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Wednesday, 04 January 2012 21:50 Top Recruiting Classes of 2011-2012

For the past several seasons, we've made an attempt to rank the incoming recruiting classes for teams from across the nation.  Each year, the task seems to get tougher (and finalized later) and this year is no exception.  In fact, the depth of this recruiting class has produced a variety of very deep and talented frosh classes.  In particular, a number of elites elected not to defer entry into school and are providing a boost to teams across the nation.  So whose class is rated to be the best?  Read on to find the answer...

As fans of the sport know, recruiting is concluding for many teams at an earlier and earlier age.  A few members of this year's incoming class made their commitments as early as their sophomore year.  Other teams choose to wait until a little later to extend offers, and some top foreign athletes did not sign until the Spring of 2011.  In addition, some gymnasts are now graduating early and joining their programs mid-season.  Whether they athlete committed early or quite late, predicting their impact at the NCAA level can be quite tricky.

The recruiting classes have been evaluated based on their pre-college performances in major meets, their skill level, and execution quality 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 a large incoming classes and one or two standouts is a difficult decision.  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 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 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 placings is a good indicator of an athlete's ability to handle pressure and 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, except for the top international performers, have tended to have longer adjustment periods, due to the peculiarities of the NCAA code and the adjustment to a foreign culture.  And finally, in order to achieve standout status in the NCAA, we find it 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 can outscore gymnasts with a higher level of difficulty.

This year, the ranking was extremely close between the top six teams.  At any point in time, from commitment through signing, and throughout the course of the the past year, the ranking of these recruiting classes has changed around.  Injuries, changes in training, as well as strong improvement, has jostled the standings.  Selecting ten teams was very difficult, and putting them in rank order was even more challenging and contentious.

So, how did the teams stackup?  Here's the Top Recruiting Classes for 2011-2012 (click on the links to see video clips, where available):

Team  Athletes/Links 
1.  Florida  

Fans who recall last year's ranking will recognize Kytra Hunter's name from the Gator's #1 ranking last year (The rankings were issued before it was clear that she would not be joining last year's team, otherwise, Bama would have been #1).  Because she entered college in 2011, we've included her in this year's rankings once again.  She, and the mid-year addition of L10 standout Rachel Spicer and former elite Kiersten Wang, propel the Gators to the top.  Hunter, a senior international elite and National Team member, is a dynamic athlete with strong potential as a college AA standout.  She was 4th AA at the 2010 VISA Championships.  Although she is known for her exceptional tumbling (among the best in the world), she is perfectly equipped on all events to excel at the NCAA level.  Texas Spicer is another potential star who has been on the last four JO National Teams, in fact winning the AA title in 2010 and placed 3rd AA in 2011.  She's another powerhouse, vaulting a consistent Yurchenko 1 1/2 and tumbling a pike full-in on FX.  Wang is a L10 and former sr. intenational elite qualifier from Colorado.  She was 7th AA, 2nd(t) UB, and 6th(t) on BB at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals.  She also finished 16th AA in 2010, and qualified to the senior international elite level in 2009.  Capable of some big skills and having clean lines, she'll be yet another solid contributor for a loaded Gators squad.  Also joining the squad at mid-season are in-state L10s Brittany Arlington and Jamie Shisler, who was 28th AA at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals.

Brittany Arlington
Kytra Hunter

Jamie Shisler
Rachel Spicer
Kiersten Wang

2.  Alabama  

Bama's talented class is headlined by former vault World Champion Kayla Williams and former senior international elite Kaitlyn Clark.  Another ex-elite, Brooke Parker and in-state walkon Lara Leigh Frost complete a powerful class.   Bama stands above some other extremely talented classes because elites Clark and Williams have successfully demonstrated good execution, high level skills and a strong level of motivation in continuing to train and compete as L10s.  Clark finished 3rd AA, 1st BB, 5th UB, and 6th(t) VT at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals, while Williams rebounded from some time off to place 4th AA, 2nd on FX, 5th on VT and 6th on UB at the JO Nationals.  Prior to that, Clark placed in the top 10 at the VISA Championships in 2009 and 2010.  Williams, besides winning the World Vault title, captured the L10 National AA title the same year.  Frost is a fast rising L10 with a double layout on FX who placed 3rd AA at the Region VIII L10 Regionals in 2011.  She also placed 23rd(t) AA at the 2010 L10 JO Nationals.  Parker competed in the 2010 US Classic and dropped down to L10 for 2011 and competed successfully in several meets.  In 2009, she placed 13th AA at the VISA Championships. 

