The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

2018 Freshmen – UCLA

It is customary for UCLA to assemble a cast of thousands for any given season, and this year’s roster is no exception with seven new freshmen joining the ranks: Nia Dennis, Pauline Tratz, Savannah Kooyman, Sofia Gonzalez, Kendal Poston, Rebecca Karlous, and Lilia Waller.

They’ll be tasked with bolstering a returning squad that is not exactly starved for numbers but is certainly looking for an injection of new counting routines and reasonably reliable depth on the leg events.

UCLA 2018
VAULT
Ross – 9.895
Kocian – 9.860
Kramer – 9.810
Hano – 9.805
Hall – 9.805
Meraz – 9.796
Honest – 9.790
BARS
Ross – 9.965
Peng – 9.955
Kocian – 9.870
Honest – 9.865
Savvidou – 9.855
Meraz – 9.850
Dennis – 9.800
BEAM
Ohashi – 9.960
Ross – 9.945
Peng – 9.910
Kocian – 9.910
Meraz – 9.805
FLOOR
Kocian – 9.930
Ohashi – 9.880
Toronjo – 9.772
Honest – 9.663
Hall – 9.610
Ross – 9.525
Meraz – 9.510
Savvidou – 9.505
Kramer – 9.225
Hano – 9.050
Nia Dennis

The star of UCLA’s new group is unquestionably Dennis, a six-year US elite who dropped down to L10 for 2017 to become JO national champ before heading off to UCLA.

Dennis has the chops to be a highly ranked all-arounder in NCAA, and the expectation will be that she provide four events to a Bruin team full of names but that still needs a reliable, late-lineup, weekly all-arounder to take the pressure off a relatively walking-wounded group of other elites.

Let’s begin with vault because it’s no secret that a lack of 9.9s and non-terrifying 10.0 starts on vault held UCLA back last season. Dennis had a very good DTY in her elite days, seemingly a salve to UCLA’s start-value problems, but we haven’t seen that vault from her in a while. She vaulted a full during the 2017 JO season and has been vaulting fulls in preseason training for UCLA as well. We’ll all hope to see a 10.0 start from Dennis at some point in her Bruin career, but that DTY may be a thing of the past.

Regardless, Dennis should be in UCLA’s vault lineup because her full would be among the biggest and most stickable the team has (and would outscore the 10.0 starts we did see from them last season), but she’s also kind of supposed to be the new powerful vaulter…

Bars and beam are both a yes for Dennis. Her JO bars set is such an NCAA power-bars routine and looks composed, comfortable, and ready to earn solid scores in college without much tweaking, while this beam composition looks easy enough for her to be secure (even with a sorta fake dismount that I hope to see upgraded because come on). Scrapping the standing Arabian after junior elite may have been met with consternation from fans, but it did wonders for Dennis’s ease and consistency on beam.

The one thing to watch out for in these routines from JO nationals is foot form. Dennis’s feet are quite heavily taped in this instance, but her neutral foot position does take away from the line and otherwise strong execution of elements on both pieces and could be deduc……oh ha ha ha ha never mind. No it won’t be.

Dennis will also be counted on to step up the bigness of floor for UCLA, a lineup that was far too double-pikey to stand out last season even when hitting. She will have a stable of E passes to choose from (I prefer the DLO to the double Arabian if both options present themselves), and it shouldn’t be too difficult to find workable dance elements to get this routine a high score.

Pauline Tratz

Plucking Tratz out of Germany is quite a significant development for UCLA as she is poised to be the vault and floor gymnast the Bruins have been waiting for all their lives. Meaning that, she can do vault and floor.

Tratz’s main vault has been a Yfull for a while now, but this year she upgraded her second vault from a handspring front pike to the handspring front pike 1/2, a critical 10.0 start.

This is not the very best example, but the start value and actual real-life existence of this vault (it’s not a training pipe dream) mean it’s one UCLA will lean on this season and one that should be at least a 9.850 for them.

Tratz will also be counted on for a floor routine, bringing a perfectly useful and comfortably completed full-in (aka, no knee-chest) along with the usual assortment of options for other passes. I expect to see a lot of this routine in 2018.

Tratz has a beam set, but it’s a weaker piece for her and UCLA has less need for that routine, so while they’ll surely bring it along as an option, I wouldn’t bet that we’ll see it in a normal lineup.

Savannah Kooyman

OK, keep paying attention. Kooyman is the winner of this class’s “unknown who could actually do something” award. After watching her gymnastics, she seems the type that you wouldn’t outright pick for preseason lineups given all the names and accomplishments on UCLA’s team, but she ends up competing a bunch of routines during the season because of general team “I have a loyalty card at the hospital” or whatever. UCLA watchers know the syndrome well.

This floor routine, for instance, is not breaking down the door with bigness, but it looks perfectly secure and well-executed and ready to go up third against Cal and get a solid number.

This bars routine can be somewhat inconsistent, but Kooyman has scored as high as 9.700 in JO for it, and you can see why, with a reasonable Shap + Pak combination (if too arched) and a full-twisting double back dismount.

We can also probably add her to the beam-backup mix.

Sofia Gonzalez

Sofia Gonzalez competed internationally for the Philippines at the SEA Games in 2015 on the same team as Lizzy Leduc (Illinois) and Ava Verdeflor (Penn State), meaning that NCAA coaches should basically just all go recruit at the SEA Games now. It’s the new JO nationals.

Gonzalez is here for beam. Because her beam work is gorgeous. I am high-key rooting that we get to see this routine in a competition.

Gonzalez does also have a floor routine, but beam is really the event for her.

Kendal Poston

The next in UCLA’s cavalcade of walk-ons, Poston is interesting because she vaults a strong handspring front pike. A handspring front pike is just a 9.9 start in NCAA, so it doesn’t really get you anywhere, but if she could take a couple Tratz pills and add a half twist, it could be something.

A project?

Poston is an all-around gymnast who has qualified to JO nationals both of the last two years, with beam typically the other higher score for her (here’s floor as well), but in looking at UCLA’s roster and needs, that vault is the one that makes me go hmmm.

Rebecca Karlous and Lilia Waller

Karlous and Waller round out the class, looking like the two this season who are there to participate in the team and soak in the experience of being a UCLA gymnast without having lineup expectations. Lilia Waller couldn’t very well NOT become a UCLA walk-on at this point even though she only ever really did bars as a L10, and Karlous doesn’t look like she has the difficulty to put together 10.0-start routines.

UCLA has a long tradition of bringing in walk-ons to be part of the team, for at least a year, even if no one is expecting them to train NCAA-level routines or contend to make lineups, which is one of the unique identities of the team, like it or roll your eyes at it.

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