We’ve spent a lot of time analyzing stats and watching videos from the incoming freshman class of NCAA gymnasts, and now we all have very strong feelings.
Did we miss your favorite? Do you think someone we haven’t mentioned is going to be a phenom? Let us know on social media!
What incoming freshman is already a sentimental favorite for you?
Rebecca: There are teams in the world who reliably recruit at a higher level than their ranking and we don’t understand why the team isn’t better. Washington is the exact opposite of that. It’s great at recruiting under-the-radar mystery gymnasts who become amazing when the depth situation requires it (Evanni Roberson’s level 10 beam average was under 9.000 and she got multiple perfect 10s!). But compared to perpetual ranking neighbors like Minnesota and Nebraska, it’s rare for the Huskies to grab a really high-level recruit. That’s why I love Skylar Killough-Wilhelm so much—and it doesn’t hurt that her gymnastics is absolutely beautiful. I love future Gator Ellie Lazzari’s gymnastics too, and with the Florida elite situation looking a little weird she has an opportunity to become one of this season’s big stories.
Talitha: I have so many it’s physically painful to choose, so I’m going to mention two gymnasts I’m fond of because I’ve been following them for a long time despite not being well known. One is California’s Elise Byun. She’s not one of the top recruits of Cal’s exceptional freshman class, but I started following her when she was still a level 9, and I’ll always have a soft spot for her. Plus, her lines are gorgeous. The other is Nebraska’s Chloé Lorange, who has recently grown into a really polished gymnast. I remember posting about her on Twitter last year, when she was still uncommitted, begging anyone to give her a scholarship. I hope that Nebraska will treat her well!
Emily M: I’m already over the moon about Amelia Knight. Illinois hasn’t had an international recruit in about a million years, and when she committed, I was an instant fan. Her gymnastics is going to fit right in in NCAA, and she’s not afraid to train big exciting skills—she’s playing with a Yurchenko double, and she has a big bag of tricks on bars. She has what it takes to be a star for the Illini, and even if she comes to Champaign and doesn’t compete once for whatever reason, I’ll still be attached.
Jenna: I’ve been waiting for years to see Adeline Kenlin compete at Iowa. Even if she ends up only competing beam, I’m going to savor every routine.
Kalley: I’ve got to echo Jenna here—ever since I saw this beam routine, I’ve been keeping an eye on where Adeline Kenlin would be competing in college. I’m really excited to see her at Iowa, which is easily one of the most underrated teams in the country in my opinion.
Mary Emma: I’ve been excited for Haleigh Bryant at LSU ever since I watched her at the Nastia Liukin Cup a few years ago. I love a good front handspring vault, and hers is one of the best.
Who do you expect to bring a lot of exciting difficulty to NCAA?
Rebecca: I don’t know if most people have fully registered yet that Gabby Perea spent all of 2020 competing a standing full on beam in level 10, and all indications are that she plans to compete it at Cal too. That’s going to get some gasps.
Jenna: Frida Esparza! Watch her elite bars routine and just imagine some of those skills anchoring UCLA’s lineup next year.
Talitha: A triple twist on floor is rare in college and always exciting. Next year, we’ll be blessed with two new ones. N.C. State’s Carina Jordan performs a stunning one to open her routine, and Denver’s Abbie Thompson dismounts her floor routine with a triple twist. Get ready for the real greatest show!
Emily M: I’m ready for some Lucy Stanhope fireworks. She has big tricks like a double double and a Yurchenko double in her repertoire, and we know the Utes aren’t afraid of high-flying skills. She can be a touch wild at times, but it’s nothing that some NCAA form discipline can’t bring into line.
Mary Emma: I really hope we’ll get to see Brooklyn Moors bring her floor difficulty to UCLA. We don’t see a whole lot of difficult front tumbling in NCAA, and she’s got a lot of that in her repertoire.
Who has a unique skill or unusual composition that we should watch out for?
Rebecca: There have been a few interesting skill trends in level 10 for a few years that will start to hit NCAA this year. I’m expecting to see a lot of acrobatic skills connected to scales on beam this season, as well as a wave of new Yurchenko full-ons and Khorkina vaults.
Talitha: I’m really excited about Olivia Dunne’s switch leap half to scale. She was disappointed that she didn’t get to compete it—and have it named for her—at J.O. nationals this year, so hopefully she’ll be able to show it off at LSU.
Jenna: George Washington’s Kendall Whitman has trained several vaults that feature a front handspring onto the board, reminiscent of California alumna Arianna Robinson. She has competed the pike half version most often, but she has also trained a full.