Kaitlyn Clark
Lara Leigh Frost
Brooke Parker
Kayla Williams

3.  UCLA  

UCLA's class is headlined by former US World Team member Mattie Larson and US National Team member Cassie Whitcomb.  Larson is the silver medalist from the 2010 VISA Championships who decided this past year to quit elite gymnastics and enter college this season.  She originally intended to defer until 2012-2013.  Although she took two months off from training this summer and has had to deal with injuries in 2011, she should be a potential standout.  Whitcomb competed two events at the 2010 VISA Championships, placing 2nd on UB.  She dropped down to L10 in 2011, showing strongly in several early invitationals.  However, a history of injuries, mostly recently back problems, have limited her.  Similarly, L10 Dana McDonald is coming back from an Achilles' injury that kept her out in 2011; back in 2007 she placed 2nd AA at the L10 JO Nationals..  Canadian Ti Liu competed two events at the 2011 Canadian Championships, placing 7th on UB and 4th on BB.   Walkon Sadiqua Bynum is coming back from two Achilles' tears while Ellette Craddock was the NorCal state L10 AA champion in 2010.  All in all, it is the injuries, despite the potential for standout scores, that have led us to slot UCLA third in the rankings.

Sadiqua Bynum
Elette Craddock
Ti Liu
Mattie Larson
Dana McDonald
Cassie Whitcomb

4.  Utah  

Utah's large and talented class is the among the most healthy and competition ready of all the leading contenders in this year's ranking.  It is for this reason that they edge out some of the other teams for the third spot.  Former sr. international elite Georgia Dabritz dropped down to L10 in 2011, winning a share of the JO L10 National AA title despite a fall on BB (1st on FX, UB and 2nd(t) on VT).  Even at L10, a very fit Dabritz competed a double Arabian and dismounted with a triple twist on FX.  She also placed 11th AA at the 2010 VISA Championships.  L10 Kassandra Lopez placed 10th(t) AA, 3rd(t) BB, and 4th(t) FX at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals, after placing 4th AA in 2010.  She is another steady, clean L10 athlete with some elite level skills.  Another L10, Kailah Delaney, placed 5th AA(t), 3rd on VT, 3rd(t) on BB and 8th(t) on FX at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals.  She also was 31st AA in 2010 and 3rd AA in 2009.  She demonstrates exceptional amplitude and tumbles a high full-in on FX.  Parkette Becky Tutka won the 2011 Region VII L10 Regional AA title.  She was 4th AA in 2010 and 9th(t) in 2009.  L10 Tory Wilson graduated early to join the Utes this season.  Known for her big tricks (Tkachev to Gienger on UB as a L10), she was 4th AA(t), 4th on VT, and 5th(t) on FX at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals.  She was also 3rd AA in 2009.

Georgia Dabritz
Kailah Delaney
Kassandra Lopez
Becky Tutka
Tory Wilson

5.  Stanford  

Some people may question why Stanford does not rank higher in this ranking.  With three international elite stars, the Stanford class is among the most accomplished in the NCAA.  However, injuries and a lack of competitive readiness has dropped this class in the rankings.  Ivana Hong, a former World bronze medalist on BB, is a stylish gymnast who's career has been unfortunately plagued recently by injury.  She was 2nd at the 2009 VISA Championships, however has had to battle injuries off and on since then.  Likewise, the talented Samantha Shapiro has been limited by injury but has come back several times already.  Most recently, she placed 7th AA at the 2010 VISA Championships.  British Olympian Becky Wing is a veteran of international competition, competing in two World Championships.  Her gymnastics has an international flair, with long lines and excellent form.  Two L10s complete the Stanford class.  Pauline Hanset is a L10 from Tennessee who, due to having Belgian parents, competed for Belgian internationally this past year.  She won BB at the 2010 NITs and qualified to the 2011 Nastia Liukin Cup.  Alex Archer is a fast rising L10 coming of a strong season that saw her place 22nd AA at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals.

