Perhaps the most important freshman class in all of NCAA gymnastics belongs to Stanford, a team looking for about a thousand new routines on every event this season, as well as a fresh start culturally under a new head coach in Tabitha Yim. Bags and bags and bags full of new blood is among the best ways to achieve that cultural fresh start.
Look for a fairly unrecognizable Stanford in 2018 because of contributions from the seven, count ’em seven, freshmen: Kyla Bryant, Lauren Navarro, Rachael Flam, Taylor Lawson, Catherine Rogers, Grace Garcia, and Caroline Spertus.
Stanford has to be unrecognizable this season because the returning slate of routines from last year is not at all hearty. In several places, Elizabeth Price is your only guaranteed returner to the lineup for the 2018.
Price – 9.895
Cole – 9.835
Tai – 9.820
Yu – 9.820
H Hoffman – 9.715
Price – 9.940
Yu – 9.810
Tai – 9.835
Fitzgerald – 9.800
Cole – 9.785
Yu – 9.692
Price – 9.400
Price – 9.895
Cole – 9.775
H Hoffman – 9.770
Tai – 9.695
Bryant doesn’t have the most recognizable name among Stanford’s freshmen this year, but I’m beginning with her because of how important she can be to Stanford’s prospects over the next four years. Note now that Bryant hasn’t competed since May 2016 and also Stanford. But still. She was 2016 JO national champion in the all-around, as well as on bars and floor.
That brings us to Bryant’s most obvious contribution to the team, a floor routine with a giant double layout that needs to get in the lineup yesterday.
Also, open double tuck. Stanford has been yearning for floor routines like this for a long time. This year’s class was specifically designed with Stanford’s weakness on floor in mind—it is a class of L10 power gymnasts—and Bryant’s floor routine is the most impressive of the bunch.
On vault, Bryant has just a Yurchenko full, but it is a big, powerful, comfortable full that would suit the lineup quite well. At best, Stanford is hoping for a vault lineup that is half 10.0 starts, half 9.95 starts, and Bryant’s would be the most likely of the 9.95 starts to feature there.
After floor, however, Bryant’s second most important contribution to Stanford will be bars.
That Pak, yo. Of the power L10s Stanford is bringing in, Bryant is the one whose level on bars matches her level on the leg events, and I’d consider this a good nominee for a late-lineup routine.
It would not be at all surprising to see Bryant become an all-around gymnast for Stanford, though beam is probably the least comfortable of the four events for her. It’s just a little tighter, with the dance elements a little less comfortable. Still, she certainly has the acrobatic ability and amplitude to contribute a lineup routine.
The most accomplished and best-known of the 2018 Stanford freshmen is Lauren Navarro, who competed as an elite throughout the last quad. After dropping back to L10 for the 2017 season, Navarro placed no worse than 3rd AA at any meet, taking 2nd at JO nationals along with a beam title. She’s another who should contend for an all-around spot.
A+ toe point and pretty Stalder work on bars have lingered as the most memorable features of Navarro’s elite gymnastics career. That first forward Stalder 1/2 is an extreme yes.
It’s those qualities, along with the depletion of the bars lineup, that make this routine an essential set for Stanford next season. There will be some work to do. In particular, a tendency to struggle in handstand (see: JO Nationals 2017) can hurt an NCAA score very quickly, but that’s the kind of thing that must (and often does) get refined in college. Navarro’s line and feet are too irresistible for her bars not to become an important routine for Stanford.
This beam routine won a JO national title this year and should provide sufficient raw materials for Tabitha to sculpt. Navarro has the elite skills that make a routine of D acro elements a comfortable and familiar hit for her, also retaining a double tuck dismount that looks fairly believable, which can give her set that extra injection of special.
The opportunity JO provided to step down the difficulty has done wonders for Navarro’s floor, turning it into a strength. She hits leaps and can crisply and easily execute this collection of non-taxing tumbling passes.
Navarro did show a piked full-in during elite, but she’s among those gymnasts who should forget that difficulty forever and retain the simpler double pike routine in college because it’s well executed. Ideally, Stanford would organize the lineup to put Navarro directly after one of the other freshmen with bigger tumbling— but weaker execution—so that if the judges are wooed by the big tumbling, they then have to go even higher for Navarro because her routine is cleaner.
