Category Archives: Freshman Preview

Meet the Freshmen – Michigan & Washington

MICHIGAN

I’ve run out of conference and geographical reasons for pairing teams in these freshman previews, so the theme of this pairing is just Elise Ray (exactly like your life).

Michigan will need to be in reinvention mode in 2019, returning just 11 of the 24 routines that competed at regionals last season (though that was also without the injured Olivia Karas, who will be back this season). Normally, having to replace that many routines would be a red flag, but this is the strongest freshman class Michigan has welcomed in quite a while. With four JO all-around stars, this class brings 16 actual, legitimate routines and could certainly end up providing half of Michigan’s lineups in the 2019 season.

Michigan Freshmen 2019
Natalie Wojcik VT UB BB FX
Wojcik won her division at JO nationals this year, placing no worse than 5th on any event. I’d pick her as the most likely of the freshmen to be an all-arounder this season, though we could see several of them wind up in all four lineups. The star of Wojcik’s gymnastics is a stellar Y1.5 that will be an anchor-position quality vault for 9.9s. It’s the knees that set her 1.5 apart. In a lot of NCAA 1.5s, you see that indistinct knee softness in the air, but not with Wojcik’s.

Beam is typically a great event for Wojcik as well, where she shows solidity, an extended aerial, hit leaps, everything we’re looking for. Check, check, check. Bars hasn’t always been the big winning score for her, but the piked Jaeger and DLO are huge enough to be worth it in a routine that should see time. On floor, this freshman class as a group has been successful more because of cleanliness than because of difficulty (it’s almost entirely a double pike squad), but of the double pike routines in this class, Wojcik’s is the most convincing to me.

Abby Brenner VT UB BB FX
Like Wojcik, Brenner is also a JO national champion (winning her division in 2017) and also brings a Y1.5 on vault that looks like a sure thing for the lineup. It’s a big, necessary yes from me in a lineup that could end up with five Y1.5s if everyone is healthy and back up to full difficulty. That’s a significant reason Michigan continues looking its usual amount of threatening this season. There are teams expecting to make the top 8 that definitely won’t have that many 10.0s on vault.

Equally important will be Brenner’s floor. She’s the one among these freshmen who has shown the big power element with a piked full-in, helping make her the most likely newbie to get into the floor lineup. Bars also looks very believable with precise handstands, a Jaeger, and a DLO 1/1 that can become a regular DLO in NCAA for the scores. We probably won’t see much of Brenner on beam this year—it’s never been her big event—but she has a routine should the team need it.

Abby Heiskell VT UB BB FX
Heiskell is not to be left off the JO champion trolley, having won her division in 2016. She’ll be Michigan’s “I’m ready to go up 2nd in any lineup, where do you need me? Everywhere? Great” gymnast this season. Her spark-plug beam routine has been a good score in limited competition opportunities over the last year or so—with solid legs on her loso series—and her floor presents another very believable double pike option depending on need. On bars, we’ve seen efficient handstands and a well-performed Jaeger and Pak over the years, which make that set a real option.

Heiskell’s best scores in JO, as is somewhat normal, have come on vault, where she delivers a massive Yfull. If all five of the expected Y1.5s come through, Michigan will still be looking for a full to join them in the lineup of six, and I like Heiskell’s full for that role.

Madison Mariani VT UB BB FX
To me, Mariani’s most impressive event is beam. I look at that side aerial to split jump in the above video, and I’m very ready to put it in the lineup. Michigan needs a lot of new beam this season (ideally three actual, lineup routines from this freshman class), so expect to see Mariani there. On bars, the height she gets on her Tkatchev can also make that routine a compelling option as long as the leg precision is there.

Vault and floor should be added to the “as needed” pile. On vault, Mariani also presents a high, lineup-realistic full we could see depending on who’s healthy and sticking, and while I haven’t seen video of floor in quite a while, the skills are there and Mariani’s 2017 JO scores were quite impressive.

WASHINGTON

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Meet the Freshmen – UCLA & Cal

UCLA

UCLA has every reason to expect that the 2019 team will display more formidable depth than last season’s national championship team, having lost just four routines from that Super Six performance. Improving the scores on every event, however, is not a given because…Peng’s perfect 20…but still, the essential core remains intact and should receive a boost from this small-but-mighty new crop.

