The SEC is arguably the most competitive conference in NCAA gymnastics, with seven of its teams finishing the year in the top 20, three of which—Florida, Alabama and LSU—qualified to the national championships. The eighth team in the conference, Auburn, entered the postseason ranked 15th but was forced to withdraw from regionals due to COVID protocols and finished the season No. 35. The race for SEC glory is going to be tighter than ever in 2022 thanks to star-studded freshmen classes and a plethora of impactful returning COVID-year seniors.
We’re getting back into the groove of things and returning to the status quo for the 2022 season (as much as we can at least!). That means it’s time for our annual potential lineups analyses! With preseason training in full swing for most teams, we’re breaking it all down and taking a look at every squad’s prospects for the upcoming season—from who’s expected to contribute, holes that need to be filled and exciting upgrades fans should look out for.
No. 4 Florida
After leading the rankings for most of the regular season, Florida once again faltered in the postseason (injuries to star all arounder Trinity Thomas and multiple of the supporting cast didn’t help matters). Heading into 2022, the Gators have one of the top recruiting classes and are only losing one routine from their 2021 lineups.
Note: We still don’t know recruit Shilese Jones’ status, but there are some indications she’ll join the team in January alongside Morgan Hurd. We’ve included her in our analysis in case that’s the case.
|Gains:||Sloane Blakely, Brianna Edwards, Morgan Hurd, Riley McCusker, Leanne Wong, Shilese Jones|
|Returning From Injury:||Sydney Johnson-Scharpf|
Potential Contributors: Trinity Thomas (9.944), Savannah Schoenherr (9.925), Nya Reed (9.906), Megan Skaggs (9.900), Ellie Lazzari (9.881), Payton Richards (9.875), Alyssa Baumann (RQS: 9.825), Halley Taylor (9.675), Sloane Blakely, Brianna Edwards, Shilese Jones, Leanne Wong
How It Looked Before: Although Florida had six 10.0 SV vaults in theory, chronic injuries and inconsistent landings kept them from ever materializing.
How It Looks Now: Blakely, Wong and Jones are all world class vaulters and will absolutely challenge Ellie Lazzari, Payton Richards and Alyssa Baumann for those final three spots in the lineup. It’s also worth noting that Richards was struggling with an upper body injury last season and was mostly limited to competing a Yurchenko full. If she’s able to return to her freshman year Yurchenko one and a half, her stock will go way up. While Hurd and McCusker both competed serviceable Yurchenko double fulls during their respective elite careers, it seems unlikely that they’ll be pushed to make this lineup given their recent injuries and the wealth of depth the team has.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. The added depth and difficulty from the freshmen alone will be enough to bolster the Gators’ vault scores.
Potential Contributors: Trinity Thomas (9.975 NQS), Megan Skaggs (9.925), Savannah Schoennherr (9.906), Leah Clapper (9.850), Payton Richards (9.850), Gabby Gallentine (9.831), Ellie Lazzari (9.825), Alyssa Baumann (9.588), Sloane Blakely, Morgan Hurd, Shilese Jones, Riley McCusker, Leanne Wong
How It Looked Before: The front half of the lineup struggled to keep pace with the closers, but the Gators still managed to rank fifth nationally.
How It Looks Now: McCusker and Wong are veritable locks, and are expected to join Thomas, Skaggs and Schoenherr in the weekly lineup. That leaves just one open spot and a number of potential contributors. Of the remaining returners, Lazzari is the most consistently high scoring. Clapper and Richards are steady contributors but aren’t as likely to crack 9.900 while Gallentine and Baumann are high risk/high reward. They’ll face stiff competition from Jones and Blakely. Jones struggled with consistency as an elite but has the form and technique to score extremely well in college with the right routine construction. Similarly, Blakely—who snagged four of the top level 10 bars scores in 2021—should also make a compelling argument. Expect to see some lineup experimentation to start the season as Florida works through finding the ideal top six.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. When you have the luxury of leaving Morgan Hurd out of a bar lineup, you’re in good shape.
Potential Contributors: Ellie Lazzari (9.956 NQS), Leah Clapper (9.950), Trinity Thomas (9.944), Alyssa Baumann (9.938), Megan Skaggs (9.925), Payton Richards (9.888), Sydney Johnson-Scharpf (9.744), Savannah Schoenherr (9.838 AVG), Halley Taylor (9.825), Sloane Blakely, Morgan Hurd, Shilese Jones, Riley McCusker, Leanne Wong
How It Looked Before: The Gators’ top-ranked beam lineup was a highlight of the regular season, culminating in a jaw-dropping season high 49.700. However, they couldn’t carry that momentum through to the postseason and had to count a fall during the national final.
