Freshman Notes: Oklahoma, Alabama, Michigan

More! Things! Freshmen go win yes!

This Sooner freshman class has a little more work to do than originally anticipated after Brenna decided she was starting to contract some confidence, and the only cure was elite. Dr. Martha had the prescription, alright. Now, Oklahoma is down 3 routines from Brewer, 3 from Dowell, 2 from Clark, and 1 from Sorensen, which is more than this tiny freshman class will be able to muster, meaning the team will be leaning fairly heavily on the 90%-missing Charity Jones and the “how’s that knee, again?” Maile Kanewa to act as reinforcements at some point to keep the lineups well stocked.

Aside from Brenna’s contributions on vault and floor, however, Oklahoma has lost value mostly on bars and beam, and this new class should be able to help out with that. It’s a very “pretty” group, so expect humanity to continue the trend of random and inadvertent weird Kathy Johnson moans, because Oklahoma. You know who you are. Nicole Lehrmann is most likely to be a major contributor, a former junior elite whose JO gymnastics has been clean as a PBS show. The toe point is a major standout quality, particularly on bars (that buttah bail), and she has the leg from and dance elements to put together a deduction-minimal beam routine.

On vault, she has shown an extended, precise full and the occasional 1.5, which could be something to watch given the rise of the 1.5 this year (although on vault Oklahoma is already replete with returners, more so than on the other events). Lehrmann doesn’t necessarily have the big power on floor—though she has performed a full-in with mixed results—but she’s a straddle element queen with clean D tumbling that could be useful. Also, this choreographic style is already KJ heaven.

Alex Marks is joining Oklahoma at the start of the competition season. She was an elite until relatively recently when she disappeared with implied injury, which put her on the JO-to-NCAA track until roster openings put her on the NCAA-right-now-immediately track. I mostly remember her as that one I’d never heard of at Classic (there’s always one) who suddenly did a back full on beam. Beam is an interesting one for Marks because it has often been her weakest score, but I really like her on it.

Give the Oklahoma beam machine some time with that routine, and I’m there for it all day. Marks has some potential pop on vault (was training a DTY way, way back), though a few of the more recent showings have been hit-or-miss with height and landing position. Since returning to JO in 2015, she has performed a twisting-only floor routine, featuring a well-executed and usable front double full, but it will be worth keeping an eye on where the power quotient is now. Or will her NCAA career will be more of the “toe-pointing my ass off” bars and beam type?

The walkon joining the Sooners this year is Megan Thompson, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see much from her. She had some cleanish tumbling back in the day, but at this point she’s mostly a beamer. She does have a competitive skill repertoire there featuring a laudably non-terrible aerial to scale. They may hope to get her on the Sorensen track.

As usual, Alabama has several million freshmen in this year’s class somehow, many of whom should figure as spot contributors (1 and 2 events for the majority of them) and should give the Tide a net gain in depth despite the losses of Clark in the AA, Williams on 2 events, and Frost on floor.

The most prominent of the Alabama freshmen is Ariana Guerra, who was a Stars gymnast before becoming a Texas Dream, and who put together a pretty solid elite career with scores in the low 14s/56s before the injury tidal wave knocked her out for the next century. Guerra is mostly known as a power gymnast, though she did not perform vault at the Halloween intrasquad for presumably all-the-injuries reasons. Floor should be her most important contribution to the team, with a strong DLO, easy double pike, and dance elements that she can endure without much deduction. She’s such an Alabama floor worker.

Guerra should also be excellent at anger beam, which will be important in the absence of Kayla Williams. She’ll slam down that punch front and two-footed layout, though splits are a challenge for her and could limit her influence. They’ll have to be smart about that routine composition. Even though Guerra is not a natural bars type, she has really worked the toe point to make it a stronger event, along with a high Ray and secure DLO. The angles and leg separations can be an issue, but evolving into another Bama power-bars worker is probably her destiny.

It should be noted at this point that I’m getting ready to be into Abby Armbrecht’s beam routine. The potential is there. The train is in the station. The defining factor of the Duckworth era so far has been infusing more style into beam routines (big surprise), and this should be an excellent project.

