CGN Roundtable: On Clemson and ACC Gymnastics

Unless you’re been in deep NCAA gym hibernation since the season ended, you probably heard the big news that swept across the gymternet last week when Clemson and the ACC announced the addition of women’s gymnastics for the 2024 season. Naturally, we’re pretty excited, and have so many ideas, opinions and things to discuss, so we thought it would be perfect timing for a roundtable on the subject.

What are you most excited about for Clemson or ACC gymnastics? Let us know in the comments or on social media!

To start us off, what was your initial reaction to the news?

Elizabeth: I think giddy is the best way to describe it. We’ve been waiting for a big school to add gym for a while now (no offense, LIU), and it finally happened!

Claire: Elation. I’m a lifelong Clemson fan and I live less than an hour from the school. This has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl watching SEC college gym! 

Emily M: Surprise! I knew the chatter that was going around, but we’ve heard it before and been disappointed. 

Mary Emma: Lots of excitement and a little bit of a bittersweet feeling. I’m THRILLED that the ACC will finally start sponsoring gymnastics, as I’ve been screaming about it for years now. It’s going to continue to elevate the sport in a positive way. Clemson is such a huge school for athletics in general, and I have no doubt that the team is going to be successful. At the same time, it’s bittersweet because it will change the dynamics of the EAGL—a conference I’ve come to know and love over the last several seasons—with three of its current teams moving to the ACC. 

Katherine: I was caught completely off guard. This was an idea we’d all thrown around in Slack for some time (usually driven by Claire 😉), but I always thought it was a pipe dream. It had also been a while since I’d heard talk of it, so I thought it had gone by the wayside. 

Tara: Excited is the first word that comes to mind. A big sports school adding gymnastics? An absolute dream come true. Even though the idea was thrown around in the past, I was definitely slightly caught off guard as well. 

Jenna: If you follow me on Twitter you probably know I’ve been a huge advocate for ACC gymnastics for a while now, so this is a dream come true. Now if only Florida State could add a team as well…

Carolyn: I didn’t see it coming at all! I thought the rumors circling the gymternet were just what ifs that were never going to come true, but I am so happy that they aren’t rumors after all!

Katie W: Another gymnastics team at the collegiate level is always a win for the sport, but Clemson is truly a home run. If you follow other collegiate sports, you know Clemson is at the top for school spirit and investing in its teams. I hope this opens the door for more ACC teams in the future as well.

Ryan: I was pretty surprised! I saw the commentary around the gymternet when Clemson announced it would be adding a few women’s sports, but I felt like a new gymnastics program at such a large school was unlikely to happen. I’m so excited that it has though. The news gets my hopes up that other large schools could follow!

What was your favorite part of the announcement?

Elizabeth: I loved the social media announcement game. It was so clever, and it set my expectations pretty high for the rest of the program’s start.

Claire: Getting to scream and celebrate with so many of my friends, both gymnerds and Clemson fans alike (particularly Jenna, who broke the news to me and is a fellow ACC fan). 

Emily M: The timing and preparedness. Announcing a team starting in 2024 days after the class of 2023 became recruitable after a year and half recruiting hiatus? GENIUS. Pure genius. I’ll be talking about how smart the timing was for decades, probably. Plus, the team had Instagram and Twitter handles locked down and is already producing strong content. Clemson did not come to play around.

Mary Emma: Like Emily M said, the timing of the announcement was great. With the team not starting until 2024, it opens up another school for the class of 2023 to consider as recruits begin to contact and visit teams.

Katherine: The social media of it all was my favorite part. Clemson football has an elite social media presence, so I’m not surprised the school’s communications staff was coordinated and ready to go. I also love that this was a genuine surprise; no loose ends or leaks could have revealed it beforehand. Kudos to the athletic department for that, too.

Tara: I loved the social media announcement! So. Good. And beyond that, the way the team interacted with other tweets was priceless. I also loved the way other teams responded to it!

Jenna: I loved that the team’s Twitter account was immediately interacting with the gymternet. Clemson did its homework!

Carolyn: My favorite part was watching current college gymnasts, past college gymnasts and future college gymnasts interacting with the news and supporting Clemson on social media. It definitely shows the amount of interest there is in another new program!

