Who Is She?
For as long as the sun has risen in the sky, this year has been circled on the calendar as the season Cal makes the leap into the realm of the big-name teams. Why? Andrea Li and Gabby Perea. Two of the very top recruits in this year’s national class, the kind of athletes who usually go to a school that’s already won a national championship or four. For these two to go to Cal together is a major coup.
Li has been among the best L10s in the country for the last six years, truly bursting onto the scene when she won the junior Nastia Cup in 2016, and most recently winning JO Nationals in 2018, placing 2nd in 2019, and finishing 3rd at the senior Nastia Cup in 2020 while winning floor. She’s been cleaning up for a long time.
Perea was, of course, part of the 2016-2017 army of junior elite stars who were the future right up until they weren’t anymore. Perea finished 3rd at junior nationals in 2016 behind only Maile O’Keefe and Riley McCusker but struggled to stay healthy and competitive after that. Perea made a return to elite competition in 2019, qualifying to nationals, then elected to drop back to L10 for the 2020 season, competing at the Nastia Cup and finishing 6th overall, three spots behind Li. That reasonably solid, NCAA-level all-around performance at the Nastia Cup this year was important for Perea as one would have been forgiven for thinking that she might simply crumble into a pile dust instead, given her injury history and career trajectory and the suspect track record of recent excellent juniors.
Four additional athletes will join the big two in Cal’s incoming class, and following in Perea’s footsteps there’s an emerging theme of successful juniors that we currently have some questions about as they transition to a college career. Kennedy Quay probably profiles as the most significant of the non-big-name contributors in this class, placing 5th all-around at JO Nationals in 2017 and 6th in 2018—with a 2nd-place result on vault on both occasions—though she has seen only limited competition time since and has not competed floor in the last two years. Cosette Carranza shined bright as a junior in 2016, placing 2nd all-around at JO Nationals, but has been quite limited since and has barely competed in the last four years, making it difficult to know what’s going to happen there. It’s a situation fairly reminiscent of another Texas-Dreams-to-Cal gymnast—Grace Quinn. Or just fairly reminiscent of Texas Dreams.
Elise Byun and Blake Gozashti were two of the later joiners in this class, Byun advancing to JO Nationals in both her years as a L10 in 2018 and 2019 while boasting a Tsuk entry on vault, and Gozashti being one of those classic athletes who has minimal L10 accomplishments to name but with form that presents a potential ball of clay to be molded.
What’s She Going to Do?
This is a season in which Cal gives up a little to gain a lot. Just the two routines from Rachael Mastrangelo on vault and floor depart (since Cassidy Keelen was no longer competing by the end), while the team brings in two stars who will be expected deliver plenty of big scores on multiple events, as well as a supporting cast that should emerge with spot routines here and there.
For both Perea and Li, their best events are bars and beam. Cal is expected to have one of the top 3 (ish?) bars teams in the entire country in 2021 given a lineup that ranked 8th last season, loses no one, and gains both Perea and Li. (#PrayForAlmaKucsLineupSpot) Perea had one of the most beautiful and difficult bars routines in the world as a junior elite, while Li boasts remarkably pristine work that is going to be judge catnip. And pretty much the same commentary applies to their beam routines. Li’s work is exceptionally well executed, and Perea has even retained some of that elite difficulty, performing a back tuck full in JO and continuing to train it at Cal, potentially giving her that extra standout element (and difficulty forgiveness). The expectation will be end-of-lineup routines from both athletes on both events.
Li and Perea are also more powerful on floor than they’re typically given credit for with their UB/BB reputations. Given multiple years of concern that Perea is too rickety to withstand a career of elite floor, I’m somewhat tentative about floor expectations for her (and she did open with just a double tuck at the 2020 Nastia), but not for lack of talent. Li, as well, has the ability to give Cal a strong floor score on an event where Cal is always looking for that extra “not a 9.775” to pump up the lineup. On vault, they’re probably not going to be world breakers, but lineup-ready fulls are very believable.
One of the hallmarks of Kennedy Quay’s gymnastics in 2017 and 2018 was excellent amplitude on vault and comfortable power on floor, including a very secure full-in at 2017 JO Nationals. I’d consider those the two events where Cal would desire Quay’s contribution, but in the past two years, she has either not competed those events or had significantly lower scores than before, so we’ll sort of have to wait and see whether those events can come back in terms of assessing her competition time. She is an all-arounder, however, so her possibilities are not exclusive to vault and floor (for instance, there’s a lot to like about her security in the beam routine included in the links).
Elise Byun’s Tsuk entry on vault provides an appealing prospect. She vaulted a Tsuk tuck full this year in JO (9.9 start), but Cal is hoping to get a 10.0 vault out of her as a lineup option. Elsewhere, there’s a lot of 9.7y potential for routines that could go early in a lineup or develop as time passes.
And then there’s the “I’m not putting you into any lineups, even in pencil, until we see something here” category.
Back in 2016, Cosette Carranza had the makings of a sublime Texas Dreams beam routine and a good full-in on floor, but I haven’t seen any of her competition gymnastics in the last four years, so how does one have expectations at all really? If the team get things from Carranza, it’s a bonus. As for Blake Gozashti, if you watch the beam routine linked below (Flo, sorry), she falls on every single skill…but it’s really pretty! There’s something there on beam and floor if she can learn to hit.
Shut Up and Show Me It