“And though she be but little, she is fierce!” Despite being one of the smallest conferences in collegiate women’s gymnastics, the Big 12 boasts three teams in the top 20 (including defending champion Oklahoma). The Sooners and Denver Pioneers understandably receive the bulk of the national attention, but don’t sleep on Iowa State and West Virginia. The Cyclones in particular are poised for a big jump in the rankings this season.
While there’s still so much uncertainty surrounding the upcoming season, it’s business as usual until we hear otherwise. That means it’s time for our annual potential lineups analysis! With preseason training in full swing for most teams, we’re breaking it all down and taking a look at every squad’s prospects for 2021—from who’s expected to contribute, holes that need to be filled and exciting upgrades fans should look out for.
No. 1 Oklahoma
It’s hard to remember a time when the Sooners weren’t the team to beat: Since qualifying to their first Super Six in 2010, they have dominated the competition, earning a remarkable four national titles and topping the regular season rankings in 2020. Even with a monster (both in size and talent) freshman class, the Sooners are faced with the near Sisyphean task of filling the holes left by Maggie Nichols and Jade Degouveia.
|Losses:||Maggie Nichols (AA), Bre Showers, Jade Degouveia (VT, UB, FX), Brooke Weins (VT)|
|Gains:||Audrey Davis, Danae Fletcher, Julianne Fehring, Bell Johnson, Katherine LeVasseur, Audrey Lynn, Sheridan Ramsey (lower leg injury), Quinn Smith, Meilin Sullivan (out for season due to myocarditis and pericarditis)|
Potential Contributors: Anastasia Webb (9.935 NQS), Allie Stern (9.895), Evy Schoepfer (9.880), Olivia Trautman, Ragan Smith, Katherine LeVasseur, Julianne Fehring, Quinn Smith, Audrey Lynn
How It Looked Before: The Sooners topped the national rankings in 2020 thanks in no small part to their lineup of six 10.0 start values anchored by the unflappable Maggie Nichols.
How It Looks Now: Despite losing Nichols and seventh-ranked Jade Degouveia, Oklahoma should still manage to have at least six 10.0 vaults (not to mention two of the best vaulters in the country in senior Anastasia Webb and junior Olivia Trautman). Freshmen Katherine LeVasseur, Julianne Fehring and Quinn Smith all competed a Yurchenko one and a half in level 10. LeVasseur earned numerous entries in My Meet Scores’ Top 100 (including a 10.0 in 2019), and Fehring and Smith are both former J.O. national champions (in 2019 and 2018, respectively). Additionally, Audrey Lynn has upgraded to a front handspring half. Any of them could challenge senior Evy Schoepfer and junior Allie Stern for a regular lineup spot. Sophomore Ragan Smith competed her Yurchenko full a handful of times in 2020, averaging an underwhelming 9.750; she’ll need to either upgrade or refine her preflight and landings to make this season’s lineup.
Note: Fehring underwent an unspecified surgical procedure in early December, but it’s unknown if or how this will affect her during the season.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Relatively speaking, trending down. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Nichols is irreplaceable on vault. In four years, she earned more tens than sub-9.9 scores and her career low is a 9.8. That said, Oklahoma should still be one of the best vaulting teams in the country with Webb and a full-strength Trautman leading the way.
Potential Contributors: Ragan Smith (9.930 NQS), Anastasia Webb (9.895), Olivia Trautman (9.880), Karrie Thomas (9.855), Vanessa Deniz, Jordan Draper, Audrey Davis, Julianne Fehring, Danae Fletcher, Bell Johnson, Katherine LeVasseur, Quinn Smith
How It Looked Before: The Sooners were ranked first in the nation on bars and boasted three first team All Americans in their lineup.
How It Looks Now: Webb and Ragan Smith will certainly retain their spots. Senior Karrie Thomas wasn’t able to meet the standard she set during her breakout 2019 season (when she earned first team All-American honors), but she is a reliable contributor who should remain a fixture this season. Freshman and former elite Audrey Davis is a lovely bar worker who earned the highest level 10 bars score of the 2020 season (a massive 9.950); she should have no problem securing a spot. Sophomore Vanessa Deniz exceeded expectations as a mid-season replacement in 2020 and Trautman is a generally solid contributor. They’ll certainly be in the running for those final two positions but will face stiff competition from the remaining freshmen. Level 10 standout Danae Fletcher’s routine is nearly identical to Degouveia’s (both in composition and style); 2020 Nastia Cup qualifier LeVasseur has a simple but clean routine with little-to-no built-in deductions; Bell Johnson, Fehring and Quinn Smith all earned consistently high scores during their level 10 careers. Expect to see some shuffling in this lineup and lots of exhibitions, particularly early in the season.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending down. It’s the same situation as vault: Oklahoma is still going to be one of the best bars teams in the country, but it’s unlikely to be quite as dominant as last season.