Katie W: I love the fact that other teams acknowledged it immediately on social media. In a time where colleges are consistently cutting their budgets, it should be celebrated that women’s gymnastics at the collegiate level is continuing to grow.

Ryan: It was great to watch NCAA programs and elite gymnasts from around the country show their support for the new team. It can be easy to get caught up in rivalries or other drama, but at the heart of it, everyone loves seeing the sport grow.

What are you most looking forward to with Clemson’s new team?

Elizabeth: This is such a cop-out answer, but all of it. Clemson is a big-time school, and it has all the resources to make this team a success right off the bat. Anything less will be considered a disappointment, at least to me.

Claire: Literally all of it. I’m so excited about this entire process, from new hires to signing recruits to unveiling leos. 

Emily M: I love watching for coaching announcements, big time recruit commitments and transfers, so the whole building process is going to be so fun to watch. Get your popcorn ready. 

Mary Emma: Like Claire and Elizabeth said, I’m looking forward to everything. I had so much fun following LIU over the past year as it hired coaches, signed recruits and celebrated all of its firsts.

Katherine: Thanks to the exposure it has through football, Clemson has the chance to build a national brand from the start with this team. I’m looking forward to seeing what the university, athletic department and everyone involved does with that opportunity. 

Tara: I’m excited to watch the process of a big-time sports school adding gymnastics. It’s the first major school I’ll be able to witness build a team from the ground up (I said major! Sorry, LIU). From the recruiting, to the coaching staff to the inaugural season, I’m ready for all of it. 

Jenna: I’m looking forward to watching the first class come together. It’ll be interesting to see which recruits end up at Clemson; will any 5-stars be intrigued by the opportunity to be a part of an inaugural class at a major university?

Carolyn: I’m looking forward to seeing what recruits it lands. Although Clemson is a big, nationally known school, I’m sure we’ll see some hesitation regarding gymnasts’ commitments to the inaugural team.

Katie W: I’m excited to see what the inaugural team and coaching staff looks like, and I have to echo what the rest of my fellow editors said as well.

Ryan: The thought of building an entire program from the ground up is really exciting to me. Whoever steps into the coaching roles won’t need to adjust to any existing culture. They’ll be able to recruit who they want without worrying about graduating seniors. They’ll be able to form new traditions. I can’t wait to see all the ways Clemson separates itself from other schools.

What about for ACC gymnastics?

Elizabeth: I really hope this gets the ball rolling for more ACC schools to add women’s gymnastics. You have four, and it’s a good possibility that the ACC won’t be happy with that, especially when in competition with the SEC, and want to add more.

Claire: As much as I love and will continue to support the EAGL, having official ACC gymnastics is a potential game changer for the sport. Hopefully, we’ll see more and more Power Five programs added! 

Emily M: The Power Five is in the house, and it’s about time! That’s not just semantics, either. Each Power Five conference is designated an “autonomy conference” by the NCAA, with more power than your average conference. Gymnastics sponsored by all five conferences is a BFD.

Mary Emma: I’m excited that the addition of ACC gymnastics will continue to grow the sport in general. It will help Pitt, N.C. State and North Carolina elevate their game (especially with the timing of Pitt’s new gymnastics facility right around the time it will join the ACC), and it will hopefully inspire more Power Five schools to add the sport.

Katherine: The most well-known school in the conference adding gymnastics does wonders for increasing the sport’s legitimacy, and I really hope Pitt, N.C. State and North Carolina see benefits from that. I also hope it will get the ball rolling for other conference stalwarts to follow suit and add a team. As a relatively new (but still proud) Florida State Seminole, nothing would make me happier.

Tara: I hope this opens the door and encourages more ACC schools (along with other Power Five schools) to add gymnastics and continue growing the sport at the college level. 

Jenna: The ACC is an amazing conference in general but especially for women’s sports, so it’s really a perfect fit for gymnastics. Perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part, but I agree with Elizabeth that the ACC will want to compete with the SEC and won’t be happy with only four teams—hopefully we’ll see others add gymnastics, and sooner rather than later.

