November 23, 2014

Freshman Notes: UCLA and Others

No, I hadn't forgotten about UCLA. The Bruins just have eleventy billion new (and old-new) gymnasts this year, many of whom are going to be wait-and-see types, so I was putting off talking about them. Of all the giant freshman classes, this is the giantest. We may be returning to the days when UCLA has a hundred walk-ons on the roster that no one has ever seen, may not actually exist, and who disappear after a season. Still, here we are. It's time to meet the new Bruins as well as run through the notable roster entrances and exits on some other teams.

UCLA didn't make Super Six last year for the first time since 2009, and it's not going to be any easier this year after the losses of Olivia Courtney and Syd Sawa. Courtney and Sawa accounted for 7 routines from last year's postseason lineup, and while that's not all that many compared to some other teams, these were mostly significant routines. Besides Danusia Francis's beam and Sam Peszek's everything, Courtney and Sawa accounted for the rest of the realistic 9.9s in 2014, so the Bruins will need to find new 9.9s (particularly floor and vault 9.9s) from somewhere.

The 9.9 scenario is the main question I have about this freshman class. It's a class of possibilities and yet-to-be-honed raw potential, and I expect to hear a lot this season about how rewarding this class has been to coach. As part of that potential, I see a TON of 9.800s floating around (if UCLA is putting up consistent 9.7s in lineups again this year, they will have only themselves to blame—or not training on podium, or whatever), but are there enough 9.9s?

That's why Peng Peng Lee's comeback is more than essential for UCLA. She is a glorious ray of hope made out of dreams and wishes and 9.9s, and at her best, is capable of partnering with Peszek to lift this team to national competitiveness. Even if they're taking it easy with Peng now that her knee is made out of scalpels (I don't know how surgery works), she can still be a huge boost to bars and beam, which will limit the expectations placed on the freshmen. I suppose Peng sort of counts as a freshman because she has never done a routine for UCLA, but at this point she's one of the oldest members of the team. I'm not profiling her as one of the freshmen, especially because I did last year and then UCLA announced she was out for the year again the very next day. I'm a jinx. Let's stop talking about it and move on to the real freshmen.

Pua Hall is the most recognizable name in the group, having competed as a junior elite in 2009 and 2010. While I do wonder how many big-impact routines there will be in this class, one of those big routines should be Hall's vault, especially for a team that put up way too many 9.725s in the first three spots last season. (In case you're wondering, the correct number of 9.725s is zero.) 

She has been competing that 1.5 for approximately forever, and it's quite good. She won vault in her division at JO Nationals in 2013 and brings the power, distance, and form for a usable score here depending on which vault is selected for her. (I would think full, but this team needs someone doing more difficulty than a yfull. They haven't had that since Zam's occasional Lopez and McCullough's 1.5. It's time for another 1.5). Hall will need to be hanging out with Peszek at the back of that lineup.

Floor is probably the other likely area for Hall to compete for a spot. She shows a double arabian as part of a solid-enough repertoire of tumbling, and now that she's in Val Land, her general foundation of style and presence should be sufficiently UCLA-ified into a true floor performance. As a quick mention, bars has been Hall's weak event in her career, but in kind of a McKayla Maroney way, she has a randomly huge gienger nestled in there. I'm vaguely hoping they can work some magic on that routine so we get to see the gienger. 

Like most of her peers, Melissa Metcalf competed as a junior elite back when she was a day old, but she has been squarely in the L10 ranks for a while now. She's one of those incoming gymnasts who is possibly believable on multiple events, but she'll be in a fight against the several other people who are possibly believable on those same events and have been drifting in and out of the lineups the last season or two. (I mean a metaphorical fight. A fight of sticking landings. Miss Val has not instituted a lineup fight club. Yet.) That said, the main area where Metcalf had success as a JO gymnast is bars.

Metcalf won bars at nationals in her division in 2013 with that routine, and she has some toe point and stalder action going for her that warms my heart. There are enough high-level tools here that this routine should become a thing. 

Sonya Meraz is an interesting one. She's an All-Olympia gymnast who has come on strong in recent years and even progressed far enough that she attempted to qualify elite for the first time early this year. She didn't come very close to getting the qualifying score (bars isn't going to fare well under the elite COP), but her trajectory is unusual in that the decision to try elite usually comes early in the junior days rather than on the eve of NCAA gymnastics.

Of note, at her elite qualifying event, Meraz did beat Alyssa Pritchett on each event, so by the reflexive property of elite qualifying, if Pritchett was making vault and floor lineups at the end of her UCLA career, so should Meraz. Ish? She'll be helped by developing that elite routine composition, particularly performing a full-in on floor now (which may set her apart from all of the double pikers in this class) and upgrading from the half to the full on vault.

Janay Honest scored the intra-team upset of the day this spring to qualify to JO Nationals ahead of her now-teammate Metcalf, who was expected to advance given her strong finish in 2013. Honest placed well mostly through consistency, but she was also buoyed by a high-level vault score. Vault is where Honest has always excelled, and given the lack of depth on vault in recent years, it's clear why UCLA is bringing in so many gymnasts like her who have excelled on vault. The height she gets on that full puts her ahead of most of the other members of this UCLA class.

Amplitude is the name of the game for Honest, a quality she brings to her double pike and tuck on floor as well, but I'm including this video of her beam routine below solely for the moment when that other girl realizes she's right in front of the camera and melts into the floor. Magic.

But wait! There's more! Several more. Rechelle Dennis is also joining this class, another gymnast who perhaps unexpectedly qualified for JO Nationals this year, getting in by virtue of strong scores  on floor and bars. Those are traditionally the events where she scores well. Much like Honest, Dennis doesn't show big difficulty on floor, but she has some pop in her tumbling and lands her double saltos high and comfortably.