UCLA Freshmen 2019
Margzetta Frazier VT UB BB FX
You’re familiar with Marz. There’s little mystery in this part of the preview. She has both the tumbling and the performance quality to provide an essential routine on floor that I’m sure UCLA is already angling to submit for “this is our viral floor routine this year” status. UCLA will also count on Frazier for a 10.0 start that can go toward the end of the vault lineup, if not anchor it. She has continued training the DTY so far in preseason.

We never end up talking about Frazier as much on bars, but she has shown tremendous difficulty there in the last couple years of elite and has the kind of legs-together Shap 1/2 that should render her bars routine equally important to her vault and floor in restocking UCLA’s lineups. I fully expect to see three weekly events from Frazier, and in most team circumstances, she would be an all-arounder. She’ll surely give UCLA an option on beam, though beam isn’t exactly an easy UCLA lineup to get into. We could very well just see the five returners and Flatley make up the 2019 group.

Norah Flatley VT UB BB FX
Flatley’s NCAA debut is among the most anticipated this season because it has been a geologic age since we’ve seen her in competition. That endless injury history is why power-event expectations will be muted for Flatley, at least early on. She, of course, has the ability to pull out a lovely vault and 3/1 her way to perfection on floor (which she has been training in preseason), but I think as long as Flatley can stay healthy enough to deliver gorgeous bars and beam, UCLA will be happy.

Beam was always Flatley’s wow event in junior elite, with a rare mix of difficulty and “China circa 1992” execution that had her on Olympic-prognostication shortlists. So if anyone is going to take on Peng responsibilities on beam, it will be Flatley.

Sekai Wright VT UB BB FX
Sekai Wright is here to lift the power quotient on vault, an event on which UCLA’s relative lack of difficulty last season compared to other top teams looked like a disqualifying weakness right up until about…the middle of Kyla Ross’s beam routine during Super Six. Wright’s powerful 1.5 will be critical over the next few seasons for UCLA in delivering the necessary amount of 10.0 starts. Wright brings that same power ability to floor and will look to deliver an option there as well.
Sara Taubman VT UB BB FX
I’ve never seen actual competition videos of Taubman, just training work, but based on that training, the pieces are there for Taubman to provide a routine in the depth pool on bars, her best event.

CAL

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Meet the Freshmen – Oklahoma & Arkansas

OKLAHOMA

It’s a small freshman class for Oklahoma this year, one that will not be called upon for an overwhelming number of routines but will have to provide several critical spot sets as part of the project to make up for not having Jackson, Brown, and Catour in lineups anymore.

Those dear departed 2018 seniors delivered important scores, but not an excessive number of competition routines—a number that this freshman class should be able to manage itself, especially on the leg events where this group excels.

Oklahoma Freshmen 2019
Olivia Trautman VT UB BB FX
Trautman’s is the most recognizable name in the class, and she should prove to be the most lineup-influential of Oklahoma’s three freshmen. Her foremost contributions will be on floor and vault. On floor, Trautman’s massive amplitude allows her to complete a DLO more comfortably than most as well as producing standout leaps, getting much higher than the competition. Similarly huge is the Y1.5 on vault that Trautman has competed since dropping back down to L10. Expect both routines to secure prime lineup places from the start of the season.

While floor and vault are the essential routines, don’t be surprised if we see all four from Trautman. Bars isn’t as much of a natural event for her, but she has good rhythm, a useful DLO dismount, and could get there. As for beam, it’s Oklahoma. You can throw a dart at the roster and hit four 9.9s, but Trautman has proven a very solid beamer who should be in the mix.

Allie Stern VT UB BB FX
To me, Stern is a bit of a wildcard in terms of how much we’ll see her contribute, but she’ll angle for positions in the vault and floor lineups. Most importantly, she has a 1.5 on vault, reigniting Oklahoma’s quest to show up at nationals with six 10.0 starts. Her JO performances make that vault look like a very realistic NCAA option.

Stern also had a full-in on floor in JO (which she has continued to work in training videos) and comfortable twisting ability, so she could help shore up some of those question mark positions in the early half of the floor lineup from last season. Stern does have a beam routine as well, but on this team that will be a tough lineup.

