Friday, 27 December 2013 20:16 Top Recruiting Classes of 2013-2014

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For the 2014 edition of our ranking of the Top Recruiting Classes, we've had to wait until the last minute to make our decision.  "Recruiting" now has an entirely new definition.  Some of the athletes in our rankings originally selected their colleges over three years ago.  But more than few made their decisions within the last six to nine months.  In this age of early recruiting, a lot can change in the three final years of high school and during the first year of competition.  Thus, we're also seeing the emergence of a lively late recruiting period and early entries into college as scholarships become available late in the cycle.  This factor has even impacted our choice of the top team in our rankings.  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 for the first time (either the end of the summer or January 1st).  From the time of their initial commit to the start of their first practice, an athlete may unfortunately suffer a serious injury, lose motivation, or struggle with the maturation process.  Some may fail to improve or to maintain the ability they had when they were recruited.  Others may make large improvements in ability, consistency and execution.  So, a ranking at the start of the preseason practice is the only true and fair way to assess a recruiting class.

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.  Where available, assessments are made 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 always a challenge.  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 (achieved 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 L10 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 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 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 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).  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 will often outscore gymnasts with a higher level of difficulty but with small problems in execution.

This year, the ranking was extremely close between the top teams.  The top team did not rise to that position until the last six months, when it became confirmed that two more athletes were going to join in January.  Since these rankings are subjective, any number of teams could swap order within the Top 10.    

So, how did the teams stack up?  Here's the Top Recruiting Classes for 2013-2014 (click on the links to see video clips, where available):

Team  Athletes/Links 
1.  Alabama

Bama claims the top spot in our annual ranking, propelled by the addition of two January newcomers with elite credentials, Aja Monet-Sims and Keely McNeer.  They join a talented crew that has been training all Fall:  Katie Bailey, Amanda Jetter, Dominique Pegg and Mary Sanders.  Sims is the standout, a former senior international elite and JO L10 National Champion (2012:  AA, UB, BB; 2013:  BB, FX(t)).  Jetter is a senior international elite and four year member of the US National Team.  She dropped down to L10 in 2013 and competed very successfully.  Pegg is an elite and Olympian from Canada who placed 17th AA in the Olympic AA final.  Completing those three are Katie Bailey, a former JO National AA champ (2011) who placed 12th AA (issues on UB) at the 2013 JO Nationals.  McNeer is a former elite and US National Team member who has not competed at the National level since 2011, but had a high level of skill as a junior.  Walkon Sanders placed 9th on VT at the 2013 JO Nationals.  With Bailey, Jetter, Pegg and Sims at the core, no other team has a class of recruits that can match this quartet.  

Katie Bailey
Amanda Jetter
Keely McNeer
Dominique Pegg
Mary Lillian Sanders
Aja Monet-Sims

2.  OU

OU's standout class is sure to make a big impact in the coming season after strong campaigns in 2013:  senior international elite McKenzie Wofford and L10s Chayse Capps, Reagan Hemry, Charity Jones, and Kara Lovan.  Jones is a two-time L10 JO Natioanl AA Champ (2011, 2012) who has some big elite level skills.  Her consistency and track record in the L10 ranks among the best of any recruit.  Wofford is a 2013 JO National team member and UB National Co-Champ who placed 17th AA at the 2012 VISA Championships.  Although she is well known as an UB worker, this early grad will make an impact overall.  Lovan tied for 1st AA and UB at the 2013 JO Nationals.  She also tied for fifth in 2010, showing a strong finish to her club career.  Capps, a gymnast with great lines, placed 20th AA and 4th on VT at the 2013 JO  Nationals.  She was 10th AA and 2nd on VT in 2012.  And finally, Henry tied for 8th on UB at the 2013 JO Nationals.  A strong final year combined with a good skill level and excellent execution is a good predictor of success at the NCAA level. 

Chayse Capps
Reagan Hemry
Charity Jones
Kara Lovan
McKenzie Wofford

3.  UCLA

UCLA slips into #3 in our rankings, based on the tremendous potential of an international class of standouts, led by senior international elite Hallie Mossett, UK Olympian Jennifer Pinches, and Canadian World Team member Mikaela Gerber. This trio has tremendous upside potential but have had limited competitive experience in the last year, due to injury and time off from training.  Mossett has been hampered by injuries the last two years but placed 13th AA at the 2011 VISA Championships.  She has the skill and execution on all four events to be a major force, even with reduced difficulty.  Pinches retired and took the last year off from the sport, after competing in the Olympics and placing 2nd AA at the British Championships in 2012.  Gerber competed in the Canadian Olympic Trials but missed much of the 2013 season with a shoulder injury.  UCLA also adds signee Angie Cipra, a L10 with big skills (full-in) and expressive dance on floor who was the JO National Champ in 2012 on FX (and 3rd on VT).  Joining this quartet are L10 walkons Jessy MacArthur and Alex Waller, both Regional qualifiers. 

