Fantasy Roundtable: Drafting Freshmen

Just like there’s no one way to be successful in gymnastics, there’s no one way to be successful at fantasy gymnastics. In these installments of the Fantasy Gym Roundtable, College Gym News editors will discuss their strategies for a variety of topics, from drafting to setting lineups.

This week, seven editors sat down to discuss their thoughts on drafting freshmen: Do they bother? How do they determine which ones are worth it? And where do they place them in their draft order?

Have a unique strategy we didn’t discuss here or want to see us discuss a particular fantasy gym topic on a future roundtable? Let us know in the comments or on social media!

Do you even bother drafting freshmen?

Elizabeth: I tend to stick to the freshmen on big teams that I know have a good chance of competing. It doesn’t always work out because I’d been a few “duds” in the past that make me scream, “WHY AREN’T YOU IN THE LINEUP?!” But overall, if you can get someone like Mollie Korth or Jillian Winstanley before it’s cool to do so, take the chance.

Emily M: I love drafting freshmen! Especially the gymnasts I think will be superstars on smaller teams because there’s not a lot of competition for them. Think the Cairo Leonard-Bakers of the world. I also go deep into Big Ten freshmen since I cover the conference and usually do a decent job sorting out who will make some lineups. I drafted Natalie Wojcik at No. 1 on my all-Big Ten team last year, and we know how that worked out.

Rebecca: Usually too many of them, but yes! As a person who likes to get really deep into recruiting, I tend to get overexcited. A lesson for you all: Don’t go all in on freshmen at Cal until you’ve seen the lineups.

Jenna: I’m a bit of a data nerd, so I tend to only include gymnasts who have already proven themselves on the college level, which unfortunately does not include freshmen. Last year I included freshmen in my draft for the first time, but apparently I ranked them too low because I did not get a single one on my team!

Tara: I love drafting freshmen, but I try not to go overboard with them. It’s a gamble, but I try my best to balance my draft with freshmen and proven returners, attempting not to place them all too high unless I have a gut feeling otherwise. I’ve started doing an all-freshman draft the past couple seasons as well, which has been super fun.

Mary Emma: Yes, but I usually end up also creating a separate “all freshman” team so that I don’t get too excited and put too many of them on my draft. I made that mistake two years ago and ended up with 11 freshmen, half of whom did not live up to the potential I thought they would have. 

Katherine: Definitely agree with Mary Emma! I like to compile the freshmen I want first, then pick the ones I want on my main team from there. Obviously, the ones closer to the top are more likely to get there. 

How do you determine which freshmen are worth the risk to draft?

Elizabeth: Pay attention to intrasquads. The most important factor in a freshman, to me, is whether or not they will compete. Some coaches like to ease their newcomers into lineups, even if they were stars in J.O. or elite, which can be tricky to manage if you have them on your fantasy team and are counting on them to produce scores immediately. If you want to dive deeper than just the Trinity Thomases and Kyla Rosses of this year’s freshman class, star all arounders at smaller schools are a good bet because they’re likely to compete right off the bat.

Emily M: Everyone already said it, but intrasquads! Any freshman with a 10.0 vault who shows up in training updates, too. It’s also important to look at the folks who were extremely consistent across a few J.O. seasons. No misses on beam in four J.O. years? They’ll probably be in the beam lineup. Also, don’t be too confident that former elites will immediately be stars. It even took Kyla Ross a while to settle into college gym. Trinity Thomas was the exception, not the rule.

Rebecca: For me, training updates and intrasquad lineups are key in guessing which ones are less likely to vanish come season. I watch as much as I can and cross out anyone who isn’t prominently featured or who looks technically questionable.

Jenna: I have five pieces of criteria for freshmen: 1) consistently a good performer in J.O. or elite, 2) no injury concerns, 3) consistently appears in training videos and/or intrasquads, 4) on a team that doesn’t have a lot of depth so freshman contributions are needed, and 5) not on a team that changes its lineups every single week.

Tara: Training updates and intrasquads are a part of it, as is keeping up with injuries. I also like to look at J.O. statistics and consistency, along with watching videos of their past routines. It’s also important to look at the team as a whole to see where the freshmen fit in; does this gymnast actually have a chance at making the lineup? It’s no use to my team if they’re not going to compete, so I try to rationalize where each freshman will actually contribute. 

Mary Emma: For me, freshmen that already have college-worthy routines in J.O. are the ones at the top of my list. In particular, I look for the ones that have a 10.0 start on vault or an E pass on floor, both elements that usually make immediate impacts in their respective lineups. Like Elizabeth, I also look for freshmen who are going to make an immediate impact in the all around at a smaller school because they are more likely to be in lineups right off the bat rather than getting eased in.

Katherine: I second the importance of training updates, even if they’re just from a normal practice. If a certain freshman appears on her team’s Instagram Story day after day, there’s a reason her skills are being showcased. The quality of those clips is another matter, but if you like what you see, it’s probably a safe draft bet!

Where do you place these freshmen in your draft order?

Elizabeth: I always stick those big names near the top and treat them like seasoned veterans. If you luck out and get one of them, you’ll almost always be satisfied. As for the relatively unknowns, you’re safe drafting them a bit lower than what you see as their potential ability because it’s unlikely others in your conference are going to be fighting for them as well.

