The SEC is arguably the most competitive conference in NCAA gymnastics, with seven of its teams finishing the year in the top 20, three of which—Florida, Alabama and LSU—qualified to the national championships. The eighth team in the conference, Auburn, entered the postseason ranked 15th but was forced to withdraw from regionals due to COVID protocols and finished the season No. 35. The race for SEC glory is going to be tighter than ever in 2022 thanks to star-studded freshmen classes and a plethora of impactful returning COVID-year seniors.
We’re getting back into the groove of things and returning to the status quo for the 2022 season (as much as we can at least!). 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 the upcoming season—from who’s expected to contribute, holes that need to be filled and exciting upgrades fans should look out for.
No. 13 Arkansas
Arkansas had a record-breaking season in Jordyn Wieber’s second year as head coach, ranking as high as fourth nationally in 2021. The program enters the upcoming season with a talented freshman class led by 2021 Nastia Liukin Cup champion Leah Smith and star all arounder Kennedy Hambrick returning for her senior season.
|Losses:||Sophia Carter, Katarina Derrick (retired), Gillian Rutz (left team)|
|Gains:||Kalyxta Gamiao, Maddie Jones, Frankie Price, Makenzie Sedlacek, Leah Smith, Cami Weaver|
|Returning From Injury:||Emma Kelley, Kiara Gianfagna|
Potential Contributors: Kennedy Hambrick (9.938 RQS), Amanda Elswick (9.875), Sarah Shaffer (9.863), Abigail Johnston (9.844), Jordan Olszewski (9.838), Savannah Pennese (9.806), Madison Hickey (9.700 AVG), Kiara Gianfagna, Kalyxta Gamiao, Frankie Price, Makenzie Sedlacek, Leah Smith, Cami Weaver
How It Looked Before: With only one 10.0 SV regularly in the lineup, it’s no surprise that vault was the Razorbacks’ lowest ranked event. However, they improved on their 2020 ranking by an impressive 21 places.
How It Looks Now: There’s a realistic possibility of seeing a majority-freshman lineup in 2022: Four-star recruits Smith and Sedlacek each earned four mentions on the 2021 top 100 (including a perfect 10 for Sedlacek) while three-star recruit Price appeared twice (however, note that Price is coming back from an ACL tear suffered earlier this year). Gamiao and Weaver—both of whom completed a Yurchenko one and a half as level 10s—could also factor in.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up, up, up. This is an outstanding vaulting class whose scores should easily boost Arkansas’ prospects on the event.
Potential Contributors: Maggie O’Hara (9.925 NQS), Kennedy Hambrick (9.900), Sarah Shaffer (9.888), Kiara Gianfagna (9.863), Jensen Scalzo (9.850), Bailey Lovett (9.838), Emma Kelley, Savannah Pennese, Kalyxta Gamiao, Maddie Jones, Frankie Price, Makenzie Sedlacek, Leah Smith, Cami Weaver
How It Looked Before: Arkansas struggled to hit in consecutive meets, alternating between going 49.3-plus and sub-49 for the majority of the season.
How It Looks Now: With bars mainstay Lovett recovering from offseason elbow surgery and anchor O’Hara recently sporting a hip brace, the Razorbacks may need to look for reinforcements. Sophomore Kelley sat out her freshman season due to injury but has posted training video of a full-twisting double tuck dismount while senior Pennese is also training the event. As on vault, the freshmen are likely to play key roles in this lineup: Smith appeared five times on the 2021 top 100 bars scores en route to a second place finish at level 10 nationals; she’ll almost certainly be a weekly contributor and could even challenge for anchor. Jones and Sedlacek boasted impressive scores in their respective club careers and have shown up-to-the-level routines in recent training videos.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. Even if Lovett and O’Hara are at full strength, these freshmen should provide some much-needed depth and stability to the bars lineup.
Potential Contributors: Kennedy Hambrick (9.938 NQS), Bailey Lovett (9.913), Maggie O’Hara (9.888), Kiara Gianfagna (9.838), Sarah Shaffer (9.800), Amanda Elswick (9.792 AVG), Jensen Scalzo, Kalyxta Gamiao, Maddie Jones, Frankie Price, Makenzie Sedlacek, Leah Smith, Cami Weaver
How It Looked Before: Beam was a solid and consistent, if not particularly high scoring, event.
How It Looks Now: Although this is a comparatively weaker event for the freshmen, they should still factor in (particularly if Lovett and O’Hara are limited). Gamiao, who has been training an impressive standing layout step-out series, and Smith are the most likely to contend for regular spots.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Too early to tell. Without knowing the full extent of O’Hara’s and Lovett’s injuries, it’s impossible to predict how this lineup will measure up to last season’s.
