2018 Preview: Mind the Senior!

Photograph: YouTube

Seniors bring experience, maturity and consistency to their team, as well as a particular appreciation for every routine they compete, because they (and we) are aware that they will not be back the following year. 2018 will be a season full of outstanding senior gymnasts. Here is a list of the seniors to watch in next year!

Myia Hambrick (LSU)

One of the most poised, consistent and precise gymnasts in the NCAA, Myia Hambrick is also one of those athletes who are infuriatingly missing out on a perfect 10.0. Myia is a key contributor for the Tigers in the all around. Her one-two lead-off spots on beam with teammate Erin Macadaeg is arguably the best in the country. She has career-highs of 9.950 on vault, beam and floor, and of 9.925 on bars.

Erin Macadaeg (LSU)

Speaking of beam duos, here is the lead-off star on beam for LSU. Balance beam has become one of the Tigers’ strongest apparatuses since Erin became the lead-off in her sophomore year. Shall we have the chance to see her also on other apparatuses? In LSU’s first intrasquad this year, she also competed on bars, and as a sophomore she successfully competed both on vault and on floor. She has career-highs of 9.950 on beam and floor, and of 9.925 on vault. Who knows?

Alex McMurtry (Florida)

The 2017 NCAA all around champion had a 2017 season to die for. Alex McMurtry was never on the sidelines of the gymnastics world. In 2013, she won the Nastia Liukin Cup; in 2015, as a freshman in college, she clinched victory at the Super Six for Florida with a 9.975-worth uneven bars routine. And in 2016, she scored very high on all apparatuses, including a perfect 10.0 on bars. And yet 2017 was her season. Renowned for her DTY on vault and insane height on her triple twist on floor, Alex had an almost perfect competition at the NCAA Championships semi-finals to win the all around title and a share of the uneven bars title. She then replicated her performance at the Super Six, where she ended Florida’s competition with a perfect 10.0 on the uneven bars. She has multiple perfect 10.0s on bars, floor and vault. Can she add one on beam too to top her NCAA career?

Kiana Winston (Alabama)

I am in denial of the fact that Kiana Winston is already a senior! It is just no, #NO. A quiet and very modest gymnast, Kiana does not get credit enough for how incredible an athlete she is. 2017 NCAA bronze medallist in the all around, she scored a perfect 10.0 on floor last year against Florida, but I am still waiting for a perfect score on balance beam (how can you not get a perfect 10.0 when you hit your routine and stick your double tuck dismount?!) and on the uneven bars. Also, can we start giving out awards for perfectly executed elements? Her Pak salto on bars is made of dreams!

Sonya Meraz (UCLA)

Another quiet gymnast, who speaks little but works a lot, walk-on Sonya Meraz was finally (finally!) awarded a scholarship for her senior year together with teammate JaNay Honest (see below). A two-time second team Pac-12 All-Academic, in 2016 Sonya led the team with 42 routines competed and contributed the most points to the team scoring with 409.6875 total points (12.49%). She has career-highs of 9.875 or better on all apparatuses: a 9.875 on vault and the uneven bars, and a 9.900 on beam and floor.

Natalie Brown (Oklahoma)

A very elegant gymnast, Natalie Brown moved the NCAA-gymternet last year, performing a beautiful floor routine, in which she impersonated the struggle of Syrian refugees. I cannot wait to see what she has in store for us this year, and I would love to see her be awarded a perfect 10.0 on beam (her career-high there is a 9.950). Please, judges?

AJ Jackson (Oklahoma)

AJ Jackson is another of those gymnasts I am desperate to see get a perfect 10.0 either on floor or on vault (or both please)? She is powerful yet elegant, composed yet sassy. She has career-highs of 9.975 on vault and beam, of 9.900 on bars and of 9.825 on beam.

Nickie Guerrero (Alabama)

Speaking of missing perfect 10.0s, how comes Nickie Guerrero has still not received a perfect 10.0 on beam? Alabama’s anchor on beam, Nickie is the epitome of consistency – she competes her triple series (BHSO + LOSO + LOSO) with such confidence she seems on the floor, and I have never seen her wobble it once. Nickie also performs a one-and-a-half-twisting Yurchenko on vault, and she is money on floor too. She has career-highs of 9.975 on beam, of 9.950 on vault and of 9.900 on floor.