Carolyn: I too would love for some more ACC schools to add gymnastics, such as Duke, Florida State or Miami—but really any school would be great. Anything for some more programs.

Katie: I’ve mentioned this in Slack, but I think Notre Dame should follow suit with the Clemson announcement and begin working on a women’s gymnastics program for the future. I hope this opens the door for new programs and a wider spread of 5-star commits. 

Ryan: I think the ACC making this leap to sponsor gymnastics sends a message that the sport is growing. I hope other conferences and schools are encouraged by this message to start their own programs. Thinking about covering the Big 12, it would be great to see a team like Texas, Oklahoma State or Baylor join the conference. I always want more teams, but what I want most is parity.

In terms of Clemson’s first head coach, who do you hope it targets?

Elizabeth: It can’t be a coach just starting out or a middle-of-the-road hire. It has to be a big name, either someone who was a successful assistant, a successful head coach at a upper-middle tier school or a top-of-the-line elite coach. They also need to be a great recruiter, because at least 60% of the success the team will have will be because of the coach’s ability to nab some initial stars.

Claire: The HC needs to be a big name with a proven track record. I think it’s most likely to be a longtime AC from a top program like Adrian Burde. I’d also love to see Kyla Ross in an AC or VAC role—her boyfriend’s dad is the current softball head coach.

Emily M: It has to be splashy. It has to be someone with a name fans know who has big connections. I hope Clemson goes back and looks at the excitement Arkansas created around the Jordyn Wieber hire because that kind of move would be stellar. My dream staff would be a big-time, well-known name in the HC job, a very strong technical AC and an up-and-coming big name coach in the other AC role (yes, I’m thinking Kyla Ross).

Mary Emma: It needs to be someone big. My first thought was the Griffeths (though I’m not sure the timing would work with them just getting hired at LSU), but it needs to be either a head coach with lots of success at a low-mid tier program or a successful assistant coach from a top program. 

Katherine: It should definitely be someone with NCAA experience. I feel like you need to understand the ins and outs of college gymnastics before accepting this big of a job. I would love to see the return of a coach who has been out of the sport for a minute but achieved proven results in their heyday. What if Danna Durante made her comeback here? It’s not all that far from where she lives now in Athens…

Tara: Hmmm. A school as big as Clemson needs a big name that has experience coaching a college team and has had success doing it–someone who knows what it takes to recruit and coach a successful team. Perhaps

Carolyn: I’m hoping for a longtime assistant coach from a successful program. My best bets are either Tom Haley from OU or Philip Ogletree from N.C. State. However, just for fun I would also love it if Ashley Kerr or Casey Jo MacPherson got the job.

Katie W: I don’t have a specific person off the top of my head, but I do agree that it needs to be someone with extensive experience within the NCAA. I also agree with Emily M that Kyla Ross could be a potential assistant coach candidate, but it will be intriguing to see who the university brings in to lead the program. 

Ryan: I think it will be important for Clemson to hire someone with the potential to stay with the program for a long time. It’s rare that a team is top-tier right out of the gate, and having constant coaching changes is unlikely to help. Someone young with a lot of coaching potential could someday become Clemson’s Suzanne Yoculan, Greg Marsden or KJ Kindler.

How about recruits? The announcement comes at the perfect time with the class of 2023 now allowed to talk to coaches and verbally commit.

Elizabeth: This is a tough one. I’d love to see any of our new five stars take a chance on Clemson. Maybe Kylie Coen, Morgan Price or Konnor McClain? A lot of it will really depend on the coach though.

Claire: Olivia Greaves immediately comes to mind (if she’d be willing to hold off another year). As far as actual 2023 recruits, Konnor McClain, Jamison Sears or Addison Fatta would all be fantastic headliners! I’d also love to see some international recruits like the Gadirova twins or Clara Raposo. 

Emily M: Jamison Sears (5-star) is from Virginia, not too far away. If she wants a big program close to home, it’d be Clemson.

Mary Emma: It would be cool to see Clemson get a 5-star recruit (or two!) right off the bat. In the past, new teams would be at a disadvantage for recruiting, as most of the people it would be targeting would have already committed somewhere, but with the new recruiting rules and a delayed start, the possibilities are numerous. Dare I say Konnor McClain?

