In an unusual year where many highly touted recruits have elected to defer, the spotlight will be on some very exciting L10s and recently retired elites. LSU and Michigan, for instance, have each picked up two powerhouse L10s and in LSU’s case, a top level elite. OU has an expected superstar in Ragan Smith while Utah welcomes a group of prominent L10s and former elites. Auburn and Bama also battle it out for honors in our list.
This Year's Rankings
So, how did the teams stack up? Here's the CollegeGymFans.com Top Recruiting Classes for 2019-2020 (click on the links to see video clips, where available):
LSU fans have to be excited about Kiya Johnson and Kai Rivers, a dominant pair of L10s, and Alyona Shchennikova, an US National Team Member. Johnson is a powerhouse who could find herself in LSU’s all around lineup right out of the gates. She is a back-to-back JO AA and FX champ and 2019 BB champ. She can choose from a double layout or a full-in on floor and is capable of a Yurchenko Double Twist on VT.
Rivers has been a top performing L10 for five years. She placed 2nd AA at JOs in her first year at Level 10 in 2014. Since then she has accumulated two JO AA titles, three UB titles, two VT titles and a FX title. She is an energetic floor worker with a big double layout. She has apparently been hampered a bit this preseason, but long term she too can put up a big mark in the AA.
Shchennikova is a National Team member who has represented the US internationally throughout her senior career. In 2018 she placed 9th AA and 5th on beam at the US Championships. She competed to a 2nd place AA finish at the 2019 International Gymnix while placing 2nd on bars and 3rd on floor. She tore her Achilles during the Pam Am Games verification camp, so she is working through rehab. In the meantime, she is already training bars with the goal of getting in the lineups this season. Going forward, she is a potential all arounder in the future.
Kamryn Ryan, who made a last minute switch from Alabama to LSU, will likely contribute on vault and perhaps floor. She was 20th AA and 4th(t) on VT at the 2019 JO Nationals. Also slated to join this class are Caitlin Smith and Courtney Goodrich. Smith, a former junior international elite from Paramount Elite, has battled injuries for the last two seasons and through fall. It is unclear whether she’ll be able to contribute this season. Goodrich, a 2018 JO National qualifier, is training a double Arabian, will likely look to bolster the floor lineup. Lexie Nibbs, a three-time L10 Regional qualifier, is strongest on VT with a Yurchenko Full.
Utah’s new coaching staff is dealing with the departure of more than 50% of last year’s high quality routines, but that gives Jillian Hoffman, Maile O’Keefe, and Abby Paulson plenty of opportunities to penetrate the lineups right away. The fourth member of this class, Jaedyn Rucker, has been sidelined by a knee injury from February 2019. It is this injury, and the extended injury history of O'Keefe and Paulson that have knocked Utah from the top spot.
Maile O’Keefe is the headliner in this group. She is a two-time junior National Champion who has represented the US internationally and racked up an impressive medal count throughout her six year elite career. After winning a bronze at the 2018 American Cup, her 2018 season was cut short due to a wrist injury, and then, in January of 2019 she made the decision to retire from elite and accept an offer of early admission to Utah. She dropped down to Level 10 and demonstrated a high level of gymnastics. Although she qualified to JOs with a 1st place regional finish, she opted not to compete at Nationals. She has an arsenal of elite skills at her disposal, including a Dbl Arabian and 2.5 on FX, a Yurcheko double full on vault, although her L10 and early college sets indicate a reduced level of difficulty, but with a high level of execution. Utah will look to her to fill a spot in the all around.
Abby Paulson has competed at the elite level since 2013. She was named to the US National Team as a senior in 2017. An injury sidelined her through 2018 and most of 2019, but she recuperated enough to come back in time for the 2019 L10 post season, where she finished 2nd on FX and tied for 7th AA. She brings beautiful artistry and power to her events and she has a piked full-in and a triple twist in her bag of FX tricks. She is perhaps strongest on beam and the Utes will look to her to immediately fill one of the gaping vacancies there.