Emma LaPinta VT UB BB FX
LaPinta is walking on for Oklahoma this year and will be looking to provide a depth option on floor. She had a double Arabian in JO and has continued working a 3/1 in preseason, so the tumbling skills are definitely there for her to put together an Oklahoma-worthy floor set.

ARKANSAS

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Meet the Freshmen – Florida & Kentucky

FLORIDA

How are you not winning the national championship every year, Florida? Last year’s freshman class brought that championship ability, but it didn’t quite happen. This year’s class brings the same quality, the major difference being that the 2019 class also has a ton of replacement work to do in making up for the absences of McMurtry, Baker, and Slocum. That must be accomplished before they can even entertain the prospect of improving on last season’s performance.

The good news for Florida—the talent is there. This class should bring enough routines to increase the squad depth even over 2018’s roster.

Florida Freshmen 2019
Trinity Thomas VT UB BB FX
I mean, come on. If Trinity Thomas isn’t a star in college gymnastics, there’s something wrong with college gymnastics. The combination of exceptional extension and crazy-easy power makes her potentially the most compelling 10 prospect among all freshmen this year. Expect Thomas to figure critically on every event.

Beam has always been Thomas’s most impressive piece because of the way she separates herself from the rabble through her leaps, but she has equally vital power on floor—not to mention about a million viable tumbling-pass options. Beyond that, Thomas’s ability to maintain leg position on skills like Shaps on bars tells me that coming up with a deduction-free NCAA bars routine shouldn’t be much trouble. On vault, she has settled into the Y1.5 these last couple years, which tended to undermine her AA score in elite because of elite, but it should be a clean option in NCAA, almost entirely free of sloppy-knee-town.

Sydney Johnson-Scharpf VT UB BB FX
Let us not forget SJS, the type of elite who always seemed like, “OK, Have fun with this for a while, but NCAA will be your real thing.” Floor has always been her event, not just because she has an inherent comfort in performing. The tumbling is there too. I’d also expect to see SJS on beam, where she shows the acro extension and viable NCAA leaps to snatch a strong score.

On bars, SJS shows efficient and solid D elements that can make for a lineup-ready option. On vault, we haven’t seen the DTY in several years, but the full she showed most recently in elite would make an acceptably clean option if Florida is looking for more fulls, which it may not be.

Savannah Schoenherr VT UB BB FX
The name you don’t know in Florida’s class but should learn now is Schoenherr’s. She finished 2nd AA at JO nationals this year and should make her way into a least a couple lineups for Florida with the potential to do all four.

Most importantly, Schoenherr vaults a realistic Y1.5 that Florida will need to make up for the three critical lost vaults from last season. She’s a key piece there. On beam, those leaps and smooth acro skills make her routine an appealing prospect, and with the height she gets on the Jaeger, bars should be able to score quite well too. (Is the dismount difficulty enough to get into the lineup?) On floor, Schoenherr is working a maybe-3/1 and can twist and leap, so it’s feasible but still probably her least likely piece. We’ll see if the ultimate difficulty is there to break into the six.

Leah Clapper VT UB BB FX
You know Clapper from her sojourn in elite, and she’ll be a fascinating one to watch because she’s an accomplished athlete in both elite and JO (finished 9th AA at JO nationals this year in the same division as Schoenherr) who has the skill set to provide a routine on any event for 9.800. For most teams, Clapper would be a “get in the all-around right now” prospect. But on this team, it’s unclear yet which lineup positions will even be open by the time you get to Clapper.

I see floor as a possibility. The D passes she used in L10 this year are very comfortable for her. She’s also been showing a solid two-loso series on beam in training videos, has a workable full on vault should Florida need it, and has cleaned up bars since going back to JO/NCAA composition.

Nya Reed VT UB BB FX
Reed’s most likely contribution to Florida will be on floor, where she has been training a massive DLO (and also has a worthwhile double Arabian from JO days). Her twisting form is strong as well, so Florida will look to get that routine into the lineup for a big score. Reed also gets some real distance on a Yfull, presenting that as yet another vault option. We’re much less likely to see bars and beam, but she can be in the depth pool on beam.
Halley Taylor VT UB BB FX
Taylor was sort of supposed to be “the other one” in this class, but her surprise 8th-place AA finish at JO nationals this year really complicated things. That’s not a random-walk-on kind of result. Taylor is working a DLO to present herself as a viable floor option on this team and could be in the depth pool on bars and beam as well, where might challenge with a little cleaning.