Katherine: Let’s get some big-time flips! The new coach should get to work on some of the top gymnasts who have already committed from South Carolina and neighboring states, like North Carolina and Georgia, in an effort to get them to “stay home.”

Jenna: Neighboring states Georgia and North Carolina have a ton of talented club gymnasts—if I were the coach of a brand new Clemson team, I’d start my recruiting there.

Carolyn: Hmm maybe Zoe Miller or Amber Lowe? Both are uncommitted 3-star recruits with elite backgrounds.

Katie W. I agree with recruiting in North Carolina and Georgia for local athletes. However, South Carolina has a beautiful climate and has potential to become a competitive school. I think targeting Canadian athletes and gymnasts from the northeast would also be a great way to go. 

Ryan: I would love to see some of the recruits previously considering SEC schools to give Clemson a try. Even one gymnast picking Clemson over Florida, LSU or Alabama would be a huge deal for the program. As we’ve seen with other schools, it only takes a few star athletes to improve a team’s recruiting for years to come.

Who is one dream college senior in 2023 who you want to transfer and take a COVID year at Clemson?

Elizabeth: I feel like anyone we put here will seem unrealistic at this point in time, but just go with it. I feel like Alyona Shchennikova or her parents have or had some sort of connection to South Carolina? Or maybe someone like Chloe Widner or Jaedyn Rucker?

Claire: Haleigh Bryant. She’s a southern girl and a Tiger—she’d fit right in!

Emily M: That’s so tricky! Imagine Kiya Johnson taking an extra year as a Tiger…with orange stripes. Hannah Joyner will also be a senior in 2023. If the Aimee Boorman idea other editors floated pans out…I could see it, since Boorman coached Joyner at Evo.

Mary Emma: This is hard because 2023 seems so far away, but upon reading Emily M’s response to this question, now I need Joyner to be the one to do it.

Katherine: Going off the “staying home” mentality I mentioned in the last question, I would love to see a top Georgia gymnast return. I thought of Arayah Simons off the top of my head.

Katie W: Haleigh Bryant was the first athlete that came to my mind. This is likely because she constantly posts about UNC. I think if it was in national championship contention, Bryant would have been a good target to stay more local.

Ryan: Speculation is always fun, so I may as well go way out there and say Chae Campbell. With the stacked classes UCLA is getting in the next few seasons, she might have difficulty remaining an all arounder. Perhaps she’ll transfer to a program where she can shine once again, especially if it has a choreographer worthy of her skills.

What strategy do you hope Clemson takes in its inaugural season?

Elizabeth: I already said this, but anything less than success will be seen as a disappointment. Clemson needs to spend some money on a big-name coach, get at least one big-name recruit and come out of the gates flying. You have two years, so you have plenty of time to do things right.

Claire: Two words: all in. 

Emily M: Effing go for it. Clemson is such a sports powerhouse with so much athletics money that there’s no reason not to nab a great coach, sign huge recruits, try to get some gold star transfers and immediately aim for nationals. 

Mary Emma: Echoing what everyone else said, Clemson needs to go all out. The athletic department needs to throw all the money it can at the program to make sure it is successful immediately. I thought LIU did a great job in its first season (COVID issues notwithstanding) with a smaller budget, so just imagine how great Clemson could be with a big budget (and no COVID).

Katherine: Do all that ^^ and schedule some big name matchups that will hopefully air on accessible TV so everyone can get into it. 

Jenna: First, Clemson needs to make sure it can get as many of its meets on ESPN as possible, either by putting pressure on the ACC to secure a deal for its conference meets through the ACC Network or by scheduling meets against SEC teams (or both!). Second, market the team to get fans in the stands. Third, win!

Carolyn: I hope it absolutely BRINGS IT with its social media game and campus marketing to bring high attendance numbers in for meets. I also hope we get some fantastic ESPN coverage because I need to watch.

Katie W: Make the team accessible to college gymnastics fans. The SEC is thriving because of the accessibility the conference offers for watching all the meets. 