Emily M: Look, we haven’t seen anything but crickets from Adeline Kenlin in a minute. But remember her Randi? Remember when her coach said she was training a front triple, now known as a Maldonado? Who knows what we’ll see from her at Iowa, but yes I am indeed getting my hopes up and yes I DO want Cy-Hawk to have two dueling Randis. Let me live in that reality.
Kalley: It looks like Mya Hooten is playing with a DTY, which I would absolutely LOVE to see in the Gophers’ line-up.
Mary Emma: Well, Jenna stole my answer, but I’m going to stick with it anyway. We don’t see a lot of vaults in NCAA that start with a handspring onto the board, so I’m looking forward to seeing Whitman’s unique vault at George Washington.
Which freshman will have Twitter feeling *heart eyes emoji* with her form and toe point?
Rebecca: I think Carly Bauman is a sleeper hit for Michigan in this category. She’s got all the beauty that makes Chow’s elites so popular combined with smart, NCAA-ready routine construction. Oregon State’s Lexie Gonzales has lots of fans due to her superior aesthetics on beam even though we’ve only seen her compete a few times, so I expect her accomplished and equally lovely younger sister Sydney to be a big hit too.
Jenna: I’ve been looking forward to seeing Jaylene Gilstrap’s beautiful dance skills in college for years. Missouri’s Amaya Marshall also has very clean execution that will be rewarded in college.
Talitha: Again, I have to mention two gymnasts. Boise State’s Talia Little has beautiful lines on bars and beam, while LSU’s Haleigh Bryant’s form on her handspring front pike half is just superior to anyone else’s. Also, don’t you feel your heart melt a little every time Ana Padurariu smiles?
Emily M: Deanna Soza’s toes are coming to an NCAA team near you. She had some solid level 10 outings in 2020, and just take the textbook tuck position in the front tuck here for example. Dare I say Texas Dreams construction did her a disservice and that I think she’ll shine at Utah?
Kalley: Olivia Dunne has one of the prettiest Onodis I think I’ve ever seen, and I’m really excited to see her compete for LSU. Also, as Emily said—Deanna Soza.
What relatively unknown international should fans get familiar with?
Rebecca: Jessica Castles has a small cult already, so “relatively unknown” is a stretch here, but she deserves to have a very big cult. Amelia Knight is a fun international catch for Illinois: She’s trained almost every bars release in the book and I have high hopes that she’ll produce something special on that event.
Jenna: I know she’s more well-known that she was a month ago, but I cannot talk about Mara Titarsolej enough. Not only is she a potential anchor on bars with her beautiful lines, she could find herself late in LIU’s lineups on all four events if healthy.
Talitha: It’s imperative that you get familiar with LIU’s Talia Folino. The Australian elite has plenty of international experience and will be exceptional for the Sharks on beam and floor. She could anchor both lineups, and on floor she can choose between opening with a double layout or a full-in. I also have to briefly echo Rebecca’s feelings about Jessica Castles. I saw her compete in person at 2018 Euros, and her floor work is truly elegant and enjoyable to watch.
Emily M: I’m going to bend the rules here and go with someone who trained in the U.S. but competed for an international federation in Tienna Nguyen, who represented Vietnam. She’s bringing a unique and exciting bar set to the Tar Heels, and has the pieces to be a really fun collegiate gymnast. Don’t forget her name.
Mary Emma: Alisson Lapp at LIU. She competed internationally for France, and has the potential to be a big contributor for the Sharks, particularly on beam.
Who will change the game for a lower-ranked team?
Rebecca: Connie Hsu is record book material for Penn. She’s a big-time recruit for a team that’s already the best it’s ever been. She could end up defining a golden era for the Quakers.
Jenna: I’ll be keeping an eye on Alyssa Al-Ashari of Northern Illinois. She only competed beam during the last two J.O. seasons, but prior to that her all around scores were quite high. Also, I may be stretching the definition of “lower-ranked” here, but Elena Deets is going to be a star for Arizona!
Talitha: EMMA OTSU. She is going to be so good for UC Davis. Not only does she bring a 10.0 start-value vault, but she has 10.0 scoring potential on all four apparatuses. Just watch her as she takes the NCAA by storm.
Emily M: There are a million question marks around her, since she hasn’t competed since 2018, but I’m fascinated by Lydia Test and her potential for SEMO. She’s a Metroplex gal, so you know she’s coming in technically sound, and she has the polish and style you want to see. Could she shore up the back half of lineups? If she’s healthy, and if she’s consistent, I’m saying yes.