How It Looks Now: With five returners boasting an NQS of 9.925 or higher, beam will be the hardest lineup to make for newcomers and returning roster members alike. Thomas is the only question mark thanks to her string of uncharacteristic falls, but she’s worth the risk. The final spot is a toss-up: Hurd is a world silver medalist on the event while Olympic alternate Wong and McCusker have both earned bronze at elite nationals. But as with bars, expect to see a lot of lineup shuffling in January while head coach Jenny Rowland sifts through her options.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. It’s hard to imagine improving on a 49.656 team NQS, but this roster has the potential to do just that. That top ranking will be Florida’s to lose.
Potential Contributors: Trinity Thomas (9.975 NQS), Alyssa Baumann (9.944), Nya Reed (9.944), Ellie Lazzari (9.888), Sydney Johnson-Scharpf (9.869), Payton Richards (9.869), Megan Skaggs (9.863), Leah Clapper (9.794), Halley Taylor (9.683 AVG), Sloane Blakely, Morgan Hurd, Shilese Jones, Riley McCusker, Leanne Wong
How It Looked Before: Even with late-season injuries to key contributors Thomas and Johnson-Scharpf, Florida managed to finish the regular season ranked first on floor.
How It Looks Now: It’s incredible to think that gymnasts of Lazzari’s, Johnson-Scharpf’s, Richards’ and Skaggs’ experience and scoring potential wouldn’t automatically make a floor lineup, but that just might be the case with the freshman class Florida has. Wong, who got third at the 2021 U.S. championships and second at Olympic Trials, is more or less guaranteed a spot. Fan-favorite Hurd also seems highly probable if she’s healthy. Blakely scored multiple 9.900s as a level 10, so she’s certainly in contention as well. Florida will have the luxury of resting athletes without sacrificing scores, so don’t be surprised to see some variation throughout the season.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. Even before injuries became an issue, the Gators struggled to find a consistent sixth routine in 2021. That shouldn’t be a problem anymore.
The Gators are going to have an embarrassment of riches in 2022. In addition to an outstanding freshman class that includes at least four former U.S. national team members, two world champions and an Olympic alternate, Florida is only losing a single routine. The danger here may very well be too much depth. Do you rely on proven competitors like Skaggs and Baumann or put up a newcomer with the potential to score a 10? More importantly, can this squad overcome its recent postseason woes and return to the top of the podium?
No. 5 Alabama
Alabama started slow but surged late in the season to capture the SEC title and a fifth-place finish at championships (its first top five finish since 2016). With a strong freshman class and star all arounder Lexi Graber returning for a fifth year, the Tide will be looking to improve on last year’s success.
|Losses:||Sarah Duhe (Penn State), Jensie Givens (retirement), Alonza Klopfer|
|Gains:||Corrine Bunagan, Audrey Evans, Lilly Hudson, Jordyn Paradise|
|Returning From Injury:||Ella Burgess|
Potential Contributors: Luisa Blanco (9.925 NQS), Lexi Graber (9.906), Kaylee Quinn (9.894), Shallon Olsen (9.869), Mati Waligora (9.863), Shania Adams (9.838), Emily Gaskins (9.725 AVG), Ella Burgess, Lilly Hudson, Jordyn Paradise
How It Looked Before: Alabama’s 2021 vault lineup was, in a word, inconsistent. Though the Tide was capable of putting up six 10.0 SVs, it was a risk that didn’t always pay off.
How It Looks Now: Sophomore Adams struggled with the landing of her Yurchenko one and a half for much of the season before switching to a full; she’ll face competition from freshmen Hudson and Paradise—both of whom appeared in the 2021 top 100 level 10 vault scores—as well as junior Burgess, for that final spot. Don’t be surprised to see a lot of vaulters rotating in and out of this lineup.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Too early to tell. Gina Quinlan has presumably taken over vault coaching duties from former assistant coach Bill Lorenz. If she can help the team clean up the details and hone its landings, this could be a formidable vaulting squad.
Potential Contributors: Luisa Blanco (9.938 NQS), Makarri Doggette (9.931), Shania Adams (9.919), Cam Machado (9.863), Mati Waligora (9.850), Lexi Graber (9.806), Emily Gaskins (9.750 AVG), Corinne Bunangan, Lilly Hudson, Jordyn Paradise
How It Looked Before: After a sluggish start, the Tide’s bar lineup settled into an impressive groove and scored as high as a 49.675 on the event in 2021.
