We all have favorites—a favorite gymnast, favorite routine and even a favorite team. While, as journalists, we remain unbiased in our reporting, we still can’t help but gravitate toward certain things when we’re watching as fans. This week we’re discussing our favorites in a variety of categories, as well as how they came to be our favorite to begin with.
Who was your favorite NCAA gymnast growing up? Favorite elite?
Elizabeth: Basically any Georgia gymnast, but specifically Courtney Kupets. I coveted every autographed team poster I got after a meet and hung them all on my bedroom doors. As for elite, I loved Shayla Worley. Getting to interview her as a freshman working for The Red & Black at UGA was surreal.
Emily M: Bridget Sloan brought me into NCAA gym. I loved her elite career and was excited when I realized I could continue watching her at Florida! When I was very young, I was a Shannon Miller fan girl, and later became obsessed with Mohini Bhardwaj.
Claire: I fell in love with gymnastics after watching Shannon Miller at the 1992 Olympics, and she’s still my favorite elite. My grandparents lived in Atlanta, and during a visit in the late ’90s I stumbled across a Georgia meet broadcast. I had no clue NCAA gym was a thing before that but watched as many SEC meets (which is what was available in our area) as I could from that point on. I absolutely loved Karin Lichey and Alabama’s Andree Pickens.
Kalley: I didn’t truly start following NCAA gymnastics until probably around 2013 or 2014, and the first college gymnast who really captured my attention was probably Alex McMurtry. As far as elite gymnasts go, I have to go with either Shannon Miller or Alicia Sacramone.
Katherine: I didn’t become the true gymnastics fan I am today until the Rio Olympics, when I was 18. My first NCAA season as a fan was 2017. So I can’t really answer this one. But I’d say I first became really aware of gymnastics with the Fierce Five in 2012, so I was always intrigued by all of them—especially McKayla Maroney.
Mary Emma: I didn’t start following NCAA until recently, but I did become an NCAA fan because of watching a ton of meets featuring Bridget Sloan since I had been a big fan of her in elite. I guess that can count for both answers.
Rebecca: The gymnast who got me into NCAA gymnastics as a teenager was Jennifer Pinches. The Beijing Olympics were the first times I really registered the sport existing, and I remember loving Jiang Yuyuan immediately.
Talitha: I was not following NCAA gymnastics growing up, so I can’t answer that. I got into it when I decided to follow Kyla Ross to UCLA and it took my heart away. Retrospectively, I believe that my favourite NCAA gymnast growing up would have been another Bruin, Vanessa Zamarripa. Elite-wise, it was Nastia Liukin who made me fall in love with the sport.
What is your favorite stick object out of all you’ve seen in the NCAA?
Elizabeth: Who doesn’t love Washington’s money gun? It’s unique, makes for great pics and isn’t a huge mess to clean up.
Emily M: Oh the wild Kent State suit jacket, far and away. It’s just so hilariously big on everyone and so unique.
Claire: Auburn’s stick stick. I appreciate both the sarcasm and the wordplay.
Kalley: I actually kind of hate this trend? Please don’t throw something at me. That being said, if LIU doesn’t utilize a shark suit for this purpose I will be furious.
Katherine: Auburn’s stick stick is a classic “screw you” to trends, which I adore.
Mary Emma: I have two. Auburn’s stick stick because, like Katherine said, it’s the epitome of “screw this trend.” I also think Arkansas’ stick hog nose is hilarious and takes school spirit to a new level.
Rebecca: In full seriousness, I love Washington’s money gun, like Elizabeth. There’s a great story from the UW student paper about it. But I can’t think about stick objects without giving a shout-out to Sac State, who did the stick stick before Auburn, and then to the time when an athlete who had quit the team said that it was a stupid idea on Twitter and got piled on by her angry former teammates. You can always count on Sac State for the drama.
Talitha: I’m not a fan of stick objects, but I would make an exception for UCLA’s rainbow flag, which the Bruins used as a stick reward at the 2020 Pride Meet.
Out of all the floor routines you’ve seen, what’s been your favorite floor choreography?
Elizabeth: This is hard. For my full thoughts, you can take a look at our decade retrospective piece on floor choreo. But if I had to pick an all-time fave, it would be Chayse Capps’ 2015 routine with Lloimincia Hall’s viral routine as a close second.
Emily M: Pfft what kind of question is this? Capps 2015 and Li 2010 are standard bearers, but I’m going to choose Nina McGee from 2016. McGee is so effervescent throughout, and it leaves such an indelible impression. Plus she really put Denver on the map for its rise in recent years.
Claire: Instead of picking a single routine, I’m picking a choreographer: Alaska’s assistant head coach and former Michigan State standout Alina Cartwright. She crafts the most exciting, unique routines that fit each gymnast’s style perfectly. MPSF has the best choreography in NCAA gymnastics (I will die on this hill), and Alina Cartwright is leading that pack.
Kalley: I have to go with Chayse Capps here, because this routine was just fantastic and completely mesmerizing to see in person. Coming in a very close second is Angi Cipra’s iconic cell phone routine, though.
Katherine: Abby Armbrecht’s 2019 routine would have to be my favorite. The song “Dangerous” is so perfect for the level of artistry and drama she brings to the performance. I can’t find footage of her at nationals that year, but that specific instance with the long ponytail-ography was perfect.
Mary Emma: This is super hard, but I’m going to go with Alicia Boren’s floor from 2019. I’m not a dancer, so I can’t say if it was objectively the best choreography, but she had so much fun with it, and it was a joy to watch.
Rebecca: I had never seen Jessa Hansen’s Apologize floor routine until Emily M mentioned it in a throwback piece last summer, and I fell in love immediately. More recently, I love Courtney McCool Griffeth’s choreography, and I especially loved Sophia Carter’s Phantom of the Opera.
Talitha: This is such an unfair question. How am I supposed to pick? If I really had to choose, I would say Anna Li’s routine from 2010. I love the story it tells, the dramatic choreography, the perfect extension on every move, the tempo, the en pointe poses—everything. This, for me, was Miss Val’s talent at its best.
What’s your one favorite skill on each event?
Elizabeth: There are so many skills to choose from! I think my favorite vault is the front handspring pike half. On bars, I love a good toe-on dismount, and beam… maybe an illusion? I also love the side aerial layout step-out series. On floor, I’d have to go with the Rudi to layout step-out combo.
Emily M: Any Tsuk variation on vault. More NCAA Tsuks (looking at you, Jade Carey)! Bars is a hop full; it’s such a throwback skill, and I love the Elise Ray vibes. Hop fulls 2021. Can you tell I like the weird stuff? On beam it’s absolutely a (well-executed) Popa. Lexi Funk is responsible for my love there, and Chellsie Memmel has been playing with them recently. On floor, I go for any unique jump/leap series. Tour jete full? Love it. Combo ending in a Shushunova? Pure joy. Old school twisting cat leaps? Yes please.
Claire: Vault: Omelianchik. Bars: IT’S A DELTCHEV! Hop full is a close second, though. Beam: I love an Onodi and would love to see more in NCAA. Floor: Shushunova, especially in combination.
Kalley: For vault I’d have to say a flared-out Yurchenko full, just like how Alex McMurtry used to compete it. On bars I love a well-executed Van Leeuwen. There are very few skills I don’t enjoy watching on beam, but a sharp triple series will always top the list for me. As far as floor goes, I love an open double tuck or full-in.
Katherine: The double layout will always be insanely satisfying for me to watch, so I’ll say that for bars and floor. On beam, I’ll say a front aerial, and there’s something oddly fulfilling about a stuck Yurchenko half vault.
Mary Emma: On vault, my favorite skill is a well done handspring front pike half, like Rachel Slocum’s. I have a lot of skills I love on bars, since it’s my favorite event, but I think my favorite is either an Ezhova or a Maloney. On beam, I love a good side aerial to layout step-out series, and on floor I love double Arabians.
Rebecca: My favorite vaults are Tsuk tuck fulls in NCAA and Rudis in elite. Landing facing the table is just more satisfying, right? On bars it’s either an Endo or a Bi (don’t disrespect queen Bi Wenjing by calling it an Ono!!) On beam there’s nothing prettier than a Valdez, especially with a turn. I also love gainer layout dismounts off the end—fight me. On floor, good Ferraris and Mustafinas are both really special, though they can both be awful as well, depending who’s trying.
Talitha: Oh boy, get ready for a long answer because I can get picky when it comes to skills. On vault, I would say a Yurchenko full, Vanessa Zamarripa or Sarah Finnegan style, or a stuck Yurchenko half. As you can surmise, I’m more impressed with a vault’s execution than its difficulty. On bars, I particularly enjoy Pak saltos, as long as they’re performed with a straight body, locked legs and pointed toes. On beam, I love Onodis, it’s a shame they’re not more popular in the NCAA. I also really like the BHS + LOSO + LOSO series. On floor, my favorite skill is a double layout.
Speaking of events… What’s your favorite event to watch?
Elizabeth: It’s the obvious answer, but floor. When it’s good, it’s really good. The bad ones are pretty bad though.
Emily M: Fully depends on the gymnast and the routine. A good bar set is magical, but so is an exquisite Yurchenko full, Alex McMurtry style.
Claire: Bars in elite, floor in NCAA.
Kalley: Beam all day every day.
Katherine: Floor, of course. I love seeing how a gymnast performs to the music while also managing big gymnastics. There’s so much to observe.
Mary Emma: Definitely bars. There’s something about the rhythm in the swing that’s so satisfying to me. I also find high flying release moves so cool to watch.
Rebecca: Beam to me is the core of what gymnastics is about. Coming from dance people tend to assume I’ll like floor best, but I often find it really boring! When I’m watching a bunch of routines while doing lineup analysis, I’ll often put floor on double speed because there’s so much dead time.
Talitha: I like watching all events, so long as gymnasts have good form. Floor is floor, though.
What’s your favorite memory—or wildest story—from covering a meet for CGN in person?
Elizabeth: Oh man. I’ve been covering gymnastics in person since the fall of 2011. There have been so many memories. I think the memory that stands out the most is covering the UCLA at Oklahoma and Florida at Oklahoma meets in person in 2019. Both meets were fantastic in their own rights, and I got to tell those stories.
Emily M: The most exciting in-person experience I’ve had was for sure 2019 MACs when Northern Illinois upset Central Michigan in DeKalb. That last rotation was intense! But the wildest story is Big Tens in Champaign in 2018. I was with our photographer Emily HF. There was confusion getting media passes since we’re both Emilys, which took some phone calls to the SID to clear up when we arrived. An ominous start. We were the literal only media there, so I was put with the SIDs…behind the vault podium. I had to stand on my chair to see the beam. Of course, it’s a championship meet, so all four events rolled at once. I was hopping up and down from that chair all day long to catch some beam and then watch a vault two feet from my face. It’s also a long meet, in two sessions, and they fed us Olive Garden between sessions. Emily HF and I sat and listened to judge gossip at the next table while munching on breadsticks since there was only one hospitality room. The second session ended quite late, maybe around 10 p.m.? We had to drive the 2-ish hours back to Chicago in an actual full on Midwestern ice storm; it took about double the time that drive ordinarily does. It was just so exhausting!
Claire: Getting to meet and chat with Bart Conner and Kathy Johnson Clarke after this year’s LSU at Georgia meet. They were so warm, kind and gracious—exactly how they are on broadcasts. The best part was once they found out I wrote for CGN, they told me they’re big fans of ours! I’ll never top that moment.
Kalley: Definitely the meet I got to see Lexy Ramler score the first perfect 10 ever recorded in Maturi Pavilion. The crowd was absolutely electric, and I’m so glad I was there to see it in person.
Katherine: My favorite meet I covered in person was the 2019 Ivy Classic since I got to see so many underrated performances and stars from the USAG world. I definitely pay more attention to Ivy gymnastics now since I’ve covered Penn meets.
Mary Emma: My favorite memory was getting to interview KJ Kindler and Brenna Dowell when Oklahoma was at West Virginia last year. I was sitting next to the Oklahoma SID, and asked her if that would be possible, figuring it was an opportunity that I might not ever get again. It was a surreal experience and definitely the biggest “is this real life?” moment I’ve had since I started at CGN.
Rebecca: In 2019 something was wrong with the beam at UCLA during meet warm ups. It ended up being a non-issue, but I was on edge because it was only hours after Sabrina Vega broke the beam at Georgia and the whole thing had to be replaced mid-meet! Even though everything was fine during the meet itself, I’ll always cherish the image of Chris Waller and Jay Santos rushing over with hammers and screwdrivers. Honorable mention to the time I interviewed Dani Dessaints and asked her about her famous (and glorious) competition hairstyle and she laughed so hard she fell out of frame.
Article by the editors of College Gym News
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