(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
The Gym Devils will welcome five newcomers to the team this season, as head coach Jay Santos brought in three freshmen and two junior transfers to the squad.
Cairo Leonard-Baker is one of the freshmen joining the team and will likely be an all-around competitor for the Gym Devils. Leonard-Baker is a two-time Junior Olympic National qualifier and holds three of the top-100 bars scores in the nation in 2017.
Leonard-Baker has already shown how she’ll be able to make her mark on the team, as she put on an outstanding performance in the team’s first intrasquad meet back in November.
Leonard-Baker soars on bars and has an extremely powerful vault. She’ll be an important addition to the all-around competition, especially in the vault lineup where ASU lacked skill last season.
Leonard-Baker said the transition to collegiate gymnastics hasn’t been the easiest for her, but that the help and support from her teammates has made it easier.
“We talk about accountability a lot,” Leonard-Baker said. “We’re pushing ourselves and we have people behind us telling us that ‘you can do this’, and we’re just putting our all in. We just really feel like a team and a family.”
Another freshman joining the squad is Molly McNamara. McNamara was a 2016 Junior Olympic National qualifier and joins the team as a walk-on. McNamara did not show at the intraquad meet, but has the ability to compete in the all-around for the Gym Devils.
Maya Williams is the third freshmen that will make her way to Tempe. Williams competes for Jamaica on the international circuit and is the sister of current Cal Bears gymnast, Toni-Ann Williams. In addition to McNamara, she did not show at the intrasquad, but she is able to compete on all four events. She, too, is a walk-on to the team.
One of the junior transfers to join the squad is Kaitlyn Szafranski, the sister of current Gym Devil Ashley Szafranski. She was a two-time JO National qualifier and the 2015 JO National Bars Champion.
Szafranski is a transfer from the gymnastics powerhouse at Louisiana State that has finished as the national runner-up the past two seasons. Despite the program’s success, Szafranski was only able to show in exhibition on vault and bars during her two years at LSU.
During her first appearance as a Gym Devil at the intrasquad, Szafranski competed on bars, vault and floor. With her strong and powerful tumbling, Szafrankski will likely make her way to the vault and floor lineups, two events where the Gym Devils struggled with last season.
Szafranski said that the transition from LSU to ASU has been surprisingly easy, and she mostly has her sister to thank for that. She is thrilled to join the team and get the chance to compete collegiately alongside her sister and the rest of the Gym Devils.
“My goal is just to contribute to the team any and every way that I possibly can,” Szafranski said.
Anne Kuhm is the other junior-transfer to the ASU team. Kuhm hails from Brumath, France where she attended the University of Paris-Dauphine. Kuhm has been a member of the French national team since 2009 and is a two-time French national all-around champion. She competed in the 2012 London Olympics for France and was selected as an alternate for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Kuhm will likely be the most valuable addition to the Gym Devils squad this season. She will compete in the all-around and bring much-needed skill, precision and experience to the team.
Despite Kuhm’s small, 5’2” frame, she in no way lacks power. She is extremely graceful and performs high-level skills with ease and her natural ability shows on every event she performs.
Kuhm said the transition from France to ASU has been very different since they practice more as a team rather than individually. She said she chose ASU because she wanted to do both gymnastics and school at a high level, and she knew ASU would offer her that.
“I want to help my team and do my very best,” Kuhm said. “I really want us to go to regionals and why not Nationals!”
Despite the usual hiccups that come with change, Santos says that all the newcomers have been adjusting well. For the freshman, Santos said it’s just getting used to the higher-level training that the girls have to get used to while the junior-transfers mainly have to learn more the new coaching styles.
“Anne came from the French national system where it was a very different trying style. Kate Szafranski came from LSU, same type of timeline, but still different training. Every coach does it a little bit differently.” Santos said.
The Gym Devils will have one more intrasquad meet Friday, Dec. 15 at 6:30 p.m. before opening the regular season at home in a tri-meet against Auburn, Iowa and Iowa State. The season opener will take place Saturday, Jan. 6 at 4 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena.