Standout newcomers to watch this spring


Photo courtesy of @IlliniMGym on Twitter

Sophomore Amari Sewell sticks his landing during his floor routine at the Orange and Blue Meet on Dec. 9.

By Sports Staff

With the transfer portal in full swing and Illinois’ coaches churning out talent, it can be hard to keep up with each sport’s successes. Illinois coaches have brought in new talent everywhere, but some get more attention than others. Here are our top new Illini to look out for this spring:

Arielle Ward: Women’s gymnastics

Arielle Ward, a freshman all-around gymnast from Frisco, Texas, has been an immediate impact performer for the Illini on vault. Against Missouri on Jan. 8, her first collegiate meet, she scored a 9.82 on vault — a very strong performance. In the Arizona Quad Meet a week later, Ward improved her vault and led the Illini in that category, posting a 9.825.

In high school, she was a two-time Junior Olympic Qualifier and Westerns Qualifier. In 2017, she was the Level 9 Texas State Champion.

“She’s got ice in her veins,” women’s gymnastics head coach Nadalie Walsh said. “So having her, as a freshman, make this debut and just really lead our team on some of the events that she’s doing has been really fun to watch. We really trust her.”

Amari Sewell: Men’s gymnastics

Sophomore Amari Sewell is one of new head coach Daniel Ribeiro’s strongest weapons. Illinois men’s gymnastics already sits in the top three programs in the country, and adding Sewell to that roster is just unfair.

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    In his two seasons at Iowa, Sewell found his best events. Although listed as an all-arounder, Sewell dominates the vault and is very solid on floor. As a Hawkeye, he earned two vault event titles and has already earned one in his time with the Illini.

    In his first two events with Illinois, he has contributed to both victories, won the vault title at the Windy City Invitational and set a new personal best of 13.600 on the floor. More greatness is sure to come from this sophomore transfer.

    Violeta Martinez: Women’s tennis

    The lone freshman and only newcomer to head coach Evan Clark’s squad has the potential to make an immediate impact. Martinez was a highly recruited prospect coming out of high school, consistently being ranked within the top 25 of her class.

    Clark has proven in the past that he will not shy away from playing freshmen who are worth their salt, with sophomores Kasia Treiber, Megan Heuser and Kida Ferrari all playing a significant role last year. Despite seeing limited action in the fall season due to injury, Martinez’ ability and Clark’s willingness to trust freshmen means her playing time will not be hindered.

    Especially while being pigeon-holed to the bottom singles courts due to talented upperclassmen, Martinez should have no trouble providing Illinois with key points this season.

    Karlis Ozolins: Men’s tennis

    After joining the Illini in January 2022, Ozolins didn’t see any action on the court and instead took the time to train. However, this spring could prove to be a major one for Ozolins, as the Latvia native has seen an elevated role, playing Illinois’ Court 2 in singles and doubles play.

    The sophomore is no stranger to winning and brings Illinois a championship mentality. In 2019, he won the Grade 1 Tournament and has only continued to improve. Ozolins has competed at high levels in both singles and doubles play, and in 2020, he was a singles semifinalist and a doubles finalist at the Junior Australian Open.

    Arguably the biggest achievement of Ozolins’ career was when he earned a career-high ranking of number six in the world from the International Tennis Federation. Illinois has quite a player in the sophomore, and his first season of play with the program will be one to watch.


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