believable on all four events. For most of them, their eventual contribution will come down more to the depth of team lineups than to their capability to put together a competitive routine. 


The Gators are defending co-champions, and once again there’s no reason to demote them from that #1 spot. Despite losing two major contributors and well-known former elites in Mackenzie Caquatto and Alaina Johnson (along with their seven 9.9-likely routines from last postseason) Florida is still able to pad the depth wagon this season with four new contributors, who bring with them more than seven lineup-worthy routines to replace those lost scores. Managing to lose stars without losing scores is the sign of a dynasty. Florida has two titles in a row, and three is very possible. 

We’ll start at the top, with Kennedy Baker from Texas Dreams. Baker was an elite for many years and qualified to Olympic Trials in 2012 before dropping down to L10 this year to prepare for Florida. Baker has damn huge gymnastics, and while it’s hard to predict a four-event contributor on Florida’s team because of the sheer number of quality options, I see her sliding in on each event. 





Floor is my favorite event for Baker, almost entirely because of that killer piked double arabian. It’s tremendous, and I can’t wait to see that in her routine this year. Pair that skill with her regular double arabian on floor and her excellent Patterson beam dismount, and her portfolio of arabian work is historically good. Florida dropped off just a tad in showing big bad difficulty on floor last year (more front double fulls, fewer DLOs), but Baker will help bring that back in 2015 with her easy power. Not that it stopped them from getting 49.999s last year anyway.

Speaking of the double arabian beam dismount, it doesn’t appear to be sticking around in her beam routine. In the training video at the top, she’s going back to the double tuck, which is pragmatic if a little bit of a letdown. She’s the one person who could actually make that skill worth it in NCAA. Elsewhere on beam, her acro is strong and she has no major weaknesses (save for some feet issues here and there can can be cleaned up). Now, these tuck turns. Or wolf turns. Or hate turns, as I like to call them. Because I hate them. Forever. On everyone. Even Baker and Biles, kind of. They’re a signature skill for Baker, but I would be OK if that ended. 

As for bars, Baker became pretty competitive on bars as a senior elite because she possesses many different releases that she could throw in combination to rack up a high D score. That doesn’t always translate to NCAA success where the focus is more on precision, but Florida should be able to put together a competitive, high-scoring routine for her arranged around a showcase release like the Ricna, or piked Ricna, or Church. Bars is the biggest gap for Florida this year without those 9.950s from Caquatto and Johnson, so they’ll need this routine. (Above, I included Baker’s JO routine instead of her elite one for more realistic NCAA reference.)

Alex McMurtry has been a star at L10 for at least a quad now, and she is joining Florida a year early just in case they didn’t have enough big gymnastics already (and just to make sure they have more trump cards than Oklahoma). I’ll see your Dowell and raise you a McMurtry. 

McMurtry got more national attention than L10s usually get, originally because of vault, where she has so much power that she was regularly showing an easy Yurchenko double full as a junior JO gymnast, prompting chatter that she should go elite. There was also that one year at the Nastia Cup when her vault gave Tim Daggett so many vapors that he basically called for the judges to throw out the entire code and give her a 10 just on principle. Expect a high, easy full from her that can slot into the mid-late portion of the lineup along with Baker.




As is often the case, with great vault comes great floor. McMurtry has a gigantic full in, just preposterously big, and has the gift of performing twisting elements just as well as her double salto passes, all with excellent amplitude, which allows for some variety in composition. She should be an obvious choice to give Florida what appears to be a net gain in floor quality over last season.

We’ll skip past bars because it’s not happening. It’s all very Sacramone. Let’s go right to beam, which is a much better event for her. While it’s not as much of a showstopper as her work on vault and floor, her acro skills are big as expected and she doesn’t really let off all that much on the dance elements, so the overall routine should be competitive.

Complementing the power sisters and rounding out the class will be Ericha Fassbender and Grace McLaughlin, both of whom spent some time in that second-tier of elite, the holy grail of college gymnastics where they have all the skills without the same physical burnout. The main trouble for both Fassbender and McLaughlin will be being on Florida’s team. They’re both competitive AAers with four realistic events, but without the same BIG gymnastics, it’s going to be tough to make lineups on this team. I can see both of them competing with Boyce, Spicer, and Wang for that first spot or two in most lineups, and it will be a fight.

For Fassbender, she was in the main picture for a split second as a junior elite, even getting an international assignment once, and she shows gymnastics that is solid everywhere with no amazing standout events but few weaknesses. On a slightly shallower team, you would slot her into the early lineup on each event. Here it will be harder.

Floor (old-ish)

In particular, she shows good lift on both vault and floor, with tumbling options like a pike full in and a double arabian that have made cameos from time to time and might help her edge ahead of others and crack into the floor lineup in a Rachel Spicer kind of way. Fassbender has tended to place better on vault and floor throughout her career, but I’m also interested in her bars work because she has shown a very high tkatchev in the past and a double arabian dismount, which we don’t see that much. If a full, clean routine can be built around that, it could become a thing.

