Thursday, 31 December 2015 14:22 Top Recruiting Classes of 2015-2016

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Who Tops the Rankings in 2015-2016? Who Tops the Rankings in 2015-2016? (c) 2016

We're about to start the 2016 season, and we're  here once again to release our ranking of the Top Recruiting Classes.  We wait until the last possible moment to release this ranking, as the final picture never seems clear until January 1st.  Once again, this season, we're seeing some of the impacts of the acceleration in early recruiting.  In some cases, the gymnasts who originally committed at age 16 or younger did not end up matriculating at their original college choice.  And, with scholarships opening up due to transfers or retirement, we're seeing an increase in late recruiting, early college entries (early graduation), and mid-year starts. 

Because recruiting is happening so early, our evaluation process is based on a snap-shot of the classes as they enter college for the first time (transfers are excluded) and it projects the classes' potential contribution going forward based on performance history, abiity and condition.  From the time of an athlete's initial commit to the start of her first practice, she unfortunately may have suffered a serious injury or have struggled with loss of motivation, or experienced difficulties in adapting to the maturation process.  Some athletes may have experienced an unexpected plateau in their improvement trend or have failed to maintain the ability they had when they were recruited.  Others are late bloomers, and may have made large improvements in ability, consistency and execution late in their club careers.  So, a ranking at the start of the preseason practice is the only true and fair way to assess a recruiting class.

An athlete's competition history not only reveals the skill level an athlete has already achieved, it also gives hints of any decline or improvement in ability, consistency, performance under pressure (at major meets) and execution.  Post season competition results are considered more heavily because scoring in smaller invitationals and in certain regions can be less rigorous.  If videos or recruiting profiles are available, they are considered to evaluate an athlete's skill level and execution.  Holes in competition history may suggest a history of injury, although it is scant evidence of an athlete's condition as she enters college.  Major injuries, if we know of them, are considered, but primarily to the extent that they may limit the athlete's contribution over the course of the four years of college competition.  Absence from competition in 2015 (either due to injury or changes in training patterns) is viewed somewhat negatively, while a strong improvement trend in 2015 is viewed as a sign of strong motivation to excel and a readiness to compete in college. 

We also derate highly placing gymnasts that lack the required "up to the level" skill set for college, as a 0.1 deduction in college has a bigger impact than the same difference in difficulty has in the club system.  While they may be able to add this difficulty, it places them at a disadvantage relative to the others.  Likewise, a gymnast competing an excess amount of difficulty can improve in execution and consistency when their routines are simplified in college.  This is common with the lower level elite gymnasts.       

This ranking (while ultimately subjective) attempts to gauge the athletes at the start of the preseason and, to the degree possible, factors in preseason training reports and videos.  Ultimately, we are looking for a set of impact athletes who can consistently score in the 9.85+ range on their events and be a potential standout on their team and help propel their teams towards success. 

This ranking also attempts to balance large incoming classes versus small classes with one or two standouts.  A large incoming class, even if it boasts few "superstars", can provide much needed depth that can be a huge difference maker for some squads.  In contrast, one or two high level standouts in a smaller class can have as much of an impact to a team.  While it's true that a marquee athlete can only put up four scores towards the team's total, we also acknowledge that she can elevate an entire team to a higher performance level and bring positive attention (recruiting, fan, media) to the team over the course of her career.    

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.   The qualification standards for a senior international elite are relatively rigorous and a certain level of execution and difficulty is required.
  • Level 10 JO National Team members (achieved in their junior or senior year), also barring injury, tend to continue to standout in college.  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.  The primary exceptions are those gymnasts that are hit by a major injury. 
  • Top Level 10s and elite dropdowns with a solid history of top (places 5 to 15) AA finishes at the L10 National level have also excelled at the collegiate level, especially those with a strong work ethic and upward improvement trend.  This is especially true with those standouts with a weak or inconsistent event that has limited their all-around potential.  Athletes that have been able to post 38+ AA event scores in Regional or National (including JO NIT) meets have generally turned into 39+ AAer in the NCAA.   And athletes that can post a 9.7+ on an event in a L10 National meet tend to become 9.85+ gymnasts in the NCAA.  There are of course exceptions where a gymnast who has struggled with placing high as a L10 club gymnast, blossoms into a top competitor in the NCAA.  These situations are generally an exception, not a rule, and are often associated with a high level of difficulty and the resultant inconsistency as a club gymnast (which is then lessened when routines are edited down to the easier NCAA code).  Also, a consistent level of high placements 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 contrast, gymnasts that have struggled with major injuries (knee, back, Achilles) more often than not continue to struggle or be limited by these issues at the NCAA level.  Foreign elites have tended to have longer adjustment periods, due to the major differences between the FIG and NCAA codes and the adjustment to a foreign culture.  And finally, in order to achieve standout status in the NCAA, it's becoming 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).  And as previously mentioned, the need to meet "up to the level" standards on UB and FX may prove a bit more challenging for some athletes.    