Ryan: I think the best strategy is for Clemson to concentrate on making a name for itself. Unique skills, memorable choreography, eye-catching leotards, great marketing and a powerful social media presence can go a long way to building a strong fanbase, regardless of competitive results.

The schedule and opponents will be top of mind for a lot of people. Who do you hope is on Clemson’s inaugural season schedule, and which team should the Tigers host for the home opener?

Elizabeth: Georgia and Clemson football are set to square off in the Chick-fil-a kickoff game in the fall of 2024. Extend that rivalry to gymnastics and have the teams face off for Clemson’s first-ever home gymnastics meet as well. The schools are close, and it could create a solid rivalry for years to come, especially with Georgia having a down period success-wise recently. As for the rest of the schedule, hit all the big teams for the simple reason of doing all you can to get as many fans in the arena at the start as possible. Utah fans travel well, and people want to see the likes of Florida, UCLA, LSU and Oklahoma in person. If Clemson’s smart, it’ll schedule all these teams in addition to its ACC opponents in 2024.

Claire: Between the whole SEC/ACC football rivalry and Dabo Swinney’s Alabama roots, I feel like Clemson has to host the Crimson Tide for the first home meet. I’m also eagerly awaiting an all-Tigers quad meet with LSU, Missouri and Auburn! It’s worth noting that there are a surprisingly large number of Penn State fans in South Carolina; that match-up would probably bring in a good crowd. 

Emily M: Go big. It sounds like the Tigers will be competing in their basketball arena, so there’s huge potential. Bring in an SEC or Pac-12 team with fans notorious for traveling well (LSU, Utah) for the home opener and pack that place. As for the overall schedule, since the ACC will only be four teams, there should be enough space to play with nearby SECs. Go to Arkansas, go to Georgia, go to Florida. Get in front of packed arenas, but stay close enough that your new fan base can consider traveling. 

Katherine: I would also love to see Alabama come to Clemson for the home opener. The recent history between those two programs in football would create amazing narrative fodder.

Jenna: I touched on this in the previous question, but schedule as many meets against the SEC as possible. I’d like to see a home opener against LSU, personally, so Clemson fans can see the passion of the college gymnastics community up close.

Carolyn: For some reason I would love to see Clemson and Alabama face off in the first meet, and then continue seeing some other SEC teams during the season while mixing in the other ACC teams.

Katie: Someone mentioned a Tiger meet in our Slack as soon as the news dropped, and I’m convinced I need this. Clemson and Alabama would also be another great school rival competition meet. 

Ryan: It pains me to cater to football, but if that’s what it takes to draw fans, then so be it. A Clemson-Alabama home opener would be incredibly exciting to watch, and there’s already a built-in rivalry. Or we could go with my other fantasy of a quad meet with LSU, Auburn and Missouri in a battle of the tigers, and extend the invite to Towson if it would like to join, too.

Let’s talk leos. What sort of colors, elements, etc. do you hope Clemson incorporates into its first few designs?

Stay tuned for our Clemson leotard design contest starting on July 2!

Elizabeth: How about incorporating the tiger paw in ways similar to how TWU incorporates the state of Texas? I definitely want to see some pretty purpley-orange sunset ombre as well. The only thing I don’t want is the poor combination of purple and orange. It can be great, but it can also go horribly wrong. I’m thinking more of a delicate look for designs rather than in-your-face, athletic PURPLE AND ORANGE.

Claire: Obviously I’m biased, but I can’t wait for some ludicrously orange leos! The iconic Tiger paw is also going to need to be heavily featured. In addition to sunset ombre, and white with orange and purple accents, I’d also love to see a more athletic design (think UCLA’s centennial leo) make an appearance.  

Emily M: Purple is one of my favorite leo colors! Orange…not so much. But I could see leaning on one or the other as a primary leo color with a lot of white and using the other color for accents, like coloredl rhinestones. There’s also the potential for some great sunset moods with purple to orange ombre.

Mary Emma: I actually rather like the purple and orange color combo when it’s done right. I’ve seen a bunch of sunset-esque purple to orange ombre leos floating around, which I love. I also hope it goes for some all-orange or all-purple leos as well, since those two colors are less common among NCAA gymnastics teams.