Alex Archer
Pauline Hanset
Ivana Hong
Samantha Shapiro
Becky Wing

6.  LSU  

LSU's class is headlined by elite Rheagan Courville.  The potential college standout and Baton Rouge native has excellent lines and a high level of difficulty on every event.  She was 10th AA at the 2010 VISA Championships but competed just once in 2011, choosing to focus on college preparations.  Texan Lloimincia Hall is a dynamic L10 with big skills.  She placed 9th(t) AA, 5th(t) UB, and 5th(t) on FX at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals.  She also was the AA runnerup in 2010, tying for 1st on the FX.  Former jr. international elite National Team member Randi Lau graduated early and dropped down to L10 in 2011, after some struggles with injury.  She placed 35th AA at the L10 JO Nationals as she made progress in returning to form.  LSU's recruiting class got even stronger in December with the addition of early 2012 graduate Jessie Jordan to an already strong class.  She tied for 28th AA at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals, after tying for 1st AA at the Region III Regionals.  She was also 10th AA at the 2009 L10 Nationals.

Rheagan Courville
Lloimincia Hall
Jessie Jordan
Randi Lau

7.  Georgia  

Georgia's recruiting class is lead by former elite National Team member Chelsea Davis and former elite and L10 standout Sarah Persinger.  Davis placed 5th at the 2010 VISA Championships and was an alternate to the 2010 World Championships team.  She was also on the 2008 Olympic Training squad.  A history of injury, however, has limited her from achieving her full potential.  Persinger is a former senior international elite who dropped down to L10 with a high level of success.  At the 2011 L10 JO Nationals, she was 3rd AA, 2nd(t) on FX and 5th(t) on BB.  She also had a successful club season in 2011, showing great fitness and solid elite-level skills.  Joining these two are three L10s, Demetria Hunte, Whitney Kirby and Camille Pfister.  Early grad Kirby placed 21st AA at the 2011 Region VIII L10 Regionals.  Another late arrival, Hunte, was 20th AA at the 2011 L10 Regionals.  Pfister is a L10 Regional qualifier coming back from injury.

Chelsea Davis
Demetria Hunte
Whitney Kirby
Sarah Persinger
Camille Pfister

8.  Michigan  

Michigan's two athlete class includes Annette Miele and Sachi Sugiyama.  Miele is a former senior international elite who dropped down to L10 in 2011.  At the 2010 VISA Championships, she placed 16th AA.  Dropping down to L10 in 2011, she won several invitationals throughout the year and then won the Regional Championships, but skipped Nationals.  Although she has been slowed by injury in the preseason, she demonstrated a solid level of preparation in her final year of club.  Texan Sugiyama is a L10 with some top-notch skills, including a clean Yurchenko 1 1/2 on VT and triple full on FX.  She tied for 17th AA and 6th on VT at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals.  She also finished 6th AA in 2010.  Due to Michigan's smaller roster, these two will be counted on heavily from the get-go.    

Annette Miele
Sachi Sugiyama
9.  Nebraska

Nebraska's class is headlined by Jessie DeZiel.  The US National Team member was a dominant force at the L10 level for the past two years before moving up successfully to the elite ranks this past season.  She led the US Team to a gold medal at the Pan Am Games this past year, after competing three events at the VISA Championships.  As a L10, she won the L10 JO National AA title in both 2010 and 2011.  She'll be following in the footsteps of past Husker greats, and could lead her squad as a frosh.   Joining her this season are a pair of L10 twins, Amanda and Jennifer Lauer.  Jennifer placed 29th AA at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals.  She also placed 5th on UB and 21st AA at the 2010 L10 JO Nationals.  Sister Amanda was 30th AA at the 2010 L10 JO Nationals.  Another in-state L10, Desire Stephens, qualified for the L10 JO Nationals this past season, and tied for 1st on FX at the Regional meet.  She was 10th AA at Regionals in 2010.  Finally, former junior international elite Kailyn Hawkins was excelling as a L10 last season before suffering an injury.  She placed 19th AA and 3rd(t) on Vault at the 2009 L10 JO Nationals.  

