Freshman Feature: Utah, Cal, Alabama

UTAH

What Is This Class?

This year’s four freshmen comprise one of the best single classes Utah has pulled in for a while. In some ways, that makes it difficult to preview because it’s just sort of…”yeah, they could all do the all-around. The end.”

The name brand in the class is junior national champion Maile O’Keefe, who had a meteoric rise in the elite ranks to spend a couple years looking like a potential 2020 Olympian—but went from potential Olympian to mysterious wisp of smoke disappearing into the atmosphere almost overnight. O’Keefe did return to compete JO in 2019 with successful scores, so there shouldn’t be as much “is she still good?” mystery as there might have been otherwise.

O’Keefe’s former elite classmate Abby Paulson took a similar route, competing elite as a junior and young senior before stepping away and returning to L10 for the 2019 season. Paulson finished 7th at JO Nationals this year, with a 2nd-place result on floor, and should end up as one of those second-tier elites who is so sought after in NCAA because she has a bunch of skills from which to choose only the best ones—and yet is also still fully alive.

Those two elites are joined in the class by two L10 stars who may get overshadowed on the surface because they don’t have the name recognition but should be considered equivalent gymnasts for NCAA purposes. Like Jaedyn Rucker, who finished 2nd at JOs in 2018 (1st on vault) and has the combination of power and flexibility to become a breakout favorite and lineup leader.

Jillian Hoffman, meanwhile, has racked up the big L10 results over the last few years, winning JO Nationals in 2017 and finishing 2nd at the Nastiatatata in 2019. A weird miss on floor stunted her finish at JOs this year—I say weird because floor is her strongest piece—but over the years she racked up the kind of scores on floor we rarely see in L10, snatching a 9.900 at three consecutive meets leading up to nationals.

What Should We Expect?

It’s a good thing this class is so strong because it’s like a bomb went off in Utah’s postseason lineups from last year. Only 10 of the 24 routines return, including just two routines with an NQS of 9.875 or more.

Each of the freshmen will provide a legitimate case for all-around contribution, and the team’s going to need it. (There’s also the transfer LeBlanc, as well as Isa and Hall returning from injury, so we’re not actually going to need to see the all-around from every freshman, but…you know…close.)

O’Keefe is the whole deal. She has the power, she has the difficulty, she has the leaps, so there will be every expectation that she figures toward the end of each lineup in the closest recreation of MyKayla Skinner’s influence that can be mustered.

Among the others, Rucker may have the inside track toward competing four events because she has a gorgeous Y1.5 that Utah will want to put into that lineup, in addition to a solid double Arabian and pretty leaps on floor—her showcase event. Rucker also has such appealing form on bars and leaps on beam that it will be important to turn those into confident, secure lineup sets because the potential scoring ceiling is so high.

I most want to see Paulson make her way into the floor lineup, but Utah should easily be able to come up with lineup-ready routines on bars and beam as well. Paulson has typically vaulted a full so that might be borderline, but it’s nonetheless a solid full that could go in one of those early spots. Like Paulson, I’m most looking forward to seeing Hoffman on floor, especially after she knocked out that floor routine at the Nastia this year. Right now I’d say the other events aren’t as obvious lineup routines but are definite options that could make their way in—and would get scores if they do.

Show Me Now

 

Jillian Hoffman VT UB BB FX
Maile O’Keefe VT UB BB FX
Abby Paulson VT UB BB FX
Jaedyn Rucker VT UB BB FX

CAL

What Is This Class?

Cal brings in a class of four that will need to make up for the lineup departures of Chelsea Shu and the Seilnachts—so some key spot contributors but not necessarily the biggest scores in the lineup. The basic framework is intact.

The most accomplished of the four is Nevaeh DeSouza, who placed 4th at JO Nationals in 2018 and has shown the even scores across all events necessary to be treated as a potential all-around option on this team. Natalie Sadighi qualified to JO Nationals this year for the first time in several seasons and placed 20th AA, including a 9th-place finish on vault and 12th on bars, the two events that have typically yielded her best scores.

