2020 Season Preview: What We’re Watching

We’re so close to the 2020 season that we can nearly spot the sparkling leotards and smell the chalky air. In just three more weeks we’ll be gearing up for the first competitions of the new year, and we. can’t. Wait.

As one final preview before things officially kick off, we asked each of our editors, whose jobs are to know their beats inside and out, to identify a couple non-obvious things they’re watching, looking forward to and keeping an eye on for their conferences and teams in 2020, based on what they’ve seen during preseason.

Big Ten, Emily M

  • I have a very close eye on Ohio State. With Elexis Edwards apparently back at full strength, and many of the nagging injuries from last season seemingly cleared up, this team is dangerous. I’m keeping my eye on the Buckeyes to put pressure on Nebraska and Minnesota. 
  • Knock on every bit of wood you can find, but Michigan should go to nationals and, given a favorable draw, qualify to finals. Did you see Sierra Brooks in the quad friendly? No? Go look it up.
  • I’m worried about Illinois; Mia Townes is injured, Rae Balthazor didn’t suit up for the preseason friendly versus Illinois State and the team still can’t seem to break the 9.7s on vault. The Illini are teetering on the brink of dropping toward the bottom of the conference, unless they can show a big turnaround come January.

Big 12, Tara

  • I’ll be keeping a close eye on Abbie Pierson at West Virginia. She has the potential to be an under-the-radar star. 
  • Denver is coming off of a record-breaking season. Can the Pioneers keep it up? I’ll also be watching the team’s recent additions, Amoree Lockhart and Victoria Fitts. Production from Lockhart could be the key to Denver’s success in 2020. 
  • Iowa State’s redshirt freshmen, Makayla Maxwell and Samantha Strickler, have the potential to have a big impact on the Cyclones. Both have looked impressive in training updates and Maxwell has even showed an excellent Yurchenko one and a half recently. 

Pac-12, Brandis

  • Start the Kyla Ross 40 watch now. The elusive perfect meet hasn’t been seen in quite a while, and Ross is primed for a stellar senior year for UCLA. There’s not much she hasn’t accomplished, so get ready.
  • The freshmen in the Pac-12 are unreal this season. Maile O’Keefe, Abby Paulson, Kalyany Steele and Chloe Widner are just a few of the many newbies who will make a difference for teams in 2020.
  • Who will finish in the top half of the conference? California, Oregon State, Stanford and Washington are all in contention for the third and fourth spots, so expect some tight scores between that quartet of teams.

SEC, Katherine

  • LSU’s prospects are looking increasingly shaky. We didn’t see much from freshmen other than Kiya Johnson, and we also just got word that Bailey Ferrer won’t be competing this season. LSU has (theoretical) depth, but expect a bit of lineup musical chairs to start the season.
  • People are sleeping on Missouri. Yes, Helen Hu and Alisa Sheremeta will be great, but the other newcomers bring some nice routines, too. I’m predicting Sienna Schreiber to be that “silent but deadly” all arounder most teams dream about having.
  • Speaking of “silent but deadly”: Amanda Cashman. Georgia. Remember the name.

ECAC-I, Mary Emma & Rebecca

  • Yale has limitless potential and numerous injury question marks. If everyone on the team is in shape, it should be the best year in program history by far. But to make it happen, they’ll need more routines from flashy underclassmen than they’re showing right now, and we just can’t tell how healthy they are. 
  • Keep an eye on Ariana Castrence. The Temple sophomore showed a viable double-twisting Yurchenko at an intrasquad, which will be a huge asset for the Owls if it makes it into the lineup.
  • Penn has been recruiting well for a few years now and has a shocking amount of depth. It’s time to convert that roster—and the potential shown in the Quakers’ program record performance last year—into real, replicable results. This is a team that could jump 10 or 15 ranking positions this year.

ECAC-II, Rebecca

  • After an extremely streaky season, Bridgeport got its act together on beam at nationals and looked absolutely lethal. This is a team that can crack 196 in 2020—though it’s all down to consistency.
  • Maya Reimers WILL be reprising her two E-pass floor routine in her senior season. You heard it here first.
  • After only one year in New Haven, Hannah Stahlbrodt is already the best gymnast Southern Connecticut has ever had. There are many more records and landmarks in her future.
  • West Chester has a powerhouse freshman class. I can’t get over Kiah Johnson’s double tuck beam dismount.

EAGL, Mary Emma

  • I’m keeping an eye on N.C. State’s strong freshman class. All three have been featured in training updates on multiple events and could help take the Wolfpack to the next level.
  • I’ve had the opportunity to get an inside look at Pitt, beyond what we’ve seen on social media. The Panthers have a lot more depth this year than they did at this point last year, and transfer Michaela Burton looks fantastic. Don’t be surprised to see them back in regionals contention.
  • On paper, North Carolina looks like it could be a top 25 team but often has trouble reaching its full potential. Will its highly accomplished freshman class be able to help the team meet expectations?