Potential Contributors: Kennedy Hambrick (9.938 NQS), Bailey Lovett (9.931), Sarah Shaffer (9.894), Abigail Johnston (9.888) Madison Hickey (9.869), Savannah Pennese (9.775 AVG), Kiara Gianfagna, Emma Kelley, Kalyxta Gamiao, Makenzie Sedlacek, Frankie Price, Leah Smith,
How It Looked Before: The Razorbacks ranked third nationally on their signature event, led by all-SEC honoree Sophia Carter.
How It Looks Now: Once again, expect the freshmen to be key contributors: Gamiao and Sedlacek placed second and third, respectively, at 2021 level 10 nationals while Price snagged a spot on the top 100 scores. Smith, meanwhile, made an incredible six appearances on the top 100 (including a perfect 10) and won gold at nationals; she’s an absolute lock. Gianfagna was limited to bars and beam in last season but was a staple in the 2020 lineup. She could also challenge the returners for her old spot. This was a deep event for Arkansas even before factoring in the freshmen, so expect to see plenty of exhibitions and experimentation with the lineups early on.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. If anyone is capable of filling Carter’s shoes, it’s Smith.
Wieber’s taken the Razorbacks to new heights, and—with the fourth ranked recruiting class joining her ranks—that trend will almost certainly continue in 2022. Though the team came back from a disappointing performance at the SEC championship with a strong showing at regionals, this is an Arkansas team that won’t be satisfied with anything less than qualifying to nationals. Will added depth and increased start values on vault be enough to reach that goal?
No. 14 Missouri
Missouri jumped from No. 41 to No. 21 in 2015 and has been a fixture in the top 20 ever since. The return of standout Helen Hu and the addition of a star-studded freshmen class could help the Tigers reach new heights in 2022.
|Losses:||Kambrie Brandt (left team), Chelsey Christensen, Lauren Clevenger, Gabrielle Gottula, Macy Orosco (left team)|
|Gains:||Amari Celestine, Grace Anne Davis, Victoria Gatzendorfer, Alonna Kratzer, Jocelyn Moore, Alyssa Ojeda|
|Returning From Injury:||Kyra Burns, Helen Hu, Jena Swanson|
Potential Contributors: Sienna Schrieber (9.825 NQS), Jenna Swanson (9.825), Amaya Marshall (9.806), Hollyn Patrick (9.788), Hannah McCrary (9.765), Adalayna Hufendiek (9.700), Sydney Schaffer (9.700 AVG), Kyra Burns, Helen Hu, Amari Celestine, Grace Anne Davis, Victoria Gatzendorfer, Alonna Kratzer, Jocelyn Moore, Alyssa Ojeda.
How It Looked Before: Missouri dropped from 10th to 31st in the vault rankings last season largely due to lower start values.
How It Looks Now: Missouri boasts two of the most anticipated freshmen vaulters of the year, Celestine and Moore, and former elite Kratzer also competed a Yurchenko one and a half; all three should easily make the lineup, with the former two jockeying for the anchor position. Senior McCrary has been training a tucked Yurchenko one and a half, an upgrade from the Yurchenko full she competed last season. If Swanson and Burns are healthy, they could also each bring a 10.0 SV vault to the table (so to speak).
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending way up. Talk about a reversal of fortunes: Six 10.0 SV vaults plus a wealth of clean Yurchenko fulls—including Hu’s—to choose from? This year’s vault lineup may very well crack the top 10.
Potential Contributors: Sienna Schrieber (9.875 NQS), Amaya Marshall (9.844), Hollyn Patrick (9.825), Alisa Sheremeta (9.800), Adalayna Hufendiek (9.756), Jena Swanson (9.756), Kalise Newson (9.750), Kyra Burns, Helen Hu, Amari Celestine, Jocelyn Moore
How It Looked Before: There was a little over a half-point swing between the Tigers’ season high and low, with only Marshall and Schreiber managing to break into the 9.9s.
How It Looks Now: Redshirt freshman Burns—a level 10 national champion on bars—and Hu—who posted an impressive 9.910 NQS in 2020—should have no problem making this lineup. Freshmen Celestine and Moore appeared on the 2021 top 100. Both will challenge the returners for a spot. Kratzer struggled with consistency as an elite but has looked strong in recent training videos. She has the potential to score very well with the right routine construction.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. Missouri is essentially adding a second lineup’s worth of viable bar routines. There’s no question it should be able to improve on last season’s 49.010 average.