How It Looks Now: Arguably, this will be the hardest lineup for the freshmen to break into. Paradise—who won second on bars at 2021 level 10 nationals—will likely challenge fifth year Graber for that final regular spot. Paradise will have the edge if she can hit consistently in competition.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. Given the increased depth and experience on the roster, the Tide should have no problem replacing Givens’ routine.
Potential Contributors: Luisa Blanco (9.950 NQS), Lexi Graber (9.919), Mati Waligora (9.888), Makarri Doggette (9.875), Shania Adams (9.869), Shallon Olsen (9.850 AVG), Cam Machado (9.725), Emily Gaskins (9.600), Ella Burgess, Corinne Bunagan, Audrey Evans, Lilly Hudson, Jordyn Paradise
How It Looked Before: Alabama ranked sixth overall on beam, with eventual 2021 NCAA beam champion Blanco anchoring the rotation.
How It Looks Now: Blanco, Graber, Waligora and Adams collectively posted three total sub-9.700 scores last season. Doggette, Olsen and Gaskins each had their own issues and were inconsistent lineup contributors. The freshmen are strong on this event and could keep it that way for the returners. Hudson appears on 2021’s top 100 level 10 beam scores and is the most likely to secure a regular place in the lineup.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. Replacing Klopfer in the lead-off spot is a daunting task, but there’s more than enough depth and talent here to work with.
Potential Contributors: Lexi Graber (9.956 NQS), Luisa Blanco (9.931), Emily Gaskins (9.869), Shania Adams (9.863), Sania Mitchell (9.856), Shallon Olsen (9.806), Makarri Doggette (9.762 AVG), Griffin James (9.550), Corinne Bunagan, Lilly Hudson, Jordyn Paradise
How It Looked Before: Though not a bad event per se, Alabama was ranked a comparatively low 13th nationally on floor (its only event ranking outside the top eight).
How It Looks Now: James’ 2021 scoring average is deceptively low: She scored 9.8-plus in five of her six performances (including that controversial neutral deduction in week one) and will be a contender for this season’s lineup along with Adams, Doggette, Mitchell and Olsen—though none are guarantees. Of the freshmen, Hudson, who has high difficulty and very few built-in deductions, is the most likely to contend for a regular place in the top six.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Too early to tell. The Crimson Tide has struggled in recent years to strike the right balance between difficulty and execution in its floor routines. With so many upperclassmen returning, it may very well be an issue again.
Toward the end of last season, the Tide looked like classic Alabama, the perennial national championship contender. And there’s plenty for fans to be excited about heading into 2021: This is an excellent crop of returning athletes, and the freshman class has the potential to make lineups from the start. The Tide proved it has what it takes to win in the SEC, but can it reclaim glory on the national stage?
No. 6 LSU
The Tigers remained firmly in the top three throughout most of the regular season but failed to advance to the national final. They’re hoping that a stellar freshman class, five returning 2021 seniors and the addition of coaching power couple Garrett and Courtney Griffeth will be enough to finally win that elusive national title.
|Losses:||Olivia Gunter, Caitlin Smith (retired)|
|Gains:||Aleah Finnegan, Kaytlyn Johnson, Tori Tatum|
|Returning From Injury:||Kai Rivers|
Potential Contributors: Haleigh Bryant (9.956 NQS), Kiya Johnson (9.925), Alyona Shchennikova (9.925), Elena Arenas (9.913), Sarah Edwards (9.906), Sami Durante (9.856), Chase Brock (9.819), Kamryn Ryan (9.325 AVG), Sierra Ballard, Lexi Nibbs, Kai Rivers, Maddie Rau, Aleah Finnegan, Kaytlyn Johnson, Tori Tatum
How It Looked Before: Even without six 10.0 SVs, LSU ranked second nationally on vault thanks to clean execution and controlled landings.
How It Looks Now: Durante and Brock rotated in and out of last season’s lineup and will face significant competition from all three freshmen: Finnegan, who competed both a Yurchenko one and a half and an Omelianchik during her elite career, has the edge, but Tatum competed a Yurchenko one and a half as a level 10 and Ka. Johnson’s Yurchenko full has virtually no built-in deductions. Junior Rivers should also be considered: She sat out the 2021 with an Achilles injury but contributed a solid Yurchenko full her freshman year.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. LSU is retaining last season’s entire vault lineup and adding several more strong options. This is where the Tigers could put some distance between themselves and the rest of the SEC.
Potential Contributors: Sami Durante (9.925 NQS), Alyona Shchennikova (9.919), Olivia Dunne (9.900), Kiya Johnson (9.894), Haleigh Bryant (9.875), Chase Brock (9.819), Bridget Dean (9.625), Elena Arenas, Kai Rivers, Aleah Finnegan, Kaytlyn Johnson, Tori Tatum
How It Looked Before: Though LSU never scored below 49 last season, it had to count sub-9.800 scores (and even falls) a few too many times for comfort.
