Background and Method
Because recruiting is happening at such an early stage, our evaluation process is based on a snap-shot of the classes as they enter college for the first time with transfers excluded. The ranking is intended to projects the classes' potential contribution going forward based on performance history, abiity and physical 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, 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 and skills they had when they were first recruited. Other gymnasts are late bloomers, and may have made large improvements in ability, consistency and execution late in their club careers. So, a ranking prior to the start of the season based on their pre-college ability is the only true and fair way to assess a recruiting class.
An athlete's history of competition results 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 (primarily Junior Olympic Nationals) and the Nastia Liukin Cup are considered more heavily because scoring in smaller invitationals and in certain regions can be less rigorous and highly variable (just like the college world). In most cases videos or recruiting profiles are available for us to view, allowing us to directly evaluates athlete's skill level and execution. This is especially important as there is a wide range of skills being competed by National-qualifier L10s and elites. Like the college scene, athletes doing the highest level of difficulty aren't always earning the highest scores, but with a few routine modifications, they can become superstars at the NCAA level. Conversely, a gymnast with excellent form and execution but lacking in some difficulty elements can suddenly excel at the collegiate level, where certain requirements for skills and difficulty are less rigorous.
Holes in competition history may suggest a history of injury, although unless an injury is confirmed it's not a clear indicator of an athlete's condition as she enters college. Major injuries, if we can confirm 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 2016 (either due to injury or changes in training patterns) is viewed somewhat negatively, while a strong improvement trend in 2016 is viewed as a sign of a strong motivation to excel and a readiness to compete in college.
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 All-Around 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 Senior Divions 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 suffer setbacks due to 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 at major meets as a L10 club gymnast suddenly 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. 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).
This Year's Rankings
This year's rankings ended up being exceptionally tough, with 7 or 8 teams in contention for the last three spots. In addition, some late signings and some unexpected deferrals (Alyssa Baumann) impacted the rankings. Every Olympic year, we are always uncertain if certain athletes will stay in the elite ranks, turn pro or decide to enroll in college. This year was no different, with some uncertainty concerning athletes like Madison Kocian, Maggie Nichols, Kyla Ross and Mykayla Skinner. And when we get down to the last few spots in these rankings, we're admittedly splitting hairs. You can easily argue that any one of 14 or so teams could be placed in our Top 10.
So, how did the teams stack up? Here's the CollegeGymFans.com Top Recruiting Classes for 2016-2017 (click on the links to see video clips, where available):
The Tide enter 2017 with four strong frosh: Wynter Childers, Caitlin Cole, Madison Desch, and Shea Mahoney. Desch is a former elite and US National Team member who was a part of the 2014 Gold Medal World Championships squad. She also earned a silver medal in the AA at the Pan Am Games in 2015. However, early in 2016 she retired from elite competition due to onging issues with injuries, which had limited some of her elite career. She been training solidly this Fall, albeit with much less difficulty in her sets. On her best event, UB, she's capable of one of the top elite sets in the US. Childers is a former elite qualifier and L10 standout. In 2016, she won FX, tied for the BB title, and tied for sixth on VT at the Level 10 JO Nationals. However, she did not finish the competition due to injury. In 2015, she was the JO National champ in the AA and on VT and BB. With a personality that shines through on the FX, she's certain to make an immediate impact to this Crimson Tide squad. Mahoney is another former Level 10 standout, who missed part of last season with injury. She was 7th AA at the 2015 JO Nationals, including a tie for 2nd on VT and 3rd on FX. She was also 3rd on BB and FX in 2014. Her sets feature beautiful lines, extension and amplitude and should translate well to NCAA competition. The fourth member of this class, Caitlin Cole, is a L10 Regional qualifier who excels on three events. This frosh class offers plenty of potential, although a few question marks remain on their recovery from various injuries. Nevertheless, the overall depth allows them to edge out LSU in these rankings.
