Category Archives: Freshman Preview

Freshman Preview: Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA

Who Is She?

Whew boy. Deep breaths. Oklahoma has opted to deal with the departure of Maggie Nichols by recruiting every person KJ has ever met as part of a freshman class of nine (it actually was 10, but Cassidy Knight no longer appears). So let’s get into it.

The name-brand in the group is former WOGA elite Audrey Davis, who placed 6th all-around at junior nationals in 2017, four tenths behind Leanne Wong, then 14th all-around at senior nationals in 2018. Davis returned to JO for a moment in 2020 to compete bars and beam, winning beam at every meet she entered.

After Davis, we get to the cavalcade of ninja L10s. Two weeks ago, Oklahoma announced that Danae Fletcher, an MG Elite refugee, would be granted asylum to join the team a year early. Because there just weren’t enough people in this class already. Most recently, Fletcher placed 4th AA in her junior division at JO Nationals in 2019, winning the floor title. Speaking of floor, Katherine LeVasseur enjoyed her best result at March’s Nastia Cup on that event, placing third, but typically her strongest scores come on vault, where she scored a 10.000 at 2019 Region 3s.

Winning vault is a bit of a theme in this year’s class. Julianne Fehring won the event in her division at 2019 JO Nationals with a Yurchenko 1.5, following in the footsteps of Quinn Smith, who did the exact same at 2018 JO Nationals with her own Yurchenko 1.5.

Lest it seem to be all vault, I’d rate bars as Bell Johnson‘s best event, having earned her highest placement there at each of the last three JO Nationals.

Augmenting the class further are two walk-ons who were not part of the signing class—Sheridan Ramsey and Audrey Lynn. Ramsey scored a 9.750 on vault at 2019 Region 3s for her best score ever, while Lynn is a newer L10, just starting that level in the 2019 season, who recorded her top career score of 9.650 on vault in 2020 just before the shutdown.

Oklahoma’s freshman class also includes Meilin Sullivan—who placed 5th on bars at 2019 JO Nationals and profiles as a very believable bars, beam, and floor contender—but per her mom on the socials, she’ll be out for the season with COVID-induced myocarditis/pericarditis.

Still, um, it’s a lot of people with a lot of gymnastics.

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Freshman Preview: UCLA

UCLA

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.

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Freshman Preview: Cal

CAL

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.

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Freshman Preview: Alabama

ALABAMA

Who Is She?

Despite Alabama’s…shall we say tumultuous…summer (too euphemistic? The Crimson Tide Summer of What’s Racism?), the team plunges ahead into another season with a trio of freshmen joining the squad.

Most significant among the group will be former elite Shania Adams, who has been competing at US nationals since the early Truman administration and most recently placed 12th at senior nationals in 2018, the highest-ranking elite from that year who’s entering college this season. The last time we saw Adams was American Classic in 2019, following her switch from Buckeye to Future, where she placed 3rd all-around.

Cameron Machado does not have quite the elite experience as Adams, but she did compete as a baby junior in the previous quad—hitting the elite circuit in 2016—before opting for the L10 route the past couple years. Most recently, Machado placed 17th all-around in her junior session at JO Nationals in 2019, marked by a 10th-place result on bars.

On the opposite end of the experience spectrum is the third member of the class, Sarah Duhe, who had just qualified to Level 9 when Adams and Machado were competing together at elite nationals in 2016. Duhe participated in her first L10 competitions in 2019 and is walking on to the Alabama team in the hope of providing a vault, certainly her best event.

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Freshman Preview: Florida

FLORIDA

Who Is She?

Florida’s incoming quartet for 2021 is, to some extent, a makeshift class. In a different bubble of the multiverse, we are arriving at the post-Olympic college season with a bevy of elites sashaying into college gym to get their 10s. Instead, we all got the dud timeline and Florida will have to wait for the 2022 season for that elite explosion.

Nonetheless, Florida has gone to work to swap the 2021 class with the 2022 class, getting a couple essential junior-elite-to-L10s to start a year early to protect against a down season in 2021. So while it may be a makeshift class, it’s Florida, and Florida can make a pretty good shift.

Headlining this year’s class is Ellie Lazzari, a former junior elite who probably could have made quite the impact as a senior elite had she gone that direction. Rather, she joined the many (many) college newcomers this year in saying “that’s enough for me and this” to elite after 2017, returning to L10 gymnastics in 2019 to clean up all the awards. Lazzari won the all-around title at 2019 JO Nationals while placing no worse than 4th on any event.

Partnering with Lazzari in Florida’s class exchange program is another former junior elite, Gabbie Gallentine‘s Day. Gallentine’s Day ventured into junior elite for a couple years in the early part of this quad, making her mark on the Everest special: bars, which pretty much always garnered her best placement. Gallentine returned to L10 in 2020 to make a few appearances in preparation for college.

Joining the class this year to add some routines will be L10s Chloi Clark and Alex Magee. Clark had her best result in 2019 when she advanced to JO Nationals and finished 4th on vault. In 2019, Magee finished 3rd at Florida states on bars, which is nearly always her strongest event.

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Freshman Preview: Denver

DENVER

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.

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