Sunday, 06 January 2013 19:26 Top Recruiting Classes of 2012-2013

Written by

For the past several seasons, we've made an attempt to rank the incoming classes for teams across the nation.  The task is never easy, and this year is no exception.  For the schools, investing in athletes today is a bit like investing in the stock (or precious metals) market.  With recruiting taking place earlier and earlier, coaches have to become experts at detecting the traits, abilities and characteristics that will produce a championship athlete two, three, and four years down the road (or six, seven and eight by the time they are college seniors!).  So who's class is rated to be the best?  Read on to find the answer...

Because recruiting is happening so early, we are forced to take a snap shot of the classes as they enter college.  By the time the season rolls along, the rankings shift several times as athletes sign on, graduate early, or decide to not compete.  So, a ranking at the start of the preseason practice is the only true and fair way to assess a recruiting class.  Unfortunately, some athletes get injured or lose their motivation and training edge, while others make large leaps of improvement as they mature.  Therefore, past performance does not always perfectly predict future performance. 

The recruiting classes have been evaluated based on their pre-college performances in major meets, their skill level, and the execution quality of the skills they perform, culled from the available competition and training videos.  As always, transfers are excluded.  Past injury history and motivation are also considered, but are a trickier attribute for us to evaluate, with less direct evidence to evaluate.

Ultimately, we are looking for a set of impact athletes that can be consistent scorers in the 9.85+ range on a given event and be a potential standout on their team and in the NCAA.  Balancing the rankings between large incoming classes versus a small class with one or two standouts is a difficult decision.  However, by focusing on the future marquee-type of athletes, we can achieve a balance between a large, deep class and a class that features a potential superstar. 

How can future success be predicted?  Over the years, however, we've developed some strong indicators of future success at the NCAA level:

  • Recent Elite VISA Championship qualifiers, barring health issues and injury, tend to continue their success in college.  Sometimes, however, the change in training regimen or lingering injury issues have limited their impact, at least initially. 
  • Level 10 JO National Team members in their junior or senior year, also barring injury, tend to continue to standout.  If you take a look at the top four finishers in the Sr. C and Sr. D division of the L10 Nationals from the last several years, you will see that these athletes have (almost without exception) continued on to make an impact at the NCAA level.
  • Top Level 10s and elite dropdowns with a solid history of top (places 5 to 20) finishes at the National level have also excelled at the collegiate level, especially those with a strong work ethic and improvement trend.  This is especially true with those standouts with a weak event that has limited their all-around potential.  A consistent level of high placings at club meets is a good indicator of an athlete's consistency, ability to handle pressure and sturdiness in the rigors of weekly competition.

In constrast, gymnasts that have struggled with major injuries (knee, Achilles', back) more often than not continue to struggle or be limited by these issues at the NCAA level.  Foreign elites, except for the top international performers, have tended to have longer adjustment periods, due to the peculiarities of the NCAA code and the adjustment to a foreign culture.  And finally, in order to achieve standout status in the NCAA, we find it increasingly true that an athlete must be capable of some high-level skills on each event and/or an exceptional level of execution or style (grace, lines, expression, creativity and/or amplitude).  That being said, the NCAA code has the effect of "washing out" some of the difficulty advantages of the top elite athletes.  Thus, athletes of any level with exceptional execution, style and some high level difficulty can outscore gymnasts with a higher level of difficulty.

This year, the ranking was extremely close between the top teams.  A valid argument could be made to place any of these teams at the top of the ranking.  And, at various times during the past two years, the rankings have shifted around. 

So, how did the teams stackup?  Here's the Top Recruiting Classes for 2012-2013 (click on the links to see video clips, where available):

Team  Athletes/Links 
1.  Florida

Florida once again tops our ranking of the top incoming classes.  What powered this class to the top?  Florida boasts the very first world AA champion to compete in the NCAA in Bridget Sloan.  She returned to competitive form this past summer, and despite an injury at the Olympic Trial has shown the ability to achieve a top level of competitive readiness with very little preparation.  With the limited training hours in the NCAA, this is an asset.  Joining her is senior international elite Bridgette Caquatto and Canadian elite Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto.  Both have great lines and excel on UB -- an area that will help complement the rest of the Gator power line-up.  Add in a very strong L10 in Morgan Frazier, and you have this year's #1 class.

Bridget Sloan
Bridgette Caquatto
Bianca-Dancose Giambattisto
Morgan Frazier

2.  UCLA

UCLA edges into the second spot, based on a strong and diverse class.  The Bruins have a legitimate claim to the top spot, but injury and competitive readiness issues have knocked them back down.  The potential is there, however, and so in the runnerup spot they remain.  British elite Danusia Francis and Canadian star Christine "Peng Peng" Lee headline the class.  US elite Sophina DeJesus has graduated early and looks ready to contribute this year.  However, Lee suffered yet another knee injury last summer, limiting her readiness for this season.  Peko was  former elite and top L10 star, but her competitive readiness suffered during her senior year of high school. 

