Freshman Feature: LSU & Oregon State


What Is This Class?

There was a time when LSU’s new 2020 class looked like it would be a problem. The team was losing Finnegan and Priessman and Kelley and just flat-out didn’t have the routines coming in to replace that quality. And then they went to work.

I’m old enough to remember when Kiya Johnson was a Georgia verbal for the 2021 class. Yada, yada, yada, now she’s at LSU for this season and enters as easily one of the top five JO gymnasts in the national class. Johnson has won two consecutive JO national AA titles and projects as a weekly all-around contributor for LSU.

Also new to the class is Alyona Shchennikova, who switched over from Michigan to LSU this year and brings with her…you know, being Alyona Shchennikova. Her Achilles tear this summer is a big asterisk, though LSU is promising that we’re going to see Shchennikova on a couple events this season.

The old standby of the LSU freshman group is Geddert’s gymnast Kai Rivers (see, even Jay Clark can favor granting asylum for refugees), the one who’s been part of this LSU class since the beginning. She was second at JOs in 2019, third in 2018, and first in 2017—when she also won the Nastia Cup. She has been a force on the JO circuit dating back to junior days.

That’s the big trio, but this class is actually seven members large, including some other names you’ll want to get to know. Kamryn Ryan actually signed her NLI for Alabama last fall before switching over (which means Alabama granted her a release from the NLI, otherwise she would have lost a year). She placed 4th on VT at JO Nationals this year and has shown competitive scores on floor as well.

My mystery in the class is Caitlin Smith, a former junior elite who has been verbally committed to LSU for a long time and signed in the fall but has barely competed in the last two years.

Walking on with the group are two athletes that I’m going to say are floor specialists, Courtney Goodrich and Lexie Nibbs. They don’t have too much in the way of competitive scores from JO but both do bring double Arabians on floor. Goodrich consistently recorded solid scores on floor through her L10 career.

What Should We Expect?

There’s a lot to do. LSU returns only eight competing athletes who accounted for less than two-thirds of last year’s postseason routines. These freshmen will have to contribute massively. But that’s what they’re poised to do.

I feel comfortable putting Johnson in the all-around. Item #1: She has a DTY. We’ll have to wait and see whether she can Gnat it for scores or if the DTY isn’t actually worth it, but she has it as an option. Along with that, she brings a big DLO on floor and has the combination of acro and leaps to compete in the back half of the beam lineup as a realistic 9.9. As far as Johnson has a lower score right now, it’s probably bars because of some handstands, but her Shap and DLO are excellent and she should figure in that lineup as well.

The DTY conundrum (you know, that problem that you have) also comes up with Kai Rivers. Rivers showed a DTY in 2017 but has more recently gone with an easy-for-her Yfull that scored quite well. We know from Finnegan experience that even when you have a perfect full, it’s not necessarily going to score as well as Y1.5s with little form things, so I anticipate that LSU will want a 10.0 start from Rivers. But either way, she’d be in my six right now.

Rivers also has big-DLO capability on both floor and bars (and enough skills to choose from on bars to put together a clean NCAA routine). Compared to Johnson, she has some more formies on beam so I’m not quite as confident penciling Rivers into the AA at the moment, but she’s right there and definitely a contender for all lineups.

Because of Shchennikova’s Achilles tear, I have no expectations that we’ll see vault and floor from her in the 2020 season. LSU has left the door open in that regard, but I look at this team right now and don’t necessarily see a reason to push it (though I also felt that way about putting Priessman on floor, so…). But, Shchennikova is expected to be back in time to do some bars and beam this season. Beam was never the event that garnered her attention as an elite, but she has the skill set to put together an exceptional NCAA set there.

Bars, meanwhile, was Shchennikova’s event, and she is an obvious selection to anchor the lineup there with every skill in the book to choose from in putting together a wow-factor college set. As long as they can get her a workable dismount, that is, and Jay doesn’t suffer PTSD from having the same dilemma with Shayla.

So…that’s what I’m ready to project as far as freshmen in lineups right now, which mostly covers the lost routines from the 2019 season, at least in theory. They’re big shoes to fill, even for talented newcomers.

Meanwhile, Kamryn Ryan has a very solid full on vault and a clean double-pike-type floor routine which can be used if needed. There’s no issue there, just…that content may not make an LSU lineup. (She also has a lot more potential on bars and beam than her JO results would indicate, so perhaps some projects there as well.)