Potential Contributors: Sienna Schrieber (9.938 NQS), Alisa Sheremeta (9.888), Sydney Schaffer (9.869), Amaya Marshall (9.838), Hannah McCrary (9.831), Kyra Burns, Helen Hu, Hollyn Patrick, Jena Swanson, Amari Celestine, Victoria Gatzendorfer, Alonna Kratzer, Jocelyn Moore
How It Looked Before: Beam ended up being a fantastic event for the Tigers even without 2020 SEC Event Specialist of the Year Hu anchoring. After an iffy start, the season culminated in freshman Sydney Schaffer qualifying to the NCAA championships as an individual.
How It Looks Now: With so many strong returners, plus Burns and Hu back in action, this is going to be the hardest lineup for the freshmen to break into. That said, if recent training updates are any indication, they’re going to make things interesting. Gatzendorfer has a lovely triple series, and Moore is working a double tuck dismount. Don’t be surprised to see some variation in this lineup.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. It’s going to be hard to improve on last season’s No. 10 ranking, but adding Hu and Burns to this already stacked lineup just might do the trick.
Potential Contributors: Hannah McCrary (9.881 NQS), Alisa Sheremeta (9.875), Amaya Marshall (9.856), Jena Swanson (9.838), Sienna Schrieber (9.825), Sydney Schaffer (9.713 AVG), Kyra Burns, Helen Hu, Amari Celestine, Grace Anne Davis, Victoria Gatzendorfer, Alonna Kratzer, Jocelyn Moore, Alyssa Ojeda
How It Looked Before: A relatively consistent, if not particularly high scoring, event for Missouri. Only McCrary and Sheremeta managed to score 9.9-plus.
How It Looks Now: Five-star recruit Celestine is an outstanding floor worker with exceptional technique and dance; she’s not only a lock for this lineup but the frontrunner to anchor it. Moore is also a strong contender whose club routine is college ready while Gatzendorfer’s dance and flexibility are reminiscent of teammate Hu’s. Davis is also a compelling option; she struggled with consistency as a level 10 but has a lovely tucked double Arabian and dynamic leaps that could make her a lineup staple.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Too early to tell. Missouri has teased clips of new choreography but no tumbling as of yet. While the freshmen certainly have the tools to bolster scores, a lot is going to depend on routine construction.
Things are looking great for Missouri. The freshmen contributions on vault alone are enough to bolster the team’s prospects, but they have the potential to add multiple routines on every event. The newcomers, along with having Hu and Burns back in action, may very well launch the Tigers into the top half of the SEC.
No. 18 Georgia
The Gym Dogs have shown flashes of brilliance over the last few years but have been plagued by injuries and inconsistency. They’ll be looking to bounce back in a big way after their lowest finish in program history.
|Losses:||Sterlyn Austin, Marissa Oakley|
|Gains:||Sarah Cohen, Maeve Hahn, Riley Milbrandt|
|Returning From Injury:||Rachael Lukacs, Victoria Nguyen, Mikayla Magee, Katie Finnegan, Nhyla Bryant|
Potential Contributors: Megan Roberts (9.913 NQS), Rachel Baumann (9.844), Abbey Ward (9.844), Haley De Jong (9.838), Rachael Lukacs (9.825), Amanda Cashman (9.825), Mikayla Magee (9.888 AVG), Victoria Nguyen (9.775), Nhyla Bryant, Katie Finnegan, Alyssa Perez-Lugones, Sarah Cohen, Maeve Hahn
How It Looked Before: This was Georgia’s highest ranking event in 2021, even without key 10.0 SV vaults from Rachael Lukacs and Mikayla Magee for most of the season.
How It Looks Now: Baumann, De Jong and Cashman are all training a Yurchenko one and a half upgrade. Assuming those vaults materialize, Georgia would have seven 10.0 SV vaults in its arsenal. Bryant sat out the 2021 season with an arm injury but has a floaty Yurchenko full that will almost certainly earn her a spot in the lineup. Additionally, freshmen Cohen and Hahn both competed serviceable Yurchenko fulls in level 10 that should provide much-needed depth. It’s also worth noting that senior Perez-Lugones, a mainstay on beam and floor, has been spotted training a front handspring pike.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. Worst case scenario, Georgia will have more options to play around with. If everyone is healthy, it should be able to put up its strongest vault lineup in years.
