Who Is She?
Utah got its “another one bites the dust” moment out of the way early this season when wildly anticipated freshman Deanne Soza announced her retirement—before we even had a chance to talk about how good her bars was going to be. That means it’s…not going to be exactly the Utah team we expected this year (especially if you recall back to the alternate timeline when MyKayla Skinner might have returned after her 2020 Olympics quest to complete her final year of eligibility at Utah in 2021).
Nonetheless, Utah brings in three quite accomplished freshmen this year, including two former elites. Jaylene Gilstrap competed senior elite in both 2018 and 2019, and while she was never going to boast the difficulty to keep up with the name brands at Classic or Nationals, she made a real mark with her exceptional leaps that stood out against an elite backdrop of “why”-level switch work.
Lucy Stanhope burst into the scene in 2018 when she was named to Great Britain’s European Championships team, primarily to give the team a DTY in the team final, but she can match that level of elite difficulty on every event. Stanhope originally verbaled to Arkansas, but ultimately switched to sign with Utah last fall. Joining Gilstap and Stanhope is US Level 10 Alani Sabado, coming to college a year early. Sadabo achieved by far her best result in 2019 when she finished 3rd all-around at JO Nationals in the Junior E division, a performance underlined by her bronze medal on bars.
What’s She Going to Do?
Utah’s freshmen will have to do some work. There’s not much margin for a slow start because the team lost seven routines from its final-meet lineup last season—vault, bars, and floor from both Kim Tessen and Missy Reinstadtler, as well as a bars routine from Hunter Dula, who medically retired after the end of the season.
On the positive side, Utah will expect to get Jaedyn Rucker back, one of last year’s most exciting freshmen who missed the entire season with injury. In last year’s freshman preview, I had Rucker as a possible all-arounder for Utah with definite routines on vault and floor. If Rucker is in form, she can take quite a bit of the pressure off this now-3-person freshman class to deliver a bunch of routines right away.
One event where Utah isn’t really in need of new routines is beam, where last season’s entire #2-in-the-nation lineup returns, but too bad, you got at least one anyway. Gilstrap’s execution on beam is so strong that she’s a must for that lineup, capable of displacing someone who is also very good. In all, beam and floor are the most likely places on which Gilstrap can carve out a spot. Her floor work is not big, but her leaps and movement quality are so strong that she needs to be there.
Gilstrap did not compete bars in her senior elite showings at Classic and Nationals in 2018 and 2019, but it’s not a full Ponor situation. She can do bars and did return on the event at the handful of L10 meets she attended in early 2020. I’d still say bars is her #4 piece, but she has a real routine to throw in the depth pile. The depth pile is perhaps also where her Yfull on vault goes, but it’s bigger and comfortable and I could easily see that going up 2nd in a Utah vault lineup as needed.
Lucy Stanhope was known primarily for vaulting in her elite career, so it’s no surprise that VT will be her most important contribution. Utah will be hoping for something 10.0-start-y from her, having lost Tessen’s vault and in general not having as many 10.0 options as most of the other teams at the top of the standings.
Beyond vault, Stanhope showed tons of high difficulty across her repertoire as an elite, including a Bhardwaj on bars, a back tuck full series on beam, and the occasional Silivas on floor. Most of those skills won’t survive the paring down process to create college routines because they’re not quite precise or consistent enough, which will be the big question for Stanhope’s early college success. As she gets simpler, does it also get cleaner? So in that respect, Stanhope will have to go through the same process as MyKayla Skinner.
Expectations won’t be as high for Stanhope, but the question for Skinner entering college was whether she would prove capable of refining her details well enough to be dominant in college, even without a start-value buffer to lean on the way she had in elite. That’s something she ended up doing quite successfully and something that Stanhope will have to mimic if she’s to be more than a vaulter for this team. She could end up profiling as even an all-arounder in time, but it will be down to how those details develop.
Utah lost several critical bars routines from last season’s team (Tessen, Reinstadtler and Dula made up half the bars lineup in that final 2020 meet), and because that event is not a given for either Gilstrap or Stanhope, the fact that Alani Sabado excels there will be critical. Sabado could get into the party on multiple events—her Yfull on vault is another possible early-lineup option—but I’d certainly pick bars as the main piece to watch for her since she has the best handstands in the freshman class there, and it’s not a given that she’d break into the six elsewhere.
Shut Up and Show Me It