Meet the Freshmen – Michigan & Washington

MICHIGAN

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.

WASHINGTON

The replacement work Washington needs to do in these lineups is not quite as extreme as Michigan’s, but it’s still significant. The departures of Burleson, Goings, and Schaefer have left every lineup in need of multiple new routines and new 9.875+ scores.

I expect to see a reasonable chunk of lineup routines from this freshman class—a “2 from her, 1 from her, 1 from her” kind of thing—but 2019 will be a test of how much and how quickly the somewhat rough or raw potential in a number of these routines can be turned into real-life scores.

Washington Freshmen 2019
Brenna Brooks VT UB BB FX
Brooks has joined the team a year early to pump up these lineups, and I expect to see her on at least a couple pieces this season. Wildly significant is Brooks’ Omelianchik since a lack of 10.0 starts and accompanying vault scores proved the largest hurdle for Washington last season. It was very easy for the judges to keep the lineup in the friend-zone for 9.7s, and it happened a lot.

The other events present less certain prospects, but I expect to see Brooks deliver a reasonable option on floor and do like that beam amplitude on both acro and leaps. Brooks’ beam scores in JO have been fairly modest over the last year or so, but I see a routine there. Bars has typically been the weak event for Brooks, but the pieces exist for it to be one of those project routines.

Amara Cunningham VT UB BB FX
Cunningham’s prospective contributions to Washington’s lineups are more clear-cut because…vault. That Y1.5 is an absolute necessity and will unite with Brooks’ vault to provide a clear net upgrade compared to last year. It’s a powerful option and valuable enough that even if the landing control isn’t always there, it can still be the best score in the lineup.

That same pop presents itself on floor, where we don’t typically see the big difficulty from Cunningham but should nonetheless see a contending routine given the comfortable and reasonable D-pass options she brings.

Meaghan Ruttan VT UB BB FX
The first of the Canadian duo has been slightly MIA in the video department the last couple years but should prove a valuable UB/BB complement to a class that’s a little more VT/FX focused. With that Church and the elite-gymnastics number of release and transition options that can be winnowed down into a routine, Ruttan’s bars will be a crucial event.

Similar is true on beam, where Ruttan has all the D acro elements to choose from and should be able to show the NCAA leaps to put up a compelling score. On floor, Washington may not need a floor routine from Ruttan when it comes down to it, but the junior elite performances I’ve seen from her would be translatable if they still exist.

Madeline McLellan VT UB BB FX
Like Ruttan, McLellan hasn’t competed since domestic Canadian meets in early 2017, which is basically 1000 years ago in gymnastics time, but we’ll go with what we know.

McLellan is less likely than Ruttan to contribute on UB/BB, but probably more likely on VT/FX. She shows a full that can realistically be used to change up the vault lineup, and her D-pass floor routine was typically her second-best score in elite competitions and should become a comfortable option as well.

Hannah Vandenkolk VT UB BB FX
It’s easy to overlook the two-event walk-on Vandenkolk, but both of her two events are among Washington’s most interesting diamonds of potential. On beam, the extension is there for a useful routine as long as the acro content is, and on floor, Vandenkolk has a front 2/1 and looks like she could twist her way into a lineup. So basically, Washington wants her to become Natalie Brown.
Talia Brovedani VT UB BB FX
Brovedani will be missing the 2019 season with an ACL injury, so we’ll have to wait to assess the couple potential routines she delivers until next season.
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12 thoughts on “Meet the Freshmen – Michigan & Washington”

  1. Cunningham has already downgraded her vault to a full and McLellan hasn’t been seen doing skills yet after a knee injury earlier this year, so she’s a big uncertainty.

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      1. She upgraded to get recruited…check….got recruited and signed….check….now on campus and is “more comfortable with a full” ….played the system and won..

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      1. Looks like she’s out of the lineups, per Michigan’s Twitter, at least in the intro meet. Wouldn’t count on her for your draft. 😦

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  2. A lot of news outlets aren’t using her name to protect her anonymity, as Vetere was in a position of authority…seems better to protect her privacy

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    1. It’s about a 50/50 split between news outlets naming her or not, but the arrests are public record, and it wasn’t an assault, even if he was her coach.

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      1. It wasn’t, but it also was a gross misuse of power and influence. He is 39 and was her coach. She is 18.

        I live in Michigan, and get a lot of local news here, so heard about this case from many local news outlets, where it simply stated that it was an 18 year old, not even a gymnast. I found out who the person was from this comments section. After hearing it here, I noticed celebrity gossip outlets like the Daily Mail were the ones to put her name.

        *Shrugs* I guess a lot of the gymternet knows. I saw it on College Gym News. I understand it affects fantasy drafts…but I feel bad for her, dealing with such a public scandal at such a young age.

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