Jillian Hoffman had a breakout season in 2017 and she has not put up an AA score lower than 38.00 since. She is a past JO National bars, floor and AA champ. A miss on FX JOs this season was enough to dash her chances for a top finish, but floor is where she typically shines. She brings a Double Arabian and a double layout to the FX lineup. In addition to a spot in the FX lineup, she should slip into the bars and beam lineups right away. Her Yfull has always served her well in club meets, making her a candidate for the all around.
Jaedyn Rucker has always been a strong vaulter, but she burst into the 2018 season and settled in amongst the country’s best L10 all arounders. She scored over 38+ AA in every 2018 meet, including one exceptional 39+ meet score. She also earned a rare 10.0 on vault in 2018. She finished the ‘18 season with the JO vault title and a 2nd place AA finish. She sat out the 2019 season due to the aforementioned injury, which is listed as "out indefinitely". She, too, could contend for an all around spot at Utah once she has recovered, but her Yurchenko 1.5 twist vault and Double Arabian on floor will be indispensable.
Michigan continues to draw outstanding L10 talent and this class boasts a potent pair in Sierra Brooks and Gabryel Wilson. These two will combine to deliver a one-two punch for the next four years. Joining them are Nicoletta Koulos and Abby Gaies
Brooks is a four time JO National Team member who is fresh off a JO AA win where she also picked up three event titles. She has a full-in and 2.5 on floor and a 1.5 twisting Yurchenko on vault. She is an all around powerhouse who will make a bid for a spot in every lineup.
Like Brooks, Wilson earned the ’19 JO AA title, making her a three time AA champ. She is also a three time floor champ and two time vault champ. She tumbles a full-in and a huge Yurchenko 1 1/2 Twist vault (she has also competed a double with room to spare).
Koulos was a 2016 JO National Team Member and was 5th AA in 2017. Although she competed to a 4th place finish at her 2019 SoCal meet, she missed the remainder of the post season. She is capable of a Yurchenko 1.5 twist vault and a triple twist on floor and these two events could be her best events going forward.
The long awaited arrival of Makarri Doggette should thrill the Bama fan base. She has been an extraordinary L10 all arounder throughout her cub career, but she especially shines on vault and floor. In fact, since making her L10 debut in 2013, she has racked up 1st place finishes on those events in more than 50% of her meets. She is a two time JO National AA champ who has earned JO titles on every event. She will be instrumental in boosting Bama back to prominence. She tumbles a huge piked full-in, a Yurchenko 1 1/2 twist on vault and a kickover pike front and a rare tucked swing-down on beam. On UB, she includes a Tkachev to immediate Pak.
Matilyn Waligora can also deliver on multiple events for the Tide. She was the 2017 JO National AA and FX champ. She has always scored well on her strong Yurcheko full vault in club meets and she is a very reliable bars worker. She is capable of strong scores on BB and FX (full-out), but these two events have been a little problematic for her the past two seasons. If she can hit them consistently, she’ll push for an AA spot once she fully recovers from the injury issues that have slowed her recently.
The addition of Luisa Blanco and Ella Burgess, who are expected to join the team in January, elevates this class.
Blanco was the 2017 JO beam champ and she finished 2nd AA that season. She moved into the elite ranks and qualified for both the 2017 and 2018 US Championships. She brings a big double Arabian on floor. She also brings precise work, a bhs to two layout steps and clean execution on BB. Although she has had some injuries since then, she did win UB and place 2nd on BB at the WOGA Classic senior elite competition.
Ella Burgess had a successful 2019 season, finishing 1st on vault in every meet except Regionals (2nd). She also picked up a number of event titles on beam and floor throughout the season. Look for her in the vault lineup and we may see her double lay on FX. UB has prevented her from competing at the National level.
Macy Orosco is a L10 Regional qualifier who specializes on UB while Emma Desantis is a L10 from Mississippi.
Auburn welcomes a huge incoming class and appears to be taking the “it takes a village” approach to stacking the lineups with a blend of AAers and specialists. Aria Brusch and Cassie Stevens combine to set up a robust foundation for the group.
