Monday, 29 December 2014 00:00 Top Recruiting Classes of 2014-2015

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Who Tops the Rankings in 2014-2015? Who Tops the Rankings in 2014-2015?

We're about to start the 2015 season, and we're once again waiting until the last moment to release our ranking of the Top Recruiting Classes.  This edition, 2014-2015, is one where we are seeing the full impact of 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 a rash of late recruiting, early entries (early graduation), and mid-year starts.  In fact, our choice for number one had an early grad further strengthen an already strong class. 

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 may have unfortunately suffered a serious injury or struggled with loss of motivation or 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.

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 2014 (either due to injury or changes in training patterns) is viewed somewhat negatively, while a strong improvement trend in 2014 is viewed as a sign of 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 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 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 14 teams, and we struggled with the final ranking.  Early entries and strong spring club seasons propelled some of the teams upward.  In contrast, injuries and changes in college plans have pushed some of the teams downward.     

So, how did the teams stack up?  Here's the Top Recruiting Classes for 2014-2015 (click on the links to see video clips, where available):


Team  Athletes/Links 
1.  Florida  

Florida retakes the top spot in our ranking with another standout class.  Florida's exceptional recruiting class is headlined by US Senior National Team member Kennedy Baker.  The 8th place finisher at the 2012 US Olympic Trials, she placed 7th AA at the 2013 P&G (US) Championships.  She has big difficulty on every event, including a piked Double Arabian that she's continuing to show in Fall training.  The Gator class received a major boost when Alex McMurtry was able to join early.  She's a seven-time L10 JO National event champion (the AA champ in 2012 and 2011) and an athlete with the skills to go elite.  Her double twisting Yurchenko is exceptional, although it looks like she'll float a lofty full in competition in her frosh year.  Another senior international elite, Grace McLaughlin, further bolsters the class.  She placed 11th AA at the 2013 Secret US Classic.  She's especially known for her great lines on beam and smooth swing on bars.  Former junior National Team member Ericha Fassbender dropped down to L10 and placed 7th AA at JO Nationals in 2013 and 6th AA in 2014.  She'll look to add important depth to the Gator lineups.      

Kennedy Baker
Ericha Fassbender
Grace McLaughlin
Alex McMurtry 
2.  OU  
OU slots just below Florida in this year's Recruiting class rankings.  The class is headlined by potential superstar Brenna Dowell.  The Senior National Team member was limited this season by injury, but has come back strongly after finishing 3rd at the P&G (US) Championships in 2013.  Her skill level is world class, and she reportedly will return to elite competition.  OU also welcomes another powerhouse, Ali Jackson, a L10.  Jackson vaults a big Yurchenko 1 1/2 and tumbles big E skills on FX.  She was 1st on VT, 6th(t) on UB and 16th AA at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals.  Problems on beam kept her from placing higher, and similarly, kept her from making Nationals this past season.  Classmate Stefani Catour is also another powerhouse, with a pike full-in on FX.  A former junior international elite qualifier, she tied for 9th on FX at the 2014 JO Nationals.  These signees are joined by L10s Natalie Brown and Samantha Craus.  Brown is a L10 from WOGA who placed 39th AA at the 2014 L10 JO Nationals.  Craus excels on UB but has been limited by injury.     Natalie Brown
Stefanie Catour
Samantha Craus
Brenna Dowell
Ali Jackson
3.  Utah

Utah's quartet has the potential to boost the Ute lineup with increased depth and high scoring potential, especially in their weak event, balance beam.  L10 Kari Lee was the 2013 L10 JO National champion in the AA.  She also tied for 1st on FX (triple full), 2nd on BB and 5th on UB.  In 2014, she tied for the vault title (Yurchenko 1 1/2) and tied for 2nd on UB, while placing 3rd in the AA and 5th on the BB.  Classmate Maddy Stover was also a 2013 L10 JO National AA champ.  That season, she also placed 3rd on FX and tied for 3rd on UB.  In 2014, she won the BB title (full twising back handspring) for the second time and placed 4th AA at the National meet.  Another athlete who had a standout 2014 L10 JO Nationals is Nevadan Tiffani Lewis.  She placed 5th AA and tied for 7th on VT and BB at Nationals this past season.  She was also 8th AA in 2012.  She is also a powerful tumbler, competing a double layout this past season.  Rounding out the class is former junior international elite Samantha Partyka.  Although she missed the 2014 season, in 2013 she tied for the event titles on vault and floor (double Arabian) at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals.  She also tied for 9th AA.  In 2012, she placed 2nd in the AA and on FX, and won the vault title. 

