The 2018 NCAA season is still months away, but it is never too early to start knowing the incoming freshman class for each team. This is both a way to begin thinking of potential lineups, and a way to get to know less well-known gymnasts and their routines.
The LSU Tigers were the runner-ups at both the 2016 and the 2017 Nationals behind Oklahoma. They are the current SEC champions, and 2017 was their best ever season. Their motto was ‘all heart’, and their commitment and passion have drawn fans from all over the U.S. and beyond (me included!).
LSU said goodbye to three of the best seniors in the country: Sydney Ewing, who was third on vault at Nationals this year and competed every meet on vault, beam and floor. Ewing was also LSU’s lead-off on floor; Shae Zamardi, who was the lead-off on bars and the second up on floor all season long; and Ashleigh Gnat, one of the best gymnasts LSU has ever had. Gnat was the anchor on vault, where she performed a DTY, beam and floor, and scored nine perfect 10.0s throughout her career. She will be the hardest Tiger to replace.
LSU has welcomed seven new freshmen: Reagan Campbell, from Coppell, Texas; Bridget Dean, from Fort Myers, Florida; Christina Desiderio, from Hackettstown, New Jersey; Samantha (Sami) Durante, from Athens, Georgia; Sarah Edwards, from Ocean Springs, Mississippi; Olivia Gunter, from Mandeville, Louisiana; and Gracen Standley, from Mobile, Alabama.
Reagan Campbell trained at Texas Dreams with Kim Zmeskal, a gym that has produced such great gymnasts as U.S. junior champion Bailie Key, Olympic alternate Ragan Smith and NCAA stars Kiana Winston (Alabama) and Kennedy Baker (Florida).
Campbell qualified for the J.O. National Championships for four straight years (2013–16) and finished in sixth place or better in all four editions (fifth in 2016, sixth in 2015, fourth in 2014 and third in 2013). She also won silver on balance beam for three consecutive years (2013–15). Campbell also competed at the Nastia Liukin Cup in 2013 and 2014, where she finished fifth in 2013 and eighth in 2014.
Campbell is an excellent all around gymnast. She has pretty lines on all apparatuses, pointed toes, good amplitude and she is very consistent – she basically has the profile Texas Dreams gymnasts are renowned for. She will be a great asset in the all around, but she is particularly consistent on balance beam. She could be in the line-up already in the very first meet.
Desiderio trained at Parkettes. She was one of the top U.S. elite gymnasts in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, as a junior, she finished second on floor at the Secret U.S. Classic and third also on floor at the P&G Championships. In 2016, her first year as a senior, she won a bronze medal on floor at the Secret U.S. Classic. At the P&G Championships, she tied for sixth place on floor, and qualified to the Olympic Trials, where she finished sixth on balance beam. Desiderio retired from elite gymnastics in July, and decided to join LSU one year early.
When Desiderio announced her commitment to LSU, she told an interviewer that she hopes to contribute mainly on beam and floor, and that she wants to keep her double layout on floor (an LSU tradition, it seems!). Desiderio, however, is so much more than an event specialist, as she could be an outstanding contributor in the all around. On floor, she is an outstanding performer and can compete very difficult tumbling passes. As an elite gymnast, she used to compete a double double, a one-and-a-half twist into double tuck, a double layout and double pike. On beam, she used to perform a double Wolf turn, a free-walkover into split jumps, a sheep jump, two back-handsprings into back layout, a front somersault and a double pike dismount – plenty of difficulty to choose from! Bars was not her best apparatus as an elite, but she can easily compete a full pirouette, a Tkachev, a shoot-over to the low bar and a full-in dismount. On vault, she never seemed to master completely her DTY, but her block is huge and her FTY will be money.
Bridget Dean trained at Orlando Metro Gymnastics, a gym that has produced a lot of successful NCAA gymnasts, especially for the local Florida Gators.
Dean competed at the J.O. National Championships in 2015, where she finished eighth in the all around and seventh on balance beam. In 2015 she was also Florida state champion as a Level 10 in the all around, on bars and beam. Back in 2013 she competed at the Nastia Liukin Cup and finished tenth.
Dean is very strong on the uneven bars, which is very good news for LSU, whose weakest apparatus is indeed bars. She competes a Maloney and a very high double layout. She is also excellent on floor. Back in 2013, she used to perform a whip to double pike, a Rudi and a double tuck.
Sami Durante trained at Georgia Elite Gymnastics. She had a tough summer. Until a few months ago, she was planning to join Georgia as a walk-on, where her mother, Danna Durante, was head coach. After a disastrous finish at the NCAA Nationals in April, however, Danna Durante was sacked, and Sami Durante was released from the Gymdogs. After months of uncertainty, Durante announced her decision to join LSU, a university she picked over Oklahoma, Florida, Utah, and Pittsburgh.
Durante competed at the J.O. National Championships in 2017, where she finished sixth on the uneven bars. In 2017 she was also Region 8 champion on the uneven bars and balance beam and was second in the all around. She was also the balance beam champion at the 2017 Georgia State Championships. Durante competed at the JO Nationals also in 2014 and 2015. Her best result came in 2014, when she finished thirteen in the all around.
Durante’s best apparatus is bars. Her routine is full of difficult skills, including a Jaeger, a Pak salto, a full pirouette and a full-in dismount. She has big potential on the other apparatuses as well. Even though she has been a bit inconsistent in the past, the LSU coaches are miraculous in this regard!
Sarah Edwards trained at Lanier’s Gymnastics. She had an outstanding competition at the Mississippi State championships this year: she won gold on vault and floor, silver on bars and bronze on beam and in the all around. At the State championships in 2016, she won gold on vault and silver on all other apparatuses and in the all around. And at the same competition in 2015, she won a full sweep of gold medals.
Unfortunately there is no footage of Edwards’ gymnastics, but on the basis of her results, she seems to excel on vault and floor.
Olivia Gunter trained at North Shore Gymnastics. She competed at the Junior Olympics in 2016, and tied for fifteenth on floor. She competed at the Region 8 championships in 2015 and 2016. In 2015 she tied for ninth on floor, while in 2016 she was fifth also on floor. She won gold medals on beam and in the all around at the Louisiana State championships in 2016. Gunter’s only competition in 2017 was the Louisiana Lagniappe, where she competed only bars and won the event.
Gunter excels on floor, where she competes a high double pike, a one-and-a-half twist into front layout and a double tuck. There is also footage of her training a very well mastered double Arabian. Gunter is also very good on beam. She competes a BHSO + LOSO, a front somersault, a Johnson leap and a one-and-a-half twisting dismount.
Gracen Standley trained at Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy with Mary Lee Tracey, who also coached U.S. junior champion and current LSU Tiger Lexie Priessman.
Standley competed at the J.O. National Championships in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Her best year was 2016, when she finished seventh in the all around and third on bars. In 2016 she also competed at the Nastia Liukin Cup, where she finished thirteenth.
Standley is incredibly strong on the uneven bars and on floor exercise. On bars, her NCAA routine is potentially ready. She performs a Jaeger linked to a shoot-over to the low bar and a high full-in dismount. On floor, she has high tumbling passes and consistent landings. She is a bit shaky on beam, but who knows? Ashleigh Gnat was the same as a freshman, and she ended up anchoring beam for the Tigers in her junior and senior years!
Good luck to the future Tigers!
Article by Talitha Ilacqua
(A previous version of this article was published on WOGymnastikA)