Meet the Freshmen – Michigan & Washington


I’ve run out of conference and geographical reasons for pairing teams in these freshman previews, so the theme of this pairing is just Elise Ray (exactly like your life).

Michigan will need to be in reinvention mode in 2019, returning just 11 of the 24 routines that competed at regionals last season (though that was also without the injured Olivia Karas, who will be back this season). Normally, having to replace that many routines would be a red flag, but this is the strongest freshman class Michigan has welcomed in quite a while. With four JO all-around stars, this class brings 16 actual, legitimate routines and could certainly end up providing half of Michigan’s lineups in the 2019 season.

Michigan Freshmen 2019
Natalie Wojcik VT UB BB FX
Wojcik won her division at JO nationals this year, placing no worse than 5th on any event. I’d pick her as the most likely of the freshmen to be an all-arounder this season, though we could see several of them wind up in all four lineups. The star of Wojcik’s gymnastics is a stellar Y1.5 that will be an anchor-position quality vault for 9.9s. It’s the knees that set her 1.5 apart. In a lot of NCAA 1.5s, you see that indistinct knee softness in the air, but not with Wojcik’s.

Beam is typically a great event for Wojcik as well, where she shows solidity, an extended aerial, hit leaps, everything we’re looking for. Check, check, check. Bars hasn’t always been the big winning score for her, but the piked Jaeger and DLO are huge enough to be worth it in a routine that should see time. On floor, this freshman class as a group has been successful more because of cleanliness than because of difficulty (it’s almost entirely a double pike squad), but of the double pike routines in this class, Wojcik’s is the most convincing to me.

Abby Brenner VT UB BB FX
Like Wojcik, Brenner is also a JO national champion (winning her division in 2017) and also brings a Y1.5 on vault that looks like a sure thing for the lineup. It’s a big, necessary yes from me in a lineup that could end up with five Y1.5s if everyone is healthy and back up to full difficulty. That’s a significant reason Michigan continues looking its usual amount of threatening this season. There are teams expecting to make the top 8 that definitely won’t have that many 10.0s on vault.

Equally important will be Brenner’s floor. She’s the one among these freshmen who has shown the big power element with a piked full-in, helping make her the most likely newbie to get into the floor lineup. Bars also looks very believable with precise handstands, a Jaeger, and a DLO 1/1 that can become a regular DLO in NCAA for the scores. We probably won’t see much of Brenner on beam this year—it’s never been her big event—but she has a routine should the team need it.

Abby Heiskell VT UB BB FX
Heiskell is not to be left off the JO champion trolley, having won her division in 2016. She’ll be Michigan’s “I’m ready to go up 2nd in any lineup, where do you need me? Everywhere? Great” gymnast this season. Her spark-plug beam routine has been a good score in limited competition opportunities over the last year or so—with solid legs on her loso series—and her floor presents another very believable double pike option depending on need. On bars, we’ve seen efficient handstands and a well-performed Jaeger and Pak over the years, which make that set a real option.

Heiskell’s best scores in JO, as is somewhat normal, have come on vault, where she delivers a massive Yfull. If all five of the expected Y1.5s come through, Michigan will still be looking for a full to join them in the lineup of six, and I like Heiskell’s full for that role.

Madison Mariani VT UB BB FX
To me, Mariani’s most impressive event is beam. I look at that side aerial to split jump in the above video, and I’m very ready to put it in the lineup. Michigan needs a lot of new beam this season (ideally three actual, lineup routines from this freshman class), so expect to see Mariani there. On bars, the height she gets on her Tkatchev can also make that routine a compelling option as long as the leg precision is there.

Vault and floor should be added to the “as needed” pile. On vault, Mariani also presents a high, lineup-realistic full we could see depending on who’s healthy and sticking, and while I haven’t seen video of floor in quite a while, the skills are there and Mariani’s 2017 JO scores were quite impressive.


Continue reading Meet the Freshmen – Michigan & Washington