McLaughlin doesn’t have the power of the other members of this class, so her contribution to the team will likely be limited to bars and beam where she’s stronger and where there’s a bit more room in the lineups to slot in. She does have a front double full and very clean twisting skills on floor that could be turned into a deduction-light routine, but that’s not enough to stand out in this Florida group. 



Both bars and beam are fairly competitive, but not pristine, routines. In her last elite stint before switching gyms, she showed the usual WOGA beam routine—arabian that she probably shouldn’t be doing, followed by a couple well-performed basic splits, then a pretty onodi and a fine sheep jump (as far as sheep jumps go)—you know the deal. It can definitely translate to an NCAA routine. And on bars, she pirouettes well and has one of the nicer double front dismounts going around, so I can see a place for her on bars now that she’s free from the demands of elite composition and can zero in on form. 

Freshman #5 is Lindsey Walker, who is in the tough position of being a Florida walk-on. She’s capable on beam and in places on floor, but that’s if she were on another team. With this team, have fun enjoying the experience and exhibitioning once.


For the first time in what feels like forever, Utah is bringing in a big class of accomplished freshmen who should, and will, reinvigorate these lineups with plenty of new routines. Coming off two missed Super Sixes in a row, it’s time for a revamp.

Let’s start with Kari Lee. Lee placed very well at JO Nationals the last couple years and brings a competitive skill set and precision on all four events, but I’m most interested in her work on vault and beam, where I think she’s most likely to contribute.





The beam video is recent training footage, and based on that, I think we can all agree she should hop in a time machine and get into the lineup last April. That’s when they really needed this routine. Her work should score well here, given the predominately straight legs and hit split elements. Splits have been the main factor keeping Utah from 9.9s on beam lately. Lee is closer to that refined quality they’ve been missing.

As for vault, that’s a big fat stuck Yurchenko full, and that’s all there is to it. Utah has tended to have a problem with leaving the vault sticks in February lately, so we’ll have to watch how competitive these vault landings remain in April next year, but Lee and a couple of her new classmates have the potential to expand the strength of the vault lineup beyond just the final three that carried them last year.

Floor and bars are not big routines, and I hope that doesn’t mean they get lost in the shuffle because both are quite usable. On floor, she brings a triple full that can slot in nicely as a different option in the E passes brigade, and on bars, she brings a piked jaeger and a solid double front dismount (it’s the day of people with good double fronts). There could be a place for both routines as needed. I like this one. Watch out for her.

Samantha Partyka is the freshman with elite pedigree, having competed as a junior elite in 2010 and 2011, but since then, she has been excelling on the JO circuit. Like Lee, she is fully capable on contributing four routines but two of her events loom larger. For Partyka, those are vault and floor.



On floor, I’m happy with that double arabian. As with every freshman, we’ll have to wait to see what passes end up staying in the routines, but I’m noticing an overall trend so far of not-terrible double arabians. A bunch of the top freshmen have excellent ones, so 2015 could be the year of the double arabian, which I wouldn’t mind. This routine should be an easy choice to slot into a floor lineup that needs refueling after losing half the routines. 

Speaking of easy, Partyka showed easy power on vault in JO with a rather well performed 1.5. She seems the downgrade-to-full type for NCAA, but the full should be a comfortable task for her and provide another injection of depth into the lineup.

On bars and beam, her routines are more in the fine, solid, OK, regular category. Nothing wrong with them, possible early lineup work, but her standouts are definitely vault and floor.

Maddy Stover is another new Ute who has been nailing routines at JO Nationals for the last couple years, finishing 4th in Senior D this year after winning her division last year. Like Lee, her biggest asset to the team should be her beam work since that has often been her strongest event and has lately been the team’s weakest event. She can bring that improved form into the lineup and help the team start from a more competitive place.



I’m interested in this bars routine. The pieces are there, and I really like the flair and toe point she brings to that jaeger. It’s a common skill performed much better than common, and that whole routine can be worked into a thing. On floor and vault, she shows powerful and secure work, including a relatively new full in on floor. It all seems very Utah, so I would expect moments from her on those events as well, especially with all those holes to fill on floor.

The fourth newbie for Utah is Tiffani Lewis, who has been primarily known for the power events, boasting yet another clean yfull (they have a whole freshman class of realistic vaulters) and a DLO on floor to give her routine a little extra boost of difficulty to make us pay attention. But, as we can see from this training video, bars should be a legitimate place of contribution as well.


She shows a lovely line right through the toes through most of that routine, with a workable tkatchev and a strong DLO. Megan is really happy with a couple of those handstands.


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