Mary Emma: Don’t sleep on Trinity Macy at Pitt. She finished fifth in the all around at JO nationals last year, and is poised to be a game changer for the Panthers, especially on bars and floor.
Which top team recruit do you think isn’t getting the hype she deserves?
Kalley: I’m not totally sure if this fits here, but I need to talk about Mya Hooten. The potential impact she will have on a Minnesota roster that needs to make up for the loss of big names like Paige Williams and Ivy Lu will be immediate. The difficulty and execution she brings to floor in particular will be huge for the Gophers; she has some seriously impressive tumbling (peep her second combo pass). She also trains a Yurchenko 1.5 (has also been seen training a DTY!), which could bring the Gophers up to four 10.0 starts next year. Her bars and beam could use some polishing, but seriously, watch out for her on the other two events.
Rebecca: FRIDA ESPARZA. Moors and Chiles and Padurariu and whatever are fun, but Frida Esparza is the bread and butter of post-Kyla UCLA. She’s the one who should be replacing Ross in the bars anchor spot. She can do a DTY and a double double and a Bhardwaj and it’s all beautiful. The one asterisk on her prospects is a foot injury that caused her issues through 2019, but she smartly got surgery right after worlds so that she could do all her rehab while the world burned, and last I saw she’s tumbling again—so we should be back in business. I can keep going, I feel very strongly about this.
Talitha: Elena Arenas! I know a lot of people have doubts about her impact on the LSU team, but her post-elite career has been very good. Before the lockdown, she looked strong on all four pieces and especially on bars and floor. She looks like Ruby Harrold’s perfect replacement on both apparatuses and her lines on bars are stunning.
Emily M: I feel like we haven’t seen Naomi Morrison hype, and I’m here to tell you that is incorrect. It could be that there aren’t a whole ton of videos out there, but LOOK at these scores, and I mean that Yurchenko one and a half linked above was from fully three years ago. Plus, we can trust an Arizona Dynamics product to come to table prepared. The Michigan vault bonanza isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
Jenna: Why aren’t we talking more about Audrey Davis’ oversplits on beam? That’s some Grace Glenn-level gorgeousness she’ll be bringing to Oklahoma right there. And since I’m seemingly unable to limit these answers to just one gymnast, I’ll also point out that Rylie Mundell’s vault and bars will be the perfect complement to the more heralded Abbie Thompson’s beam and floor. Oh, and Shania Adams at Alabama! There are too many to name…
Mary Emma: Ellie Lazzari at Florida. I think people got caught up in the Riley McCusker deferral and the Shilese Jones question mark to forget about Lazzari. She has the potential for all four lineups, but her beam in particular is gorgeous.
Are there any redshirt freshmen you have your eye on?
Kalley: Payton Murphy at Western Michigan. There was a lot of hype around Murphy ahead of the 2020 season, and for good reason: she is a super solid all arounder, and at the one and only meet she competed at in 2020 she recorded the 12th highest all-around score for the Broncos. I have some questions surrounding her recovery—a broken neck is not an easy injury to come back from—so time will tell what that looks like for her, but the potential is there. Another person I have my eye on is Minnesota’s Maya Albertin, who was injured right before the season started last year. Based on what I saw from their training, she could be another rockstar for the Gophers.
Rebecca: I’m not sure if Amanda Cashman was injured early enough to be eligible to redshirt, but either way, she was sorely missed by the Gymdogs and it’ll be great to see her back. I’m also very excited for Joanna Chambers, who was a huge catch for Alaska before tearing her Achilles in the fall of 2019.
Jenna: I literally wrote a whole article about this because all the freshman injuries were too much for me to handle, so it’s difficult to pick just one. I’ll go with two: Jaedyn Rucker at Utah and Linda Zivat at Michigan State, who both recently created Instagram accounts to document their comebacks and are looking very solid!
Talitha: Nika Takagi, who has recently transferred from Bridgeport to LIU. The Canadian has incredible potential on all four pieces, including a handspring front pike half on vault and a GORGEOUS inbar on bars. Also, who else dismounts the beam with a switch leap to front layout somersault?
Emily M: I’d like to scream JerQuavia Henderson from the rooftops, please. She was poised to clean up freshman of the week in the Big Ten last year (I know, I know the Michigans, but she’s only a step behind. Seriously.) and then tore her Achilles about two seconds before the first meet of the season. Start preparing yourself now for an Iowa floor rotation that ends Kaji, Henderson, Guerin. Throw a little Kenlin in there with a sprinkle of Libby choreography and you have the makings of my favorite rotation from any team in the country.