Elizabeth Price (Stanford)

Perfect 10.0s have been elusive also for Ebee Price, who is possibly the most underscored gymnast in the NCAA along with LSU’s Sarah Finnegan. A three-time U.S. senior national team member, 2012 Olympic alternate and American Cup and Pacific Rim all around champion, Ebee admirably left elite in 2014 in order to join Stanford. She has had an outstanding college career so far. A six-time first-team All-American, she is the 2015 NCAA vault champion, the 2015 Pac-12 Specialist of the Year and the 2016 Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year. She scored a perfect 10.0 on vault in 2015, and has career-highs of 9.975 on bars and floor. The latter, however, do not mirror her quality and potential – her difficulty and execution should have already honoured her with multiple perfect 10.0s also on bars and floor!

Peng-Peng Lee (UCLA)

A sixth-year red shirt senior, Peng-Peng Lee began scoring perfect 10.0s only last season, her fifth at UCLA but only her third competitive one. After all the injuries she has endured, there was arguably no one who deserved those scores more than Peng. She scored two perfect 10.0s on bars (where a plus should be awarded for having the guts to compete both a Ray and a Barwhaj) and scored a perfect 10.0 on balance beam in her very last routine of the season, at the NCAA Super Six finals.

Kennedy Baker (Florida)

There is no one in the world who competes a double piked Arabian on floor the way Kennedy Baker does (sorry, Aly Raisman, not even you!). And yet, Kennedy is so much more than a one wow-skill gymnast. A consistent all arounder, she was Florida’s lead-off on beam last season, and has potential to score perfect 10.0s on bars and on vault too.

Stefani Catour (Oklahoma)

One of the most improved gymnast from sophomore to junior years, Stefani Catour impressed at the beginning of last season, making the lineup on bars and becoming one of Oklahoma’s most consistent beam worker (and mind, the competition on beam is fierce at Oklahoma!). She has career-highs of 9.950 on beam and of 9.925 on bars. Can she improve even more now that she is in her senior year? I bet she can, I cannot wait!

JaNay Honest (UCLA)

Speaking of most improved gymnasts, JaNay Honest has improved her form so incredibly much since her freshman days. She should get an award for that! In 2016 she became Pac-12 uneven bars co-champion, and hit 36-per-36 routines. In 2017, her ‘tiger leaving the cage’-themed floor routine was one of my absolute favourite! Her best scores are a 9.900 on vault, a 9.950 on bars and a 9.925 on floor exercise.

Tiffani Lewis (Utah)

A fierce competitor, Tiffani Lewis is known for being the one patrolling the gym to make sure everyone works hard – respect for that! A two-time Pac-12 champion, on floor in 2016 and on vault, tied, in 2017, Tiffani has career-highs of 9.950 on vault and bars and of 9.925 on floor.

GiGi Marino (Georgia)

I wish I could attend a Georgia meet in Stegeman Coliseum just to scream ‘Marino’ alongside the crowd during GiGi’s floor routine (and all right, also to witness Courtney Kupets-Carter and Suzanne Yoculan’s romance reach new heights). The ‘Marino’ chant is such a community moment though! GiGi is money on floor and hopefully she will finally score a well-deserved perfect 10.0.

Vivi Babalis (Georgia)

Another Georgia senior to watch is Vivi Babalis (wait, is Vivi already a senior?!!). An excellent beam and floor worker, last year Vivi had one of the sassiest floor routines in the NCAA, starting off with a drop of chalk (which unfortunately was later forbidden), and including jazz hands in her choreography.

Cori Rechenmacher (Kentucky)

Another gymnast whose NCAA career is passing way too fast is Cori Rechenmacher’s. The Kentucky team was so young last year, that it seems almost impossible that Cori is already a senior. Last year, Kentucky was taken by storm by freshmen and sophomores, but Cori was one of those upper class(wo)men who held on to their spots in the lineups, and actually improved along with the newcomers. She has a career-high of 9.900 on balance beam.

Toni-Ann Williams (Cal)

I was left devastated last year, when Toni-Ann tore her Achilles half the way through the season. Luckily, she is back, and we will be blessed with more of her dynamic work, especially on floor. A 2016 Olympian for Jamaica, in the NCAA Toni-Ann was the 2015 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, the 2015 vault Regional champion and the 2016 Pac-12 floor champion.

Amanda Wellick (Arkansas)

Speaking of injuries, I was also heartbroken last year, when Amanda Wellick injured her leg in warmups just before the second meet of the season last year. She had had such a promising start, with a victory on vault at UCLA with a 9.900 in week 1. The 2014 SEC Freshman of the Year has an outstanding career-high of 39.600 in the all around, and career-highs of 9.900 or better on all apparatuses: she scored multiple 9.900s on bars and beam, and multiple 9.950s on vault and floor.

