Who Is She?
Let’s be honest, this pandemic has been a real fart chunk for UCLA. The prospectively epic 2021 incoming class that was supposed to feature Jordan Chiles, Brooklyn Moors, Ana Padurariu, and Emma Malabuyo now includes…none of them until next year. (Brooklyn Moors appears on the roster because she is taking classes remotely while training for the Olympics but will not be with the team in 2021.)
So who is there? Frida Esparza still brings the elite experience to the 2021 newcomers, a US and Mexico international who competed at Classic and championships in the US in 2016 and 2017 before registering to compete for Mexico. Esparza represented Mexico at worlds in 2018 and 2019, scoring 51.399 in qualification at in 2018 to lead the country and place as an alternate to the all-around final.
Chae Campbell has been atop the L10 field for what seems like centuries, ever since she popped into Junior A at 2015 JO Nationals to win vault and floor. Campbell spent a little time toying with elite as well during that period, attending junior Classic in 2015 and finishing 3rd on vault but missing the national AA qualifying score by a smidgen. After a couple other elite qualifying attempts in the following years, Campbell opted to stick with L10, most recently placing 3rd AA at JO Nationals in 2019 and 9th AA (2nd FX) at the 2020 Nastia Cup.
Walk-on Sara Ulias rounds out the class, an athlete who got a 9.525 on bars at Region 1s last year and has the raw ability on that event to be a project.
What’s She Going to Do?
Usually I talk about how the freshmen class might replace the routines lost from last year’s departing seniors, but in the case of this year’s UCLA freshmen, that’s literally impossible. Last year’s seniors contributed 13 of 24 routines in the final meet, including many of the best scores, so even if Esparza and Campbell both end up competing the all-around in their first seasons (a distinct possibility), UCLA will still need quite a bit more contribution from returning athletes competing in lineups they weren’t making last year. All that time UCLA fans spent bemoaning Kendal Poston not being in the beam lineup…don’t worry, she’ll need to be.
Nonetheless, Esparza and Campbell are both realistic NCAA all-around possibilities. In trying to discover what one possibly does without Kyla Ross in their life (die, I think…), Frida Esparza’s bars routine will be a crucial coping mechanism—and quite possibly the most significant routine in this year’s freshman class. Her bars work is sublime, with plenty of difficulty options, and she should become the heir to Ross’s position in that lineup. Similarly, beam is the entire package, with both the high-quality acro and leaps to fare quite well. Esparza even performed a Silivas on floor during that 2018 elite season, showing that she should have the pop to restock that floor roster as well—UCLA’s deepest event but also the one with the most lost routines. With a very usable Yfull on vault to round out the repertoire, Esparza is going to need to see a lot of time for UCLA in 2021.
We’ll get to know Campbell quite well too. Vault is pretty much always Campbell’s highest-scoring apparatus, where she has lately been performing a Yfull with Nia Dennis amplitude. (She did have a DTY in the junior elite days, but that was a while ago.) Because UCLA has lost some Y1.5s without obvious replacement Y1.5s coming in, a strong vault score from Campbell will be critical regardless of what she’s performing. Overall, Campbell has shown a lot of weakness-free “could go up anywhere and get you a 9.850” gymnastics as a true all-around athlete, which will be a boon to a team that needs to replenish its silo of options. She has the skill set to make the lineup on bars as well as beam—where a comfortable selection of acro elements as well as workable leap positions will help her—and could waltz her way through any number of easily completed D passes and high 180-degree straddle elements on floor, in addition to a front 2/1 that she regularly competes.
As for Ulias, I wouldn’t put forward any expectations that we’ll see her in competition, but that opening cast handstand and toe 1/2 + Jaeger in the bars video below say that there is talent to be built around there.
Shut Up and Show Me It