Freshman Notes: UCLA, Auburn, and the Rest

One last batch of freshman notes here for all your perusing/fantasy gym needs. After this, we’ll still have the coaches poll to look forward to, which is released annually at half past whenever-they-damn-please. That should be some fun nonsense carrying on the grand middle school tradition of ranking people based on their reputations. But for now, there’s still the UCLA Medical Center/part-time gymnastics program to break down.

Worried. That’s where we’ll start. UCLA is coming off an 85%-dismal performance at Nationals last season and is now without Dr. Sam Peszek, PhD in bailing your asses out at every turn. The losses from last season don’t amount to all that many routines, but those were extremely valuable routines for both their scores and, more importantly, Peszek’s reliability and consistency. Dare I say, calm confidence. (Put a dollar in the “calm confidence” jar.)

Even though most UCLA fans will be waiting for next season when the Ross/Kocian wagon pulls up to the curb and expectations will be much higher, this year’s freshman class is exceptionally talented, though sadly also the usual amount of already-in-several-pieces-on-the-floor. We’ll start with Macy Toronjo, who is out with a shoulder injury. Because of course she is. That’s particularly disheartening news for the Bruins because she’s such an ideal NCAA gymnast, with strong basics, precision, and elite skill set across four events. Second-tier elites, the golden fleece of NCAA gym. She would have been relied on in the all-around, and certainly will be in the future. Even in JO, she showed both a DLO and full-in on floor, and nailed the crap out of them along with definitively not-awful dance elements that scored an a million. It would do the same in NCAA.

She brings the same comfort level on both acro and dance elements to beam and has a perfectly fine full on vault that she has done for actually ever. Bars can get iffy sometimes in the handstands and legs, but she performs a Ray and has strong amplitude in release elements that should absolutely become something real. Because so many of the other UCLA pieces are in the beautiful-fragile-inconsistent category, like a SYTYCD performance about broken marionettes to the tune of “Fix You,” she’ll need to be the constant, reliable one when she comes back.

So, with Toronjo currently on the sidelines, let’s focus on that paragon of sturdy physical well-being, Katelyn Ohashi. Remember 2.5 years ago when she was absolutely going to the Olympics? Times change, and injuries change. Ohashi is obviously a glorious gymnast, the most talented entering NCAA this year, but she’s a different gymnast now than she was as an elite. Her JO performances in 2015 were encouraging as to her new potential as an NCAA gymnast, but the main questions are how healthy she is and how healthy she’ll be able to stay for an NCAA career after being used up and broken in elite. Will her shoulders just get thrown on the pile with the rest of them?

The biggest takeaway from Ohashi’s more recent performances is that beam is back. She has maintained impressive difficulty and looks more confident without the burden of that layout full.

She’ll need to slot into the Peszek role in the famous Francis-Lee-Peszek triumvirate of beam wonderfulness, as that’s still UCLA’s greatest asset compared to other teams. She can absolutely be another walking 10. She also has the pike full-in back on floor, and while she downgraded to a full on vault, it’s a high and comfortable full. At some point, if they feel they can risk it, she could work the difficulty back up to something 10.0. Now, bars. There was a time last quad when Ohashi was a good bars worker and everyone died about her jaeger every minute of the year, before she was torn asunder in 2013 by introducing those E pirouetting elements she couldn’t do. She didn’t compete bars during the 2015 comeback, but let’s hope she can get her groove back eventually. 

Remember? REMEMBER????

Ohashi could have, should have, been a longtime elite star. Since that didn’t pan out, I’m really hoping she has enough left in the tank to be the NCAA star she can be.

CGA escapee Maddie Preston didn’t perform vault or floor in 2015 because of a leg injury no one saw coming, but her most important event for the team will still be vault. Vault was her strength throughout JO, and she consistently showed respectable height and more than respectable form on her yfull, enough to be a necessary option. With several other vaulters for UCLA having not panned out yet (implied Pua) or just vaulting sideways for some reason, they’ll need her. I could see Preston contributing elsewhere as well, depending on depth needs, particularly with the style and raw potential on beam to be molded into a UCLA beamer.

Nicki Shapiro. She still does gymnastics? It’s impossible to have any impression of how Shapiro might contribute to the team since she Amelia Earharted from gymnastics after 2012. She was an exceptionally good junior JO gymnast, with well-hit splits and secure acro in an altogether impressive beam routine, clean twisting elements on floor, and worthy pop on a yfull. She doesn’t have her sister’s bars routine by any means, with too many handstand and leg form problems, but had she continued on a healthy and not-lost-at-sea path, she would have been among the most sought-after recruits this year. As it is, it’s hard to expect anything other than continued lost-at-sea. Though I’m sure Val has Ariana Berlin fantasies of walking down some stairs hugging a clipboard and going, “Nicki Shapiro,” which turns her into a star. After she decides she really wants it. (We know now that’s exactly how it happened.)
There’s also Matteah Brow, and I’ve got nothing for you.