Emily M: This part is always tricky. I make two lists in order, one of returners and one of freshmen, and then I just sort of scatter the freshmen throughout. Like I said, I did draft Wojcik No. 1 last year, but that’s a risky play.  

Rebecca: I am trash at drafting, so you won’t get any good advice from me! I don’t like spreadsheets or data for this, it just feels wrong, so I go on pure gut feeling. 

Jenna: Since my drafts are always heavily data-based, I assign dummy data to each freshman I want to include, basing this data on the type of performance I believe I can expect during her first season. For example, it’s pretty easy to see that Ragan Smith is going to be getting some 9.9s for her bars routine based on her training clips and the scores that Oklahoma gymnasts usually receive on bars. Once I fill in the dummy data, I can perform the same calculations as I do for returning gymnasts and merge the data together.

Tara: This is the trickiest part for me. I try to strike a balance between returners and freshmen and limit the number of freshmen I put at the top. That being said, I try to put the ones I’m expecting big things out of high, while also not putting too many up there. It’s not that specific of a methodology; sometimes I’ll ask myself, “Do I want X freshmen over X that I have in this position right now?” as a guide, but it’s more of a “I see you going here-ish” than anything else. 

Mary Emma: I usually end up placing them too high, so I’m probably no help here. Ideally the big names should go near the top of the draft, and then the rest can fill in toward the middle and end. 

Katherine: At least five freshmen always seem to crack my top 20 draftees. Because they’re not as popular, they have a better chance of making my team. This means I have to be confident about the ones I pick to go there, but I think I have a pretty good hunch at doing so. If you do too, don’t be afraid to move them up there!

Who is one freshman you won’t submit your draft without including?

Elizabeth: Amanda Cashman from Georgia. She was a steal from Utah and is going to be an absolute star for the Gymdogs across all four events. But really, you can’t go wrong with any of Georgia’s big three freshmen, adding on Soraya Hawthorne and Haley de Jong to Cashman.

Emily M: Oooh this is tough. I’m going with Helen Hu at Missouri. She has beautiful gymnastics that will appeal to college judges, and she’s been featured heavily in Missouri training updates.

Rebecca: Cassie Stevens from Auburn. She has everything: difficulty, technique, consistency. She comes from a club whose gymnasts typically adjust well to college and Auburn is a team where freshman all arounders reliably shine.

Jenna: I like to find J.O. gems who are less likely to be drafted super high by those who primarily have big names in their drafts. One of my favorites this year is Hallie Thompson from North Carolina, followed closely by Hannah DeMers (Central Michigan), JerQuavia Henderson (Iowa) and Hannah Joyner (Rutgers).

Tara: This is hard! There’s so many good ones I’m excited to see. If I had to pick one, it would be Sierra Brooks from Michigan. She has the potential to contribute on just about every event.

Mary Emma: Sierra Brooks from Michigan. She has all the skills to be the next big thing for the Wolverines.

Katherine: I’ll definitely be drafting all the SEC gymnasts listed above (I’m a little biased!), but to give a little love to another conference, I’m expecting big things from Hannah DeMers at Central Michigan. She’s the definition of an all arounder. Her routines aren’t the most difficult, but they are clean and consistent enough to warrant some very nice college scores.

Are there any sleeper freshmen people should consider including?

Elizabeth: Amoree Lockhart. She’s a January enrollee, so you may not have heard as much hype around her as some of the other newcomers that have a semester of preseason under their belts, but she’s going to be just as good as the likes of AK Subject in Denver.

Emily M: Elexis Edwards at Ohio State. She missed her final J.O. season with a brutal knee injury, but she has looked very good in training updates and has the power to be a star.

Rebecca: I love a good redshirt freshman—they’re often under-drafted since freshman L10 scores and RTN data won’t cover them. Maddie Quarles at Minnesota looks strong, and I have high hopes for Mallory Mizuki at Illinois and Cammy Hall at Utah. 

Jenna: New Hampshire has been a great source of under-the-radar fantasy stars for me, so my pick is Kylie Gorgenyi. She has a huge Yurchenko full that scored a 10.0 once in J.O., and she should also make an immediate impact on bars and potentially floor.

Tara: Allix Mason at BYU. Bars is her standout event, but she could be used on any of the four and perform well. Also, Abbie Pierson at West Virginia. She sports an excellent Yurchenko one and a half and a double layout on floor. I haven’t heard much about her, but she’s easily the best gymnast in that class, and I expect her to slot into the Koshinski holes nicely. 

Mary Emma: Hallie Thompson from North Carolina. She is the J.O. national champion on vault and has the potential to be a star all arounder for the Tar Heels. Also, her teammate Elizabeth Culton should have similar impact on the lineups, especially on bars where she really shines. A slightly risky pick might be Raegan Walker at Yale, who missed her final J.O. season with an Achilles injury but has the potential to be a huge contributor for the Bulldogs if healthy.

Katherine: I haven’t heard much noise on Kiara Gianfagna of Arkansas, but I’m expecting her to make a big impact. We’ve seen consistent training updates from her on all four events, with emphasis on an eye-catching Yurchenko one and a half. 

Article by Elizabeth Grimsley, Tara Graeve, Rebecca Scally, Emily Minehart, Jenna King, Katherine Weaver and Mary Emma Burton

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