We follow a lot of teams throughout the season, whether it’s for live blogs, features or just for fun. Because of that, it’s only natural we find ourselves gravitating toward and enjoying watching some teams more than others. In this week’s roundtable, we’re discussing all things teams, from our new ideals to underrated faves.
Disclaimer: These answers are based on the actual gymnastics and do not necessarily take into account recent shared experiences, allegations or events.
What is one team you used to not like but has grown on you recently?
Elizabeth: I’m actually going to say California. In recent years, the style of gymnastics has really grown on me, and I don’t know how you can’t love Liz and Justin. It’s a team now that I seek out meets to watch rather than watching only because nothing else is on.
Emily M: I used to be, not turned off by, more like intimidated by Utah fans, so I didn’t follow the team too closely. What really changed my tune was Emilie LeBlanc’s transfer; I loved her at Maryland and was excited to keep following her career. Then I fell in love with the gymnastics across the board, and I’m truly excited about the recruiting Tom Farden has been doing. I’m on board with the Red Rocks!
Kalley: I don’t think there is a team that I have ever disliked, per say, so much as teams I didn’t follow as closely. This past year was the first time I ever really paid attention to Utah, who obviously had an amazing season. The UCLA and Utah meet this year was one of the most exciting meets of the season.
Katherine: I knew enough about most of the SEC before I started writing for this site, but Arkansas and Missouri were two that I didn’t really follow as much. Now that I write about them, these two teams are favorites of mine. Arkansas gets more coverage now because of Jordyn Wieber, but I would still call both underrated.
Mary Emma: Alabama has really grown on me over the last couple of seasons. Back when I first started following NCAA gym, it was a team I despised, but over the years, I’ve slowly warmed up to it. I think this is mostly due to some recent recruits, such as Shallon Olsen and Makarri Doggette.
Talitha: Utah! Up until last year, I was not a big fan of the team, though I rooted for gymnasts individually. 2020 really changed my feelings toward it as a whole. I really liked both the new coaching staff and the athletes, and the beam rotation was a dream!
What is one non-top tier DI team you love to follow?
Elizabeth: My answer to this question changes each season it seems like. I was on the Southern Utah train a few years ago, then GW to support my old teammate. This past season I was really into Michigan State, which I know isn’t necessarily a non-top tier DI team by all definitions, but I’m counting it. The Spartans finally appeared to be in a position to make regionals this season, plus their leotards are gorgeous and their gymnastics fun to watch.
Emily M: This is tough! It’s a bit on the cusp of “top tier,” but I have to go with Illinois. Beyond being my grad school alma mater, I’ve been fascinated watching how the program evolves under Nadalie Walsh and her staff. It’s not just Mia Takekawa, who is obviously brilliant, but the dedication to seeking out strong in-state walk ons—something that never happened under the previous staff—that has me intrigued. The J.O. gymnastics scene is massive in Illinois; Legacy Elite, IGI, IK, Phenom and Gymnastics Academy of Rockford are just a handful of strong level 10 programs in the state. Tapping into that could really bring Illinois to the next level, and I’m having a lot of fun watching it happen.
Kalley: I think the team that I found myself most excited to follow this year was Western Michigan. Even after losing Payton Murphy due to injury so early in the season, the Broncos had an incredible year. I think this is a team that people tend to write off or forget about, even within the context of the MAC, and I’m excited to see it continue to prove to people why that shouldn’t be the case.
Katherine: Maryland! The bar lineup is one standout routine after another, but the Terps shine across all four events and look like they have so much fun doing it. Seriously, I’ve seen a lot of teams in person, and Maryland was by far the most authentically hype.
Mary Emma: This is going to come as a surprise to absolutely no one, but obviously it’s Pitt. I live in the Pittsburgh area, so I’ve been following the team for several years now. It’s been great to see the team’s growth over the past few seasons, and I love that I’ve had the opportunity to cover that growth since I started at CGN.
Talitha: I would have to say Iowa State. I love how international its roster looks, and I root for some of its gymnasts, such as Andrea Maldonado and Natalia Ros Vaquer.
What is a team you want to follow more closely next season?
Elizabeth: I’m planning to get more into Iowa. Emily M has talked up the Hawkeyes and head coach Larissa Libby a lot in the past few years, but their response to the racial injustice protests have made me want to follow and support even more.
