What Is This Class?
Gymnasts deferring until after the Olympics have left UCLA with an unbalanced duo of classes entering for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. A gargantuan phalanx of stars will march in for 2021 (as we wait for the official announcement on that), leaving a somewhat sparse and less heralded group entering to compete in 2020.
That’s not to say they won’t be significant. The high-profile athlete in the bunch is former elite Kalyany Steele, who finished 13th AA at nationals in 2017 with pretty competitive difficulty across the four pieces that would serve her very well in coming up with NCAA routines. She hasn’t competed since that nationals in the summer of 2017, however, so she carries a bit of “where is she now?” along with her.
The remaining freshmen fall into the category of walk-on projects. They’re not big names or obvious lineup prospects, but there’s reason to think we’ll see at least routine options from each one. Emma Andres notched the best JO finish of her whole career in 2019 by reaching nationals and placing 25th AA. Plus, she has the leaps.
Chloe Lashbrooke won floor at Region 1s in 2019 and regularly recorded competitive JO numbers on vault and floor for regular-difficulty routines that would be in the lineup on a ton of teams (she’s also one of those whose bars and beam scores are way lower than her ability level). Paige Hogan is a Wallers’ original and rounds out the class, largely as a floor specialist, floor being the event that garnered her best results in JO.
There’s a hefty microscope on UCLA walk-ons right now after the Maria Caire situation—along with Waller having athletes that he has personally coached in JO then being invited to join the team, which is basically just asking for accusations of favoritism—so it’s probably important that Hogan does actually have a realistic E pass on floor, making that routine look like at least an option.
What Should We Expect?
With only Ohashi and Nguyen departing from UCLA’s postseason lineups in 2019, the Bruins’ aren’t necessarily in the market for a ton of new routines—though of course it’s not exactly easy to replace the Ohashi scores. (Which I anticipate will largely come from already-present options being moved to a more prestigious portion of the lineup and magically getting higher numbers.)
If Steele is the gymnast she was a couple years ago, she should have the largest footprint in this class. She showed a very strong DTY in elite—vault being her best event—so UCLA will most hope to get her into that vault lineup and not have to play “which potential 6th vaulter didn’t fall in warmups this week?” again.
But with a DLO on floor, a lovely Pak and handstand finishing positions in an elite bars routine that can be honed for NCAA, and an Arabian on beam (leaps question mark?), she’s a multiple-lineup prospect that could help UCLA figure out that conundrum from 2019 of having five strong, definite routines on vault and bars and then one…shrug emoji position.
I look at the routines from Andres and Lashbrooke overall and see gymnasts for whom our minimum expectation should be that they fill a sort of Kooyman-y position on the team, legitimate backup options as needed for events that might be looking a little eh that week. But there’s also potential that their roles become more Meraz-y depending on how things play out.
Both have solid fulls on vault (Lashbrooke with a little more pop), and while UCLA probably isn’t looking at putting a 9.95 start into the lineup that isn’t of at least Pauline Tratz quality, they could compete as needed.
I enjoy Andres’s leap positions on beam and floor, so I want to see those as long as the acro is there. She didn’t do back handsprings on floor in her 2019 JO nationals routines (and struggled with her bhs on beam), which could compromise her possibilities, but the potential exists. On beam, I basically want to combine Andres’s leaps with Lashbrooke’s acro legs to create a routine that goes up third in the lineup for 9.900. But apparently that technology does not exist yet.
Andres also has a 2/1 dismount on bars (and the toes), so it’s worth watching for that, as is Lashbrooke’s routine for her huge Tkatchev and DLO. Lashbrooke was always getting 8s on bars in JO, but those aren’t 8s elements.
Paige Hogan’s front 2/1 on floor is her best argument for a lineup. I’m not expecting it because it’s so tough to get into UCLA’s floor lineup right now (Dennis didn’t even make it last year, and you could project a 2020 lineup of Tratz, Dennis, Kramer, Ross, Hano, Frazier that needs no adjustment), but she has a tool to work with.
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What Is This Class?
Georgia introduces a class of four that was originally tasked with replacing the routines of Sydney Snead only, but a couple recent injury retirements mean this quartet will have to do a little bit more than expected. Still, it’s a JO standout/Canadian elite class that, in theory, should be up to the task.
Haley de Jong enjoyed a standout elite season in the first half of 2019, which she capped off by finishing 6th AA at Canadian Nationals. Injuries curtailed some of her elite opportunities over the last couple years (she had to pull out of 2018 Pan Ams after being named to the team), but a number of her routines should translate exceptionally well to college.
Soraya Hawthorne took 1st on floor and 3rd on vault at JO Nationals this year (a bars disaster undermined what would otherwise have been a strong AA placement), which followed a 5th-place AA finish the year before. Her power is truly gigantic, and there are a couple lineups she absolutely needs to get into yesterday.
Amanda Cashman had a similar experience this year where a beam miss undermined her JO Nationals placement (17th AA) but she has placed as high as 6th AA in the past with even scores across the four events. Any of the events are believable for her.
Loulie Hattaway walks on to join the class, a gymnast who competed all four pieces through level 10 but will be seen as a bars specialist for the purposes of putting together potential Georgia lineups.
What Should We Expect?
I’m expecting a minimum of five lineup routines from this class—and as many as eight or nine if they all stay healthy and meet their potential.
Two of the most important routines will be the vault and floor from Hawthorne. She vaulted a truly gigantic DTY in JO that will need to become a 5th- or 6th-up vault for Georgia to ensure not feeling the loss of Snead’s vault too acutely. With a number of E-pass options, putting together a strong floor routine for Hawthorne should not be a burden.
Bars and beam are less likely, I would say, but possible. There’s more rough form stuff going on, but you should watch that front aerial from knee in her beam routine, which could be a cool signature element.
De Jong is the complement to Hawthorne in that my preferred events for her—for NCAA purposes—are bars and beam. Bars was typically a lower score for De Jong in elite, but her Ray is huge and her Pak is lovely, so there’s really no excuse for that not to be a massive NCAA routine. Between her clean legs on acro and her accurate dance elements on beam, she has all the tools to make that a high-scoring routine as well.
I’d certainly also like to see De Jong in the floor lineup, where she has shown a double Arabian and a believable 3/1, which provide the options for a late-lineup routine. Vault was typically more of a struggle for her in elite, so it’s a less likely event, but it exists.
I haven’t seen video evidence of Cashman’s routines in a long time so I’m working a little blindly here, but she had a Y1.5 as a child (and also won Georgia’s early preseason instagram vault standings whatever, which would seem to bode well) as well as strong acro on beam and floor and some toe potential on bars. So expect to get to know this one well.
Based on JO routines, I wouldn’t project Hattaway for lineups, but Georgia will work to see if she can give them a lineup bars routine, especially because I’d characterize that as the event of most need for Georgia right now. A full third of this year’s roster doesn’t do bars at all.
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|Haley De Jong||VT||UB||BB||FX|