After moving to the big city full of big dreams last year and taking Broadway by storm, Auburn is now in the position of proving that wasn’t just a one-year thing. This position is made more challenging with the loss of essential contributions from Bri Guy and Megan Walker, and without the beam-coaching wizardry of Jenny Rowland. Like UCLA, the losses don’t amount to all that many routines (and Bri Guy was never the same after her ankle apocalypse), but those were some of the team’s most reliably countable routines. The good news is that Auburn brings in a small phalanx of freshmen this year. There are approximately 700 million of them.

We’ll start with Taylor Krippner, and when she was a junior elite, if you didn’t refer to her as Taylor Krippendorf’s Tribe, then we have nothing in common. (Remember that movie? How was that even allowed?) She has solid-enough acro abilities to be conceivable as an option on several events, particularly beam where some important replacement routines will need to be found this season. Beam has not always been a strength for Krippner, but she won her division at JO Nationals this year with a 9.675, which is a big score for JO beam and speaks well for her ability to contribute. It’s worth noting that she moved to Simoneland for the 2015 season, and her scores improved noticeably, probably just out of general proximity to Simone. From what I’ve seen (pre-2015), there are some form issues across the board, particularly on bars where the legs and amplitude are a big struggle, but she has the skill set.

Apparently, Samantha Cerio‘s gymnastics is a national secret, but she’s allegedly going to be a bars and beam star and has shown lovely line and precision on both events. She’s another incoming JO champ in this class, having won bars this year with a 9.700. I look forward to seeing her declassified. This is certainly a class of spot players, but since it’s big, they should unite to be the equivalent of maybe 1.5-2 useful all-arounders. Emma Slappey‘s name is Emma Slappey, so she’s already my favorite member of the team. I expect to see her on vault and floor to complement Cerio. She has respectable power on vault (had a 1.5 back in the day, but the full seems more likely) and a high full-in and double tuck on floor that make her an attractive option there.

Emma Engler hasn’t seen much action since 2013, but she had a yfull that wasn’t bad at all and a conceivable beam routine that season. She’s another who should be pecking around a couple lineups from time to time but may also end up in the “helps our depth” category. The others are A’Miracal Phillips, who is evidently a miracle, and Telah Black, who I think is the Google translate version of Teja Belak. I don’t ultimately expect to see competition routines from Black, but Phillips has a pretty huge vault that could very well be a thing.

Let’s see. What other teams are there? Oregon State is under the pressure of replacing Chelsea Tang, as if anyone could ever. Mariana Colussi-Pelaez is completing the Colussi-Pelaez double for the team this year and should be a specialist contributor like her sister. Mary Jacobsen seems the most likely AA replacement, and did perform AA at their preseason showcase, with her Tsuk full on vault being particularly helpful because it starts out of a 10. For those teams who appear to be in the 11-15 ranking zone this year, the number of 10.0 SV vaults will be a huge factor in determining who sneaks through to nationals.

For Illinois, How I Didn’t Go To LSU: The Lizzy Leduc Story will be a fascinating Lifetime movie to watch this season. Her technique and basics should be a huge asset. She has the ability to become a star on a team that usually relies on unknown L10 gumption to challenge for a spot at nationals. With that junior elite basis, double-pike-style JO routines look very easy for her.

The big get of the year has to be West Virginia snatching up Kirah Koshinski. This floor routine should get some scores.

She’s a power specialist but should be a AAer for this team, with big scores on vault, beam, and floor. Bars are more of a struggle, but she has a usable DLO dismount and will be needed there as well.

Also keep an eye on Sarah Means for Boise State. BSU lost significant value from Kelsey Morris and has bled too many star routines over the last couple seasons, so they’ll need Means to stop the trend. She has an appealing balance of appropriate leg form on bars and beam and the power to throw a 1.5 on vault. Anyone else I’m missing? Kent State has Sarah Lippowitsch, who won beam in Senior D this year with a 9.700. The New Zealand elite Brittany Robertson is starting at Arizona this year, and Skyler Memmel gets the obligatory sister shoutout as she’ll be joining Central Michigan to try to make up for the million important routines they graduated after last season.

2 thoughts on “Freshman Notes: UCLA, Auburn, and the Rest”

  1. Honorable mention should go to “all of ASU's freshmen,” since they didn't return a single freshman from last year and maybe this year's crop won't be constantly injured and actually give Rene something to work with.

  2. Watching Katelyn on beam makes me so sad that elite didn't work out for her. Being a solid AA and having a strong beam would have boasted quite well for Rio. Still, excited that she will be competing this season. Go Bruins! 🙂

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