Potential Contributors: Haley De Jong (9.881), Megan Roberts (9.875), Victoria Nguyen (9.863), Emily Schild (9.825), Amanda Cashman (9.769), Katie Finnegan (9.775 AVG), Abbey Ward (9.550), Rachel Baumann (8.812), Loulie Hattaway, Rachael Lukacs, Alyssa Perez-Lugones, Sarah Cohen, Maeve Hahn, Riley Milbrandt
How It Looked Before: Though not an especially high-scoring event, Georgia’s bars situation wasn’t nearly as dire as gymternet chatter would have you believe. Only half a point separated its season low (48.850) and high (49.375).
How It Looks Now: Five of Georgia’s returners scored season highs of 9.850 or higher. Scoring potential is not the issue here, confidence and consistency are. Having sophomore Finnegan competing for the entire season should certainly help on those fronts. Junior Hattaway did not compete in 2021 but posted the second highest bars average in 2020. She’s proven that she can hit consistently under pressure. Freshmen Cohen and Hahn have clean technique (though they’d likely need to tweak their respective club routines to be up to the level) while Milbrandt competed a straddled Jaeger and double layout dismount. Any of them could make an appearance. Once again, the wildcard here is Perez-Lugones; she’s training a blind change to straddled Jaeger.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Too early to tell. There’s no shortage of talent in this roster, but Georgia cannot keep counting sub-9.8 scores if it wants to challenge the top teams in the SEC.
Potential Contributors: Haley De Jong (9.913 NQS), Rachel Baumann (9.881), Katie Finnegan (9.788), Soraya Hawthorne (9.756), Emily Schild (9.744), Mikayla Magee (9.681), Victoria Nguyen (9.569), Megan Roberts (9.725 AVG), Alyssa Perez-Lugones (9.325), Rachael Lukacs, Nhyla Bryant, Sarah Cohen, Maeve Hahn
How It Looked Before: Georgia’s beam lineup competed some of the most unique (and not to mention challenging) skills and combinations in the NCAA, but the risk didn’t always pay off.
How It Looks Now: De Jong, Baumann and Magee (whose NQS is deceptively low due to an early season injury) are the only ones guaranteed to retain their spots. Of the remaining returners, sophomore Finnegan will have the edge. Though she only appeared four times last season, she hit all four routines.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Too early to tell. With no clear successor to Marissa Oakley among the freshmen and minimal recent training video to analyze, we simply don’t know what we don’t know. Beam may very well end up looking much like it did last year.
Potential Contributors: Rachel Baumann (9.919 NQS), Soraya Hawthorne (9.906), Megan Roberts (9.875), Alyssa Perez-Lugones (9.819), Amanda Cashman (9.813), Haley de Jong (9.775), Victoria Nguyen (9.850 AVG), MIkayla Magee (9.825), Rachael Lukacs (9.812), Nhyla Bryant, Katie Finnegan, Sarah Cohen, Maeve Hahn
How It Looked Before: Georgia floor is always fun to watch, and last season was no exception. However, injuries to key contributors Lukacs, Magee and Nguyen prevented the Gym Dogs from bringing in the really big scores they’re used to.
How It Looks Now: Bryant was a standout on floor during her level 10 career and will be in the mix if healthy. Freshman Cohen has a fabulous tucked half-in half-out and precise leaps that should earn her a place in this lineup. De Jong only competed twice on floor last season, but her triple full upgrade could make her a regular in 2022. There are a lot of great options here, so don’t be surprised to see some variation week to week and plenty of exhibitions.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. Having Lukacs, Magee and Nguyen back will go a long way toward rejuvenating Georgia’s floor lineup, and adding Bryant and Cohen to an already strong group of returners should do the rest.
This Georgia crew proved it can compete with the best of the SEC, as evidenced by its win last season over eventual conference champion Alabama. What it hasn’t proven is that it can sustain that level of competition for an entire season. The Gym Dogs have been struggling to recapture their former glory for over a decade, and that climb is steeper than ever coming into the 2022 season. A healthy roster *knock on wood* is a great starting point, of course, but will it be enough?
No. 35 Auburn
After COVID-19 forced the program to miss out on regionals, the 2022 season is all about unfinished business. Having a freshman class that includes the reigning Olympic all around champion should help.
|Losses:||Meredith Sylvia, Sabrina Cheney (left team), Elise Panzer (left team)|
|Gains:||Ananda Brown, Sophia Groth, Sara Hubbard, Sunisa Lee, Caroline Leonard|
|Returning From Injury:||Allie Riddle|
Potential Contributors: Derrian Gobourne (9.894 NQS), Drew Watson (9.894), Adeline Sabados (9.819), Piper Smith (9.788), Olivia Hollingsworth (9.781), Payton Smith (9.769), Cassie Stevens (9.750), Jada Glenn, Aria Brusch, Ananda Brown, Sara Hubbard, Sunisa Lee
How It Looked Before: Chronic technical errors and uncontrolled landings meant Auburn could never quite capitalize on its 10.0 SV vaults, resulting in it dropping 13 spots in the national rankings.