Jessie DeZiel
Kailyn Hawkins
Amanda Lauer
Jennifer Lauer
Desire Stephens

10.  Auburn  
Auburn's large class includes Lexus Demers, Brianna Guy, Caryn Kadous, Kelsey Thomasson, Megan Walker, Brittany Webster.  Guy headlines the class.  She's a dynamic L10 with huge amplitude on skills like a double layout and double front on FX.  She tied for 4th on FX at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals, where she placed 25th AA.  She also placed 4th AA in 2009 and won the AA title in 2007.  Joining the squad in January, in time for the 2012 season, is L10 Demers.  She's a 2010 L10 National Champ on FX (piked full-in), a meet where she also placed 14th AA.  Kadous is a L10 from Texas who placed 3rd on BB and 23rd AA at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals.  She also won the 2010 NIT meet.  Walker is a L10 from New York who won the Region VI AA title and tied for 22nd AA at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals.  She also tied for 15th AA in 2010.  Webster is a L10 with some big tumbling (pike full-in) who tied for 18th AA and 5th on FX at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals.  She was also 23rd(t) AA and 5th(t) on FX in 2010.  Walkon Thomasson is a L10 Regional qualifier. 

Lexus Demers
Brianna Guy

Caryn Kadous
Kelsey Thomasson
Megan Walker
Brittany Webster

Just Outside the Top 10

In a standout recruiting year, several teams had recruiting classes that normally would have ranked in the Top 10.  In alphabetical order, these teams include Arizona, Boise State, OU, Oregon State, and Washington.

Arizona's class includes Canadian elite Kristin Klarenbach and 2011 L10 JO National AA co-champion Allison Flores.  Flores also tied for 2nd on UB, 4th on BB and 5th on FX at the meet.  Klarenbach placed 2nd AA in the preliminary round of the Canadian Championships before retiring from the competition with an injury.  A veteran of international competition, she is a potential standout for the Wildcats.  L10s Danielle Buchanan and Amber Wobma complete the class.  Wobma tied for 12th AA at the 2011 L10 Nationals. 

Boise State's class is perhaps their best ever:  Caitlin Mann, Kelsey Morris, Erica Oswalt, Ciera Perkins.  This talented quartet of L10s have numerous Top 10 finishes at the L10 Nationals to their credit.  Perkins, who tied for 5th AA in 2011 at the L10 JO Nationals, won the National titles on VT (tied) and FX in 2010, placing 2nd AA.  Morris is a former VT L10 champ while Oswalt placed 14th AA at the L10 JO Nationals in 2011 and 5th AA in 2010.  Mann was also heading to a top finish at the 2011 National meet before breaking her hand in warmups.

OU's signing class is headlined by senior international elite Rebecca Clark and L10 Erica Brewer.  A former junior national team member, Clark placed 11th AA at the 2009 VISA Championships.  She's an elegant gymnasts with great lines, but has not been active at the elite level the past two seasons.  Brewer is a L10 with some big skills (full-in on FX).  She had a strong L10 club meet season in 2011, but did not compete in the post-season.  She also tied for 15th AA at the 2009 L10 JO Nationals and is a former JO National Team member.

Oregon State's class includes Stefanie Daley, Taylor Keeker, Katelyn Ohlrich, Kailie Ponto, Chelsea Tang, and Cerise Witherby.  Tang placed 4th AA at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals and was the National UB champ in 2010.  Witherby placed 6th AA in the same division in 2011, and won the 2011 National title on BB.  Ponto also picked up a National BB in 2009, while Ohlrich tied for 26th AA at the 2011 L10 JO Nationals.

Washington's class features senior international elite Jackie McCartin.  12th AA at the 2010 VISA Championships, she was the 2009 L10 National AA champion, in her very first season as a L10.  This fast rising athlete was derailed by a broken ankle this past summer, which helped knock this class out of the Top 10.  Former junior international elite McKenzie Fechter tied for 4th on BB and 12th AA at the 2011 L10 Nationals, while in-state L10 Madison Podlucky tied for 17th AA.  Both frosh won their respective Regional L10 meets. 

Last modified on Thursday, 05 January 2012 11:36

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