What Is This Class?
The headliner of Oklahoma’s incoming class is of course Ragan Smith, and I’m not going to spend a ton of time here breaking down “oh, well, she has this skill on this event” because it’s Ragan Smith. We know what she could do. Her contribution to Oklahoma and overall success in NCAA will be based entirely on how many pieces her back and legs are in on a daily basis (ideal: 1). If she’s at full health, she can give you four big events—and if she’s at medium health, she’s probably still giving you two excellent events—but it all depends on avoiding the broken-elite path.
Because let’s be honest, if everyone were confident in Smith’s health state, she’d probably be trying for 2020 right now. Heading to Oklahoma this year (a move I wholeheartedly endorse) reads as, “Yeah, I’m physically dust, and I can’t do more elite.” The hope is that starting at Oklahoma now, instead of after another year of hard grind in an Olympic attempt, will preserve her for a successful NCAA career.
But I have to say, since I’m a nerd, what’s more fascinating to me is the rest of the class, which is largely a group of projects. These gymnasts are not the most aggressively recruited L10 gymnasts of the year. They’re not the ninja level 10s we’re accustomed to. They’re more like the blue-belt level 10s, and it’s sort of a KJ flex in that you know they’re still going to be getting 9.950s on beam in exactly one second anyway.
The most accomplished of the remaining bunch is Vanessa Deniz, who never had the scores as a junior L10 but exploded onto the scene in 2018, when she finished 9th AA at JO nationals even with a fall. It’s never easy to make an Oklahoma lineup, but she’ll provide the most options, and her gymnastics is just flat-out pretty.
Brooke Weins advanced to JO Nationals the last two years, finishing 29th in 2018 and 51st in 2019, and walk-on Erin Hutchison last advanced to nationals in 2017 when she finished 32nd. Both tended to get their best JO scores on the leg events, but I’m most interested in the eventual bars and beam project potential even though their low JO scores on those pieces might lead you to skip them over.
Walk-on Jenna Dunn is a local Bart Conner’s original who, kind of out of the blue, won the JO national beam championship in 2017. So we know this type of Oklahoma walk-on quite well, don’t we?
What Should We Expect?
Oklahoma has quite a lot of replacement work to do, losing one third of last year’s postseason routines—including major scores from Dowell and Lehrmann—so the team is first and foremost going to need some star-power contribution from Smith.
Beam has always been Smith’s best event and is her most obvious realm of dominance in college. Oklahoma will need her to go up toward the end of six with Nichols and bash-brothers out some 10.0s to keep up its best-in-the-country beam.
From being a struggle event for Smith as a junior, bars turned into an important score for her as a senior elite and is an event that should also thrive in being able to step down to NCAA composition and get rid of some of the leg-form elements.
Expectations will always be a bit more cautious on floor and vault because of post-elite syndrome, but we have seen Smith working 1.5 through to double tuck in training videos and Oklahoma will hope to get her regularly into floor. On vault, everyone at Oklahoma always has a Y1.5, but it’s also worth keeping in mind how many recent elites with DTYs have struggled to get effective 10.0 starts on vault in college. It’s not always a direct transition. Still, you probably want her vaulting.
For the others, Deniz has clean, NCAA-ready work across multiple events—stellar individual moments like her Shap on bars or kickover to scale on beam—but not necessarily enough standout routines to have a definite lineup spot at this point. For instance, Deniz has a fab full on vault, but is Oklahoma even going to use a full? And if they do, does Bre Showers already have that role locked up? We’ll have to wait and see in a number of those respects, but I do like Deniz’s twisting possibilities on floor. That’s also an area where Oklahoma needs an injection of quality this year, despite losing just one routine. Floor wasn’t always Oklahoma-good last season.
What I’m saying is, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Deniz on multiple events, but I’m not writing it in pen just yet.
For the rest of them, I’m not prepared to project any lineup positions, at least from the start of the season. There are good routines here and there—a viable double pike, a fine Yfull—but not “get in an Oklahoma lineup” routines yet. Smith, the return of Showers, and Deniz (along with people like Stern, who didn’t make any final lineups last year but will probably need to in 2020, or Draper who still has unfulfilled potential) are most likely to account for the replacement routines this year. But.