Katherine: I think orange with purple accents is the way to go. Take any recent Illinois designs, swap out blue for purple, and you’d probably still be okay.

Carolyn: I hope they stick with some nice, purple leos to start off with and then later branch off into incorporating the orange. We don’t want to get too extravagant too fast. And I agree with Mary Emma on the sunset ombre leos—that would be gorgeous!

Katie W: Kalley made some gorgeous potential Clemson leotards that she shared, and I am all about the ombre look. I also love a good purple leotard but would stay away from too many crazy orange and purple color combinations in one design. 

Ryan: I’m hoping to see designs that are unmistakably Clemson. Take a chance! Stand out! If the leos look like they could be worn by any other team, it will be a huge missed opportunity.

The precedent is now there. Which ACC team do you hope adds gymnastics next?

Elizabeth: I think Boston College would be really fun. I know we already have some New England schools, but the fact that Boston doesn’t have a team is almost as egregious to me as Texas not having one.

Claire: Florida State and Virginia. Having an in-state rival for Florida would be a whole lot of fun.

Emily M: Boston College and Duke. It’s wild that a college town like Boston doesn’t have a team, and the Duke-UNC rivalry? Come on! I also wouldn’t be mad to see Syracuse. Or Virginia! Or Wake Forest—imagine those leos! Clearly, I just want more teams anywhere. Let’s just please add them in groups of four so conference championships don’t become too unruly.

Mary Emma: I’ve been saying how much I’d love to see Florida State add a team for years. Being located in Florida would be a huge draw for recruits, and there would be an instant rivalry with Florida. It would also be cool to see Duke add a team because of the rivalry with North Carolina.

Katherine: As a current Florida State student, my answer is obvious. If you look away from the dumpster fire that is the football team right now, Florida State has had tremendous athletic success recently, particularly in women’s sports. This opportunity should entice our athletic department.

Jenna: Obviously I’m going to agree with Katherine on FSU here since we’re both biased. Outside of that, I’d love to see Duke, Georgia Tech and Louisville since they have long-standing rivalries with schools that already have gymnastics teams. I’m a big fan of college rivalries, and I’d love to see more of them in college gym! Notre Dame would also be a fun one, as would Boston College or either Virginia school. (Maybe I should just say all of them?)

Carolyn: I said earlier that I would love it if Florida State started a team. Can you imagine a Florida-Florida State rivalry and all the recruiting tension that would take place? I would love the drama.

Katie W: I mentioned it earlier, but I think a Notre Dame gymnastics team would be a great addition to the conference and sport.

Ryan: I would love to see Florida State start a program, if only for a yearly Florida-Florida State meet. That would be incredible to watch!

What questions do you still have that you hope get answered in the coming months?

Elizabeth: Besides everything already mentioned about coaches and recruits, I do wonder about the timing of a coaching hire. Clemson is an established athletics school, so I’m not as concerned as curious. Also, will the team work out at a club gym for a bit or put plans in action for a state-of-the-art facility right now to be completed around the time of the first season or so?

Claire: How soon can I buy my season tickets?! But seriously, I want to know if they’ve already started the hiring process for the head coach. If so, then who’s on the short list? If not, when is that process going to start?  

Emily M: I’m wondering about the facility for sure. Clemson has an NAIGC team; will the varsity team use those facilities for a while? My guess is no; it’s too high profile of an athletic department not to immediately build a world-class facility. The new Nebraska facility took about two years to build, so I imagine we’ll hear something in the next six months or so on that front. 

Mary Emma: I’m wondering about the timing of the hiring of coaches. Are they going to hire someone right away for recruiting purposes? What about assistant coaches? 

Katherine: I’m just waiting for one of college athletics’ most colorful figures to give his opinion on the matter.

Jenna: Will Eight Ball be at meets?!

Carolyn: I’m with Emily M on this one: Where will the practice facility be? 

Katie W: I definitely think the head coach would have to be the first one. A named coach is key for recruiting purposes and evaluating what potential recruits the program may get in its first season. 

Ryan: I’m excited for Clemson, but I’m already asking: Who’s next?

READ THIS NEXT: Clemson to Add Women’s Gymnastics for 2024 Season

Article by the editors of College Gym News

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