So, how did the teams stack up?  Here's the Top Recruiting Classes for 2015-2016 (click on the links to see video clips, where available):


Team  Athletes/Links 
1.  LSU  

LSU tops our ranking this season, edging on Florida, primarily with the depth of a larger class of signees.  Both classes feature powerhouse elites and superstar L10s, but LSU wins the nod as we head into the season.  The class is headlined by Sarah Finnegan and Lexie Priessman, two elite National Team members who have been dogged by injuries.  Both athletes have the skills to reach the top ranks of the NCAA.  Finnegan's status was doubted by some, but she's proven her fitness with a solid showing at the recent Gymnastics 101 exhibition.  Priessman's journey back from injury will take more time, but the talent is there.  To this, they also add elite/L10 standout McKenna Kelly, a powerhouse in the style of Mary Lou Retton, who happens to be her mother.  She was the JO L10 FX champ in 2014 who also placed 5th AA in 2013.  LSU also adds Julianna Cannamela, a former JO National team member who has been a force in the club ranks for some time.  She's complemented by Kaitlyn Szafranski, a former jr. elite who won the 2015 L10 JO National Title on the UB.  Both gymnasts are clean and throw some big E skills.  They are the reasons why LSU, with more more depth in the 4-5 slots, wins this comparison.      

Julianna Cannamela
Sarah Finnegan
McKenna Kelly
Lexie Priessman
Kaitlyn Szafranski

2.  Florida
Like LSU, some teams rebuild, but others reload.  UF's class is headlined by Alicia Boren and Peyton Ernst.  Boren has the makings of the next Gator superstar, following in the long tradition of former L10s who outperform elites at the college level.  She's arguably the highest performing individual frosh entering the preseason, and has won the last four L10 JO National AA titles, the last with an incredible score of 38.8.  Ernst is a two-time elite National Team member who was fourth at the 2013 P&G Championships.  But, she is working her way back from a shoulder injury/surgery and is not fully back.  In addition to this pair, the Gators add Lacy Dagen, a former elite/L10 from San Mateo who placed 3rd AA and won BB at the 2014 L10 JO Nationals.  Unfortunately for the Gators, she tore her ACL last March.  Complementing this trio is a pair of in-state L10s, Amanda Cheney and Ashley Hiller.  Cheney placed 4th on BB and 22nd(t) AA at the 2015 L10 Nationals.  She tied at Nationals in the AA with Hiller, who tied for 2nd on VT with her Yurchenko 1 1/2.  Alicia Boren
Amanda Cheney
Lacy Dagen
Peyton Ernst
Ashley Hiller
3.  Bama

Bama welcomes another deep class of potential standouts, drawing more heavily from the L10 ranks than in prior years.  This class includes former elites Ariana Guerra and Jenna Bresette, plus L10 standouts Abby Armbrecht, Angeline Giancroce, Amanda Huang and Avery Rickett.  Guerra has the potential to surprise, as she is coming back from a back injury that has kept her out.  The former jr. National Team member is already back throwing some big skills like a double layout on FX.  Bresette is coming off a strong L10 season, where she finished 7th AA, 3rd(t) UB and 5th(t) on FX at the L10 JO Nationals.  Huang also had a strong club season, placing 8th AA and 3rd(t) UB at the 2015 JO Nationals.  Armbrecht is a 2013 L10 JO National Team member who placed 5th AA, 4th(t) on VT and 9th on FX at the 2014 L10 JO Nationals.  (She struggled at Regionals last year).  Giancroce won the Region VIII L10 Regionals last season and placed 4th on BB(t) and FX at the JO Nationals.  She also tied for 4th at the 2014 JO Nationals.  The final member of the class, Rickett, qualified to the 2014 JO Nationals and 2015 JO NIT meet.  This large and deep class may have less elite firepower heading into college, but that won't diminish their impact.      