Emily M: (Listen to Elizabeth and get into Iowa! The Hawkeyes have more fun than anyone in collegiate gymnastics—you heard it here.) I have tried and tried and keep failing to fully follow MPSF squads. It’s partially that I go to bed early and those meets are late in central time, but it’s partially just not paying attention. Sac State has so much personality, and there’s just so much underrated talent across the conference. Sorry, sleep, I must forsake you for gymnastics.
Kalley: Illinois. It has one of the most underrated floor rotations in the entire country in my opinion. When I had the opportunity to watch the Illini in person at the Minnesota meet this year, I was completely enthralled by the performances on both floor and beam. The Big Ten conference usually boils down to a conversation that includes Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska, and I think Illinois is showing signs of readiness to jump into that conversation as well. Plus, we’ve all seen Mia Takekawa on beam. I can’t wait to see how she continues to improve over the course of her career.
Katherine: I don’t watch much of the Pac-12, but this year my first live blog was Arizona at LSU and I was really impressed with the Wildcats. Their floor is super fun, and they have some impressive freshmen coming in this year, like Jessica Castles and Elena Deets. Plus, those leos alone are enough to warrant a second look. I’ll be tuning in to more of Arizona in 2021.
Mary Emma: I have a lot of teams I could put for this question, but I’m going to go with Kent State. I only live an hour and a half away from the campus and have yet to make it up there for a meet. I really want that to change next season, and I think the first step will be to become more familiar with the team. There’s a lot of underrated talent there, but I don’t think I could have even told you the name of the head coach until recently.
Talitha: I really want to pay more attention to UNC. The Tar Heels graduated a stellar senior class this year, but in the next few years they will be welcoming top-class gymnasts and I expect big things. Additionally, I am excited to find out who will replace Derek Galvin as head coach. 2021 feels like a new beginning for UNC. Finally, Chapel Hill is the first place I ever visited in the US, so it has a special place in my heart!
What is your favorite DII or DIII team you like to follow?
Elizabeth: Lindenwood is so fun to watch, and Head coach Jen is just a delight. I also have to mention Texas Woman’s. Since I live in Dallas, I get to most TWU meets, and they’re just as fun and exciting as a DI competition. Plus, TWU hosts a good mixture of top teams and under the radar squads at its meets, allowing fans to see big stars and discover new ones as well.
Emily M: I love Centenary. I saw the Ladies in person at UIC in 2019, and was so impressed with their level of difficulty and personality. It’s a fun team all around, and it’s in such a funky situation, as the only DIII not part of NCGA and the only DIII team in the MIC conference. I think it gets swept aside a lot for those reasons, and it shouldn’t!
Kalley: I have to go with Gustavus, and not only because it is my alma mater. The Gusties have done a great job on social media, showing recaps and training videos, and it has led to me paying closer attention to the team. Especially for teams that won’t get the media coverage, utilizing social media is so crucial for driving focus to the team. There are some really cool skills being performed in DIII, guys! Read our NCGA Dismounts if you want further proof.
Katherine: West Chester! I covered the Golden Rams in person this year, and I was very impressed. They have many talented gymnasts who stand out, especially on one event, guaranteeing that each rotation has flashy moments. Plus, a quick way to catch my attention is a floor rotation full of pop music, and the Rams certainly had that (Nicki Minaj and Migos to name a few).
Mary Emma: Bridgeport and TWU were the first non DI teams to catch my attention, and Lindenwood has become a more recent favorite. It was especially exciting to see Lindenwood qualify for regionals in 2019, showing that DII teams can be right up there with DI teams.
Talitha: It really varies according to the year. As others said, I got very excited about Lindenwood last season, and I look forward to Nicole Wojcik’s career there. 2020 did not quite go as the Lions planned, but they have a good freshman class coming in, so 2021 could be a game changer. Moreover, when Shadae Boone debuted her Yurchenko 1.5 on vault, I also started following UW-Stout more closely. Now I always expect big things from it!
What is one team you’re surprised you like?