Potential Contributors: Anastasia Webb (9.925 NQS), Ragan Smith (9.925), Carly Woodard (9.905), Jenna Dunn (9.850), Olivia Trautman, Karrie Thomas, Evy Schoepfer, Vanessa Deniz, Audrey Davis, Julianne Fehring, Quinn Smith, Katherine LeVasseur
How It Looked Before: Comparatively, one of the Sooners’ weaker events (although their season low was a still-impressive 49.225).
How It Looks Now: All Americans Webb, Ragan Smith and Woodard will be back as the core group along with freshman Davis (who made a remarkable four appearances on the 2020 Top 100). Things get pretty complicated from there: Head Coach KJ Kindler has no problem tweaking beam lineups or putting up an under-the-radar gymnast. Trautman is reliably solid on beam but tends to stay in the 9.8 to 9.9 range while sophomore Jenna Dunn notched a season high 9.925 but took the majority of the season to hit her stride; they’ll both probably see competition time but may rotate in and out of the lineup.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. Oklahoma’s only losing one routine, and Davis is a worthy successor to Maggie Nichols.
Potential Contributors: Anastasia Webb (9.925 NQS), Ragan Smith (9.885), Jordan Draper (9.880), Emma LaPinta (9.875), Vanessa Deniz, Allie Stern, Julianne Fehring, Danae Fletcher, Bell Johnson, Katherine LeVasseur, Audrey Lynn, Quinn Smith
How It Looked Before: Like beam, this was a comparatively weak event for the Sooners in which they “only” ranked third. They struggled to find a consistent replacement for powerhouse Trautman when she was out with injury.
How It Looks Now: Trautman and Webb are the only locks, though Ragan Smith (who, despite getting off to a surprisingly slow start in 2020, finished the season with a 9.975) and classmate Deniz should be back in the mix. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess: Senior Jordan Draper and junior Emma LaPinta are strong performers but have built-in deductions that put them on the bubble. 2019 J.O. floor champion Fletcher isn’t arriving in Norman until January, but she could make an immediate impact. LeVasseur is an excellent floor worker who placed third at this year’s Nastia Cup. Fehring and Johnson both competed E passes as level 10s. Quinn Smith and Lynn have simple yet clean routines and are fun, energetic performers who could score very well in NCAA.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Too early to tell. Having Trautman back in the lineup is a huge boost that should offset the loss of Nichols and Degouveia. If the Sooners can capitalize on all that depth, floor could be a standout event.
Oklahoma is still going to be great, but don’t expect it to be quite as dominant as it has been the past four years. Also, with such a huge freshman class, some fantastic routines simply aren’t going to make it to competition. While this is an unquestionably talented team, it remains to be seen what identity it carves out for itself in the post-Maggie Nichols era.
No. 7 Denver
Denver started 2020 out strong, but injuries to key performers in this already-small roster kept the team from reaching its full potential.
|Losses:||Maddie Karr (AA), Emma Brown (BB, FX, transfer to LIU)|
|Gains:||Abbie Thompson, Isabel Mabanta, Jessica Hutchinson, Rosie Casali, Rylie Mundell|
|Returning From Injury:||Mia Sundstrom (unknown arm injury), Lynnzee Brown (torn Achilles)|
Potential Contributors: Lynnzee Brown (9.870 NQS), Emily Glynn (9.810), Alexandria Ruiz (9.800), AK Subject (9.760), Amoree Lockhart, Mia Sundstrom, Alexis Vasquez, Rosie Casali, Jessica Hutchinson, Isabel Mabanta, Rylie Mundell, Abbie Thompson
How It Looked Before: A historically consistent if not dynamic vaulting team, the Pioneers performed reasonably well despite being hampered by lower start values (especially after losing Lynnzee Brown and Mia Sundstrom).
How It Looks Now: It’s unclear when or even if standout Brown will resume training vault, but senior Mia Sundstrom is back in action. Her Yurchenko one and a half will automatically boost the Pioneers’ overall scoring potential. Freshman Rylie Mundell’s Yurchenko one and a half made multiple appearances on the 2020 level 10 Top 100; she’ll absolutely join Sundstrom, Emily Glynn and Alexandra Ruiz as a weekly contributor. Sophomore AK Subject performed admirably in last season’s lineup but could be displaced by the remaining freshmen (all of whom have usable Yurchenko fulls). Former elite Isabel Mabanta and J.O. vault champion Jessica Hutchinson are the most likely to contend for a regular spot.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Too early to tell. Whether or not Brown does ultimately rejoin the lineup, Maddie Karr is going to be tough to replace.