Angie Cipra
Mikaela Gerber
Jessy MacArthur
Hallie Mossett
Jennifer Pinches
Alex Waller

4.  Stanford

Stanford's class is an exceptionally strong mix of current and former elites and standout L10s.  They could easily be considered for a higher rank, if not for some missing competition time from key recruits in 2013.  The marquee name in the class is Sophia Lee.  A former senior international elite, she was 9th AA at the 2011 VISA Championships.  Dropping down to L10 in 2012, she placed 3rd AA. The early standout in the class could be Nicolette McNair.  A former elite, she is a two-time JO National Team member, placing 3rd AA in 2012 and 2013 (1st on UB). Twin sister Danielle also qualified elite before an injury led her to drop down to L10.  She was 22nd AA (tied for 9th on VT) in 2013  and 23rd AA (7th VT) in 2012.  Daum was 3rd AA at the 2012 L10 JO Nationals and won the VT(t) and FX in 2011.  She was 2nd on UB and 5th(t) on VT in 2013.  Gale is a former elite qualifier who was 6th AA(t) at the L10 JO Nationals in 2011 but dropped to 47th AA in 2012.  Spector is a standout tumbler (double Arabian) whose highest finish at JO Nationals was 11th(t) in 2011.  She won BB and FX(t) at her state meet in 2013.  This classes' impact will be most felt on floor, where they will bring an assortment of E level tumbling skills to the Cardinal lineup.     

Rachel Daum
Carinne Gale
Sophia Lee
Danielle McNair
Nicolette McNair
Haley Spector

5.  Florida

After several years of large classes, Florida's class in 2013-2014 is smaller but still potent.  Boyce is a senior international elite with beautiful lines who qualified to the VISA Championships in 2010, but missed the summer of 2011 due to a back injury.  Dropping down to L10, she won the AA title at the 2012 L10 Junior Olympic Nationals.  A deep Region III field and problems on BB kept her out of the 2013 JO Nationals.  Colussi-Pelaez is from Canada but competes internationally for Spain, most recently at the 2013 World Championships.  She was 3rd AA at the 2013 Spanish Championships.  A seasoned international competitor she won a bronze medal on FX at  the 2012 Osijek Grand Prix World Cup event.  As a Canadian, she placed 11th AA at the 2011 Canadian Championships.  The pair bring elite level polish and finesse, in addition to top level skills.     

Claire Boyce
Silvia Colussi-Pelaez

6.  Oregon State

Oregon State has one of their strongest recruiting classes in years, featured Maddie Gardiner, Megan Jimenez, Kana Kobayashi, Kaytianna McMillan and Taylor Ricci.  Local product McMillan won the 2013 L10 JO National AA title, using top level skills (full-in, Yurchenko 3/2) and execution.  She also tied for the title on BB in 2013, and placed 3rd in 2012.  Canadian Gardiner, a late signee, was a reserve for Canada's 2012 Olympic squad.  She was the Canadian AA Champion in 2011.  In 2013, she was 7th on BB and 8th on FX at the Canadian Championships, but did not compete AA.  Another elite from Canada, Taylor Ricci, placed 12th AA at the 2013 Canadian Championships.  She boasts some high level skills and could thrive with the reduced difficulty requirements in the NCAA.  Jimenez is a L10 who placed 14th AA at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals.  As an elite in 2010, she placed 33rd at the VISA Championships.  An injury prior to Nationals in 2012 led to a partial competition year in 2013, but she strong competitive form in the meets she competed.  Kobayashi, a L10 from Olympus in Utah, won the UB title and placed 8th AA at the 2011 JO Nationals.  However, she has been missing from competition since then.             

Madeline Gardiner
Megan Jimenez
Kana Kobayashi
Kaytianna McMillan
Taylor Ricci

7.  Cal

With a huge class of eight, Cal's class is certain to make an impact, and expectations are high.  Leading the way is senior international elite Jessica Howe.  She placed 12th AA at the 2011 VISA Championships.  In 2013, dropping down to L10, she was 9th AA at Regionals.  The JO National AA champ in 2010, she has excellent lines and toe point and could be Cal's breakout star.  Palomares was 7th on UB and 13th AA at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals.  She was also 8th AA and 1st on BB in 2010.  Owens placed 14th AA and 3rd(t) on UB at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals.  She also was 15th AA in 2012 and 6th(t) in 2011.  With solid skills and consistency in major meets, she should be a key asset for the Bears' depth.  Ho was 24th AA at the 2013 JO Nationals, after placing 10th in 2012.  A teammate of Howe at WOGA, she had good lines and execution.  Takara was 13th AA at the L10 JO Nationals in 2012 (50th in 2013 with troubles on BB).  A powerful athlete, she throws a nice full-in on FX.  Originally committed to Arkanasas, Richardson placed 8th AA at the Region III L10 Regionals in 2013 and 2012.  She joined the team in December, to further give the lineup a boost.  Castillo is on the comeback from injury, but placed 2nd AA and 3rd(t) on BB at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals.  She shows great amplitude and clean lines, but her comeback has been slow.  Draghi qualified to JO Nationals in 2012, placing 42nd AA.  She also qualified to Regionals in 2013.