Navarro’s elite vault was a DTY, but don’t expect that to be retained for college. For Jo in 2017, she stepped back down to a nonetheless useful-looking full.
Oh, and there’s also Rachael Flam, just a casual two-time consecutive JO national AA champ. So yeah. That.
Expect Flam’s most significant lineup influence to come on vault, where she performs a 10.0-start Omelianchik that has scored as high as 10.050 in JO before because of JO bonus rules.
Flam has been performing this vault for a while, so it isn’t one of those “I might as well try to learn an Omelianchik in college because 10.0” vaults. She is comfortable with it, and the start value will make hers the most important vault on Stanford’s roster besides Price’s.
What stands out most in Flam’s gymnastics is that she’s very acrobatically strong, which obviously serves her well on floor, another likely area of contribution. Those passes have earned her many a 9.7 throughout her JO career.
That exceptional acrobatic ability also shows up on beam in the form of a two-foot layout and a double pike dismount. Her set looks perfectly realistic as an NCAA beam routine, though with a few more built-in deductions in the knees and dance elements than we see in her vault or floor work.
Of the four, bars is the least comfortable event for Flam and typically a more medium score because of handstands and leg breaks. Of course, she’s still going for that big acro with a DLO 1/1 dismount, and with Stanford not possessing an excess of possible bars routines, the team will nonetheless need this set.
Oh don’t worry, there’s a lot more. You might remember Taylor Lawson from her years as an elite in 2014 and 2015, after which she dropped back to L10 for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
In keeping with the theme of this class, Lawson’s big event is floor. She finished 2nd on floor at JO nationals this year, and it is typically her high score of the four pieces. We saw that floor strength brewing way back as a junior elite, another Stanford freshman with a real double Arabian that I’ll allow to count because there’s no aggressive cowboy.
Floor ranks as Lawson’s most likely lineup contribution, but she’s also currently vaulting a perfectly solid Yfull with respectable amplitude that could score very usefully in NCAA.
Though not known as much for beam, Lawson’s showcase skill is a beam standing Arabian, which Stanford has rightfully been showing off already in preseason training.
That skill is why I want to see Lawson in the beam lineup, though key to actually getting her in that lineup will be dance-element composition that minimizes deductions so that the acrobatics can shine. Lawson was too often stuck in the 9.3s in JO on beam, even when hitting her big acro, because of those form deductions.
On bars, expect Stanford to attempt to develop Lawson as an option because she can give them something, but there are likely too many deductions in her bars routine for it to be a first-choice lineup set. Not currently showing an up-to-level dismount also puts her lower down the depth chart.
[Injury Alert: Out for 2018 season]
Rogers is an interesting one because she has reasonably competitive routines across four events, the kind of “we can put her up second and get a score” routines that Stanford would have loved to have the last couple seasons to bolster depth and make the lineups a little more…having six people. Of course, now she may not be as necessary if the biggest-name freshmen pan out.
Still, I see a place on the team for this beam routine at some point.
That split leap 1/2 is far more legit than most 1/2-turning beam leaps that we see. Likewise, this bars routine has the tools to make a lineup and give Stanford another option as a competition set.
Rogers is less likely to go on vault and floor compared to the other freshmen. She has a fine full, though one that can be inconsistent, and a double tuck-mount of a floor routine, but I’d look to beam and bars as the more likely contributions.
The late addition to the team is Grace Garcia, not among the originally announced six but a gymnast we should expect to see compete in 2018 because of vault.
Her 10.0-start Tsuk 1/1 is a major asset to a team looking for 10.0 starts and will give her an edge in making lineups over some of those borderline Yurchenko fulls.
Garcia trains the all-around, but we’re less likely to see her on bars or beam, events that tended to score in the 8s in JO. Her other potential contribution would be floor, where she wrenches out an unexpected piked full-in that could get her into the lineup as long as Stanford finds some workable dance elements.
Walk-on Spertus trains beam and floor and is most likely to be seen as a depth option on beam, where she brings a fun switch split + front layout dismount, giving Stanford another possible routine there.
If everything goes to plan, Stanford is going to have 10 or 11 beam options this year, and you won’t know what to do with yourself.