MAC, Kalley

  • Who will come out on top at the MAC championship this year (because it could truly be anyone’s title to win)? Northern Illinois was the big upset in 2019, and I’m sure Central Michigan has no interest in letting that happen again.
  • There are some incredible freshmen in the MAC this year, and it will be exciting to see what they can do. Specifically, I’ve got my eye on Hannah DeMers, Mickayla Stuckey, Payton Murphy and Brookelyn Sears to do big things for their respective teams.
  • We haven’t seen as much in the way of training videos or intrasquads from Kent State, but it came in second highest in the conference in the preseason poll. Will it be the dark horse of the MAC this season?

MIC, Kalley & Rebecca

  • Angelica Labat. The Illinois State freshman has been showing a HUGE Yurchenko 1.5 in training videos and I for one can’t wait to see that in action. 
  • Lindenwood didn’t come even close to its peak in that magnificent championship performance last April. The freshmen are great and will add far more routines than the senior class took away. But, hey, uh, does Courtney Mitchell do anything but bars now? It’s kind of important.
  • SEMO and Texas Woman’s had seasons to forget in 2019, and while 2020 won’t be perfect, both should be able to improve a great deal and lay a strong foundation. The conference as a whole should be much more competitive this year.

MPSF, Claire & Rebecca 

  • Watch out for UC Davis this season. A truly excellent crop of freshman join a fantastic team of returners led by two-time MPSF Gymnast of the Year Kelley Hebert. This group has the potential to crack the top thirty six. 
  • Air Force pulled off an epic upset by winning the MPSF championship over favorite UC Davis in 2019. Senior Anna Salamone is doing her part to keep it in the conversation in 2020, upgrading to a Yurchenko one and a half on vault and adding floor. Also keep an eye out for freshman Briona Carswell on beam (I promise you’ll thank me).
  • You heard it here first, folks: San Jose State freshman Emma Milne is going to be a star. Her stalder work is heavenly.
  • Seattle Pacific sent eight gymnasts to USAG championships in 2019; this year, with a very solid freshman class and a healthy (or at least healthier) sophomore class joining, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them qualify as a team. Also, calling it now, Darian Burns is going to reclaim her USAG floor title this season. 

MRGC, Tara

  • Southern Utah. That’s all. The Thunderbirds have what it takes to compete with Boise State. They’re bringing in a solid freshman class and the sophomore superclass has experience now and is poised to succeed. 
  • Speaking of Boise State, the void left from the graduated seniors is big, while the freshman class isn’t overwhelming. I’ll be interested to see what returning routines that we may not know about end up surfacing and what impact the freshmen, especially Adriana Popp, have. 
  • Utah State experienced a lot of gymnast turnover between graduating its star gymnast, retirements, roster removals and transfers. I’ll be monitoring its performance this season, as there’s a lot of question marks about the Aggies. Rebecca Wells and New Zealand elite Maia Fishwick will be joining the Aggies in January, so I’ll be keeping an eye on them as well.

NCGA-East, Rachel

  • Brockport lost a huge group of seniors that contributed half of its routines at nationals. It will be interesting to see if the team is able to repeat the success it saw last year or take this year to rebuild. 
  • Rhode Island College had a year for the books. After breaking eight school records last season and bringing in a large freshman class of seven, this team is on the rise. 
  • Ithaca College has, arguably, the most talented freshmen in the entire division. I’m hoping to see some substantial contributions from this class, and possibly a national title for the Bombers in front of their home crowd this March.

WIAC, Rachel

  • UW-Oshkosh and UW-Stout had breakout years last season, and I’m watching to see if both can maintain that momentum heading into 2020. We haven’t seen too much from the Blue Devils yet, but the Titans have been actively posting training and highlight videos this preseason…and they look GOOD!
  • UW-La Crosse missed out on a trip to nationals for the first time in program history and looks like it’s on a mission not to let that happen again. In particular, beam and floor are looking strong and have a lot more difficulty than last year thanks in part to some big upgrades from Emma Grant and Kacey Mortenson.
  • After a season of struggling to get to the caliber of gymnastics we’ve come to expect from UW-Whitewater, the team pulled things together when it counted to place third at nationals. However, the Warhawks lost a critical group of seniors that brought in most of their big scores, so it will be interesting to see if they can fill those shoes right off the bat or if we see struggles similar to 2019.

Article by the editors of College Gym News

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