Decade Retrospective: Top Influential Teams That Changed the Sport

Change doesn’t just happen. Influential teams and individuals pave the way for that change to occur. And college gymnastics saw a lot of change this decade, from programs started and cut to growth of the sport through marketing efforts and virality to new teams dominance and old standbys fading away.

Don’t agree with our rankings? Think we left some pivotal teams off the list? Let us know your most influential teams of the decade in the comments or on social media!

10. Arkansas: While Arkansas saw success throughout the last 10 years in making the Super Six in 2012 to winning its first individual national championship thanks to Kat Grable to lots of little moments in between. But its defining moment came toward the end when it changed the game when it came to teasing and announcing its new head coach Jordyn Wieber, flying two gymnasts out to pick up the Olympian and former UCLA volunteer in California and causing the gymternet to show sleuthing skills that would make hardcore football fans proud. It’s yet to be determined if Wieber will live up to the incredible hype (we’re betting yes), but creating such a buzz about a program is a definite solid first step.

9. Georgia: Of the four programs with national titles prior to the 2010s, Georgia arguably saw the most turmoil and steepest fall from grace. The Gymdogs entered the decade with five straight national championships and a fresh start after legendary head coach Suzanne Yoculan retired for the first time. But in 2010 the program missed nationals completely and then proceeded to go through three coaches in 10 years with Jay Clark, Danna Durante and Courtney Kupets Carter. While the latter’s results have not been drastically different than Durante’s, the mood of the team and the program is certainly more optimistic than in the first couple of years after the Suzanne Yoculan era. Maybe it’s thanks in part to the legendary coach coming back to lend her expertise to her former pupil for two years.

8. UIC: While University of Illinois-Chicago was not the only team cut in the 2010s (a sentence that pains us to type), it certainly had the most impact to college gymnastics fans, with nearly a year-long campaign to help save the program. And while efforts ultimately failed, the situation helped fans with perspective and taught us all to enjoy and support smaller programs and teams while they’re around and to support the Collegiate Gymnastics Growth Initiative to reverse the cycle and help add more programs rather than stand by and watch more be taken away.

7. Utah: It has been an awful lot of years since the Utes have won a national title—while this decade featured downswings from many of the historic powers of the sport, Utah’s has been going on for longer. Yet it continues to lead college gymnastics forward in terms of advancing the fan experience, and while it’s no longer the only gymnastics team selling out arenas, its continuing excellence on that front means a great deal. This was the decade Utah broke its all-time record with a meet packed so full the fire marshall said they’re never letting that many people in the Huntsman again.

6. Alaska: UAA’s “moment” came late in the decade, but it encapsulated many of the biggest stories that defined college gymnastics during that period. Visibility for lower-ranked teams has skyrocketed the last 10 years as the sport learns how to use digital media to its advantage. Alaska’s fans love its unusual skills and incredible artistry, but without its strong social media game and reliable free streams, they might never have found it. Plus, its close shave with elimination this past summer just months after the programs at UIC were cut contributed to our suspicion that even as the viewership and popularity of the sport continue to grow, we are entering an era in which lower-ranked teams are particularly vulnerable.

5. Alabama: The Crimson Tide had the highest highs and the lowest lows this decade, and its journey mirrors the progression of the four “dynasty” teams over the last 10 years. Like so many others, Alabama has fought to re-establish its identity after the retirement of a long-tenured coach, and while its gymnastics during the back half of the decade has been forgettable at times, its emphasis on athlete well-being and happiness has meant a great deal as the sport undergoes a large-scale reckoning on that front.

4. Lindenwood: The Lions roared into the 2010s as the decade’s only new college gymnastics team and found immediate and shocking success. The rest of Division II and the USAG field rose to meet Lindenwood, and USAG gymnastics has never been more competitive or exciting as it was during the latter part of this decade. Jen Llewellyn, who became head coach at age 23 and led her Lions to three national titles and an NCAA regional berth before her 30th birthday, is a leader among this decade’s wave of very young, very accomplished female coaches.

3. UCLA: Changing the sport is something UCLA just does, and we can think of countless examples from the last 10 years, from the survivor’s meet to the amount of fun the team has every time out to the custom leotards at Meet the Bruins to the video work done by Deanna Hong. But probably the most defining example of how UCLA changed the sport this decade comes in the form of viral floor routines, of which the Bruins had at least four, depending on how you’re defining what makes a routine viral. Katelyn Ohashi’s 2018 and 2019 performances especially helped put college gymnastics on the radar of the masses, helping grow the spot in a way no marketing department could dream to do on its own.

2. Florida: The first team to break the four-team stronghold that was around since NCAA women’s gymnastics began having national championships, Florida paved the way for teams that weren’t Utah, Georgia, UCLA or Alabama to see they had a chance at the top spot of the podium. Led by Rhonda Faehn for those three titles in a row, Florida made a name for itself as one of the most dominant teams of the decade (despite some of its more recent struggles in 2019, which were more fluke than anything else).

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners finished the previous decade ranked No. 10. They spent all but one year of this decade no lower than third, including four title wins. KJ Kindler took this team from the cusp to the team to beat, and reminded us that the outspoken desire to win (#pztfs) has a place in gymnastics—the Sooners of the 2010s remind us of the Gymdogs, Crimson Tide and Utes of previous eras.

Article by Elizabeth Grimsley, Emily Minehart and Rebecca Scally

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  1. No LSU? The LSU program has seen so much growth this past decade, filling up the PMAC with crowds to rival Utah. 3 close second place finishes, the stick crown, Ashleigh Gnat??? They should definitely be on this list. Especially over Georgia where you just talked about them falling from grace? Bit of an oversight…

      1. You are 100% right. This publication’s articles and commentary and lists are ALWAYS dripping with gushing love for UCLA and bias in their favor and always negative and/or dismissive of LSU. You’d never know LSU has finished ahead of UCLA 4 of the last 5 seasons. They also treat OU as though they are pedestrian as compared to how everything UCLA does is so awesome and wonderful and memorable. I mean anyone knows OU would be #1 on this list but the comments just state the facts. They save the glowing prose for UCLA. No credibility

  2. The Los Angeles Times included the UCLA’s 2018 National Championship in its “Top 10 L.A. sports stories of the decade.” That’s in a city with 11 major league professional teams.

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