The Tigers have followed a top class in 2016 with yet another strong squad in 2016. Olympian Ruby Harrold (UK) heads the class, with an incredible skill set to draw from, including a double-twisting Yurchenko on VT and unusual skills and incredible combinations on UB (Van Leeuwen to Zuchold release). Classmate Kennedi Edney is a former elite and a 2014/2015 JO National AA champion from Southern California. She made the JO National Team from 2013-2016, a remarkable string of consistency that counts for a lot in our rankings. She has big E skills (plural) on FX and a flighty Yurchenko 1 1/2 on VT, with the type of amplitude that impresses judges and fans alike. The third member of the class, Ashlyn Kirby, is a L10 who tied for 10th AA at the 2015 JO Nationals. She also tied for 12th AA in 2014. She missed most of 2016. Her competitive sets feature clean execution but she's not known for the big power skills of the other two classmates.
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. Here are a few other teams that stood out (in alphabetic order) in our final evaluations:
Arizona adds six talented frosh for 2017, a large and talented class: Christina Berg, Courtney Cowles, Shannon Farrell, Jenny Leung, Maddi Leydin and Heather Swanson. Berg was a 2016 JO National Team member who finished 5th on UB, 6th on FX and 4th AA at the 2016 L10 Junior Olympic Nationals. She also finished 3rd on UB and 15th AA in 2015. A gymnast with clean execution, she especially shines on the UB but could be an AAer. The 2013 Australian National Champion at just the age of 15, Leydin was a member of Australia's 2015 World Championship Team, competing strongly for the Aussies in an AA role. She has some big skills (Yurchenko 1 1/2, double pike off beam) and the potential to post some big scores on UB and BB. She's been looking strong in fall training, after some struggles in Elite competition earlier in the year. Swanson and Leung both have the potential to compete big vaults. Swanson tied for 7th AA and placed 5th on VT and 9th on FX at the 2016 L10 JO Nationals. Leung graduateed early, after finishing 2nd on VT and 8th AA at the 2016 Region III L10 Regionals. She placed 18th AA and 4th on VT at the 2015 JO Nationals. Cowles missed the 2016 season but is coming off a 15th place AA finish at the 2015 L10 JO Nationals. With beautiful lines and great toe point, she excels on BB. The 6th member of the class, Farrell, is a L10 Regional qualifier from Rebound (NJ).
Auburn welcomes three newcomers for 2017: Katie Becker, Gracie Day and Kendal Moss. With some big shoes to fill, this class will be looked upon to contribute immediately. Day is a L10 standout with clean lines and plenty of amplitude. She's a two-time L10 JO National champ on the FX ('14 and'15), and a 2015 JO National team member. She also finished 2nd on VT and 4th on UB in 2015. She competed just two events at States and Regionals in 2016, while working her way back from injury. Becker had a standout year in 2016, placing 6th AA at the L10 JO Nationals. She also placed 9th on VT and tied for 10th on UB and BB at the meet. In 2015, at the JO Nationals, she finished 8th AA. She's a solid, consistent gymnast who should transition to NCAA competition quite readily. Clubmate Moss is an UB standout, where she shows swing and execution. In 2016, however, she also finished 14th AA at Regionals, with top 7 placements on UB, BB and FX. A former Nastia Liukin Cup qualifier, she has been slowed by injuries but appears on her way back.
The Broncos welcome two Rio Olympians and a JO National Team member, a combined class resume that few teams can top. The Broncos welcome New Zealand's Courtney McGregor and Panama's Isabella Amado, who competed this past summer in Rio. McGregor has some high level skills, like a double twisting Yurchenko and pike full-in on FX. She placed 41st AA with a 53.165 and was 13th on VT at the Rio Olympic Games. She also was 71st AA at the 2015 World Championships and 7th AA and 3rd on VT at the 2016 Pacific Rim Championships. Form and consistency on these tougher skills is sometimes a challenge for McGregor, and so the staff will have some work to adapt her sets to the peculiarities of NCAA judging. Amado competes for Panama and trained as a L10 in the US. She placed 44th in the AA at the 2016 Olympics, scoring a 52.832. As a L10 in the US, she tied for 7th AA, 6th on VT, 7th on UB and 7th on FX at the 2016 L10 JO Nationals. She's a clean gymnast with strength across all four apparatus, but without some of the elite-level difficulty that McGregor boasts. Having competed and trained in the US as a L10, she's well set up to excel in the NCAA system. This pair is complemented by Mckinley Pavicic, a top L10 from Nevada. Pavicic made the JO National team in 2015, placing 4th AA, 6th (t) UB and 8th(t) on FX. In 2016, she won the Nevada state L10 AA, VT and UB titles but did not compete for the rest of the season. Also hailing from Nevada is Maddison Nilson, who finished 24th(t) AA at the 2015 L10 JO Nationals. She also finished 9th AA at the 2016 Region I L10 Regionals. The fifth frosh, McKenna Morrell, is a L10 Regional qualifier from Waller's GymJam.