How It Looks Now: As with vault, Brock will face stiff competition for the final spot. Finnegan and Tatum each have an extensive skill set to choose from, and Ka. Johnson is an exceptionally clean and consistent bars worker (though she’ll need to upgrade her dismount to be up to the level). Rivers had a 9.840 NQS in 2020 and is also on the bubble for that final spot.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. Given the quality of the returning routines plus the added depth, expect to see a lot of variation in this lineup and plenty of exhibitions.
Potential Contributors: Bridget Dean (9.906 NQS), Christina Desiderio (9.906), Reagan Campbell (9.894), Kiya Johnson (9.894), Haleigh Bryant (9.888), Sami Durante (9.881), Alyona Shchennikova (9.875), Elena Arenas (9.675 AVG), Sierra Ballard, Rebecca D’Antonio, Olivia Dunne, Kai Rivers, Kamryn Ryan, Aleah Finnegan, Kaytlyn Johnson, Tori Tatum
How It Looked Before: Beam was literally hit or miss for the Tigers, with three sub-49 totals and two over 49.500.
How It Looks Now: Desiderio and Campbell are givens in the top six, but those four remaining spots? Up for grabs. All of last season’s returners have the potential to post big scores. If Dunne and Rivers are healthy, they’re strong contenders as well. Plus, all three freshmen are generally clean beam workers who could score very well with the right routine construction. Any and all of them could (and probably will) appear in the lineup at some point. Consistency is going to be the deciding factor.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Tentatively trending up. Consistency, not depth, was the biggest issue for LSU in 2021. However, given the number of potential contributors in the mix, the Tigers should be able to field a lineup of clutch performers when it counts.
Potential Contributors: Kiya Johnson (9.987 NQS), Haleigh Bryant (9.878), Reagan Campbell (9.875), Sarah Edwards (9.869), Alyonna Shchennikova (9.850), Sierra Ballard (9.842), Elena Arenas (9.808), Bridget Dean (9.782), Christina Desiderio (9.686), Olivia Dunne, Kai Rivers, Aleah Finnegan, Kaytlyn Johnson, Tori Tatum
How It Looked Before: Despite a few individual hiccups week to week, floor was a great event overall for LSU, with a season low of just 49.250.
How It Looks Now: Last year’s seniors have the experience and scoring potential to warrant inclusion in this year’s lineup, but they also have their fair share of injuries and may opt out of competing on such a demanding event week to week. In any case, expect to see Campbell, Edwards, Dean and Desiderio all featured at some point during the season. Dunne was limited to bars in 2021 due to an untimely ankle injury but should factor into this year’s top six. Of the freshmen, Finnegan and Ka. Johnson are both strong, clean floor workers who could contribute immediately (pending Finnegan’s rehabilitation from ankle surgery). Tatum has only competed floor a handful of times since winning the apparatus at the 2019 level 10 championships, but she certainly has the talent to compete if healthy.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. If anyone can help the Tigers improve on last season’s No. 2 overall ranking, it’s new floor coach Courtney McCool Griffeth.
Routine-wise, the Tigers are losing nothing and gaining depth from not only three freshmen but veterans returning from injury. Injury management will be key, particularly with so many athletes returning for a fifth year. It’s also worth considering the “Livvy Dunne” of it all: LSU has one of the NCAA’s highest profile athletes on its roster, and the program is very media savvy. While she’ll still need to make lineups of course, don’t be surprised if she’s featured more heavily in 2022. The Tigers have proven they’re one of the top teams in the country, and this year should be no different. In 2021, Michigan made history by becoming only the seventh program to win a national title. In 2022, can LSU become the eighth?
No. 11 Kentucky
True to form, Kentucky closed out the season strong but missed out on advancing to nationals by a narrow (and controversial) margian. The team relied heavily on standout all arounders Raena Worley, Josie Angeny and Bailey Bunn and given their consistency and high-scoring potential, will likely do so again in 2022.
|Losses:||Madison Averett, Mackenzie Harman, Megan Monfredi, Gianna Ortiz (left team), Allison Snyder, Ella Warren|
|Gains:||Jillian Procasky, Annie Riegert, Lila Smith, Makenzie Wilson|
|Returning From Injury:||Kristen Zultevicz|
Potential Contributors: Cally Nixon (9.894 NQS), Josie Angeny (9.863), Raena Worley (9.863), Arianna Patterson (9.856), Bailey Bunn (9.838), Isabella Magnelli (9.838), Raina Albores (9.700 AVG), Jillian Procasky, Annie Riegert, Makenzie Wilson
How It Looked Before: Clean and dynamic Yurchenko fulls provided much-needed stability (and frequently outscored the Wildcats’ 10.0 SV vaults).