Aria Brusch competed at the junior elite level from 2014-16 before returning to L10 competition in 2017. She is a great potential AA prospect for Auburn. She is the ’19 JO National UB champ and an ’18 JO National Team member. Look for her powerful full-in on FX. Her weakest scores this past season have come on beam, but she has had a solid scoring history on that event, so she could vie for a spot in that lineup, too.
Cassie Stevens is a powerful vaulter who earned the JO vault title in ’17 and ‘19. Over the past few seasons she has flirted with a perfect vault score many times and she earned a 10.0 in 2018 and again at 2019 regionals. She is also a capable AAer as well, tying for 10th at JO Nationals in 2019, 6th in 2018 and placing 2nd in 2016. On BB, she does a bhs to two back layouts and an original swing-through kickover front to a kneel. She's set to make an immediate impact this season.
Adeline Sabados placed 6th on bars and tied for 13th AA at the 2019 JO Nationals. She also tied for 8th on UB and placed 21st AA in 2018 and was 9th AA in 2017.
The remaining group bolsters the event lineups. Morgan Leigh Oldham was 14th AA at the 2017 JO Nationals and tied for 4th on VT at the 2019 Region VIII Regionals, her best event. Elise Panzner placed 30th AA at the 2019 JO Nationals and brings a potential Yurchenko 1 1/2 twist vault. Anna Sumner was a 2019 JO National qualifier who shows good potential on FX and BB.
Jade Chrobok is a two-time Canadian National Team Member. Her long list of accomplishments include a gold on bars at the 2017 Pam Am Championships and two 3rd place AA finishes at the Canadian Championships, in 2017 and 2018. Her international elite experience and skills should translate well to the NCAA. On VT, she has competed a 1 1/2 twisting Yurchenko in the past. In 2019, she placed 5th at Elite Canada, showcasing NCAA-ready UB work. (Note: Any injuries after entry into college are not factored into the rankings).
The other top name in this class is Chloe Widner. A three time JO National Team member, she is coming off a big showing at the ’19 JOs where she captured the AA, Beam and Floor titles. She has always pulled high scores on her flighty Yurchenko Full vault, including a rare 10.0 at her 2018 state meet. She can throw a piked full-in or double lay on FX and she is solid on UB and BB as well. Look for her in the all around immediately for Stanford.
Adela Stonecipher had a breakout year in 2017, finishing 1st on FX and 4th AA at JOs. She competed very little in 2018, presumably due to injury. She came back to compete only the first part of the 2019 season, as she worked her way back from injury. She will likely look for a spot in the vault lineup early on and she is capable of a nice full-in on FX. She shows beautiful style on bars and beam, but these are her weaker events.
Kelly Ramm competed only two bars and two beam routines in 2019, and is a former L10 Regional qualifier.
OU’s class is headlined by 2016 Olympic Team alternate Ragan Smith. The five time US National Team member has battled through injuries to maintain her spot as one of the country’s top elites. Career highlights include AA wins at the 2017 American Cup and P&G Championships. She also won UB and BB titles at the ’17 US Classic and BB and FX titles at ’17 Nationals. She came back from injuries to place 10th AA at ’18 Nationals and she was named to the ‘18 World Championships team as an alternate. She will draw on a wide selection of E skills on FX, including a double layout, a triple twist and a double Arabian. She is also capable of a Yurchenko Double Twist but we'll likely see her water back on the leg events, as they manage around her prior injuries.
Vanesa Deniz used the 2018 season to improve her L10 placement. By the end of the season she showed radical improvement in scores across the board and she landed at 9th (t) AA at ’18 JOs. She did not compete in 2019 but is competition ready. OU can plug her into any lineup with long, clean lines and beautiful execution. She mounts FX with a front double full and returns with a whip to 2 1/2.
Erin Hutchison a L10 from WOGA, qualified to JO Nationals in 2015 and 2017. She adds a Yurchenko 1/2 or potentially a 1 1/2 to the vault lineup, her best event.