Those two were the original signers in this class last fall, but Cal later added Maya Green, who placed 14th at JO Nationals in 2018 and has pretty much always managed her best scores on bars. In the years when she has advanced nationals, she placed 2nd on bars each time. A very late addition was Ashton Woodbury, who doesn’t really have the JO results pedigree behind her (and just turned L10 in 2017), but she does have a 10.0-start vault and an E pass on floor and could emerge as a secret weapon.

What Should We Expect?

Expect to see routines from all of these athletes, but DeSouza’s contribution should be the most significant. She has a Y1.5 on vault that scored a JO-bonus 10.000 at the state championship this year. That obviously needs to be in the lineup, and between her high piked Jaeger on bars and her acro form potential on beam, there are multiple believable events here.

Floor is interesting because this isn’t the most objectively powerful class in the world, yet Cal is also experiencing the most upheaval in the floor lineup—a lineup that was already being found guilty on three counts of doing a rudi while not famous for 9.750s last season.

Some of that work will be down to athletes like Solari hopefully coming back in, but we’re also going to need to see these freshmen come up with passable floor routines. DeSouza is a nice twister, so you could imagine a comparable replacement routine for the ones that were lost, Sadighi brings solid double pike ability with her, and Woodbury has shown a full-in during her JO routines. There would still be work to do in putting together the leaps and the other passes with Woodbury, but the full-in possibility is appealing.

Woodbury also performs a Tsuk full on vault, which is of course exciting for its 10.0-start. Sadighi shows realistic power on her Yfull, so don’t be totally surprised if we see multiple freshmen move into that lineup.

Bars was Cal’s best event last season and is probably the least in need of a lineup revolution, yet most of this class is quite solid on bars. So we could see come changes in the early part. It’s the event where Green is most likely to make an impact, and Sadighi has a very smooth possibility of her own in addition to DeSouza’s routine.

Show Me Now

 

Nevaeh DeSouza VT UB BB FX
Maya Green VT UB BB FX
Natalie Sadighi VT UB BB FX
Ashton Woodbury VT UB BB FX

ALABAMA

What Is This Class?

Alabama went work in recruiting town over the summer. Typically, that happens when a team is losing a massive, super-successful, program-defining, “most of our postseason routines” kind of class. (See Utah above.) For Alabama—while the squad has lost vital scores from Guerra and Armbrecht that aren’t easily replaced—it’s more a reaction to a downward trend in results that culminated last season in Alabama’s worst finish since 1982.

To help reverse that trend, Alabama recently announced that Luisa Blanco will graduate high school early and join the team for the 2020 season. Blanco is an exceptionally talented former elite who finished 3rd at Classic in 2017 and whom you’ll most remember for her beautiful beam leaps and internationally competitive scores on that piece. She’s going to be a two-event star with a chance to be a critical four-event contributor.

Also starring in this class will be one of the top JO recruits in the country, Makarri Doggette. Doggette finished 1st at JO Nationals in 2018 and 3rd in 2019 (with a big OOB on floor) after taking the title at the 2019 Nastiatatata. She’s a likely all-arounder who will have a critical anchor role to play on several events.

Those two alone will mean that Alabama should expect to improve its scoring potential in 2020 compared to 2019, but this is actually a class of six. Now. Joining them is Mati Waligora, who also posted excellent results in JO, finishing 3rd at nationals in 2018 and 2nd in 2017. She was on her way to another similar result in 2019 before a mid-meet injury forced her to pull out during floor. It would say floor is Waligora’s best piece, but she has the skill set to produce lineup routines on other pieces.

Joining a year early along with Blanco is Ella Burgess, an athlete who misleadingly never made JO Nationals because she doesn’t have a bars routine. Nonetheless, her scores on the other three pieces are very competitive.

Macy Orosco is listed on Alabama’s roster as competing only beam and floor, which is weird to me because bars is her best event. She’s pretty much a bars specialist with project-potential on beam, so hopefully that’s just a typo and some sort of “you can’t compete your best event anymore” disaster has not befallen her. Also on the roster is Emma DeSantis, but in a somewhat unusual turn, I’ve never seen a moment of her gymnastics and have nothing to say.