Isabelle Castillo
Zoe Draghi
Dana Ho
Jessica Howe
Charlie Owens
Desiree Palomares
Emily Richardson
Amber Takara

8.  LSU

LSU welcomes a quartet of frosh, led by standout Ashleigh Gnat.  A gymnast with big skills (double twisting Yurchenko), she had a tremendous final year of club competition.  She placed 2nd AA, won vault and tied for the FX title at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals.  She also placed 3rd on VT and FX while placing 5th AA in 2012.  A constant fixture on the national scene, she was 15th AA in 2011, 7th(t) in 2010, and 9th in 2009.  Oliva won the AA title in her age group at the 2013 JO NIT meet, after placing 9th AA at Regionals.  She was 15th AA at the 2012 L10 JO Nationals.  Zamardi is an elite from Canada known for her high skill level and strong UB work.  She was 18th AA in the prelims at the 2013 Canadian Championships.  In 2012, she was 7th on UB and 17th AA.  Local product Ewing tied for 31st AA at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals, and tied for 5th on VT along the way.  She was 9th AA at Regionals in 2012.  Although Gnat has the makings of a breakout star, the other athletes will give the LSU coaching staff plenty of options in 2014.    

Sydney Ewing
Ashleigh Gnat
Shonacee Oliva
Shae Zamardi

9.  UGA

UGA's large class had its impact muted by some major injuries to some key signees, lowering the class in the rankings.  If these athletes were healthy, this class could easily be higher.  The class is led by Ashlyn Broussard, a WOGA-trained L10 with some big skills (double layout on FX).  She tied for 17th AA at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals.  She also placed 8th AA, 3rd BB and 8th on UB at the 2012 JO Nationals (and was 10th in 2011).  Local product Morgan Reynolds placed 12th(t) AA at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals.  She was 35th in 2012.  Potential standout Kiera Brown was 3rd AA at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals and was an NIT qualifier in 2012.  However, her season ended with her second Achilles injury in 2013 (both legs).  Similarly, Rachel Schick has missed the last two seasons with an injury, after placing 11th AA, 5th on VT and 8th(t) on UB at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals.  Two more local L10s complete the class:  Lauren Johnson was 42nd at the 2012 L10 JO Nationals and 9th AA at the 2013 Region VIII L10 Regionals; Beth Roberts was 8th AA at the Region VIII L10 Regionals in 2013 and 10th in 2012.      

Ashlyn Broussard
Kiera Brown
Lauren Johnson
Morgan Reynolds
Beth Roberts
Rachel Schick

10.  Michigan
Michigan's recruiting class slides in the tenth slot, narrowly edging out large and talented classes from Illinois and Arkansas.  Both Nicole Artz and Talia Chiarelli have high level skills and solid execution that should translate very well to the NCAA.  Artz is an early graduate (originally a 2014 grad) who placed 7th AA and 1st on FX (pike full-in) at the 2012 L10 Junior Olympic Nationals.  She also tied for 26th AA in 2011.  In 2013, she placed 11th AA at Regionals while coming back from injury.  Chiarelli competes as an elite for Canada but also competed L10 in the US for 2013.  She tied for 3rd on FX, 4th on BB and 14th AA at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals.  Later in the season, competing as an elite, she placed 9th AA, 4th on FX and 4th(t) on UB at the Canadian Championships.  She competed for Canada at the Olympic Test Event and was 6th AA at the 2011 Canadian Championships.  A stress fracture in her back kept her out of the Canadian Olympic Selection, but her 2013 results indicate a solid comeback.       

Nicole Artz
Talia Chiarelli

Just Outside the Top 10

Just outside the Top 10 are a pair of squads with strong arguments for a Top 10 ranking. 

Illinois will look for immediate contributions from signees Erin Buchanan, Mary Jane Horth, Emily Lennon and Sarah Lyons.  Buchanan is a powerful tumbler (Arabian double front) who placed 6th AA at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals.  She was also 5th on FX and 18th AA in 2012 and 6th AA in 2011.  Horth is a tall gymnast with clean execution whose 2013 season ended in injury.  She was 1st on UB, 8th on FX and 7th AA at the 2012 L10 JO Nationals.  She also finished 2nd(t) on FX, 6th(t) on BB and 21st AA in 2011.  Late signee Lennon is an elite from Canada who has reportedly been hampered with a shoulder injury the past few years.  In 2013, she came back strongly and placed 13th AA at the Canadian Championships.  She also placed 5th on VT and 4th on BB.  Lyons placed 9th AA at Regionals in 2013, after finishing 9th AA at the 2012 L10 JO Nationals.  She was also 3rd on UB in 2012.

Arkansas looks to signees Amanda Wellick, Samantha Nelson and Paris Ryder to help lead the GymBacks to Nationals.  Nelson placed 5th in the AA at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals.  She tied for 3rd on FX at the meet with a strong double front.  Wellick has been a strong L10 competitor for years, placing 9th AA (5th VT(t), 8th UB(t)) at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals and 13th AA (3rd VT, 2nd FX) in 2012.  Ryder finished her club career strong, tying for 14th AA at the 2013 JO Nationals, after a 17th place finish in 2012. 


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