NCAA Freshmen to Watch – Part 2

We’re literally a week from the NCAA season. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?! Here’s part two of our segment on this year’s freshmen to watch! Missed part one? Check it out here!

1. Lizzy Leduc, Illinois

The little girl we watched grow up on YouTube – who else remembers this level 7 floor performance?! – is off to college, making us feel 100 years old. Originally committed to LSU, Lizzy had a last-minute change of plans and decided instead to compete for Illinois. As a strong former U.S. junior elite, senior elite for the Philippines (she helped her team to bronze at the Southeast Asian Games this summer), and three-time J.O. national qualifier (she took third on floor and second in the all-around in 2014), she could ultimately earn a spot in the lineup on all four events. At the recent intrasquad, Lizzy did beam and floor, showing off a lovely Onodi (gasp!) as part of her beam routine and a very dynamic and well-choreographed floor routine. Lizzy is an enigmatic performer with the right combination of power and pristine technique, which will make her highly successful over the course of her NCAA career.

2. Nicole Lehrmann, Oklahoma

Nicole qualified as a junior elite in 2012, competing at this level for a season before going back to level 10. Bars is by far her strongest event. She placed third there at J.O. nationals in 2014, and was national bars and all-around champion in 2013. She has also won three regional championships on bars, and in 2014, scored a 9.6 or better in seven out of eight routines! Nicole also has potential on floor with clean, dynamic tumbling and unique choreography, the perfect pick for Sooner coach K.J. Kindler’s magic. At Oklahoma’s recent intrasquad, Nicole performed on vault, bars, and beam. (She’s also the gymnast on beam in the infamous apple-eating video of 2013, which still makes me giggle.)

3. Aya Mahgoub, Temple

Aya was originally committed to Rutgers, but a last-minute change brought her across the New Jersey-Pennsylvania state lines to Temple. The Owls struggled last year, but they have a new head coach looking to turn things around, and we’re certain Aya will do big things for this program. The Brestyan’s gymnast will join the team in the second semester, just in time for their first meet in January, bringing with her major international experience as a former member of the Egyptian national team (she earned team silver at the All-Africa Games this September). Her best event is vault, where she has competed a DTY as a level 10, but we also love her double tuck dismount off beam. Fun fact about Aya – she’s also a judge!

4. Emma McLean, Michigan

Emma had a great career as a level 10, qualifying to J.O. nationals four times. In her final J.O. national performance, she took second on floor, fourth on vault, and third in the all-around. She was also sixth on floor at the most recent Nastia Liukin Cup in Dallas. What stands out most about Emma – particularly on vault, bars, and floor – is her beautiful technique and impeccable form. In the world of NCAA gymnastics where cleanliness reigns supreme, Emma has a bright future ahead.

5. Shannon McNatt, Utah

Back in 2012, Shannon qualified to the junior international elite level and competed at the U.S. Classic and U.S. Championships before returning to the J.O. circuit to continue her level 10 career. She was crowned J.O. national floor champion in 2014, and took fourth on vault in 2015. She has a beautiful Yurchenko half-on front pike, and exhibitioned a strong, elegant beam routine at Utah’s Red Rocks preview. This is an event the team has struggled with in the past, so if she can continue to dominate here, it should really help the Utes out in their first season without coach Greg Marsden at the helm.

6. Sarah Means, Boise State

The Broncos had a killer season last year, and Sarah is the kind of recruit to help continue that success. Capable of consistently scoring 38+ in the all-around, Sarah took fourth on vault, beam, and in the all-around at J.O. nationals this year. She’s scored as high as 9.925 on vault, where she competes a Yurchenko 1.5, making her incredibly valuable in the NCAA where a Yurchenko full is no longer worth a 10.0 start value. She is also great on beam, where she shows a perfect balance of moderately high difficulty and exquisite technique.

7. Makenna Merrell, Utah

Makenna is going to be a huge contributor for Utah in the future. She is a four time J.O. national qualifier, and at her final nationals performance in 2015, she earned second place finishes on vault, floor, and in the all-around. At the 2015 Nastia Liukin Cup, she placed second on vault and sixth in the all-around. She is highly competitive and strong across all four events, showing high difficulty and beautiful technique. She also has a Yurchenko 1.5, though she only showcased a full at the Red Rocks preview. On bars, she has a lovely toe-on + Chow + bail combination, and she has a strong triple series (bhs + bhs + loso) on beam. Finally, our personal favorite is her gorgeous piked full-in on floor…and she’s almost totally stretched in her first flip.