Kari Lee
Tiffani Lewis
Samantha Partyka
Maddy Stover
4.  Nebraska  

Nebraska's recruiting class is their strongest and deepest in several seasons.  Headlining the class is former junior international elite Grace Williams.  She's coming off a strong L10 club season and is the reigning L10 JO National AA champ (Sr C).  She also won the UB title, tied for 2nd on FX, placed 3rd on BB and 7th on VT. She also tied for the the L10 JO National AA title in 2012 and in 2010.  This type of consistent placement at the National level combined with elite level polish is a strong predictor of future success.  Clubmate Kamerin Moore is a former junior international elite as well as a former junior National Team member.  She won the 2014 L10 JO National UB title, while tying for 3rd on FX and 7th on VT.  She placed 9th AA, showing a comeback from injury issues that helped end her elite career.  She also was a member of the JO National team in 2012, placing 4th AA.  The third member of the class, Danielle Breen, placed 2nd AA at the 2014 JO Nationals.  She also placed 3rd on VT and tied for 4th on UB and 5th on BB and FX.  In 2013, she tied for 13th AA at JO Nationals.  Although this class may not compete some of the big E tumbling skills of the other schools, they more than make up for it in excellent technique, execution and grace. 

Danielle Breen
Kamerin Moore
Grace Williams
5.  Bama  

Alabama will look to reload with yet another talented class.  Leading the way is Mackenzie Brannan, a former international elite from Capital of Texas.  At the 2014 L10 JO Nationals, she tied for 1st on VT, 2nd on FX and 4th on UB.  She was 11th AA.  She also tied for 1st on FX, placed 2nd on UB and finished 17th AA in 2013 (problems on BB both times).  She competes with high level skills like a double Arabian on FX and a Yurchenko 1 1/2 on vault, but also sports a high level of execution as well.  Another elite from Texas, Kiana Winston, has struggled with lingering injuries.  A fully healthy Winston would have propelled this class even higher.  She was 8th AA at the VISA Championships in 2011 but continues to be limited during fall training.  Yet another Texas, Nichole Guerrero, is a L10 with some big skills on FX (pike full-in) and vault (Yurchenko 1 1/2).  She tied for 15th AA at the 2014 L10 JO Nationals, including a 4th (t) place on VT.  In 2013, she made the JO National Team, placing 4th AA in her age division at the National meet.  She also finished tied for 3rd on BB, 6th on VT and 8th on FX.  In 2012, she was 5th AA at Nationals.  The final member of the recruiting class is walk-on Jennie Loeb, a 2014 JO National qualifier. 

Mackenzie Brannan
Nichole Guerrero
Jennie Loeb
Kiana Winston
6.  Stanford

When we construct these rankings, we are always on the watch to balance the issue of "size of class" versus the impact of a single individual.  There's probably no better example of how a single athlete can push a "class" in the rankings than Stanford and Elizabeth Price.  Price, one of the best gymnasts in the world, is a senior National Team member and Olympic Team alternate.  In 2014, she won the American Cup, the World Cup series title, and the Pacific Rim AA title.  She then surprised many people by deciding to bypass the World Championships and a run at the Rio 2016 Olympics, and enrolled in college.  With 9.95+ potential in every event, she's not only a potent scoring threat, she's also a marquee name that can help elevate the entire squad in the gym and in competition.  She also provides added interest from fans and to potential future recruits.  While it's true she can only provide four scores out of 20, her impact can go beyond simply the scoreboard.     

Elizabeth Price
7.  LSU

LSU slots in at #7 with a pair of standout signees.  Erin Macadaeg is a former senior international elite who dropped back to L10 this past season.  In 2013, she qualified to the P&G (US) Championships and placed 10th AA and 7th on BB.  As a L10 this past season, she won BB and the FX and placed 2nd AA at the 2014 L10 JO Nationals.  She was also 4th(t) on VT.   She excels with great lines and tight execuation, and will be a force for the Tigers, especially on BB where she already topped the returning squad during the last public intrasquad.  Joining her is a L10 from Georgia, Myia Hambrick.  At the 2014 L10 JO Nationals, she tied for 2nd on BB, 7th on VT and 10th on UB.  She finished 22nd AA.  In 2013, she made the JO National Team, placing 3rd AA and tying for the FX title.  She also finished 2nd on BB and 5th on VT.  She also finished 7th AA in 2012.  Another powerful gymnast with clean, tight execution, she tumbles a pike full-in on FX and excels on BB.  The third member of the recruiting class, Kylie Moran, is a L10 walkon from Florida.    