Elizabeth: Growing up a Georgia fan, there was always a good-natured rivalry with Utah. And while I still appreciated the stellar gymnasts like Kristina Baskett, Ashley Bostell and Georgia Dabritz, I wasn’t a fan. But the team has grown on me more and more recently. The team is fun to watch, and it doesn’t hurt that it was poised to have one of its best seasons in years before the cancelation.
Emily M: Ohio State! Listen. I grew up in Illinois. If you live here, like college sports and are not an Illinois fan, you’re a Michigan fan, since we have so many Ann Arbor transplants in Chicagoland (and Illinois football is, uh, rough, sorry Lovie). Both teams hate the Buckeyes. I still couldn’t ever bring myself to enjoy Ohio State football if I tried. That said, I love what Meredeith Paulicivic has done in Columbus. The Buckeyes are on the brink of a breakout season, I can taste it.
Kalley: I’m going to say Michigan because it is such an obvious rival to Minnesota. But again, I’m not surprised I like the Wolverines, more so surprised to find myself rooting so hard for the team that is the biggest competition within the Big Ten conference to the Gophers. Another team that really caught my attention this year was Arkansas. I’ve never been a truly die-hard SEC fan, but Jordyn Wieber seems to have completely refreshed that program and I’m excited to see it continue to grow.
Katherine: I’ll say LSU. I’m a Northeasterner at heart who loves big city life, and there’s not many more overtly…uh…SOUTHERN schools than LSU. They catch frogs for fun! But LSU, for obvious reasons, is an impressive team to watch, and nothing about the team’s embrace of its local heritage turns me off. In fact, I find it endearing.
Mary Emma: As a die hard Michigan fan, it may come as a surprise that I really like Michigan State. I think with all the adversity the team has faced, you can’t help but root for it to do well. Plus, there’s been so many exciting recruits recently.
Talitha: Probably BYU. Religion is central to the college, which, as a European, makes me a bit uncomfortable, but I still really like the team. It grew on me when Shannon Evans began performing her Super Mario routines, and in time I also started appreciating less renowned gymnasts, such as the Miner sisters, Abby Stainton and Brittney Vitkauskas.
What is one team you think has shown the most growth over the last few years?
Elizabeth: BYU has really surprised me recently. I always thought of it as one of those middle tier teams that all clumped together in my mind. But the combination of Shannon Evans floor routines and an emergence into being consistently in the top 20 has put the Cougars on my radar.
Emily M: Rutgers, full stop. Umme Salim-Beasley has really put that program on an upward trajectory. Building a team and changing a culture is slow work, but the whole program feels different. The Scarlet Knights had some trouble finding their groove this year but still finished better than last year, which was a historic rebound of its own. Hannah Joyner is such an important piece; a few more recruits like her, and look out.
Kalley: I think Minnesota has really proven that it is a program to be reckoned with. 2020 was an incredible showing for the Gophers, and with the addition of gymnasts like Mya Hooten next year to an already stacked roster, I think the only direction they will be going is up. To be honest, the path Minnesota is on feels similar to Denver, who we all know cemented itself as a top team by making the Four on the Floor final in 2019.
Katherine: To shout out another of my in person standbys, I’ll go for the Penn Quakers. They’ve been on an upward trajectory, breaking their team record (on the road!) last season, and this season culminated in a big win at the Ivy Classic, which hasn’t happened in a few years. I look forward to seeing how they look under new leadership in 2021.
Mary Emma: There are a lot of good answers for this, but I’m going with Temple. It went from being the lowest ranked DI team in 2016 to breaking records left and right over the last few seasons. Former head coach Umme Salim-Beasley and current head coach Josh Nilson have done a great job bringing the team into the spotlight, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Owls qualify for regionals in the coming years.
Talitha: Denver is probably the obvious answer. The Pioneers made the Four on the Floor final last year and their roster included big names, such as Maddie Karr, Lynnzee Brown and Alexis Vasquez. Despite Karr’s graduation, next year’s roster will be unusually big, a sign that an increasing number of gymnasts is attracted by what Denver has to offer. Since closer to my heart, I should also mention Minnesota. The Gophers have been a good team for a long time, with a record eighth-place finish in the rankings in 2013. Recently, however, they have really seemed to step up their recruiting game. Alongside standout Lexy Ramler, the 2021 roster will feature Ona Loper, Tiarre Sales and freshman star Mya Hooten.
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Article by the editors of College Gym News
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