Danusia Francis
Christine Peng-Peng Lee
Sophina DeJesus
Asi Peko

3.  OU

While OU doesn't have the elite stars of the rest of the top five, their class of L10 superstars may very well outperform the elites at the college level.  Haley Scaman is a powerful athlete with elite-level skills, and has been a fixture atop the podium in the club ranks.  Keeley Kmieciak has posted a 10.0 at the L10 level, and like Scaman, has been a club force and a constant at the JO National Team level.  She was a Level 10 National Champion in the AA last season.  Maile'ana Kanewa also boasts big elite level skills, and is yet another big vaulter.  She too has a history of consistent high level finishes at the JO National level, showing both consistency and sturdiness under pressure.  L10 Hunter Price excels on VT and FX.

Haley Scaman
Keeley Kmieciak
Maile'ana Kanewa
Hunter Price

4.  UGA

Georgia's class arguably can contend with the top three programs.  Brittany Rogers is an Olympic Vault finalist who headlines the class, after a successful return from an troublesome ankle injury.  She not only has the skills, but the personality and execution to excel at the NCAA level, as long as she can avoid further injury.  Brandie Jay is sr. international elite and former JO National champion who is known for her power and big skills.  Another Canadian elite, Anysia Unick, has strong execution but not as much power as the other two, due to some struggles with injuries.  In-state walkon Mary Beth Box is coming off a solid L10 year.

Brandie Jay
Brittany Rogers
Anysia Unick
Mary Beth Box
5.  Michigan

Michigan claims a top five spot in our ranking, powered by three international elite gymnasts.  Austin Sheppard is coming off a strong 2011 competing for Hungary, and has strong skills on every event.  At the 2011 World Championships, she finished 11th in the prelims.  She did, however, struggle through her senior year and the summer with injuries.  Morgan Smith is a former US National Team member who dropped down to L10 last season and excelled, showing that she is ready for college.  Briley Casanova is another early grad, and her early start has helped elevate this class.  She also competed well as a L10 last season.  In-state L10 Lindsey Williams is also coming off a solid L10 year.

Austin Sheppard
Morgan Smith
Briley Casanova
Lindsay Williams

6.  Bama

Bama's small class is headlined by former senior international elite Lauren Beers.  Beers dropped down to L10 last season, placing 2nd AA and winning the UB.  She has solid skills on all four events and elite-level execution.  Carley Sims is an in-state product coming off one of her best L10 seasons ever.  She made the 2012 JO National and won the National Title on vault.  With two excellent athletes coming off of strong club seasons, even with a small class this set of Bama recruits still rates highly. 

Lauren Beers
Carley Sims

7.  LSU

LSU's incoming class was boosted by the addition of Canadian elite Jessica Savona.  Savona has struggled mightily with knee injuries in the past few years, but had a tremendous comeback last year.  With tremendous power and great execution, she'll be a huge player for LSU.  L10 Randii Wyrick was a JO National AA Champ in 2011 and 2012, using her top skills and long lines to outpace a talented field.  She'll especially help the Tigers on UB.  In-state prospect Michelle Gauthier is coming off a strong L10 season, where she placed 24th AA at the JO L10 Nationals.

Jessica Savona
Randii Wyrick
Michelle Gauthier

8.  Utah

Utah's incoming class is led by early grad Taylor Allexx, a L10 with some high level elite-style skills.  She had a strong club season last year, winning vault and placing 3rd AA at the L10 JO Nationals.  Breanne Hughes is another club standout, a L10 who has placed in the top 5 at JO Nationals the last four years in a row.  That type of top-level finish is a strong predictor of college success.  Haley Lange is a L10 who has qualified for the JO Nationals in 2010 and 2011. 

Taylor Allexx
Breanna Hughes
Haley Lange
9.  Nebraska

Nebraska's class features Jordyn Beck, Hollie Blanske, Ariel Martin and Madison McConkey.  Beck is a former elite who has qualified to L10 Nationals several times, finishing 17th AA in 2011.  Blanske is another L10 standout from the Twin City Twisters, home club to many former Husker stars.  She was the L10 JO National AA champ in 2011 and runner-up in 2010.  Unfortunately, she suffered a knee injury prior to the start of school.  Similarly, Martin is another former JO National Team member who is coming back from an injury.  A powerful athlete with big skills, she is working her way back into form.  The fourth member of the class, McConkey, is a three-time JO Natonal qualifier who is working her way back in to the sport.

Jordyn Beck
Hollie Blanske
Ariel Martin
Madison McConkey

10.  Auburn
Auburn nabs the last spot in the ranking, powered by former international elite Caitlin Atkinson.  Atkinson has the big skills of a former elite and should be an AA force for the Tigers.  L10 Kathryn Kluz has finished 7th at the L10 Nationals no less than four times, showing consistency and competitiveness that should translate well into college.  Kara Koster is a L10 from IGI who qualified to the L10 JO Nationals from the tough Region V no less than three times.  Kelsey Kopec is coming off a strong L10 season that saw her qualify to the L10 JO Nationals. 

Caitlin Atkinson
Kathyrn Kluz
Kara Koster
Kelsey Kopec


Just Outside the Top 10

Choosing the Top 10 was once again very tough, with Minnesota just missing the cut.  Minnesota has their strongest class in years, with some exceptional L10s in Madeline Hanley, Sarah Lokos, Lindsay Mable, and Hanna Nordquist.  Nordquist is coming off her strongest season yet, making the JO National team and winning the National title on the beam. 

Login to post comments