UGA’s incoming class features Canadian National Team Member Hayley DeJong along with Amanda Cashman, Soraya Hawthorne and Loulie Hattaway. Having lost just one athlete to graduation, these three recruits improve depth right away and they should fill significant roles throughout their time on the team.
DeJong has the most impressive credentials of this group. She placed 6th AA at ’19 Canadian Nationals. She finished 7th AA ’18 Canadian Championships and 3rd AA at ’18 Pacific Rim. She can vault a double twisting Yurchenko or Pike Omelianchik and throws an Arabian double and triple twist on FX. She's initially debuting in the bars, beam and floor lineups but was known as an elite for her vaulting ability.
Cashman has three top 10 JO finishes in her club career, but she finished lower in the ’19 standings due to a mishap on beam. In club, she produced her strongest and most consistent scores on vault and floor. She is capable of a Yurchenko 1 ½ on vault although she showed a Yurchenko Full at the UGA preview. She did not perform a FX routine at the preview, but she demonstrated a usable bars set.
Hawthorne is perhaps best known as a vaulter, with a 10.0 to her credit in 2019. She threw a Yurchenko double twist to win the 2018 JO vault title. She is the 2019 JO floor co-champ, too, with the potential for a pike full-in. She didn’t show this level of skill at the preview, but she has a lot of upside potential as she returns to form. She could also work for a spot in the BB lineup where she has a moved named for her. She was also 5th AA at the 2018 JO Nationals, and 9th(t) in 2017.
Hattaway is a 2018 JO National qualifier who can excel on UB. Look for her to focus on earning a spot in that lineup
The DU coaching staff has boosted their incoming class with two early graduates, bolstering the squad's depth. They are led by AK Subject and early grad Amoree Lockart, along with former junior elite Emma Brown.
Subject made the JO National team in 2019, tying for 4th AA, 6th on FX and 7th on VT. She also placed 5th AA, 4th(t) on UB and 7th on FX at the 2018 JO Nationals. She could potentially become another star AAer for DU.
Lockhart rebounded from an injury to place 9th AA and tied for 3rd on BB at the 2019 JO Nationals. She was a two-time JO National team member, winning the title in 2016. In 2017, she was 4th AA, 3rd on UB, 3rd(t) on FX and 7th(t) on VT. She's be coming back throughout 2019, and is training her tougher skills on VT and FX again. She is another potential star AAer for the Pioneers.
Brown tied for 6th AA and 9th on UB and BB at the 2018 JO Nationals. In 2017 she tied for 4th on UB. She shows great form, especially in her dance elements, and will especially bolster DU once she has returned to her 2018 form.
Denver also welcomes Victoria Fitts and Callie Schlottman. Schlottman placed 16th AA at the 2019 L10 JO Nationals and is a four-time National qualifer. She provides depth overall but excels on BB. Fitts is a L10 Regional qualifier from Colorado who performs best on VT and UB but who also tumbles a full-in.
Finally, in a real tough decision for the Top 10, we've placed a program that scored an exceptionally strong class this season (and they've landed a number of notable athletes in the past). UNC's 2019 class is headlined by a pair of 2019 JO National team members that are both in-state products.
Hallie Thompson has a big skills (Yurchenko 1 1/2, triple twist on FX) and a strong resume. She won VT and tied for 4th AA at the 2019 JO Nationals. She also was the VT co-champ, tied for 4th on UB and tied for 9th AA in 2018. She also tied for 10th AA in 2016.
Elizabeth Culton has terrific toe point and lines, with a moderate level of difficulty that should translate well into NCAA competition. She tied for 4th AA at the 2019 JO Nationals, including a tie for 2nd on BB and a 3rd place on UB. She also tied for 9th on UB and in the AA in 2018.
Hannah Nam is a L10 from CGA. In 2019, she tied for 6th BB and 9th on FX, while tying for 18th AA at the JO Nationals. She also 3rd on BB, 7th(t) FX and 9th AA in 2017. She could also provide crucial depth on all four events.
