With only weeks to go before the 2020 season, the freshman class has been analyzed half to death, everyone has an opinion on whose class is the strongest and a major prospect having so much as six inches of tape on her ankle can spark a social media panic. But we’re not done fixating on this fascinating cohort just yet. We thought we’d look at the question a different way—which teams’ freshman classes will have the greatest impact on their results? Put another way, which teams are likely to see a major increase in depth or scoring potential this year as a result of a strong freshman class? We’ve looked up and down the rankings and come up with five that we think can make a major impact.
Newcomers: Amanda Cashman, Haley De Jong, Loulie Hattaway, Soraya Hawthorne
The Bulldogs’ rock-solid freshman cohort is one of the strongest joining the NCAA in 2020, ranking alongside the likes of LSU and Michigan. What sets it apart from other top teams—and what warrants its inclusion in this list—is that it replaces a senior class of one and represents a massive increase in depth for the team.
Cashman is perhaps the single most underrated freshman in the country, scoring in the high 38 range during the best moments of her J.O. career and inexplicably triggering fairly minimal hype when she switched her commitment from Utah to Georgia late in her senior year. She has a 10.0 SV vault and is a strong prospect on floor as well as beam, where she’s been doing a double tuck dismount. Hawthorne is a powerhouse with a Yurchenko double full and a double double on floor, and she has recently been doing interesting acro work on beam. De Jong theoretically has two 10.0 vaults to choose between, but she’ll also have immediate value on bars and beam, both of which look strong in training. Hattaway was a wildcard recruit but has very quickly assembled a bars routine that will prove critical if the Bulldogs are once again short on depth this year.
At full strength, this group should contribute eight to 10 routines on a weekly basis. Even if a few projected routines fall through, there’s every reason to believe that they are capable of increasing Georgia’s weekly scores in 2020 and bringing the Gymdogs back to nationals. Even more excitingly, Georgia has a chance to field a full lineup of 10.0 SV vaults this year.
Newcomers: McKenzie Eddy, Maggie Lampsa, Olivia O’Donnell, Lexi Powe, Arayah Simons, Mia Takekawa, Mia Townes, Julia Waight, Mallory Mizuki (R-Fr)
OK, oK, we know. Illinois’ intrasquad was more than a little rough. But there’s still a lot we don’t know about the 2020 Illini, and there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about the megaclass that came to Champaign this year. Freshmen won three events and the all around at the mock meet last weekend, and Mia Takekawa’s 9.950 on beam is a big deal. Though Townes might be injured, there are plenty of other new routines to get excited about. Lexi Powe looked like a vault specialist based on her level 10 scores, but she’s been producing beautiful bars recently, as has Olivia O’Donnell. Mallory Mizuki was expected to make waves last year, but an ACL injury ruled her out. She has been training this fall and though we haven’t seen full routines yet, there’s a good chance she will be able to return this season.
This huge class was unexpected from a team that only graduated four athletes and doesn’t typically recruit walk-ons en masse, but maybe the added depth and strength in numbers is what Nadalie Walsh needs to make a statement this year.
Newcomers: Kaela Azzaretto, Bee Iosso, Elizabeth Kleynerman, Zoe Kyriakopoulos, Cameryn Nichols, Nya Pauldon, Ai-Zhen Tung
Each summer, we make a list of uncommitted rising seniors who could make a major impact on a college team. When two high-ranked athletes from our 2019 list committed to Ithaca, we were as surprised as anyone. Elizabeth Kleynerman has scored over 37.000 repeatedly in level 10, a mark of excellence among Division III recruits. Zoe Kyriakopoulos has a 37-plus score of her own and has featured heavily in bars and beam videos from the Bombers. Purported beam specialist Ai-Zhen Tung could immediately become one of Division III’s best on the event, but she has also been training vault and floor and looking strong.
Ithaca has arguably the most talented roster in the NCGA-East division and has a good shot at the conference championship this year if it can regain the momentum it had in its record-breaking 2018 season.
Newcomers: Elizabeth Culton, Tina Ghashghaei, Hannah Nam, Sophie Silverstein, Hallie Thompson, McKenna Appleton (R-Fr)
We’ve been mentioning for a while that North Carolina has been recruiting far above its ranking. This might finally be the year that that plays out in real routines. (We had hopes for last year when McKenna Appleton decided to join early, but when she was ruled out due to injury very shortly afterward, we realized it would have to wait.) Appleton is a former junior elite who looked beautiful in training last year. Thompson is one fans have had their eyes on for years—she’s powerful and stylish, but also accomplished and ultra-consistent, which is something North Carolina needs. She has been landing her Yurchenko one and a half well this year. Nam has been a steady presence in preseason training while Culton, who only scored below 9.000 on bars twice in her high school career, could be a balm to an often-weak Carolina bars lineup.
For UNC, the story is very simple: Success means making regionals. There’s absolutely no reason this team shouldn’t, and yet it’s only qualified once in the past six years. If any freshman class can change that, it’s this one.
Newcomers: Cassie Clement, Caitlin Henry, Riley Meeks, Aimee Titche, Raegan Walker, Seina Cho (Injured in 2019)
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. (You probably have.) Raegan Walker is one of the best gymnasts joining the NCAA this year on any level and by any measure. It’s really extraordinary for Yale, or any team in the USAG division, to land a recruit of her caliber. She is recovering from an Achilles tear suffered early 2019, so we may not see her in the first weeks of the season, but the wait will be worth it. Her classmates have plenty of talent of their own. Aimee Titche, formerly committed to Arizona, is powerful and has trained a Yurchenko one and a half. Seina Cho was not able to compete in 2019 due to a shoulder injury, but she showed beam and floor at a recent intrasquad.
Yale had a landmark 2019 season despite injuries restricting numerous underclassmen. If the newcomers can stay healthy and shine this year, it could threaten for the USAG national title.
Let us know in the comments (or in a thread on Facebook—yes, we read those!) who you think we missed!
Article by Rebecca Scally
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