The season will be upon us before you know it. (I mean, not really, but what else is there to talk about right now?) So, let’s meet some freshmen and discuss what events they might do in less than two months.
What Is This Class?
Michigan’s freshman class is headlined by the dual 2019 L10 national champions Sierra Brooks and Gabby Wilson, who won this year’s US titles in the Senior D and Senior E age groups respectively.
Wilson’s title was her second in a row and third over the last four years (she placed a tragic 2nd AA in 2017, keeping her from going full Boren and winning nationals each year of high school). Brooks, meanwhile, notched her first national title after three years of so-close podium finishes—and did so just weeks after committing to come to Michigan a year early for the 2020 season.
Led by those two ninja L10s, Michigan has what should be considered a top-3 freshman class in the country.
Alongside the big two, Michigan brings in former UCLA verbal Nicoletta Koulos, who switched over to Michigan after 2018, along with walk-on Abbie Gaies. Koulos placed 4th at JO Nationals in 2016 and 5th in 2017, but just 34th in 2018 after a miss on bars and did not participate at nationals in 2019. Gaies competes the all-around (and qualified to JO Nationals in 2018) but typically looks to her vault and bars scores as her competitive numbers. She placed 4th on bars at 2019 Region 5s.
What Should We Expect?
The most urgent task this freshman class will be given is filling the essential roles that Olivia Karas and Emma McLean played in the vault and floor lineups, providing top-3 scores on both events. It’s a task these new ones should be able to manage.
On vault, Brooks and Wilson both competed Y1.5s in JO (Brooks tended to score better because of landing control, though I think Wilson’s vault is theoretically the bigger of the two), and there’s every reason to think those two will slot right into the 4th and 5th spots in the lineup that Karas and McLean occupied last year to supplement Wojcik.
Expect more of the same on floor, where Brooks and Wilson have both been competing tuck full-ins for years and deliver a whole satchel of additional D-pass possibilities. I’d have both athletes in the second half of that lineup as well. Brooks, Wilson, Brenner, and Wojcik should be your core four on the power pieces.
You don’t get to be JO national champ without having sufficient abilities on all four events, and Brooks and Wilson will see plenty of time on the other pieces as well. There are, however, more deductions in terms of leaps and knees and handstands in those L10 UB/BB routines, so it’s still a question as to how exactly that will translate to NCAA. Still, I see Brooks as having way too much potential on bars not to be in that lineup, with a piked Jaeger and a DLO 1/1, and needing just a little knee/handstand refinement to turn that into a lineup possibility—at minumum, and a starring routine at best.
In terms of beam, both have acro elements for days. The level of competitiveness in NCAA (and where they fit into a potential Michigan lineup) will be based on how leaps can be selected to maximize the score and minimize those moments of ahhhh-back-leg that you see in the JO routines, which would be built-in deductions in NCAA sets.
As for the others, Koulos is one of the mysteries of this year’s national freshman class in that she had so much potential as one of the top JO gymnasts in those 2016 and 2017 season, but the results have sort of dropped off since then. Watching her most recent routines, however, she clearly has the skills. She has a back 3/1 for the floor lineup, and her 2018 and 2019 sets look like she could go up on every piece and get you a 9.750 with individual standout moments that can be built around. That bhs+loso on beam is very lineup.
Whether Koulos becomes a multiple lineup contributor or a “she’s a great backup for us” will go a long way toward determining if Michigan’s path in 2020 is more about keeping pace with last year’s lineups or improving upon them.
Typically, Abbie Gaies’ best scores have come on vault, though bars is where she shows the most contribution potential, with that Gienger and whatnot. If they get the angles working, that routine could be at least an option. Gaies also does have a full on vault—one I’d classify as a backup full, but it’s a full. You know, go do it in exhibition, let’s see how it compares.
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What Is This Class?
Talk of Nebraska’s freshman class has been dominated by Clara Colombo because she’s an Italian elite—the first to my knowledge to come to the US to do college gymnastics—and it’s very exciting. There are so many Italian Serie A-level gymnasts who would be perfect for NCAA if not for that stupid “being proficient enough in English to get a college education in this language” nonsense. Like this is about school or something. Psh.
Colombo’s best result in recent years was a Serie A event in 2018 where she finished 5th AA with a 53.050, behind only Villa, Asia D’Amato, Iorio, and Basile—and ahead of gymnasts like Carofiglio and Mori. With results like that, she was on a prospective worlds team or two of mine for Italy in 2018, at least for a hot second.
Joining Colombo in the class are Kathryn Thaler and Kylie Piringer. Thaler made a 2019 gym switch from Stars-Houston to Champions and recorded her best-ever JO Nationals result in her final JO meet this year—a 10th place AA finish featuring a second consecutive 4th-place result on bars, clearly her strongest piece. Piringer’s top JO nationals results were a 7th-place AA showing in 2017 (Senior A) and a 3rd place on floor in 2018 (Senior D). Over the years, her highest scores have typically come on floor, including a 9.600 for that 2018 JO Nationals routine.
What Should We Expect?
Unlike the Michigan class, which is dominated by a couple high-profile all-arounders, I expect Nebraska’s freshman class to provide spot contributions here and there on a couple events. (The return of Kynsee Roby from injury may acutally be the most significant change from last season in terms of trying to replace the Crouse/Schweihofer/Orel routines in 2020 lineups.)
They say recruit to your weaknesses, and that’s exactly what Nebraska has done. This team had heaps of trouble filling out a bars lineup last year—especially in the early part of the season before Orel had returned—so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the two most impressive routines in this class are the bars sets from Thaler and Colombo. Both of those need to make their way in the lineup. Like right now. Thaler has the toes and a pretty Shap 1/2 and Colombo has a ton of different elite pieces to work with, along with the new compulsory Italian bars with the front giant full and double front dismount.
Colombo also boasts beautiful tools on beam, really her only obstacle on that event as an elite being tentativeness. A confident beam from her would be a showcase moment in the lineup. As for the other pieces, I’ve only ever seen a Y-layout on vault, so I’m not expecting anything there, but the floor I’ve seen looks very normal-double-pike-lineup-option-y. There’s still some mystery about Colombo, however, because recent video evidence of some of her apparatuses is so minimal.
Thaler profiles predominantly as a bars specialist, though there’s enough potential on beam to view that as a realistic option. That’s important because Nebraska has lost the most routines on beam with half the postseason lineup disappearing, meaning the team needs lots and lots of people to become nominees to be sorted through to find three reliable scores. Thaler’s floor may not stand out initially, but it also looks like another perfectly acceptable, clean, double-pike-rudi option.
Piringer is a pretty even all-around gymnast who will present as a preseason option on each event, someone who can fill in anywhere. Because this class isn’t as floor-strong overall, I see that as where Piringer can have her most significant influence. She has the most natural pop of the group. Parts of bars also look like a possibility, though she’ll need a dismount and I’ve only ever seen a lone double tuck/pike from (limited) JO videos.
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