8. Katelyn Ohashi, UCLA

One of the most highly-anticipated freshmen this year is former elite star Katelyn Ohashi. Fans, who considered her a big contender for the 2016 Olympic team back when she kicked major butt as a junior, were disappointed when the 2013 American Cup and 2011 junior national champion faded from the elite scene due to the physical and mental toll of repeated injuries. She made her valiant return to competition as a level 10 in 2015 at the Texas Prime Meet, and shortly thereafter announced her commitment to UCLA. Luckily for her diehard fans, she seems to be happier than ever as a Bruin. While she is mostly known for her supremely difficult beam work, Katelyn could help her team on any event. At UCLA’s recent intrasquad, Katelyn wowed with her bhs + bhs + layout series on beam, and her Miss Val-ified floor routine – which includes a stellar middle pass of a 1.5 + front full + front half + split jump + front tuck – was a crowd favorite.

9. Lexie Priessman, LSU

Lexie’s elite career – like Katelyn’s – was laden with injury after injury, breaking the hearts of gym fans who considered her a major Rio contender after she won the U.S. junior all-around title in 2012. She made a splash in 2010 when she first appeared on the elite scene, her Amanar tying McKayla Maroney’s score. In 2011, she won the Junior Japan all-around title, and went on to contribute to several international teams for the U.S., including Pacific Rims in 2012 and Jesolo in 2011 and 2012. Her senior debut in 2013 was highly-anticipated, and she killed it on floor at the U.S. Classic, but unfortunately an injury at nationals took her out of the running for worlds. A subsequent gym change and several more injuries prevented her from competing elite again, and she announced her retirement in 2015. Floor is where Lexie truly shines, and her charisma and showmanship will surely make her an excellent NCAA competitor on this event. Lexie is currently recovering from shoulder surgery but is expected to compete beginning sometime in January.

10. Jackie Sampson, Sacramento State

Jackie makes the list not because of astronomical scores or J.O. domination like some, but for her unique skills and style. In a world of Yurchenko fulls and even 1.5s, her vault – a Yurchenko full-on back tuck off – makes you sit up and pay attention, because the twist is performed in the entry phase rather than in post-flight. She gets enormous height on her Jaeger and double front bars dismount, and on beam she performs both a Y-turn and an illusion turn. She has lovely artistry, making her very enjoyable to watch, and we hope to see her contribute immediately for the Hornets.

11. Sabrina Schwab, Utah

Sabrina qualified elite at the WOGA Classic in 2013, but continued her career as a level 10. Her traditional WOGA long lines and flawless leg form makes her absolutely exquisite on bars and beam, where she seems to just float from skill to skill, and her handstands on bars are breathtaking. Though she doesn’t have the highest difficulty on floor, we are absolutely obsessed with her choreography and think she’ll easily become a fan favorite at Utah, where they’ve been criticized in the past for lackluster dance and performance value.

12. Jamie Stone, Ohio State

Jamie took fifth in the all-around at her final J.O. nationals last season, and will surely add depth for the Buckeyes, especially on floor and vault. She’s scored as high as 9.95 on vault, and competed both a piked full-in and back layout 2.5 on floor as a level 10. It’s very clear that twisting elements are her specialty, because she’s also competed a 2.5 as her beam dismount, and is capable of a triple full on floor.


We loved so many freshmen this year, choosing our favorite 24 was super hard, but the list had to end sometime! Still want more? Look up these ladies on YouTube to see some fantastic up-and-comers.

  • Abby Armbrecht, Alabama
  • Jenna Bresette, Alabama
  • Gracie Cherrey, Georgia
  • Sydney Converse, Iowa State
  • Sienna Crouse, Nebraska
  • Rachel Cutler, Minnesota
  • Caitlyn Fillard, NC State
  • Sabrina Garcia, Penn State
  • Alex Hyland, Kentucky
  • Sydney McGlone, Arkansas
  • Erika Muhaw, Utah
  • Morgan Porter, Missouri
  • Madison Preston, UCLA
  • Shani Remme, Boise State
  • Brittany Robertson, Arizona
  • Haylee Roe, Illinois
  • Meaghan Sievers, Iowa State
  • Nicki Shapiro, UCLA
  • Macy Toronjo, UCLA

Article by Sarah Chrane

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