Abby Armbrecht
Jenna Bresette
Angelina Giancroce
Ariana Guerra
Amanda Huang
Avery Rickett
4.  UCLA  

UCLA welcomes five athletes in their incoming class, headlined by two former elite standouts, Macy Toronjo and Katelyn Ohashi.  Toronjo placed 8th AA at the 2014 P&G Championships.  This past season, she dropped down to L10 and won the AA and FX at the 2015 JO Nationals.  One of the top recruits in this class, she reportedly had surgery in the off-season.  Another former elite with a history of injury problems, Ohashi was, at one point, the rising star of USA Gymnastics.  Last season, she competed as a L10 and showed elite level skills while competing three events.  She's training all four events and could be a key athlete for the Bruins.  UCLA's class received a boost with the addition of Stella Savvidou, an Australian who has also competed for Cyprus.  She won the Australian L10 VT and UB titles in 2015.  Also joining the squad is Nicole Shapiro, sister of former Stanford standout Samantha Shapiro.  Out for some time with injuries, she was fifth AA at the 2012 L10 JO Nationals.  Local L10 Matteah Brow completes the class. 

Matteah Brow
Katelyn Ohashi
Stella Savvidou
Nicole Shapiro
Macy Toronjo
5.  Utah  

Utah brings in four frosh this season, a well-balanced class with some big shoes to fill.  Local L10 star MaKenna Merelll leads the way.  She placed 2nd AA, 2nd on VT and FX, and 4th on UB and BB(t) at the 2015 L10 JO Nationals.  She was also 7th at JO Nationals in 2014.  She has some big elite skills (Yurchenko 1 1/2 on VT, pike full-in on FX) and long lines.  A fixture at the top of the L10 standings, Shannon McNatt was 15th AA and 4th(t) on VT at the L10 JO Nationals (problems on FX).  She had a stellar year in 2014, placing 6th AA at JO Nationals and tying for the National FX title.  She also finished 8th AA at the L10 JO Nationals in 2013.  She also brings an another important 10.0 start value vault to the Utes, a solid pike Omelianchik.  Powerhouse Erika Muhaw was 9th AA and 3rd on VT and FX at the 2015 L10 JO Nationals.  She also finished 19th in 2014 and 10th in 2013.  Former elite Sabrina Schwab has been drawing attention during preseason training, with her excellent toe point and long lines.  The WOGA-trained L10 qualified as a senior elite in 2013.    

Shannon McNatt
MaKenna Merrell
Erika Muhaw
Sabrina Schwab
6.  OU
OU slots in the sixth spot in these rankings, paced by former elites Nicole Lehrmann and Alexandra Marks.  Lehrmann is an UB ace, having won the 2013 L10 National UB title and having placed 3rd in 2014.  But, she's more than a specialist.  The former Visa (US) Championships qualfier also won the AA title at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals, while placing 23rd in 2014 (problems on BB).  She missed the postseason last year.  Local product Marks is a tall and elegant gymnast, with some standout skills.  She was 4th AA at the 2014 American Classic.  Out with injury for some time, she returned to L10 competition in 2015 as she prepared to graduate high school early.  She actually just joined the Sooners in late December.  She's actually already competed this season, winning an early L10 Invitational meet with an excellent 38.25 AA score.  Completing the class is walkon Megan Thompson, a walkon from Missouri.   Nicole Lehrmann
Alexandra Marks
Megan Thompson
7.  Michigan

Michigan's incoming class includes just two athletes, but they'll be depended upon immediately.  Olivia Karas leads the way.  A L10 from IK Gymnastics, she won the VT (Yurchenko 1 1/2) and took 4th AA at the 2015 L10 JO Nationals.  She did even better in 2014, winning the VT, UB and AA at the L10 National meet.  One of the top L10s in the country, she combines some big elite level skills with clean execution.  Complementing Karas is Emma McLean, a L10 from Stars and Stripes.  She had an excellent year in 2015, placing 3rd AA, 2nd on FX and 4th(t) on VT at the 2015 L10 JO Nationals.  She also finished 16th AA, 6th on VT and 5th(t) on FX in 2014.  While she doesn't throw quite as much difficulty as Karas, she still combines solid skills with exceptional amplitude.  Both gymnasts have the potential to achieve even greater success in college.         