Myia Hambrick
Erin Macadaeg
Kylie Moran
8.  Michigan

Michigan welcomes a large and talented class, full of potential and skill.  It's also undergone a few changes since the athletes originally committed, including changed commits, a late signee and a mid-year addition.  Leading the way is former junior international elite Brianna Brown, a former UGA commit.  At the 2014 L10 JO Nationals, she tied for 4th on UB and placed 7th AA.  With long lines, she excels on the UB and BB.  Another former junior international elite, Lauren Marinez, is a gymnast with excellent lines and style (but less power).  She tied for 18th AA at the 2014 L10 JO Nationals, and placed 2nd on BB.  Her impact in 2015 will be limited due to a preseason injury.  India McPeak is an elite gymnast from Northern Ireland with plenty of international experience.  She excels on the BB and FX, with some big skills like a tuck full on the beam and a full-in on FX.  However, she will need to upgrade her vaulting and UB .  She was slowed over the summer by injury, but she did win BB and FX at the 2014 Irish Championships.  Another former junior international elite, Nichelle Christopherson, joins Michigan at mid year.  In 2014, she worked her way back into competition as a L10, and qualified to the L10 JO Nationals.  She excels on BB and UB, and is a big variable for the Wolverines this season.  Another L10, Ilana Gordon, placed 2nd AA at the 2014 L10 NorCal State Meet, but missed the post season.  She was 29th AA at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals.  The final member of the large class, Cailee Hills, has been out with injury the last two seasons.  In 2012, she placed 6th AA, 5th on UB and 5th on BB at the L10 JO Nationals.       

Brianna Brown
Nichelle Christopherson
Ilana Gordon
Cailee Hills
Lauren Marinez
India McPeak
9.  Washington

From time to time, a different team breaks into our Top 10.  This year, it's Washington's large class, with six gymnasts with a high level of execution and balanced skills across the events but perhaps less power than others in the Top 10. Headlining the class is former junior international elite Alyssa Shermetaro.  She's a two-time JO National Champion on the BB and a member of the JO National Team in 2013.  She was also 5th AA in 2012 but was slowed last season by injury.  Rebounding from injury in 2013, Zoey Schaefer won the 2014 L10 JO National title on the FX.  She also placed 2nd(t) on UB and 6th in the AA.  She also made the JO National Team in 2011.  With the onset of early recruiting, predicting if athletes can continue to improve is a tough thing to do.  In the Huskies case, several of their athletes have improved tremendously over the last year, pushing the class into the Top 10.  Joslyn Goings, a L10 from Desert Lights, placed 4th on BB and 5th AA at the 2014 JO Nationals.  Hailey Burleson, a L10 from KPAC, joins the Huskies a year early.  She won the JO NIT meet with the highest AA score of any session.  Her score would have placed her 5th AA in her age group at the JO National meet.  Emily Liddle, a L10 from Airborne, tied for 6th on BB and 8th AA at the 2014 L10 JO Nationals.  The sixth gymnast, Dori Overhus, is a former Regional AA champ (2012) and Boise State commit who is coming back from injury. 

Hailey Burleson
Joslyn Goings
Emily Liddle
Dori Overhus
Zoey Schaefer
Alyssa Shermetaro
10.  UCLA  
UCLA's incoming class features two signees with international eltie credentials and a large set of L10s.  Heading up the group is Napualani "Pua" Hall, a former elite who dropped back to L10.  In 2013, she won the JO National Vault title with her Yurchenko 1 1/2.  She also placed 8th on UB and tied for 6th AA.  She was also 5th AA in 2012.  Another elite drop down, Melissa Metcalf, was a JO National Champ on the UB in 2013.  She also tied for 3rd on BB and placed 5th AA.  After winning the 2014 Arizona state L10 title, she struggled on BB and did not advance to Nationals.  Joining the two signees are an array of L10s coming off of strong club seasons.  Rechelle Dennis is a L10 who tied for 9th on FX and 22nd AA at the 2014 JO Nationals.  She finished 7th AA at the 2012 L10 Nationals.  Janay Honest is an in-state L10 who tied for 34th AA at the JO Nationals.  She vaults a lofty Yurchenko full, as does LaNiesha-Jopre Irvin.  A five year L10 Regional qualifier, Irvin tied for 5th on vault at JO Nationals in 2011.  Sonya Meraz is another in-state L10 who tumbles a full-in on FX.  She tied for 1st on FX at the 2014 Region 1 L10 Regionals, and placed 11th AA.  In 2013, she qualified for the JO NIT meet and won her session, tying for the top score of the day in all sessions.  Her score would have placed her 3rd in her age division at the JO National meet.  Rechelle Dennis
Karli Dugas
Pua Hall
Janay Honest
LaNiesha-Jopre Irvin
Sonya Meraz
Melissa Metcalf