What Should We Expect?

While Blanco and Doggette both have stronger and weaker events, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in expecting AA contributions from them.

But in terms of strengths, Blanco most shines on beam and floor. She has perfect leaps and extension on beam and should be a 10.000 contender, and her tumbling positions on floor (even with legs together on a double arabian, it’s a miracle) will help her stand out similarly well there.

Blanco vaulted a solid full, which there’s typically a place for, and while bars was a real struggle in terms of getting elite scores, that was mostly an issue of trouble in adding D. The technique and form are there, which means the NCAA routine should be there.

Doggette’s critical influence will be on vault and floor. She has a Y1.5, she has E pass options, she’s a powerhouse whom I’m expecting to slot right into Guerra’s spots from 2019. What’s especially exciting about Doggette is that bars isn’t really behind vault and floor at all, and her toes are going to serve her quite well on that piece. If there’s a weaker event, it would be beam, but really that just needs a half dose of Dana Duckworth treatment to get to lineup level.

I’m most comfortable putting Waligora into the floor lineup, what with having options like an open full in and a front 2/1 to work with. Expect to see moments from her on the other events because they’re all plausible, but she’s the type where it’s really going to depend on the needs of the team in a given week. In that respect, I could see her position on the team being somewhat similar to Wynter Childers’ in that she could pop into the third spot in any lineup, and you never really know which one it’s going to be which week.

Burgess has a full (now) on vault and a double pike routine on floor, though I’m most interested in what could happen with her on beam in time (see name of website). Once again, it depends on need, which is going to be the main issue for these other athletes’ contributions because they’ll have to beat out a Shea Mahoney or Alonza Klopfer to get into these lineips, and that’s not a given. The same goes for Orosco on bars, who is good there but would need to show at least regular 9.850 potential to muscle her way into that lineup ahead of the returners.

Then again, Alabama needs lineup reinvention to reverse the trend of declining results, so it would make sense to try out a bunch of new routines.

Luisa Blanco VT UB BB FX
Ella Burgess VT UB BB FX
Emma DeSantis VT UB BB FX
Makarri Doggette VT UB BB FX
Macy Orosco VT UB BB FX
Mati Waligora VT UB BB FX

10 thoughts on “Freshman Feature: Utah, Cal, Alabama”

  1. I’ve been trying to figure out how the Utah will figure into lineups, and into my fantasy draft haha. Can’t wait until Red Rocks preview, to get a better idea! I think Rucker will immediately factor into vault and beam. I love her tumbling floor but her presentation definitely needs improvement. She is also coming off an ACL tear, so I wonder where she is in her rehab return? O’Keefe is another question mark for me. She has a different body type than she did as an elite (as do most of them!), is coming off injury before her level 10 year, and was reportedly in a boot due a foot fracture (could use some clarification if anyone knows) this fall. She will be a beam star, but I don’t see her doing a double on vault anymore, and she has a bit of a loose back on bars. Does she still have an E pass on floor, and would it even matter, since her style is so fabulous? I love Hoffman and Paulson on beam and floor, and think they could factor in on bars too. If bars lineup includes Reinstadtler, Isa, Dula, and Tessen, I could see Rucker and O’keefe in the other 2 spots, but Paulson and Hoffman could challenge Dula and Tessen’s spots. Thoughts anyone?

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  2. My favourite part of any of these videos is that the scoreboard in the background of Nevaeh DeSouza’s bars routine reveals that there is a gymnast called A Fall. Does anyone know who this is? I may be instantly her greatest fan.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Macy Orosco not being listed as a bars worker on the roster is almost certainly a typo. She’s been featured multiple times on the team’s Instagram Story working bars.

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  4. This might be the year that I switch allegiance from UCLA to Utah (Cal of course still my real #1). Ironic since my least favorite thing about UCLA was Val, and now she is praise the heavens gone…. but that Utah entering class is pretty great.

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