Potential Contributors: Lynnzee Brown (9.895 NQS), Emily Glynn (9.890), AK Subject (9.870), Alexandria Ruiz (9.860), Amoree Lockhart, Natalie Morton, Mia Sundstrom, Rosie Casali, Jessica Hutchinson, Rylie Mundell, Abbie Thompson
How It Looked Before: Denver shone brightly on its strongest event, finishing fourth in the national rankings.
How It Looks Now: Both Brown and Sundstrom have looked great in training videos and should easily regain their places in the lineup along with the formidable trio of Glynn, Subject and Ruiz. Sophomore Amoree Lockhart and junior Natalie Morton stepped into last season’s lineup in the wake of Sundstrom’s and Brown’s injuries, but they will have to demonstrate improved form and consistency to snag a spot over the newcomers. Mundell and Casali both made three appearances on the Top 100 while Thompson appeared twice. Hutchinson has also looked great in recent training videos. With so many options, don’t be surprised to see some lineup variation week-to-week, as well as exhibitions.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. Denver is only losing one routine (albeit from Karr), regaining Brown and Sundstrom and potentially adding four strong freshmen options.
Potential Contributors: Alexis Vasquez (9.960 NQS), Lynnzee Brown (9.895), Alexandria Ruiz (9.820), Amoree Lockhart (9.820), Natalie Morton, Callie Schlottman, Mia Sundstrom, Alexis Vasquez Abbie Thompson, Rylie Mundell, Jessica Hutchinson, Rosie Casali, Isabel Mabanta
How It Looked Before: Denver impressed on beam, earning an outstanding season high of 49.650 (its highest total on any event).
How It Looks Now: Despite fielding an entire lineup’s worth of capable returners, the only sure bets for 2021 are Brown and Vasquez. All five freshmen could realistically challenge the remaining upperclassmen for a spot: Thompson made an incredible four appearances in the 2020 Top 100 beam scores, while Mabanta and Mundell also each made the list and Casali and Hutchinson have looked impressive in recent training videos.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. There is no shortage of good options here.
Potential Contributors: Lynnzee Brown (9.920 NQS), Amoree Lockhart (9.845), Alexandria Ruiz (9.835), Emily Glynn (9.825), AK Subject (9.685), Callie Schlottman, Mia Sundstrom, Alexis Vasquez, Abbie Thompson, Rosie Casali, Rylie Mundell, Jessica Hutchinson
How It Looked Before: The only event in which Denver failed to rank within the top 10. Without Sundstrom and reigning NCAA champion Brown, the Pioneers struggled to field six reliable routines.
How It Looks Now: It’s unknown whether or not Brown has progressed beyond dance throughs, but Sundstrom is back with a vengeance with a never-ending tumbling pass reminiscent of Katelyn Ohashi. She’ll likely be joined by Ruiz, Lockhart (whose choreography is fantastic), Glynn and Mundell. Final returner Subject struggled with consistency last season but is truly a joy to watch; if she can clean up the little details, she has the tools to be a standout. However, she’ll have to outperform not only the freshmen but also upperclassmen Schlottman and Vasquez.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. Even without Brown, it shouldn’t be hard for this group to improve on last season’s 17th place finish.
Denver finished the 2020 season battered and depleted yet still a top 10 team. Having Sundstrom and Brown back lifts the team’s overall prospects, but it’s really going to come down to whether or not the freshman class can convert its massive potential to actual results.
No. 20 Iowa State
|Losses:||Laura Burns (UB, BB, FX), Sydney Converse (VT, BB, FX), Casandra Diaz (UB, FX), Molly Russ (BB, FX)|
|Gains:||Emilie Hong, Kaia Parker, Addy De Jesus (transfer from Nebraska)|
|Returning From Injury:||Laura Cooke|
Potential Contributors: Addy De Jesus (9.890 NQS at Nebraska), Sophia Steinmeyer (9.870), Makayla Maxwell (9.840), Phoebe Turner (9.810), Kelsey Boychuk (9.755), Laura Cooke, Maddie Diab, Natalie Horowitz, Andrea Maldonado, Ana Palacios, Kaia Parker, Emilie Hong
How It Looked Before: A generally good event for Iowa State, the back half of the lineup was nothing short of excellent.