I don’t know about Smith. She’s a scholarship athlete and has some really pretty tools on bars and beam that could become routines, but I don’t have her in lineups right now. The Advocate (the Louisiana one, not the one you read) article about Shchennikova’s signing sort of sums up my feelings about the class Alyona is joining:

Along with Catlin. So we’ll see.

I’m not slotting Goodrich and Nibbs into any lineups as yet, but if they can find some workable dance elements for Goodrich, the double Arabian first pass has worked for her in JO.

Show Me Now

Courtney Goodrich VT UB BB FX
Kiya Johnson VT UB BB FX
Lexie Nibbs VT UB BB FX
Kai Rivers VT UB BB FX
Kamryn Ryan VT UB BB FX
Alyona Shchennikova VT UB BB FX
Caitlin Smith VT UB BB FX


What Is This Class?

There’s no avoiding the fact that this was supposed to be the Jade Carey class before she elected to defer to pursue 2020—and those routines would have been, you know, kind of useful—but Oregon State still brings in a class of three, and we should see all three of them in competition lineups in 2020.

Kayla Bird finished 12th AA at JO Nationals each of the last two years, with bars ranking as her best score of the four on each occasion. She also competed a Yurchenko 1.5 in 2018, which is eyes emoji especially for this team’s vault lineup.

Jane Poniewaz boasts the best JO finish of the bunch with her 7th-place result in 2019, with floor ranking as her most competitive event. Though Poniewaz and Bird showed highlight scores here and there in their JO performances, they were largely even across the board and provide many options, which will be significant as OSU tries to put together new 2020 lineups.

Jenna Domingo continues Oregon State’s Hawaiian pipeline, and while she has recorded similar JO results to the other two—finishing 15th AA this year at nationals—she profiles more as a bars and beam specialist.

What Should We Expect?

We’re going to see this group. Oregon State has lost enough spot-contribution routines from 2019 to account for a third of the lineups from nationals (two routines on each event). So while “I do this event now!” performances from returners—like Lowery adding bars in 2019—will be critical, the freshmen will all be expected to deliver multiple believable lineup options.

Oregon State will hope for a lineup-ready bars routine from Kayla Bird. She has the toes and handstands and FTDT dismount to work in that six, and especially with some of the returning standouts like Yanish and Madi Dagen not as likely to contribute bars, these freshmen bringing strong bars routines is critical. That Yurchenko 1.5 would also be a huge deal for a lineup that has struggled to cobble together a competitive number of 10.0 starts, but even if it’s a full, it’s a useful full.

On the topic of useful fulls, Jane Poniewaz has one that I’d expect to make its way into the lineup as well. Her other most likely event is floor, where she has the type of double pike routine that garnered her competitive results throughout JO. Bird didn’t have quite the same scores on floor as Poniewaz, but she does have what looks like a viable twist-a-thon routine. These two can respectably fill out a lineup on that event as well.

I have some more questions about beam—and some knees and some form and some tentativeness—but that’s one of the more likely areas for Jenna Domingo to make her way into the OSU competitive group. She has a two-footed layout, and if the choice of leaps is just right, this could become a strong routine. With a giant Ray, Domingo also has a routine on bars that should be viewed as a workable option.

I don’t yet see starring routines in this class, but I see essential supporting routines that can plump up these lineups like collagen.

Show Me Now

Kayla Bird VT UB BB FX
Jenna Domingo VT UB BB FX
Jane Poniewaz VT UB BB FX

6 thoughts on “Freshman Feature: LSU & Oregon State”

  1. Jade has already lost a year of eligibility because she signed her NLI two years ago right?

    1. I believe so. Which means she still has 4 years to use, but couldn’t redshirt if she missed a season.

    2. No, there’s an exception in the NCAA bylaws for Olympic and World berth athletes. She will arrive at Oregon with a clean slate and the ability to compete 4+1;

  2. I’m a PhD student at LSU, and I’ve seen Alyona around campus a couple of times earlier in the semester. It looked like she was walking a bit stiffly and favoring the Achilles foot a little. I hope they don’t push her too fast, she deserves to be healthy. She seemed really happy here though. I’m really looking forward to this season!

  3. “The old standby of the LSU freshman group is Geddert’s gymnast Kai Rivers (see, even Jay Clark can favor granting asylum for refugees)”

    Hooooo Spencer this is such a good, sneaky joke!!

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