Photograph: Nia Dennis/Instagram
The 2018 NCAA season is still months away, but it is never too early to start knowing the incoming freshman class for each team. This is both a way to begin thinking of potential lineups, and a way to get to know less well-known gymnasts and their routines.
UCLA said goodbye to three amazing seniors: Mikaela Gerber, who was the Bruins’ lead-off on beam; Hallie Mossett, who was UCLA’s anchor on floor; and Angi Cipra, who competed regularly on vault and floor. UCLA’s other senior, Christine Peng-Peng Lee, also graduated, but will be back next year as a second-year red-shirt senior for the Bruins.
This year, according to tradition, UCLA has welcomed a combination of famous elite gymnasts, international athletes and a ton of walk-ons. The six freshmen are: Nia Dennis, from Westerville, Ohio; Sofia Gonzalez, from Costa Mesa, California and the Philippines; Rebecca Karlous, from Irvine, California; Savannah Kooyman, from Laguna Hills, California; Kendal Poston, from Aliso Viejo, California; and Pauline Tratz, from Karlsruhe, Germany.
Nia Dennis trained at Legacy Elite Gymnastics, the gym that coached former UCLA Bruin and Olympic alternate Anna Li. She was an international elite gymnast from 2012 to 2014. She made her international debut as a junior at the Jesolo Trophy in 2014, where she finished first with the team and won silver in the all around and on bars. Later that year she competed at the Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships, winning gold with the team and silver in the all around and on vault. In 2015, her first year as a senior, she competed at the P&G Championships and was named to the U.S. National Team. In early 2016 she was selected to compete as an individual at the Stuttgart World Cup, but she tore an Achilles tendon a few weeks before the competition, and had to withdraw. She came back really quickly to compete on bars at the P&Gs in June, but she was not selected for the Olympic Trials. Dennis competed in 2017 as a Level 10 gymnast, and won the all around title at the J.O. National Championships.
Dennis’s best apparatus has always been bars, where she has a variety of difficult skills, including a Maloney to shootover, a full pirouette and a double layout, everything performed with great ease, confidence and precision. She however is very strong in the other apparatuses as well. She performs a double Arabian on floor, a very precise FTY on vault and a good beam set, which includes a rarely done double Wolf turn. She could easily compete in the all around along with Madison Kocian next year!
Sofia Gonzalez trained at Gym-Max with Howie and Jenny Liang, who coached Olympic champion and UCLA Bruin Kyla Ross, as well as UCLA’s Felicia Hano.
Gonzalez moved to California from the Philippines in 2015 for training purposes, but is still a member of the Philippines national team. In 2015 she won bronze with the team at the Southeast Asian Games in Singapore and gold on balance beam at the Philippines National Games.
Gonzalez’s best apparatus is beam. She has difficult skills, beautiful flexibility and pointed toes, which make everything very graceful and enjoyable. She could easily be in the lineup, especially this year with Gerber and Mossett gone! Gonzalez is also a very expressive floor worker. She does not have the highest difficulty (double tuck, double twist, two-and-a-half twist), but her lines and flexibility are excellent, and she interprets the music very well.
Rebecca Karlous trained at South Coast Gymnastics. In 2016 at the Lady Luck Invitational she finished fifth on vault and seventh on beam. Later that year, at the Region 1 Regional Championships in April, she posted her highest score of the year on vault, a 9.125, placing sixteenth. Her best meet of 2017 was the SCEGA Californian Classic, where she scored a 9.000 on vault for fifth place and a 9.100 on beam for third place. In 2017 she also added bars to her repertoire. Her best score was a 7.725 at the Long Beach Open in February.
Karlous’s best apparatus is also beam, where she performs a BHS + back tuck, a switch leap + straddle quarter and a Gainer piked layout. She also trains all other apparatuses. On bars, she performs a straddle back onto the low bars, the same move UCLA’s JaNay Honest competes. On floor, she trains a tucked double back and two combination passes, and on vault a Yurchenko layout. She has potential to make the lineup especially on beam!
Savannah Kooyman trained at Precision Gymnastics. In 2015 she competed at the J.O. National Championships, where she finished eighth in the all around and seventh on bars and floor. In 2016 she competed at the State Championships, where she finished third on floor, fourth on bars and eighth in the all around. She qualified to the Region 1 Championships, and earned a sixth-place finish on floor exercise. In March 2017 she competed at the Level 10 State Championships, where she won gold in the all around, uneven bars and floor exercise and was third on beam. Kooyman concluded her season at the Region 1 Championships, where she placed sixth on bars and ninth in the all around.
Kooyman excels on bars, beam and floor. She is a very expressive and elegant gymnast, with long lines and pointed toes. She is an excellent floor worker. She opens with a huge double pike, she has beautiful leaps and a very well choreographed routine. She is also an very good bar worker. Her routine includes a Maloney to Pak Salto and a high full-twisting double tuck. On beam, she mounts the apparatus with a pressed handstands, and competes a difficult from tuck and beautiful leaps. She competes only a Yurchenko layout on vault, but if she can upgrade to a full, she could be in contention for an all around spot!
Kendal Poston trained at Azarian U.S. Gymnastics Training Center. She has competed as a Level 10 gymnast since 2014. That year she placed first on vault and on beam both at the California Classic and at the SoCal State Championships. She competed at the J.O. National Championships both in 2016 at 2017. She finished eighteenth in the all around in 2016 and twenty-third in 2017. In 2017 she also competed at the Pacific Classic, where she won gold on vault and tied for silver on beam, and at the Region 1 Championships, where she finished second on beam and tied for third on floor.
Poston’s best apparatus is vault, where she competes a very solid front pike. Her vault is much needed at UCLA. Poston is also good on the other apparatuses. She has a very intense floor routine, with three twisting passes. Her bar routine includes some pirouetting elements and a shootover to the low bar. And her beam is strong too. It includes a BHS + LOSO and a BHS + one-and-a-half twist as a dismount.
Pauline Tratz trained at Rintheim, Germany, and is a member of the German elite gymnastics team. Tratz turned senior in 2015. That spring she competed at the Cottbus World Cup, where she finished fifth on vault, and at the European Championships, where she finished eighteenth in the all around. Later that year she won a silver medal on vault and a bronze medal on floor at the German National Championships, and she was selected to represent Germany at the World Championships in Glasgow, where her team finished twelfth. In 2016 Tratz was selected to represent Germany at the Olympic Test Event, where she helped her team qualify for the Olympic Games in second place. This year, Trazt competed at the German National Championships and won gold on vault.
Trazt is a powerful athlete, and her best apparatuses are indeed vault and floor. On vault, she can compete two vaults: a very clean FTY, worth a 9.950 in the NCAA, and a more difficult front pike half, worth a 10.0. On floor she can compete a very high full-twisting double tuck, as well as a twisting combination pass, which is required in the NCAA. She will be a strong addition for UCLA on its two currently weakest apparatuses, vault in particular.
Good luck to the future Bruins!
Related: Meet the 2018 Florida Freshman Class
Article by Talitha Ilacqua
(A previous version of this article was published on WOGymnastikA)