This is the first part of a series introducing you to some of the many fabulous freshmen who will be joining the ranks of NCAA teams in the 2015 season. Sarah Chrane, a former NCAA gymnast and current coach and judge, gives us a glimpse at those we expect to see become heavy contributors for their teams.
1. Vivi Babalis, Georgia
Vivi was a member of the Canadian national team in 2010 and 2011. She has a particularly impressive and dynamic skill repertoire on beam including forward, backward, and side saltos, split jumps and leaps with excellent amplitude, turn combinations, and a double back dismount. Vivi also boasts a double arabian on floor and a few unique bar skills and combinations including a piked Jaeger and a clear hip hand to blind change to immediate double front dismount. We expect Vivi’s beam work especially to make an immediate impact with the Gym Dogs, who struggled on this event last season.
2. Kennedy Baker, Florida
After four years on the U.S. national team, Kennedy’s transition to NCAA has been highly anticipated. As a strong all-around competitor with depth on all four events, she could absolutely be a key component for Florida on just about anything. She’s capable of huge tumbling (she’s competed a 1.5 through to double arabian, a Dos Santos, and a front double full) rarely seen in NCAA. Kennedy also competes a double arabian dismount off beam (and we hope she keeps it!). Kennedy is a strong and consistent competitor, which will help her shine in college gymnastics, where consistency and cleanliness is the name of the game.
3. Mackenzie Brannan, Alabama
Mackenzie is a former international elite who dropped back to level 10 during her senior year, where her successes include winning the all-around title at the 2014 Nastia Liukin Cup as well as gold on vault and silver on floor at 2014 J.O. Nationals. With a wide array of skills stemming from her elite career, there’s no telling where Mackenzie could impact an NCAA powerhouse like the Crimson Tide, but a Yurchenko 1.5 and a clean, precise bar set (she’s seen Perfect 10s on the event as a J.O. athlete!) will surely help Alabama contend against other top SEC teams.
4. Brianna Brown, Michigan
Brianna is another former elite who, despite formerly being a member of the U.S. junior national team, decided to finish her pre-NCAA gymnastics career in level 10. Brianna is a solid and incredibly consistent all-around gymnast with no real standout event. While she had originally verbally committed to Georgia, Brianna’s switch to the Wolverines will definitely add some much-needed depth to a team that has only 13 gymnasts on the roster.
5. Hailey Burleson, Washington
Hailey graduated from high school a year early so she could get started with the Huskies, and what a catch she is! She was a J.O. national champion on vault, bars, and in the all-around in 2014…and she has a pretty remarkable story. Despite living away from home half of each week in order to train at her gym, KPAC (the Kristie Phillips Athletic Center), she was able to manage her time and academics enough to graduate a year early, just as a scholarship spot opened at UW due to another gymnast’s career-ending injuries. Hailey has incredible lines and technique, making her a joy to watch on bars especially. She might not have huge difficulty, but her work is clean and precise.
6. Brenna Dowell, Oklahoma
The past two years have been an emotional roller coaster for Brenna Dowell fans. After not being selected for the 2014 Worlds team, Brenna immediately headed to Oklahoma for the official team pictures and has trained in Norman on several occasions. She is expected to begin officially attending the school in January for the spring semester. Brenna is known for her unique skill repertoire, including high-flying release combinations on bars reminiscent of the great Beth Tweddle, and floor tumbling that includes both a tucked and piked double front as well as a front double full. Though she had a moderately successful elite career, we think Brenna will shine at Oklahoma and help the Sooners defend their national title.
7. Kaitlyn Hofland, Ohio State
Kaitlyn originally committed to Utah with the intention of deferring, but then ended up signing with Ohio State. She was on the Canadian national team in 2012 and in 2013, where she gained some international competitive experience that will no doubt help her on the NCAA competition floor. Kaitlyn has excellent form and technique, making her a beautiful gymnast to watch. She will definitely help Ohio State on bars, where she is capable of a Jaeger, a Ray, a clear hip hecht transition, and a double front dismount. She also has an incredibly unique beam routine, full of creative combinations and a full-twisting gainer (aka a Steingruber) off the end of the beam.
8. Taylor Laymon, Pittsburgh
Taylor is a breathtaking gymnast to watch on bars. The 2014 J.O. national all-around champion truly shines on this event, where her beautiful lines, open shoulders, and impeccable form helped her add the national bars title to her all-around gold. Bars was one of Pittsburgh’s weaker and more inconsistent events last year, so hopefully Taylor will add some depth with her strength on that event.
9. Erin Macadaeg, Louisiana State
Erin was a level 10 gymnast for the majority of her career, though she qualified to elite in 2013 and competed at the Secret U.S. Classic as well as the P&G Championships, where she placed 9th and 10th in the all-around, respectively. She dropped back to level 10 for her final season and at the 2014 J.O. National Championships, she became the beam and floor champion while taking second in the all-around. Her beam work is gorgeous, and is remarkably clean, confident, and consistent. It’s hard to say where she’ll impact an already strong team like LSU, but we’re excited to see her compete in NCAA!
10. Laura Mitchell, Bowling Green
Laura is one of the many NCAA foreign imports this season. Her successful elite career includes winning the British junior national all-around title, and gaining experience competing at European Championships and at the first ever Youth Olympic Games in 2010. This kind of elite experience makes her a great catch for a team like Bowling Green, who usually hovers in the middle of the NCAA rankings. Laura performs a crazy beam mount (which we hope she keeps in her routine as an NCAA gymnast) and is a captivating performer on floor exercise.
Stay tuned for part two, which will feature more of the gymnasts we can’t wait to see make their NCAA debuts this spring!
Article by Sarah Chrane