KENTUCKY

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Meet the Freshmen – LSU & Georgia

LSU

Today, it’s LSU and Georgia—pairing a teeny, tiny freshman class with a large army freshman class to balance things out.

With Bailey Ferrer signing yesterday to join the LSU team for the 2019 season (and a vital signing it is), that brings LSU’s new class up to two members. This still does not present a net gain of routines for 2019, a season in which the important work from Hambrick and Macadaeg will need to be replaced somehow, so the upperclasswomen will also be counted on to take some of that burden.

LSU Freshmen 2019
Bailey Ferrer VT UB BB FX
In Ferrer, LSU has a former junior elite whom we can expect to contribute on multiple events right away. Since dropping back to L10, Ferrer’s best scores have come on vault, where that 10.0-start Omelianchik gives her a leg-up in the lineup discussion. Her non-terrifying double Arabian and comfortable twisting ability on floor will also be an asset for a lineup that needs Ferrer and Kelley to restock the group this season. Expect to see her on at least those two pieces.

I could also see Ferrer getting into that bars lineup in an early spot. Someone has to slot in for Hambrick—it’s not yet clear who it will be—and Ferrer is a nominee. The knees and leaps probably keep Ferrer from the beam lineup on a team like this, but she presents a routine if needed.

Rebecca D’Antonio VT UB BB FX
D’Antonio is the kind of walk-on unlikely to see competition time on a team as strong as LSU’s, but that beam work has a lot of potential, so I could see a project to develop that as something more than just a depth routine.

GEORGIA

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Meet the Freshmen – Utah, Nebraska, Denver

UTAH

Can you be better in 2019 than they were in 2018? That’s the question facing the top programs as the number of teams competing on the final day drops from six to four this year. Being among the best six teams doesn’t mean anything anymore.

With this year’s standout freshman class of four ninja L10s, Utah has every reason to expect that it can improve over 2018 on each event. The Utes lose four routines from 2018’s final lineups, but this freshman class can very realistically add 10-11 new ones, meaning 2019 should bring Utah a net gain in both depth and scoring potential.

Utah Freshmen 2019
Cristal Isa VT UB BB FX
Major all-around accomplishments are a theme of this freshman class (three of the four finished in the top 10 at JO Nationals this year), but if there’s one I’d pick as most likely to see time on all four events this season, it’s Isa. You watch these routines and see efficient, NCAA-ready gymnastics that needs only minor skill-selection adjustments—the type of routine you’d be happy to put in the middle of the lineup on any event.

In training videos so far this preseason, we’ve seen the addition of a full-in on floor and a gainer 1.5 dismount on beam, which could provide that little extra standout quality and difficulty to get her out of “good for 9.850” territory. Her vault is a very clean, usable full, and on bars, if you can do a Ray, a bail with legs together, and a clean DLO, you’re in business. Definite options here.

Hunter Dula VT UB BB FX
Utah will be excited about Dula on bars. Those precise handstands can be used to create a set free from the kind of built-in deductions that take routines down to 9.850 once April rolls around. A full-in and clean twisting on floor should make Dula a definite contender there as well.

Vault, however, may be the most interesting event for Dula because she boasts a little-seen round-off 1/1 on, back pike—a 10.0 start. It’s actually quite well done and gets better height than most 1/1 on vaults, but it’s so hard to score well for that because these vaults tend to get held to Yurchenko standards of height, distance, and landing position and deducted for all three. Can’t wait to see how it plays out, though.