Denver welcomes an excellent incoming class, with former elites and top L10 competitors. The clear leader is Maddie Karr, the top L10 recruit in the country. Karr won the Senior F L10 JO National title in the AA with a huge score of 39.025. She also won VT and tied for first on UB and BB, and also tied for 2nd on FX. She also placed 3rd AA in 2015, 2nd AA in 2014 and tied for 4th AA in 2013. Such consistent high placement at JO Nationals is an excellent predictor, barring injury, of future NCAA stardom. This is an athlete the DU coaching staff will hope to build a program around. She vaults a superb Yurchenko 1 1/2 and tumbles a consistent side aerial to back handspring flight series on BB. She's working to add a pike full-in to her FX set, which would bring the difficulty up to the level of her other events. Denver also welcomes Courtney Loper and Sam Ogden. Ogden is a former junior internatioal elite who placed 9th AA at the 2014 US Secret Classic. The WOGA-trained athlete competed UB and BB last season as a L10. She was also 21st AA at the 2015 Region 3 L10 Regionals. The third frosh Loper trained at Chow's in Iowa. She tied for 31st AA at the 2016 L10 JO Nationals, after placing 14th AA and 8th(t) on FX in 2015. Both gymnasts will excel on UB and BB, rather than the power events, where they tend to lag.
Other Teams and Future Stars
In this post Olympic cycle year, the recruiting field has never been richer. More US and international elites are entering college while the level of Level 10 Junior Olympic talent continues to rise. Early recruiting is also giving the opportunity for up and coming programs to nab the "late bloomers" and overlooked talent.
Arkansas is reloading with a strong class of L10 standouts: Michaela Burton, Hailey Garner, Kirby Rathjen, Sarah Shaffer, and Jessica Yamzon. This large and deep class will provide key routines, and any one of them could emerge to be a standout. SEC stablemate Kentucky continues to rise, nabbing elite (Belarus) Alaina Kwan and getting an early entry from L10 standout Mollie Korth. Kwan has tremendous lines and swings UB beautifully, while Korth vaults a powerful Yurchenko 1 1/2. UK also welcomes Erynne Allen, who tumbles a solid double layout. Nebraska's class will provide much needed depth and a potential superstar in Taylor Houchin. Minnesota will look to return to Nationals on the strength of a large frosh class, including L10 Paige WIlliams and Canadian Ivy Lu.
International elites abound, with Sabrina Gil (Canada) at Oregon State, Aleeza Yu (Canada) and Kaylee Cole (Bolivia) at Stanford, and Charlotte Sullivan (NZ) and Clair Kaji (Canada) at Iowa. There are many others as well, with other athletes from Australia, the UK, Germany, New Zealand, and Canada entering competition in 2017.
Top L10s and elites have also joined teams not traditionally considered National contenders, but are programs on the rise. They'll be the future superstars of their respective program. They include Autum Jorgensen and Madison McBride at SUU, Makayla Bullitt and Elle Golison at USU, Jovannah East and Randi Morris at Bowling Green, Kirsten Peterman at Maryland, and Emma Marchese at UNC.
For a complete set of newcomers on each team and descriptions of each incoming class, see our expanded Top 25 Season Previews.