LaNiesha-Jopre Irvin is another in the walk-on parade who may hang around to add to the numbers on vault with her Yurchenko full. She usually places highest on vault with consistent 9.5s and 9.6s in JO competitions. The final newbie is Karli Dugas, and with her, I have no idea.

Someone else who could end up being an essential part of the Bruin team in 2015 is the old-new gymnast Jordan Williams. Williams spent the last four years competing for Arizona and is now starting grad school at UCLA. Because she got injured in January last year and missed pretty much the whole season, she was able to get an extra year of eligibility that she's using for UCLA. I was watching when she got injured last season after slipping off the bars going for her double front dismount, and it was a very scary fall. (And then the camera immediately cut away and her injury was never mentioned so no one knew what was going on or how serious it was. Unacceptable. What, are we just supposed to pretend it didn't happen?)

Williams is the type who can provide a 9.825 on most events when called upon, and in UCLA's mission to bolster depth this season, that could be very significant. She consistently competed bars for Arizona with useful scores, and her vault was going well last year before the injury. Both events were safely in 9.8 territory, so I can see her being used on those pieces as necessary.

OUT - 8 postseason routines
-Amber See (vault, beam, floor) - 17th in nation on floor, 10.000 on vault
-Sarah Fiedler (bars, beam, floor)
-Elizabeth McNabb (bars, beam)

-Bridget Hodan - placed in the top 5 on beam at JO Nationals in 2012 and 2013
-Jordyn Givens

OUT - 5 postseason routines
-Blalock (vault, beam, floor before injury in 2014) - 6th in nation on vault in 2013
-Harris (vault, bars, beam floor)
-Casey (bars)

-Risa Perez (transfer) - consistent 9.800-9.875s for Arizona State on beam and floor as the team's best beamer, and obviously best floor performer.    
-Silvia Colussi-Pelaez (transfer) - recorded 9.7s in competition on VT and FX for Florida, frequent exhibitions, could contribute competitive scores in the AA. Still hoping for the side aerial. 
-Jamie Radermacher (transfer) - scored 9.775s on vault and floor when competing for Eastern Michigan in 2012.
-Dani Dessaints - top 10 on bars and floor at JO Nationals in 2013
-Shireen Khamedoost - 3rd on beam at 2014 JO NIT, 1st on bars at 2014 Regionals

OUT - 0 postseason routines

-Abigail Milliet - 8th AA at 2013 P&G Championships, 56.850 day 1 score, 3rd on beam day 1 behind Biles and Ross.
-Sarah Garcia - 1st at 2013 JO NIT Senior B, top 5 on every event
-Kennedy Finister - 1st at 2014 JO NIT Senior D, winning bars and beam
-Cara Stricklin
-Brooke Bray
-Blake Jones

OUT - 8 postseason routines
-Kayla Slechta - (vault, bars, floor) - 9.950 high on vault, 9.925 high on floor
-Kylie Schermann - (vault, beam, floor) - 9.950 high on beam, 9.875 RQS on vault and floor
-Dusti Russell - (beam)
-Justine Cherwink - (floor)

-Bailey Gardner - 4th at JO Nationals Senior A in 2013, career high 9.925 on vault
-Ciara Gardner - 6th at JO Nationals Senior B in 2013
-Hannah Hitchcock
-Abby DeMuse
-Rachel Rowland

OUT - 9 postseason routines
Kassidy Stauder - (vault, bars, beam, floor) - bars and beam anchor, team-high RQS on those events
Randi Lau - (vault, beam, floor)
Lindsay Musgrove (vault, floor)

Lauren Li - Texas state champion Senior C, top 10 vault and floor at JO Nationals, career high 9.7s on vault, bars, beam
Chanen Raygoza - competed as a junior elite, has been injured forever
Briannah Tsang - Canadian elite, usually places best on vault and floor
Oni Timothy - 6th on vault, 11th on floor at 2013 JO Nationals,

OUT - 9 postseason routines
Katherine Grable (vault, bars, beam, and floor) - she's Katherine Grable
Shelby Salmon (bars, beam) - team #2 on bars, 9.845 RQS
Bailee Zumwalde (vault, floor)
Scarlett Williams (vault)

Braie Speed - standout junior in 2009-2010, flirted with elite, excels on bars
Paige Zaziski - 4th at JO Nationals Senior C, 1st on vault, top 5 bars and floor
Leah MacMoyle
Kathleen York
Mia Bargiacchi


  1. I know this is a bit off topic but Ashleigh Gnat did a DTY at a LSU intrasquad earlier this month and it looks AMAZING. She really needs to compete this vault because it is better than her FTY and 1.5TY, plus we need to see a DTY in NCAA gymnastics, it just needs to happen.

  2. Curious – Two of those OUT gymnasts at Minnesota were eligible to return, weren't they? (Schermann, Cherwink) Did they graduate early? Transfer? I believe they should be part of the senior and sophomore classes in 2015.

  3. So excited for UCLA this year! They posted a video of Peng Peng doing a Bhardwaj and a van Leeuwan on bars. I remember she was training a triple turn to single turn to double turn combo on beam last year. She'll add some nice originality to UCLA's repertoire this year. :)

    1. Peng Peng also posted a tweet in October about how excited she was that she completed a DTY on vault for the first time in two years.

  4. I think it would be great if University Pittsburgh was highlighted. I hear that they are shaking it up a bit and really recruiting some top ranking girls lately.

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