For most of the schools in the Pac-12 and SEC, I already have specific posts full of overly charitable impressions of how this season’s freshmen might end up contributing to their teams, but in the event of dramatic laziness, they’re right here:
BUT WAIT! These conferences also contain other schools (sometimes…), so here’s a brief (ha!) overview of the key freshmen joining those remaining SEC and Pac-12 programs, the ones you may want to know about for various fandom/fantasy gym needs.
Madison Copiak, Michaela Nelson, Evanni Roberson, Haley Roy, Maya Washington
Elise Ray should basically be bouncing off the walls that this is the first freshman class she gets to work with as head coach. It’s a thing. Madison Copiak was just a hair away from being on Canada’s 2015 worlds team and brings elite-level difficulty across four events, including a 1.5 on vault and a bars routine that nearly got her on a few teams here and there. It will just take some refining to turn her routines into useful NCAA scores.
As a whole, this is a class of power, an encouraging development given that in recent years Washington has been relying on bars and beam as its nationally competitive events. Evanni Roberson is a spark plug on floor and, even though she competes just a Yfull on vault, it’s huge and looks like it has room to be upgraded. (She also starts her run about one centimeter from the springboard.)
For a power gymnast, Roberson manages to score quite well on bars, even winning her division at JOs this year in an upset. It’s a speedy, efficient routine that minimizes deductions and is a good lesson on how to put together a bars routine for a tiny power gymnast.
Michaela Nelson also has some floor and beam chops (winning both events at JO Nationals in 2015), and Haley Roy boasts a legit DLO on floor along with a clean and realistic Tsuk layout 1/2 on vault, a valuable 10.0 SV. Though Maya Washington has been out for a while, she’s the one who can bring some bars and beam to what is predominately a power class, though she also has E passes in her pocket on floor.
This group brings serious routines, not just numbers.
Christina Berg, Courtney Cowles, Shannon Farrell, Jenny Leung, Maddi Leydin, Heather Swanson
Arizona boasts its own large freshman class that should provide an overall gain in scoring potential over last season. The Pac-12 will be quite competitive for those last evening-session spots at the conference championship this year, with seven teams seem at least vaguely in the mix (and also Arizona State) (womp) (it’s a process).
Maddi Leydin competed the all-around for Australia at worlds in 2015, and her absolute highlights are toe point and a batch of worthwhile dance elements.
Leydin’s overall difficulty was a little low for elite—representative of Australia’s struggles putting together competitive teams these days—but it should be perfect for NCAA. On vault, she can provide either a pretty full or a somewhat wonky 1.5 (your choice), though bars is the event that really should turn into a tremendous routine if someone can get her a dismount.
It’s so close to being magnificent.
Christina Berg finished 4th at JO Nationals this year and seems the kind of solid-across-the-board JO standout who can provide usable scores on multiple events and should see plenty of time. The same is true for Heather Swanson, who finished seventh AA at JOs herself, but Swanson does have a standout event: vault. Vault was not good for Arizona last year, so if Swanson can bring a high-level full or a 10.0 start of some description, it could be the boost that gets the team out of the 48.7s. (Arizona would have finished ahead of Oregon State at regionals last year with even a remotely competitive vault rotation.) Also keep an eye on Courtney Cowles on beam, voted by me as Most Likely To Be The Next Lexi Mills.
Erynne Allen, Tatiana Bunch, Alaina Kwan, Hailey Poland, Bailey Stehler, Marisa Varrone
The standout in this class will be Belarus’s own Alaina Kwanarenka. Kwanarenka, a classic AOGC gymnast in many ways, should be able to give the team four usable events with an emphasis on beam and bars. On bars in particular, she could become nationally competitive given just a little more good in the handstand department and also some manner of usable dismount (no small feat).
I anticipate seeing plenty of Kwanarenka as she has selected a program in which she can truly become a standout rather than one where she is fighting to get into a lineup or two.
I also appreciate Erynne Allen and the tremendous power she brings, which should do quite nicely toward the end of Kentucky’s vault and floor lineups. She has a massive DLO on floor—a chest-up, I-completed-this-easily style DLO—and enough amplitude on vault that she seems another possible nominee to upgrade from the full.
Hailey Poland‘s is a name we’ll probably become familiar with in a couple months as well. She can give the team something real on beam, her strongest piece, though may end up providing floor as well—or even bars where she has some big pieces like a Gienger and DLO but also intense crazy legs.
Alyssa Johnson, Rachel Ley, Mary Nicholson, Aspen Tucker
It’s not a particularly sizable class this year for Missouri, a program coming off two straight seasons of very influential freshman classes, though I do expect Aspen Tucker to be a useful addition. She has power on floor, a lineup-ready full on vault, and a sharp two-footed layout on beam. If it weren’t for bars, she would have finished toward the top of the standings at JO Nationals this year. Alyssa Johnson hasn’t competed too much on floor or vault in the past year, but she may end up complementing what Tucker brings by making herself an option on bars. Rachel Ley has barely stepped on a competition floor since 2013, so it’s hard to know anything, but she was a competitive JO finisher back in her time.
Averie Brook, Hannah Everman, Jessica Ginn, Morgan Hart, Mekayla Jones, Graycee Rushton, Ashley Szafranski
The first season for the Santoses at ASU will be marked by the tried-and-true method of throwing gymnasts at the problem to see if that helps. It’s not a bad idea. During Dr. Rene’s reign of…never mind…they were often white-knuckling it to get through four events of six routines, so bringing in a bunch of options is the first step. Plus, turning random options into 9.8s at EMU is what put the Santoses on the national radar in the first place.
Keep an eye on Ashley Szafranski, who has excellent qualities on bars and should swiftly become the star of the team on bars and beam. Also remember Jessica Ginn, who is a solid vaulter and can beef up that lineup tremendously. I do expect to see bits and pieces from the majority of this freshman class, though. Hart stands out on bars, Rushton receives high scores there as well, and Jones brings us yet another brand new spelling of Michaela, so there’s a lot going on.