Dani Dessaints (Oregon State)

Was I talking injuries? Last year I was thrilled to see Dani Dessaints back in competition, after missing out her sophomore year with a shoulder injury. She had an outstanding 2017 season, scoring career-highs of 9.950 on vault and beam, and becoming Pac-12 vault co-champion and vault NCAA Champaign Regional champion.

Mackenzie Brannan (Alabama)

Another successful comeback from injury was Mackenzie Brannan’s. 2016 SEC vault champion and Alabama anchor on the uneven bars, Mackenzie was forced to sit out the middle of her junior year due to an ankle surgery. As a real champion, however, she came back in time for when her team needed her most, during post-season. A gymnast with an incredible potential, Mackenzie has career-highs of 9.975 on bars, 9.950 on vault, 9.925 on floor and 9.850 on beam. I hope she will have an outstanding and injury-free senior year, she deserves it so much. On top of her excellent gymnastics, Mackenzie also excels in class. She averaged a perfect 4.0 cumulative GPA every year of her university career, and she is carrying it into her senior year. What an example!

Hailey Burleson (Washington)

An excellent gymnast on her own right, Hailey thrived last year under Washington’s new head coach Elise Ray. She competed consistently in the all around, and posted a career-high score of 39.200 in the season-opener at the OSU quad. She has career-highs of 9.950 on floor, of 9.925 on vault, of 9.900 on beam and of 9.875 on bars.

Haylee Young (Iowa State)

One of my favourite floor workers last season, Haylee has steadily improved throughout her career, and is set to have an outstanding senior year. She is the 2015 Big 12 all around champion, and has career-highs of 9.925 on beam, of 9.900 on vault and floor and of 9.875 on bars.

Paige Zaziski (Michigan)

After competing for two seasons for Arkansas (and becoming the 2015 SEC Co-Freshman of the Year), Paige transferred to Michigan in summer 2016, and last year she had a defining impact for the Wolverines. Her specialty is the uneven bars, but she is very consistent on all apparatuses. She is a three-time NCAA Regional champion in the all around, vault and bars, and has a career-high of 9.975 on the uneven bars. I can see her be awarded a perfect 10.0 on bars next season, as well as contend for the prestigious Big-Ten Gymnast of the Year award.

Brianna Brown (Michigan)

Speaking of Wolverines, Brianna Brown is another key gymnast of the Michigan team. The 2015 Big-Ten Co-Freshman of the Year, Brianna is a very consistent all arounder (she has a career-high of 39.550), she is very poised and has beautiful lines on all apparatuses. She has career-highs of 9.950 on bars, 9.925 on beam, 9.900 on floor and 9.875 on vault.

Maddy Stover (Utah)

Utah’s leadoff on beam last season, Maddy is the heart and soul of the Red Rocks. Incredibly selfless and committed to her team, you can always see her stand on the sidelines on floor cheering her teammates on and dancing to their choreography. She has career-highs of 9.975 on beam and of 9.875 on floor.

Becca Schugel (Missouri)

A key to the success of the Missouri Tigers, Becca Schugel is a very consistent all arounder, who has career-highs of 9.900 or better on all apparatuses. She has career-highs of 9.900 on vault, bars and beam, and of 9.925 on floor. Her all around best is a 39.300. Becca improved steadily over the years, moving from good scores in the range of the 9.800s in her freshman and sophomore seasons, to outstanding 9.900 and better scores in her junior year. I am expecting an outstanding senior year!

Morgan Lane (Carolina, Chapel Hill)

Last but not least, Morgan Lane is an outstanding all arounder, the only Carolina gymnast to compete in the all around in all meets last season. Morgan has a long list of achievements and awards in her career. In 2016, as a sophomore, she became the first ever Carolina gymnast to score a 39.000 or better in every meet of the season in the all around. That year, she also won four awards at the end of the season: the coaches’ award for the balance beam and floor exercise, the Most Outstanding Gymnast Award and the Tonietto Award. Last year, as a junior, she was named EAGL Gymnast of the Year for another sensational season, which saw her tie or better all her career-highs, which are 9.950 on beam, 9.925 on floor, 9.875 on vault and 9.850 on bars. What can she achieve this year?

Article by Talitha Ilacqua



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