Just Outside the Top 10

Just outside the Top 10 are a trio of squads with strong arguments for a Top 10 ranking.  They include (in no particular order), Ohio State, Penn State, UGA and Minnesota. 

Ohio State's large class includes a pair of Canadian elites and a 2014 JO National Champion.  They also feature some big tumbling, like the great Ohio State class that just graduated.  Leading the way is Stefanie Merkle, who placed 4th AA at the 2014 Canadian Championships.  She's joined by Taylor Harrison, a L10 from Virginia who won the 2014 L10 JO National AA title.  She also was 2nd on VT and tied for 2nd on UB and BB.  She was 15th AA at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals.  Another L10, Alexis Mattern, another power gymnast, placed 10th AA at JO Nationals in 2014 and 9th(t) AA in 2013.  Another Canadian elite, Kaitlyn Hofland, is slowly working her way back from injury.  She was fifth AA and 1st on UB at the 2013 Canadian Championships.  The injury limitations to Hofland and some gaps in execution and skills on UB and BB kept this team out of the top 10.    

Penn State has a powerhouse class that should make a huge impact on their program.  Briannah Tsang is a Canadian elite who placed 8th AA at the 2014 Canadian Championships and is the reigning Canadian vault champion (double twisting Yurchenko).  Oni Timothy is a powerful tumbler (double layout) and vaulter (Yurchenko 1 1/2) who missed 2014 with an injury, but appears to be back strong.  She was 17th AA and 6th(t) on VT at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals.  Lauren Li, who tumbles a pike full-in on FX, also has excellent form on the other events.  The WOGA trained L10 placed 2nd on FX, 7th (t) on VT and 17th AA at the 2014 L10 JO Nationals.  She also tied for 13th AA at the 2013 JO Nationals. With big vaults and big E skills on FX, this class was held out of the Top 10 due to injuries (including to Chanen Rayoza) and some execution and consistency issues on UB and BB. 

UGA welcomes a large class of incoming gymnasts, led by Canadian elite Natalie Vaculik.  Vaculik placed 6th AA at the 2014 Canadian Championships, after placing 2nd AA in 2013.  Another former Canadian elite, Vivi Bibablis, dropped down to National Open last season.  She placed 4th AA in the National Open division at the 2014 Canadian Championships.  She excels on the FX, where she won the title with her double Arabian mount.  UGA's class also includes WOGA-trained L10 Hayley Sanders and powerhouse Gigi Marino, a L10 from Desert Devils.  Marino, who tumbles a variety of E skills on FX, tied for 12th AA at the 2014 L10 JO Nationals.  She also tied for 6th AA in 2013, including a 2nd (t) on VT.  Sanders, who competed sparingly last season, tied for 21st AA at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals.  UGA's class has rebounded strongly with a series of late signees, falling just short of the Top 10 in this ranking.

Minnesota's class is headlined by a pair of L10 standouts that share the same last name but are not related:  Bailey Gardner and Ciara Gardner. The former is an exceptional vaulter who tied for 4th AA (JO National Team) and 4th on FX at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals.  The latter has beautiful lines and placed 6th AA at the 2013 L10 JO Nationals.  She missed most of the 2014 season.   Both have strong long term all-around potential for the Gophers.       

There are a number of impact athletes distributed at teams across the nation.  These athletes will make an immediate impact on their squads, and some of them will have nationwide impact.  Former senior international elite Abigail Milliet is at Auburn, while Toni Ann Williams, who has competed internationally for Jamaica, is at the rising Cal program.  L10 Kaitlyn Hedelund will bring her clean execution and consistency to UNC, while Paige Zaziski and Braie Speed may be future stars at Arkansas.     

For a complete set of newcomers on each team and to get links to their rosters, see our newly updated listing under Recruits/Newcomers.


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