How It Looks Now: Gobourne and Watson are the only locks from the returners. Freshman Hubbard is a stellar vaulter who earned three entries on this season’s top 100 scores (including a perfect 10, the second of her career) and will definitely make the cut. Lee is obviously capable of a world class double-twisting Yurchenko, but she doesn’t need it to make this lineup; expect her to protect her ankles and contribute either a one and a half or full.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Too early to tell. Hubbard and Lee are fantastic vaulters, but Auburn is going to have to clean up the details across the board if it wants to make the most of its freshmen stars.
Potential Contributors: Derrian Gobourne (9.913 NQS), Piper Smith (9.881), Aria Brusch (9.875), Adeline Sabados (9.831), Cassie Stevens (9.825), Anna Summer (9.813), Drew Watson (9.675 AVG), Olivia Hollingsworth (9.650), Gabrielle McLaughlin (9.550), Sophia Groth, Sunisa Lee, Caroline Leonard
How It Looked Before: Auburn had just over a full-point swing from its season low (48.450) to season high (49.475) on its highest-ranked event.
How It Looks Now: The only gymnast who could bump 2021 SEC Co-Specialist Gobourne from the anchor spot in this lineup is 2021 national champion and Olympic bronze medalist Lee. The only question is how many skills she’ll connect in her routine.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. Two words: Suni Lee.
Potential Contributors: Gabrielle McLaughlin (9.919 NQS), Cassie Stevens (9.875), Drew Watson (9.813), Morgan Leigh Oldham (9.794), Olivia Hollingsworth (9.794), Derrian Gobourne (9.738), Piper Smith (9.575), Aria Brusch (9.558 AVG), Allie Riddle, Sophia Groth, Sunisa Lee, Caroline Leonard
How It Looked Before: Beam was a great event for Auburn last season, but there was plenty of room for improvement.
How It Looks Now: Lee will fill the gap left by last season’s anchor Meredith Sylvia and join McLaughlin and Stevens in the weekly lineup. The remaining returners are all capable of putting up big numbers but will need to prove they can do so consistently. Hollingsworth—whose scores improved week-to-week last season culminating in a 9.850 season high—has the edge. The remaining returners will face competition from freshmen Groth, who’s training a triple series, and senior Riddle, who sat out the past two seasons but earned a 9.835 NQS her freshman year as the team’s lead-off.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Too early to tell. One person doesn’t make a beam lineup, even if that person is Suni Lee.
Potential Contributors: Derrian Gobourne (9.956 NQS), Cassie Stevans (9.881), Drew Watson (9.869), Adeline Sabados (9.806), Olivia Hollingswoth (9.788), Morgan Leigh Oldham (9.769), Gabby McLaughlin (9.733 AVG), Aria Brusch (9.675), Piper Smith (9.675), Ananda Brown, Sophia Groth, Sara Hubbard, Sunisa Lee
How It Looked Before: Auburn improved on its 2020 ranking by 15 spots, led by All-American Gobourne. Brusch sat out most of the season after a mid-routine injury in the Tigers’ home opener, which likely kept them from climbing higher.
How It Looks Now: This could be where the freshmen have the biggest immediate impact: Hubbard’s club routine featured a full-twisting double tuck and earned her an appearance on the 2021 top 100. Groth is an elegant dancer with strong tumbling and leaps, so she’s also in the mix. Brown only competed a handful of times since 2020, but her 2019 routine was an absolute showstopper. Lee, of course, has a World silver medal on floor.
Trending up, down or too early to tell? Trending up. With Brusch healthy and so many great freshman options, floor has the potential to be Auburn’s strongest event in 2022. The bigger question is whether or not Gobourne will finally get her perfect 10.
Auburn’s 2021 season ended in undeniably heartbreaking fashion, but things are looking up. There’s a deep returning roster with reinforcements on the power events from a strong freshman class, and oh, the current Olympic champion joined the team. Auburn would have no problem improving on its 35th place finish even without Lee’s star power, but how will it handle the scrutiny that inevitably comes along with having one of the world’s best gymnasts on the roster?
READ THIS NEXT: Potential Lineups: SEC Part I
Article by Claire Billman and Katie Walsh
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