UNC also welcomes McKenna Appleton, Tina Ghashshaei and Sophie Silverstein. Appleton tied for 8th on BB and 22nd AA at the 2017 JO Nationals. She also trained as a junior elite at Hill's, qualifying to the US Classic. She's been hampered the last two seasons by injury. Silverstein is a L10 who placed 2nd on VT and 5th on UB at the 2019 Region III L10 Regionals.
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 the quantity and quality of 9.85s+ potential scores the class could deliver. In no particular order, look for:
UF has just one frosh, but she's an exceptionally good one. Payton Richards is a three-time JO National team member from Aerials in Illinois. She tied for the AA title in 2016 and won BB. She also tied for the 2017 BB title, placed 2nd on UB and tied for 2nd AA. In 2018, she tied for 3rd on FX and placed 4th AA. Such a long history at the top of the JO ranks is a strong predictor of success in the NCAA, although with the Gators depth she'll have to fight to be an AAer.
Mizzou welcomes no less than eight newcomers, in an effort to shore up the lineups from the departed athletes. They are led by Helen Hu, a gymnast that is destined to be a fan favorite. She has a combination of grace, flexibility and originality that judges love, and that will show well in the NCAA. She won the UB and was the BB co-champ at the 2019 Level 10 Junior Olympic Nationals, and tied for 2nd AA. She was also 1st on UB and BB and 2nd on FX and in the AA at the 2018 L10 JO Nationals. She also won the BB title in 2017 and 2016. The Tigers will also look to Kambrie Brandt, an early graduate and frosh Sienna Schreiber. Brandt has a potential pike front 1/2 on VT and double layout on FX. She was 15th AA at the 2019 L10 JO Nationals. Sienna Schreiber is on the rise, and posted three scores over 9.575 at the 2019 JO Nationals.
Cal welcomes four newcomers, led by Neveah DeSouza. DeSouza is a two-time JO National Team member who has an excellent vault (Yurchenko 1 1/2) and strong work on UB and BB. She tied for 6th on UB, 7th on BB and 10th AA at the 2019 JO Nationals. She was 4th AA and placed in the top 7 on all four events at the 2018 JO Nationals.
Maya Green excels on the UB with beautiful lines while Natalie Sadighi's best event is VT. Green tied for 14th AA and 2nd on UB at the 2018 JO Nationals. She was also 2nd on UB and 7th on FX in 2016. Sadighi tied for 9th on VT and 20th AA at the 2019 JO Nationals. Ashton Woodbury has competed a 10.0 SV vault and full-in on FX in the past, and could, in time, add power on those events. She qualified to JO Nationals in 2018.
UK has brought in no less than seven newcomers to help lessen the sting of the loss of the graduated stars. They are led by Raena Worley and Kaitlin DeGuzman. Worley is a two-time JO National Team member who excels in all four events. On her best event, FX, she'll bring a key full-in while on VT she is capable of a Yurchenko 1 1/2. DeGuzman is a former junior international elite who has competed internationally for the Philippines. When she's healthy and back in top form, she can be a strong contributor for UK. Kentucky also welcomes a slew of other signees, including Shaelyn Luksik, a UB ace and former JO National champ on the event, and AAer Raina Albores.
Future Individual Standouts
Other gymnasts have the potential to make waves; some will become instant stars on their squad:
Hannah DeMers at CMU placed 3rd at the 2019 JO Nationals, making the JO National Team. She was 4th on UB and tied for 6th on FX and VT, where she floats a high Yurchenko Full. She's certain to be their next AA star.
Hannah Joyner at Rutgers is a former junior international elite who qualified to the P&G Championships in 2016. More recently, as a L10, she tied for 6th AA, 7th on BB and 8th on UB at the 2019 JO Nationals. She also tied for 6th AA in 2018. Recruiting is on the upswing at this program.