Mary Emma: Hallie Thompson at North Carolina. She was my early pick for EAGL rookie of the year before an ACL tear sidelined her right before season started. She has some big skills, including a triple twist on floor and a Yurchenko one and a half on vault.
What late commitment or commitment change made you gasp?
Rebecca: I’m a big enough person to admit that I did some real-life screaming alone in my car when Victoria Nguyen signed with Georgia. I also think Abby Mueller’s switch to Illinois from Minnesota was very consequential. She’s late-lineup material for either team, but the massive overperformance of Illinois’ 2020 freshman class combined with its great signing class means that there’s potential for a big ranking jump in 2021.
Jenna: This isn’t really a commitment or commitment change, but Alani Sabado’s decision to graduate early was a game changer for Utah. The Utes’ incoming class was already strong but Sabado’s reclassification lifted it to another level. I’ll also add Sherry Wang, who switched from NC State to Yale. If you haven’t seen her floor routine, it’s time to correct that!
Talitha: I’m going to say Nebraska’s Martina Comin for personal reasons. As an Italian-born, I’m obviously happy to see Italy’s growing interest in the NCAA. Moreover, Comin represents a very local product to me. We were born in the same town, we grew up in the same area and she even went to my Dad’s same high school. It’s all very exciting. Finally, for someone growing up in rural Italy, you can’t imagine how far Nebraska feels (and is). I’m proud of her, it can’t have been an easy decision!
Emily M: I know it doesn’t fully fit the category, but Rebecca stole mine, so I’ll admit to yelping out loud when Rudi the Roster Robot told us Jade Carey had officially landed on the Beavers’ roster. I know, it’s not like she’ll be competing in 2021, but there she is, on the roster. It’s all happening.
Mary Emma: Carina Jordan at N.C. State. She was originally committed to Florida, then switched to Utah, so imagine my surprise seeing her on an official visit at N.C. State this fall. She should be a big deal in an already strong freshman class for the Wolfpack.
Tara: This isn’t the most traditional change, but Abbie Thompson at Denver. She was originally committed to Denver but switched to West Virginia before eventually coming back around to Denver. She’s a big name in a big class and will definitely be an asset for the Pioneers.
What freshman class are you most excited about as a whole?
Rebecca: You’ve heard this before from me, but UC Davis. The Aggies only lost one gymnast and are gaining six. Emma Otsu is an all around powerhouse whose level 10 stats are comparable with the best in the country, Kaitlyn Lyle’s great form and massive scores make her a possible future NCAA nationals specialist qualifier.
Jenna: It’s hard to ignore the wealth of talent in California’s freshman class. Andrea Li and Gabby Perea are both indisputably top 10 recruits, but Elise Byun and Kennedy Quay also have star potential on multiple events. Denver is a close runner up for me, with its four legitimate all around contenders, and Florida’s class of ninja level 10s is quietly flying under the radar after the big-name elites deferred for the Olympics.
Talitha: There are so many teams that qualify for this answer, California, UCLA and LSU in particular. However, I’m going to say Michigan State. The Spartans are welcoming six impressive freshmen this fall, including Baleigh Garcia, Delanie Harkness and Giana Kalefe, who have the potential to have an immediate impact on the team. Keep an eye on Harkness’s lines on bars, they’re a beauty. Since, like Jenna, I can hardly limit my answer to one, I also have to mention Stanford. Irina Alexeeva and Isabela Onyshko are particularly exciting recruits with plenty of international experience and beam routines to die for.
Emily M: Utah. Deanne Soza, as you can tell above, is a favorite of mine from her elite days. Lucy Stanhope can be a wild card, but I think she’s one who will benefit from NCAA construction while keeping some flashy tricks, Alani Sabado has some jaw-dropping bars scores and Jaylene Gilstrap is an experienced and well-rounded gymnast. It has flash, beauty, and huge potential. I’m really excited about the direction Utah’s recruiting is moving under Tom Farden.
Mary Emma: This is an obvious answer, but I’m going to say LIU. Not only is it exciting because it will be the program’s first freshman class ever, but also it’s an impressive class. I’m super excited to see what they can accomplish this season.
READ THIS NEXT: CGN Roundtable: LIU Part 2
Article by Rebecca Scally, Emily Minehart, Talitha Ilacqua, Jenna King, Mary Emma Burton, Kalley Leer and Tara Graeve
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