The others do possess some exceptional beam abilities. Weins never got the scores there (her best results coming from a perfectly fine Yfull), but there’s a lot to like about her routine and leg positions, Dunn has the security to be a compelling option, and Hutchison’s core acro elements are there.
I also see a lot of bars projects in that group. They’re not there yet, either because of insufficient content or handstands or something, but there’s enough there for me to say they all could—at least in time—be treated as nominees for Oklahoma’s annual junior who’s suddenly great at bars despite never doing it before.
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What Is This Class?
Denver has arrived with a freshman class of five that will need to step in for the scores provided by key specialists Schou, Chesnok, and Kern in order to keep Denver’s “check it, we’re actually one of the best teams” thing going in 2020.
The two names you most need to learn in this class are AK Subject and Amoree Lockhart. First of all, AK Subject is a person’s name. I’m obviously in heaven. She finished 4th AA at JO Nationals this year with impressive results on vault, beam, and floor. Meanwhile, Lockhart is an early joiner (and former Oklahoma verbal) who returned from missing the entire 2018 season with injury to place 9th at JO Nationals this year, including a 3rd-place finish on beam. Before her injury, she was one of the primary JO standouts in her year, winning nationals in 2016 and placing 4th in 2017.
Denver has six lost routines that need replacing from last year’s seniors, and those six routines could come entirely from these two athletes.
Joining them is Chow’s gymnast Emma Brown, who placed 6th at JO Nationals in 2018 (her best score in that meet came on bars, an event she is not listed as training on Denver’s roster). Most notably, Brown is a lovely twister.
Callie Schlottman surprised to place 16th AA at JO Nationals this year (having never placed better than 42nd before) by showing even scores across the events, though she comes in specifically as a beam and floor worker for Denver.
Victoria Fitts is a late addition to Denver’s class and is a somewhat fascinating character in that if you just look at her JO scores, you’d assume she’ll never compete for this team. But, she has some huge individual elements to work with that make me say hmmmmmm.
What Should We Expect?
Expect to see the most from AK Subject among the freshmen this season. She notched some great results as a L10 gymnast, not with huge-value elements but predominately with D skills performed cleanly and with great amplitude. Whether she’s going for a full on vault and a double pike routine on floor, or pushing the difficulty (which it looks like she has the power to do), those are routines I want in lineups.
On bars, I see a solid Shaposh and DLO and just a little handstand refining necessary to make that a compelling routine. Her L10 beam is not so much there in the leaps and knees department, but at this point I’d put Subject on three events.
Amoree Lockhart can complement Subject well in that my preferred event for Lockhart in the last year has been her beam, where she has the combination of splits and acro (a two loso series) to do quite well. The most important lost routine Denver has to deal with for this year is Schou’s beam, and Lockhart is the best of the freshmen on beam.
Lockhart missed the entirety of 2018 with injury, and while she returned successfully on vault and floor in 2019, I’m not sure we saw the full repertoire of what she’s capable of there, especially on floor. Denver will hope she can provide a floor set and a full on vault because she definitely has the ability. Her massive-amplitude Ray on bars is also a possible thing.
I have a few more question marks with Lockhart but also see multi-event contribution in her future.
As for the others, Denver could absolutely come up with a pretty twist-a-thon floor routine for Emma Brown and get that into the lineup, and her dance-element potential on beam is enough for me to keep an eye on that event. Schlottman is similar in that she’s also a “tall” (more than a third of Denver’s roster is 5’6″ or taller), and will present as a possibility on beam and floor with nice twisting capabilities and leaps that can work. Right now I’d see her as a depth option, but a legitimate depth option, not a “nice try” depth option.
I’m not expecting anything from Fitts right away. She has a full that can go, but so do lots of people. Still, watch those bars and floor routines that I have linked here. On floor, she has the tumbling difficulty with a full-in, but no leaps. On bars, she has a high tkatchev, a good FTDT, but zero handstands. Those would be disqualifying factors for an NCAA score, but I imagine Denver is looking at some of those tools and thinking they can work with this. Melissa even pulled out the old “diamond in the rough” chestnut in Fitts’ team-joining announcement.
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