Kalyany Steele at UCLA is a senior international elite gymnast who qualified to the P&G Championships in 2016 and 2017. She's capable of a double layout on FX and a double twisting Yurchenko, but injuries have held her back.
At Iowa State, watch for Puerto Rican elite Andrea Maldonado and Canadian Laurie Lou Vezina. Maldonado is a terrific twister, and debuted a triple twisting front in World Cup competition this year. Her NCAA set will include a Randi (front 2 1/2 twist) instead of the Maldonado. She is technically not a frosh, and is generally excluded from our team rankings. Vezina is known for her originality, great lines and execution on UB and BB.
Mia Takekawa at Illinois could make an immediate impression. She was 5th on UB and 5th AA at the 2019 JO Nationals. She also tied for 6th on BB and 9th on FX en route to an 11th(t) place AA finish in 2018. She also tied for 2nd on UB and was 7th AA in 2017 and was the BB co-champ in 2016. Illinois also looks to Arayah Simons, who was 8th AA at the 2018 JO Nationals, and Mia Townes, who tied for 7th AA and was 4th on BB and FX at the 2018 JO Nationals. Townes was also 13th AA in 2017 but did not compete in 2019.
Background and a Word about our Methodology:
An incoming class doesn’t always compare to or replace, a seasoned graduating class. It’s not as simple as just swapping in the number of graduated routines and the number of incoming routines. There are too many intangibles, such as how an incoming freshman adjusts to college, gels with the team or responds to new coaching styles. Each new incoming class changes the dynamics within the team as a whole and there is no way for us to guess in advance how the dynamics will play out or contribute to overall team success. The best we can do is look at the incoming class as a discrete unit. What does each athlete’s competition history, skills, execution and even injury history (if we know it) tell us about what she brings to the mix that makes up her incoming class? Our methodology is based on a snapshot of each incoming class as they enter college for the first time. In other words, we consider what we know about incoming freshmen as they enter school in the fall. For those joining their teams mid-year, we consider what we know of them as of the time of their entrance in January, however, transfers and late starts not associated with a deferral are excluded.
What we consider:
Competition History - An athlete's competition results reveal how an athlete stands up to competition and how consistently she performs from one event to another, and meet to meet. It is especially interesting to see how an athlete measures up against the competition in elite or rigorous Level 10 meets like the Nastia Liukin Cup and Junior Olympic Nationals (JO Nationals). Decades of recruiting classes show that a strong history of top finishes in these major meets is a strong predictor of future NCAA success.
Skill and Routine Evaluation - Many athletes or meet sponsors post training and meet videos. Some college teams also give us peeks at preseason training videos. We use these to get a look at the athletes’ skills and execution, and how their competition routines compare to NCAA requirements. With significant differences between the NCAA code and the Junior Olympic (not to mention the Elite) code, gymnasts with stellar execution and no "built-in" deductions will have an easier time in the NCAA. Gymnasts with FIG E skills, 10.0 Start Value (SV) vaults or exceptional levels of grace, expression or execution quality will also have an easier time posting scores of 9.9+/.
Injury Status and History - Sometimes specific major injury information is available. Other times, a major injury or other break in training may be indicated by holes in a competition history. To the extent that we can determine whether an injury history will potentially limit an athlete’s contribution over the course of her NCAA career, we factor that information into our ranking considerations. We tend to view absences from competition in the season before entering college negatively, unless otherwise explained.
Potential Contribution - Ultimately, we place high value on recruits who have the potential to make some starting lineups and to consistently score 9.85 or better on their events.
Balancing Class Size – We attempt to consider large incoming classes versus small classes. A large incoming class, even if it is loaded with walkons and specialists, provides important depth and coverage on all events. That depth can be especially important if a team suffers some key injuries. A large class is also sometimes filled with exceptionally gifted specialists. In contrast, a small class of, say, one or two all arounders can have just as much impact on their teams. Of course, a marquee athlete promises to bring in big scores that make the crucial difference to a ranking and end of season success. So, size of recruiting class is factored along with our best guess as to how the individual recruits will figure in lineups.