Yes, Michigan has not yet released its schedule for the 2017 season even though it’s mid-October. Normally, this would merit the time-honored punishment of refusing to acknowledge the existence of said team until the situation is rectified, but what can I say? I’m a charitable, forgiving, non-judgmental spirit.
So, let’s forge ahead with Michigan’s hearty band of five freshmen who will join junior transfer Paige Zaziski in an effort to fill out the following slate of returning routines.
|Returning Routines – Michigan|
Karas – 9.940
Chiarelli – 9.890
Artz – 9.815
McLean – 9.790
Brown – 9.775
Artz – 9.900
Brown – 9.890
Karas – 9.850
Artz – 9.910
Karas – 9.875
Chiarelli – 9.870
Marinez – 9.850
Brown – 9.845
Artz – 9.955
Karas – 9.935
Chiarelli – 9.910
Brown – 9.850
McLean – 9.815
What’s most encouraging about Michigan’s freshmen is just how many routines they’ll bring. They’re not all postseason-level sets by any means, but most of these routines are at least somewhat realistic and should provide a net boost to Michigan’s depth. We may even be looking at nine whole vaults to play around with instead of, you know, exactly six.
Let’s begin with the Polina Shchennikova situation because I’m fascinated. Polina started elite life being touted as the second coming of Our Lady of Nastia due to hair color and Russia. Also bars and flexibility. Ultimately, that was unfair and unrealistic, and then injuries popped out of the earth’s crust and went, “Mwahahahaha,” helping nothing. From back problems to, most recently, labrum surgery, Shchennikova ended up competing a 1/4 teaspoon of gymnastics over the last three years.
Polina is in recovery mode now, and just this week, Dave Kuzara shared a video of her doing giants again on bars. That’s where we are in the comeback process, so withhold any real expectations until we see a healthy gymnast who is legitimately back. Fingers crossed.
Still, bars. Bars has always been her event, though despite tremendous line and huge difficulty, Shchennikova’s elite scores were often undermined by all the falling, along with a tendency to pack in so much difficulty that her form turned 50 shades of cray in the middle of combinations. I do think her routine improved as time went on, and if she’s able to get herself actually healthy, this is going to make for a magical NCAA bars set.
Shchennikova always had those big 6.3+ bars Ds but coming up with elite difficulty on the other events was more of a slog. NCAA should suit her very well in that regard because it will free her of the need to chuck those troublesome acro skills and rough dismounts, allowing her to settle into a more comfortable composition that lets her flexibility and style shine. I’m wary of thinking about vault or floor simply because of her extreme fragility, but I certainly do hold out hope for a glorious beam set. Dear Michigan, Weverseseses are role models.
And they lived happily ever after.
As we’ll see, this is predominately a class of bars and beam routines, but one who doesn’t fall into that category is Maddy Osman.
Osman has a full-in on floor and seems the most powerful of the bunch. I like her chances of nestling into that floor lineup behind the sure-thing big 3 of Artz, Chiarelli, and Karas. This isn’t an ideal example routine, but it does show off the full-in mount.
Like every other member of this scholarship class, Osman vaults a Yurchenko full, but hers tends to have the best amplitude and dynamics of the four and appears a strong nominee to see competition time.
Osman finished 5th at JO Nationals this year, which speaks to her abilities all-around, not just on the power pieces. I don’t mind her bars at all, perhaps with just a bit more leg-raggediness than some of her classmates. From what I’ve seen, split elements can be a nemesis, but that’s why the switch side + popa combo on floor was invented. I guess.
I also like Lexi Funk‘s chance to provide multiple options. Weirdly, it may actually be…kind of hard to break into the beam lineup this year (!?!?) because the returning five have more or less established their spots—as long as Marinez is hitting (insert ellipsis of nervous doubt here)—and then you have Zaziski and hopefully Shchennikova coming in to challenge. Still, Funk’s routine should be in the mix as well. Comfortable. Solid. Good acro amplitude.
But here’s the other thing: bars. If you look only at the results, bars has been Funk’s worst event this year by quite a margin, but that’s merely a trap. A clever ruse. Don’t fall for it.
Look at the height on that tkatchev and that DLO 1/1 dismount. Michigan can work with this.
Funk also boasts a serviceable double pike/double tuck floor routine that I expect to be right in the mix with Brown and McLean for those final couple lineup spots, and pretty much the exact same thing can be said for her full on vault.
The fourth freshman is Maggie O’Hara who, like Funk and Osman, can provide adequate routines across the board—I’d favor Funk and Osman to make more lineups in the end—but O’Hara’s main deal is bars.
She has finished second on bars at JO Nationals for two consecutive years, and we need to put those handstands in that lineup yesterday. Of all the pieces, that bars lineup needs the most refreshing for 2017 with just three total returning routines, so this helps. Shchennikova, Osman, Funk, and O’Hara are joined by the fifth freshman, Sam Roy, who is walking on this year. Her best event is floor, though I don’t see her having the elements to make any lineups.