Who Is She?
Denver continues to signal its arrival into the higher echelon of college teams through a quintet of freshmen with a classic top-10-school career breakdown—four ninja level 10s with strong national all-around results to their names, plus one who took a momentary dip in the senior elite pond.
The most recognizable name in the group is probably Isabel Mabanta, who competed as a senior elite in 2018—qualifying to Classic—and who made waves for her sublime execution on beam. She has competed only sparingly since that 2018 elite season, but she did make an early-2020 JO cameo to reassure everyone that she can still ‘nastics.
The host of JO athletes in the class is headlined by Rylie Mundell, a lifer L10 who qualified to nationals every year from 2015-2019 and notched her best-ever result in 2019 with a 4th-place all-around showing, finishing top 8 on all apparatuses. She followed that with a 7th-place AA finish at the 2020 Nastia Cup, right before the shutdown.
In that 2019 JOs performance, Mundell finished 0.4 ahead of now-teammate Abbie Thompson in 6th place (though at the time Thompson was a West Virginia verbal who later switched things up to come to Denver). Thompson’s performance highlight was a 4th-place result on floor, the one apparatus where she outscored Mundell.
Placing 6th AA at that same JO Nationals was Rose Casali, though she did so in a younger age group as one of the many (many) incomers this year who was still competing as a junior last time we saw her at L10 nationals. Way back in 2017, Casali placed 2nd in the junior division at the Nastia Cup with top-4 finishes on every event.
Another who excelled as a junior was Jessica Hutchinson, who has been showing up at JO Nationals since 2014 and had her best result in 2016 with an 8th-place all-around finish. In 2019, Hutchinson returned to L10 nationals with a 10th-place finish on floor, where she fassst-twisted her way to a strong score.
What’s She Going to Do?
Yes, Denver will have the deal with the not-having-Maddie-Karr of it all in the 2021 season, and it will be painful. (Emma Brown’s transfer to LIU also opens up a few more spots in the depth chart.) But this new class delivers exactly what Denver has yearned for the most during these last couple seasons of national contention: depth.
Denver has never boasted a big roster and has, at times, struggled to come up with comparable replacement routines in the face of injuries, like last season when Lynnzee Brown went down and Denver had to go back to using five on vault and competing some 9.6-9.7 backup routines.
This new class, however, boasts a ton of realistic routines from its five members, all of whom were competitive AA athletes the last time we saw them. A number of these routines will get into lineups immediately, while plenty of others will act as usable 9.800-level replacement routines should something go awry, which is nearly as important.
On vault, look primarily for Mundell and Casali to beef up a lineup that has recently survived on big scores from Karr and Brown to counteract an early 9.7 or two. Mundell has a Y1.5 that will go in a position of honor (the landing in the video below from the Nastia Cup is lock-legged, but that vault typically scores well for her). Casali has also shown a 1.5 at times in the past, and while she has more often tended to go for the Yfull in competition, I’d want her in the lineup either way because the full is strong. Mabanta had a high full herself in elite, and Hutchinson and Thompson should both bring depth-option or early-lineup Yfulls too. The vault chart is a lot bigger now.
Similarly to vault, Mundell and Casali are the two for whom I’d rank bars as a strength in this class. Casali placed 5th there at JO Nationals—her best event ranking—and boasts a big 1/2 in front out dismount, while Mundell has the toe point and rhythm to develop an excellent college routine. For her part, Hutchinson has a good Maloney and DLO that can potentially be built around, while Thompson has plenty of difficulty but may not yet have the execution to make the lineup. Developing a competitive bars set was the struggle for Mabanta in elite, but that was largely a coming-up-with-elite-composition issue. Some of the tools are there for a college routine.
Where Mabanta truly excels is beam, where she has beautiful amplitude and leaps for days and days. She should partner with Vasquez as a 1-2 punch at the end of that lineup. I’d also expect to see Mundell on this event given the extension she shows in her beam work. I’m not sold on lineup spots for the rest, but as on vault, they’ll present options.
Speaking of presenting options, all five of them will do that on floor. There are solid double pikes just falling out of random cabinets in this class. Of note, Casali has typically received big scores for her floor work and showed a piked full-in long ago, Hutchinson has lately done her best work on floor with a college-ready front 2/1, and I’d rank floor as Thompson’s best event and most likely place to see competition time.
We’ve seen very little from Mabanta on floor in the last couple years, so there’s possible cause for pause there, but her floor leaps are also so perfect that I wouldn’t mind Denver Dutch-ing it up and just having her do the absolute bare minimum tumbling and a bunch of leaps if necessary. Not mad at it. Mabanta did, however, go for a front 2/1 at Metroplex this year, so maybe we’ll get the whole package.
Shut Up and Show Me It