She already has the splits, the leg form, and a sheep jump that isn’t very NCAA in that it’s an actual sheep jump and not this:

Nailed it. Armbrecht should also figure on other events, especially with the clean y1.5 she has shown in the past, her most important scoring asset throughout JO. On floor, her work is pretty but not that big, which is a hallmark of much of this freshman class. A number of them can do perfectly clean, nice, acceptable, yada yada yada floor routines, but they’re not big Bama routines and therefore may find it difficult to squeeze into the lineup when competing for spots with the returners. 

That’s true for Amanda Huang, who has some respectable twisting skills but wouldn’t necessarily be one of the six on floor when bigger options present themselves. Huang is going to be more the bars and beam type, with a comfortable piked jaeger and clean bail to build a routine around. Her bars routine still needs to be refined in the handstands and some details, but it’s a believable lineup option. The beam story is similar. She has the skill set and good enough leg form, but can be a bit close to the beam on a lot of elements with some stiffness to her performance, so there are areas to work through if she’s to get into lineups on a team this competitive.

Angelina Giancroce, of “wasn’t she supposed to go to Georgia?” fame, is another who earns her keep on form and style more than difficulty, with dance elements being her primary strength. She scored well on floor during her JO career with those fully-hit splits and clean twisting form, but like some of the others, she does not have difficulty to be a sure option. I’m more interested in beam because of her style, even though she can be quite tentative which could compromise her chances, and bars, even though bars was far from her best JO event. She got about a 1.100 every time but has toe point, respectable amplitude on her shoot to high bar, and an elegant DLO, so I’m putting a star and a question mark next to that routine (like you do) because there’s something there. 

Jenna Bresette is a former GAGE whom I have not seen anything from in a thousand years, but she’s another along with Guerra who could figure on floor. She had a high double arabian back in the day mixed with mostly solid leaps that should see her become an option. They’ll have to replace Clark and Frost in that floor lineup, and Guerra and Bresette will be in contention for those spots along with returners like Aja Sims. I haven’t seen Bresette vault in an entire lifetime (meaning five years which is too long ago to be relevant), but the coaches seem to be high on her yfull, so there’s that.

Who else are we missing? Just 1100 more people? There’s Avery Rickett, who’s also jumping in the clown car. She has a double pike and double tuck on floor and can give them a beam routine, but doesn’t have the amplitude and form to make lineups. 

Thankfully, Michigan has the common decency not to have a hundred kabillion freshmen this year, with just the two. That’s a polite, easy-to-keep-track-of amount of freshmen. But I do expect significant contribution from both of them, enough to make up for the 6 lost routines from Sugiyama and Parker without enduring much of a lull. This roster should be able to maintain the scoring pace from last season.

Olivia Karas was a star in JO, making a splash at both the Nastia Nastiaship Starring Nastia As Nastia and JO Nationals this year, and should continue the trend in college. She’s a good bet for three events, perhaps four. Definitely vault. Karas has a 1.5 that is monstrous in a good way, with a consistently strong landing. She’s a solid bet for late-lineup/anchor there.

We’ll also see her on floor, with that high double arabian (a little cowboy but not problematic—her double arabian is not a microaggression) and impressive amplitude in leaps that will help her be one of those gymnasts who doesn’t have to fake it. The acro on beam is secure, particularly the punch front, coupled with acceptably hit splits. She does dismount with only a gainer pike, but we’ll just have to get through that emotionally.

My one question with Karas is bars, which is clearly not her preferred event. It’s OK, with good form on a shap + pak combination, but the dismount might take her out of contention. In JO, it has been an unconnected underswing to front pike, which is such a Canadian-floor-specialist bars dismount that I can’t even deal with it, and valued at only a C. They’ll have to figure out something to do with that if she’s going to be a lineup gymnast. They’ve done it before.

Emma McLean really came on strong this year in the JO ranks, and has many similar strengths to Karas. The main difference between the two is McLean’s lower difficulty, but she has shown a very high full on vault that I have to imagine could become a 1.5. Even if not, it should be an option. And while her floor difficulty has maxed out at a double pike, it’s a big double pike, and her height and cleanliness has brought in consistently impressive scores in the JO ranks.

I’m less sold on her beam (the legs are pretty floppy and the acro can be low) and bars, but the amplitude on bars was much better at JOs than at the Nastia, and her tkatchev already looks improved in preseason training videos. Because Michigan. They will still also have to come up with a dismount for her, though. But really, the team returns Brown, Sheppard, Artz, Williams, Casanova, and Christopherson from last season’s bars group, so that could also just be it. 

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