How It Looks Now: Freshman Wilson, whose front handspring pike half earned her a perfect 10 in level 10 2021 has the best shot at making the lineup. She may even challenge Nixon for the anchor spot. Worley alternated between a Yurchenko full and one and a half, but either vault should keep her in the top six. Procasky competed a Yurchenko full as a level 10 but has trained a one and a half. She could realistically challenge for one of those final spots with either vault as well.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Too early to tell. We simply don’t yet know what effect new vault coach Chad Wiest will have on this lineup. Training videos aside, it’s unclear how many viable 10.0 SV vaults Kentucky will be able to put up and whether those vaults will outscore the Yurchenko fulls.
Potential Contributors: Raena Worley (9.900 NQS), Josie Angeny (9.894), Cally Nixon (9.894), Shealyn Luksik (9.850), Bailey Bunn (9.831), Hailey Davis (9.788), Kassidy Howell (8.725), Carissa Clay, Isabella Magnelli, Kristen Zultevicz, Jillian Procasky
How It Looked Before: Bars was by no means a liability for Kentucky, but routines frequently suffered from getting tenthed to death.
How It Looks Now: Junior Luksik and Procasky are highly likely to be regular contributors. Bunn and Davis are solid bar workers, but they tended to score in the high-9.700 to low-9.800 range; they’ll face competition from classmates Magnelli and Zutevicz (who sat out last season with an Achilles injury) for that final spot.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Too early to tell. The increased depth certainly bodes well for the Wildcats’ prospects, but they’ll need to clean up the small details and landings across the board to break out of the low-49s.
Potential Contributors: Bailey Bunn (9.906), Raena Worley (9.894), Josie Angeny (9.888), Isabella Magnelli (9.825), Anna Haigis (9.688), Cally Nixon (9.669), Raina Albores (9.787 AVG), Kaitlyn Deguzman (9.775), Arianna Patterson (9.175), Hailey Davis, Jillian Procasky, Annie Riegert
How It Looked Before: It took the Wildcats four meets to break 49 on beam, and they struggled for most of the season to find a reliable lead-off before landing on Albores in week seven. They saved their season-high 49.525 for regionals.
How It Looks Now: Bunn—who surprised herself by qualifying to natinals on beam—Worley, Angeny and Magnelli are locks for the 2022 lineup. And Procasky and Riegert are both fantastic on beam when they hit as well; Procasky won the event at level 10 nationals in 2019, and Riegert earned a spot on this year’s top 100. However, both struggled with consistency. In addition to the upperclassmen who saw competition time, sophomore Davis posted recent training video. Expect to see any and all of these athletes in early beam lineups and exhibitions.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Too early to tell. Depth doesn’t necessarily mean consistency, and consistency is going to be crucial if the Wildcats want to make a push for nationals.
Potential Contributors: Raena Worley (9.931 NQS), Anna Haigis (9.906), Bailey Bunn (9.881), Josie Angeny (9.863), Makenna Clarke (9.844), Hailey Davis (9.806), Kaitlin Deguzman (9.775 AVG), Raina Albores (9.742), Carissa Clay, Isabella Magnelli, Kirsta Zultevicz, Jillian Procasky, Mackenzie Wilson
How It Looked Before: Ironically, the Wildcats’ lowest-ranked event was also their most consistent. Anchor Worley qualified to nationals on the strength of her routine.
How It Looks Now: Expect Worley to lead the way once again on floor with Haigis, Bunn and Clarke also retaining their spots. Angeny is a high risk/high reward option on floor but will most likely be back (especially if she’s able to upgrade to her double layout). Davis and Deguzman both posted solid scores in 2021 but could be edged out by Magnelli—who has shown both a double pike and double layout in recent training videos—or a healthy Zultevicz. Freshmen Procasky and Wilson are also possibilities; neither brought in huge scores as level 10s but could challenge the returners with the right routine construction.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. Kentucky’s biggest issue last season was inexperience, so returning eight proven routines is a great foundation to build upon.
Kentucky has been a team on the cusp for several years now, peaking at No. 9 in 2019. While the team has certainly shown flashes of brilliance and enjoyed its share of success, it’s never quite managed to put all of the pieces together in the postseason. With a standout trio of all arounders, a more experienced crop of specialists and an impressive freshman class adding depth, will 2022 be the year the Wildcats finally take the leap?
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Article by Claire Billman and Katie Walsh
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