Olivia Karas
Emma McLean
8.  UGA

Georgia brings in three rookies this season:  Caroline Bradford, Gracie Cherrey, and Sydney Snead.  Snead leads the way.  She's another one of the L10 standouts of the class, with skills that should translate well to the NCAA environment.  In 2014, she placed 2nd AA, 2nd on VT, 4th(t) on UB and 6th(t) on FX at the L10 JO Nationals.  She also finished 6th AA, 2nd on VT, 5th(t) UB, and 6th(t) BB at the 2013 meet.  She was 4th in 2012.  Unfortunately, she missed much of 2015 with an injury but appears to be most of the way back.  She's complemented by Cherrey, a L10 from Twin City.  She finished 12th AA at the 2015 L10 JO Nationals.  She also finished 13th(t) AA and 7th(t) on UB at the 2014 meet. Louisiana product Bradford completes the class.  Most recently, she competed at the Region VIII L10 Regionals, after a gap of several years away from competition.  She placed 12th AA at the 2012 L10 JO Nationals, as she achieved much success early in her career.   

Caroline Bradford
Gracie Cherrey
Sydney Snead
9.  Illinois

Illinois rises to 9th in this year's rankings, paced by some gymnasts who could make an impact on the squad this season.  Leading the way is former elite and current Philippine National Team member Lizzy LeDuc.  As a US L10, she was a three-time L10 JO National Team member, having placed 2nd at JO Nationals in 2014, 4th in 2013 and 1st in 2009.  She was also 3rd on FX and 7th(t) on BB and VT at the JO National meet in 2014.  Her clean execution, beautiful toe point and expression should translate well in the NCAA.  Complementing her is L10 Haylee Roe from Metroplex.  She made the JO National Team in 2014, placing 3rd AA.  In 2015, she was 8th(t) AA and 9th(t) on BB at the L10 JO Nationals.  Illinois also added a late signee, Rachael Donovan, from the Parkettes.  She was 30th AA at the 2015 L10 JO Nationals.  Two more gymnasts complete the class, Julia Hutcherson and Brielle Nguyen.  Hutcherson, from the Gymnastics Academy of Atlanta, was 13th AA at the 2015 Region VIII L10 Regionals.  Nguyen, a L10 from Gym-Max, was 16th AA and 5th(t) on BB at the 2015 Region I L10 Regionals.      

Rachael Donovan
Julia Hutcherson
Lizzy LeDuc
Brielle Nguyen
Haylee Roe
10.  Boise State
Boise State claims the last spot in this ranking, just behind Illinois and barely edging out a large field.  They've added two highly accomplished and consistent L10s, in their best recruiting class in four years.  The pair appear well suited to step into the shoes of the departed veterans.  Sarah Means is a L10 from Gymcats in Nevada.  The JO National Team member placed 4th AA at the 2015 L10 JO Nationals, including ties for 4th on VT and BB.  She vaults a Yurchenko 1 1/2, bringing the rare vault to the Broncos.  In 2014, she tied for 13th AA at the L10 Nationals, including a 3rd place finish on VT.  Complementing Means' big skills is the consistent Shani Remme.  A L10 from Byers (California),  she tied for 6th AA and placed 5th on FX at the 2015 L10 JO Nationals.  She also tied for 5th AA at the 2014 JO National meet, adding a 6th(t) on FX and a 7th on BB.   With a solid club history behind them, this pair should impact a graduation-impacted Bronco squad immediately. 

Sarah Means
Shani Remme

Just Outside the Top 10

Just outside the Top 10 are a number of teams and outstanding individuals.  It was an extremely close to finalize our Top 10, with our final selections ultimately based on consistency at the big meets. 

Oregon State has a number of solid athletes, including Mariana Colussi-Pelaez.  She's an elite who has competed for both Spain and Canada.  She's backed up by three L10s, including McKenna Singley, the L10 National UB champ in 2013.  PSU's large class will be depended upon greatly, including former elite and 2013 JO National BB/FX co-champ Mason Hosek and L10 Sabrina Garcia, who placed 5th AA at the 2015 L10 JO Nationals.

Auburn has a large class, headlined by two event champions from the 2015 JO Nationals, Samantha Cerio (UB) and former elite Taylor Krippner (BB).  Denver has brought in a strong class, including Southeastern L10s Diana Chesnok and Claire Kern.  Chesnok can vault a Yurchenko 1 1/2.  Another big vaulter is at WVU, Kirah Koshinski.  Her Yurchenko 1 1/2 and double layout on FX will pull down big scores for the Mountaineers.  She was 2nd AA and 1st on FX at at the 2015 L10 JO Nationals and 3rd(t) AA at the 2014 JO Nationals.  The 2013 L10 National Vault champ was a major recruiting coup for WVU.      

For a complete set of newcomers on each team and to get links to their rosters, see our Top 25 Capsule Previews


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