Adrienne Randall VT UB BB FX
Beam is the event on which Randall is most likely to star—the legs are extended, the leaps are usable, and that real Rulfova can be a signature piece—but her 4th-place AA finish at JOs this year should tell us that Randall is a lineup contender on most events. Bars is similarly important. With those crisp toes and very capable DLO, she has a chance to elevate that lineup, and I would keep Randall in the mix on floor as yet another viable member of Team Full-In from this class.
Cammy Hall VT UB BB FX
Hall was the late signing for Utah, a VT/FX specialist who can deliver a big Yurchenko 1.5 to pump up the team’s supply of 10.0 starts. Of the freshmen, Hall looks the most likely to make her way into the vault lineup and should figure for critical scores as long as the landing control is there. We may also see Hall on floor, where a pretty solid double Arabian should put her among the options.

NEBRASKA

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Meet the Freshmen – Alabama & Auburn

ALABAMA

The five-member freshman class for Alabama will be tasked with the daunting duty of making up for the loss of lineup-leading sets from Kiana Winston and Nickie Guerrero, who delivered all six of Alabama’s 9.9 RQS routines in 2018. Luckily for Alabama, there are some impressive names you might recognize in this freshman class, who should be up to the task.

Alabama Freshmen 2019
Emily Gaskins Vault Bars Beam Floor
Gaskins has been a fan-favorite among the second-tier elites since she was a little baby junior because of her pristine execution, beyond-her-years performance quality, and just-wait-for-NCAA potential. Having now been granted refugee asylum in a college program, she has the tools to be a four-event NCAA star—with the usual elite health caveats implied. While it’s a lot to expect right away, Alabama will need Gaskins to be new-Kiana Winston to keep pace in the arms race of the top teams, especially if Bailie Key has another 2018. But we’ll get to that in the team preview.

Floor has always been the standout piece for Gaskins, and by retaining that DLO, she looks primed for a deep place in the lineup. Her line should suit her well on beam and bars, where the reduction to NCAA composition will allow the toes and handstands to shine while sifting out some of those elite execution trouble spots. Vault is an under-the-radar event for Gaskins, but recall how nice that DTY is in the linked video. Expect her to provide a clean, comfortable, and lineup-ready full there.

Shallon Olsen Vault Bars Beam Floor
It has always been about vault and floor for Olsen. She just won a vault medal 30 seconds ago at worlds and will be counted on to bring an anchor-position 10.0 vault for Alabama. Olsen has a ton of vault choices, but several of them wouldn’t be execution-smart, so I’m thinking the Y1.5 will be the go-to. Similarly, Olsen has a whole bushel of E-passes on floor to deliver what should be the most difficult routine on the team. Also watch to see how Olsen meshes with the patented “It’s 3am and I’ve traveled through time to pass out in 4 clubs at once” Alabama floor music approach because that could be interesting.

It’s easy to chalk up Olsen as only a vault and floor specialist and leave it there, but she did just hit beam in a worlds team final for Canada. I think a lot of us watched that routine and thought, given some more time at the Dana Duckworth Beam Finishing School for Alabama Ladies, that could actually be a thing for her. On bars…congratulations Shallon you don’t have to worry about bars anymore.

Griffin James Vault Bars Beam Floor
Those first two will do most of the Winston/Guerrero replacement work, but expect to see a few routines from James this year as well. She’s very capable on all four pieces, particularly with that believable Yfull. I’m most eager, however, to see what plays out on floor as we go along because the floor tumbling I’ve linked to here is excellent—but it’s from 2014. I haven’t seen floor from James in a long time, and the scores haven’t been consistently competitive the last couple years, but still…back in the day…

I’d note bars as another possibility because the skill set and rhythm is there, even if it would take cleaning. Beam is a similar case where this routine seems like a somewhat workable option, but that’s a pretty tough lineup to get into.

Asia DeWalt Vault Bars Beam Floor
It’s tough to know what we’ll see from DeWalt because recent Achilles issues have hampered what should be a strength for her, the power events. Vault has been by far DeWalt’s best-scoring event in JO, so Alabama will hope for a big Yfull from her to challenge for a spot the lineup. Noteworthy amplitude on transition elements on bars like a Shap 1/2 also make that event look like a worthy project.
Jensie Givens Vault Bars Beam Floor
Watch the bars and beam videos for this walk-on because you’ll go, ‘Oh, I see it.” With those handstands and that Jaeger, Alabama will feel it can turn that bars routine into something very real, and on beam, the leaps and flexibility make you start paying attention—as long as they can work out a dismount.

AUBURN

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