How It Looks Now: The Cyclones are only losing one vault from last year’s roster and are potentially adding Nebraska transfer Addy de Jesus’ high-scoring Yurchenko one and a half (though it’s worth noting she did not compete vault during the team’s most recent intrasquad). Freshman Emilie Hong also has an excellent Yurchenko one and a half that scored a 10.0 at the 2020 Canadian nationals while classmate Kaia Parker’s Yurchenko full earned 10th place at the 2019 level 10 national championships.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. Even if Iowa State doesn’t field an entire lineup of 10.0 start value vaults (which—with the additions of de Jesus and Hong—they realistically could), this is shaping up to be a very deep event.
Potential Contributors: Natalia Ros Vaquer (9.890 NQS), Jade Vella-Wright (9.880), Addy De Jesus (9.830), Madelyn Langkamp (9.825), Laura Cooke, Natalie Horowitz, Alondra Moldonando, Makayla Maxwell, Ana Palacios, Sophia Steinmeyer, Phoebe Turner, Loulou Vezina, Emilie Hong, Kaia Parker
How It Looked Before: The Cyclones ranked an impressive 14th nationally on bars and only scored below the 49 mark once.
How It Looks Now: The bad news? Senior Natalia Ros Vaquer, who suffered a lower leg injury during the Cyclones’ Halloween intrasquad, had surgery in mid-November and is presumably out for the season. The good news? Sophomore Jade Vella-Wright, who was conspicuously absent from that same intrasquad, has posted recent training video on bars and looks as good as ever. De Jesus, along with returners Langkamp, Horowitz and Cooke, will almost certainly be a fixture in the lineup. In addition to the freshmen, several upperclassmen have been training bars during preseason and could realistically vie for a spot, but redshirt sophomore Makayla Maxwell (with aggressive, precise handstands and a lovely double layout dismount) has the edge.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Bars should at least hold steady, but it’s too early to say if it will improve, especially without ringer Ros Vaquer in the lineup.
Potential Contributors: Meixi Semple (9.825 NQS), Sophia Steinmeyer (9.820), Ana Palacios (9.815), Addy De Jesus (9.785), Phoebe Turner (9.775), Kelsey Boychuk, Natalie Horowitz, Makayla Maxwell, Alondra Maldonado, Andrea Maldonado, Jade Vella-Wright, Loulou Vezina, Emilie Hong, Kaia Parker
How It Looked Before: The Cyclones struggled with consistency all season but were capable of going 49-plus when they hit.
How It Looks Now: Iowa State is losing top scorer Sydney Converse but adding strong routines from both the freshmen and De Jesus. Additionally, several upperclassmen who haven’t previously competed beam for the Cyclones have looked strong in recent footage, including Loulou Vezina (who has a very pretty side aerial + back handspring + back handspring series) and twisting queen Andrea Maldonado (who unveiled a gorgeous two and a half dismount).
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. The increased depth is great in and of itself, but adding an experienced collegiate beamer like De Jesus is a major bonus.
Potential Contributors: Andrea Maldonado (9.935 NQS), Maddie Diab (9.870), Addy De Jesus (9.855), Madelyn Langkamp (9.840), Kelsey Boychuk, Laura Cooke, Alondra Maldonado, Ana Palacios, Sophia Steinmeyer, Kaia Parker, Emilie Hong
How It Looked Before: Though ranked higher on bars, floor was the Cyclones’ standout event in 2020. Andrea Maldonado earned first team All-American honors and ranked seventh nationally.
How It Looks Now: Andrea Maldonado, Diab and Langkamp will retain their places along with De Jesus. Cooke only competed twice last season due to injury but has looked great this preseason. Parker struggled with consistency in level 10 but was impressive at the team’s Halloween intrasquad; if she can deliver at that level week-to-week, she’ll snag the final lineup spot. There are so many viable routines on this roster, so don’t be surprised if the coaching staff plays around with the lineup. At the very least, we should see a variety of exhibitions.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Holding strong. This was a great event for Iowa State last season and should be great in 2021 as well.
Iowa State has been steadily climbing the rankings since bottoming out at No. 38 in 2016. With dynamic newcomers joining a strong group of veterans, the Cyclones are poised to break out of the 20s for the first time in over a decade.
No. 31 West Virginia
West Virginia had another relatively consistent season in 2020.
|Losses:||Chloe Cluchey, Erica Fontaine, Abby Kaufman, Julia Merwin, Taylor Sell, Sydney Marler, Maya Kraus|
|Gains:||Agatha Handono, Chloe Asper, Ellen Collins, Gillian Fletcher, Kiana Lewis, Nicole Norris|
Potential Contributors: Abbie Pierson (9.840 NQS), Kianna Yancey (9.790), Kayla Yancey (9.725), Michelle Waldron (9.695), Rachel Hornung, McKenna Linnen, Chloe Asper, Ellen Collins, Kiana Lewis
How It Looked Before: The Mountaineers were fairly consistent on their weakest event but never managed to break out of the high 48s.
How It Looks Now: Freshman Kiana Lewis has a fabulous Yurchenko full that snagged two entries on the 2020 level 10 Top 100. She’ll join Abbie Pierson in the weekly lineup and could make an immediate impact on the lineup’s scoring potential. Freshman Ellen Collins is a bit of a question mark: She competed an iffy Yurchenko full in level 10 but was training a very plausible looking Yurchenko one and a half to competition height as of 2019. If she’s mastered that upgrade (or even just polished her technique on the full), she could snag a regular spot from the remaining returners. Junior Rachel Hornung is another possibility. She was limited to bars and beam last season but has a usable Yurchenko full that notched a 9.780 NQS in 2019.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending down. Never mind scoring potential, depth is a major concern.
Potential Contributors: Esperanza Abarca (9.820 NQS), Kianna Yancey (9.820), Kendra Combs (9.790), Kayla Yancey (9.765), Rachel Hornung, Chloe Asper, Agatha Handono, Kiana Lewis, Nicole Norris
How It Looked Before: West Virginia consistently scored in the high 48s all season but finally broke the magic 49 barrier in its final meet.
How It Looks Now: Expect all four regular returners to be back in action. They’ll most likely be joined by Lewis (a clean bars worker with a Maloney and Ray) and Norris (a former Region 7 bars champion with a lovely piked Jaeger and double layout) with Hornung, Asper and Handono supplementing as needed.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Too early to tell. With the top four bar workers from 2020 returning and added depth from the freshmen, this lineup should be in good shape. If the Mountaineers can address the minor deductions that ate away at last season’s event totals (e.g., handstand positions, form breaks, landings), they could see a lot more 49s in 2021.
Potential Contributors: Esperanza Abarca (9.800 NQS), Abbie Pierson (9.795), Kendra Combs (9.775), McKenna Linnen (9.745), Emily Holmes-Hackerd, Rachel Hornung, Kianna Yancey, Chloe Asper, Gillian Fletcher, Agatha Handono, Nicole Norris
How It Looked Before: The Mountaineers struggled through beam for most of the season, averaging in the mid-48s. However, they finished strong, earning 49-plus in their final three meets.
How It Looks Now: The core returners should have no trouble retaining their places in the lineup. Hornung scored 9.850 three times in five appearances while Holmes-Hackerd made the most of her single appearance on beam last season with a 9.850 of her own; both are strong possibilities for a regular spot in 2021. Several freshmen are also in contention, with Asper (who has an excellent triple series) being the strongest of the bunch.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Too soon to tell. West Virginia has proven that when it hits, it’s capable of big scores. If this year’s crew can hit its stride before the end of the season, it should have no problem improving on last year’s results.
Potential Contributors: Kendra Combs (9.840 NQS), McKenna Linnen (9.825), Abbie Pierson (9.825), Kianna Yancey, Emily Holmes-Hackerd, Esperanza Abarca, Chloe Asper, Gillian Fletcher, Agatha Handono, Kiana Lewis
How It Looked Before: Floor was the Mountaineers’ highest ranked—if not most consistent—event. They scored a season high 49.475.
How It Looks Now: Combs, Linnen, Pierson and Kianna Yancey will be back in the lineup. Freshman Lewis placed fourth at level 10 nationals and should earn a regular spot. Holmes-Hackered only competed twice in 2020 but averaged a 9.725 (including a 9.850 season high). She’s in the mix along with freshmen Asper, Fletcher and Handono. Expect to see any and all of them in the lineup (or exhibition) at some point in the season.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending down. The Mountaineers are losing three strong routines, and it’s unclear if anyone will be able to match Cluchey’s high scoring potential.
It’s too soon to tell how West Virginia will fare this season. Talent and depth won’t be a problem, but it absolutely must address consistency issues (particularly on beam), and the finer details like form breaks and landings, if it wants to regain its place in the top 30 and to make regionals. The potential for a rise in the rankings is certainly there, but can this squad make good on that potential?
READ THIS NEXT: Potential Lineups: NCGA-East
Article by Claire Billman
Like what you see? Consider donating to support our efforts throughout the year! [wpedon id=”13158″]