Every year, a number of gymnasts make the transition from elite to collegiate gymnastics, and although the sport is technically the same, there’s a lot to get used to between the two worlds. Gymnasts move from an individualistic competitive atmosphere requiring super difficult routines and tons of sacrifices into a team environment that puts a focus on perfecting execution and having fun.
In 2016, there are a few dozen former elites joining the freshman class. Representing eight countries, some competed at the Olympics this summer while others never made their national teams, but all will bring the elite experience into their collegiate performances, and we’re excited to introduce them to you in what will be a three-part series showcasing each athlete’s strengths as they hope to become major contributors on their new teams.
This is the second post in our three-part series, so please check out part one to read up on others who will be making their debuts this year!
Maegan Chant, Florida
Few elites get as much experience as Maegan got in her four years competing at the senior level for Canada. In her first year of eligibility, she got to compete at the American Cup before going on to win a handful of world cup medals and to represent her country at Pac Rims, Commonwealth Games, Pan Am Games, and on two world championship teams. An excellent vaulter also known for her great work on floor, Maegan was selected to compete at Canada’s Olympic Trials in June after placing eighth at nationals earlier in the month. Though Florida is known for its stacked lineups, Maegan should definitely break into the vault lineup right away if she keeps her awesome tsuk full.
Charlotte Sullivan, Iowa
When I first saw Charlotte compete at Pac Rims back in 2012, the 13-year-old and her junior teammates from New Zealand were all brand new to international competition. While a little green back then, by the time she became a senior two years later, she was one of the team’s leaders, returning to Pac Rims to place 11th all-around before making the floor final at Commonwealth Games and then earning spots on two worlds teams. In 2015, her beam won a bronze world cup medal, and throwing it back to her big debut, she also made the beam finals this year at her third Pac Rims, coming less than a tenth from the podium. Charlotte has what it takes to be a standout all-arounder for Iowa, though beam as always will be her “don’t miss” event.
Polina Shchennikova, Michigan
Once one of the most promising U.S. juniors, Polina dealt with a back injury at the start of her senior career that was so bad, she took about two years off and basically had to re-learn how to kip. She eventually returned at the American Classic in 2015 with a promising bars set, but at nationals, the pain proved to be too much, and she withdrew from the competition, never to compete again. The former junior national team member who trained under her former Soviet national team member parents will hopefully be a star in the bars and beam lineups, and should bring beauty and poise to the Wolverines on floor.
Sabrina Vega, Georgia
This is one of the most interesting recruit stories this year, as Sabrina is just now beginning her collegiate career at age 21 after pushing NCAA back a quad so she could focus on trying to make the 2016 Olympic team. A member of the gold medal U.S. worlds team in 2011, Sabrina missed out on the 2012 team and so packed up and moved to GAGE to continue her elite training, though injuries held her back for a couple of years. She returned with a solid effort in 2015, but just didn’t have the difficulty to qualify through to nationals, and she retired from elite shortly after. As an elite, Sabrina was known for lovely beam work and a beautiful performance ability on floor, and hopefully these qualities will transfer over to her NCAA career as well.
Georgina Harris, Lindenwood
Yes, even the D2 program Lindenwood is getting in on the elite action this year, picking up this former British national-level competitor who trained at the City of Manchester. Georgina never topped the charts for GB, with her most recent finish 33rd place at British Championships in 2014, but her skill level is solid and should make her a standout competitor and a fabulous addition to the program that has won the past two national championship titles after only four years in existence. I personally love Georgina on floor, where she has both big tumbling and fantastic execution and landings, a perfect recipe for NCAA.
Maggie Nichols, Oklahoma
Maggie is without a doubt one of the biggest recruits of the season, and with a flawless routine on bars at the exhibition meet this weekend, she’s already living up to the hype, having earned her first perfect 10. A four-time U.S. national team member, Maggie was the U.S. silver all-around medalist in 2015, going on to win the bronze on floor at worlds later that year, and she likely would’ve been a major contender for the Olympic team this summer had a knee injury sustained on vault not taken her out of training for several months leading up to trials. She comes onto the reigning national championship team that will see a few lineup changes with the losses of a few top contributors like Haley Scaman and Keeley Kmieciak, but with a top-notch all-around set, Maggie should be more than able to fit smoothly into where they left off.
MyKayla Skinner, Utah
Like her worlds teammate Maggie Nichols, MyKayla — the world vault bronze medalist in 2014 and an alternate for this year’s Olympic team — is one of the biggest catches of the season. She’ll be notable this year for hanging on to a good chunk of her elite difficulty, including a DTY vault and a double double on floor, events she’ll anchor for the Red Rocks. The biggest question with MyKayla was whether she’d be able to clean up some of her elite skills after having been notoriously weak in that area, but at the intrasquad this week, she looked fantastic aside from a nervous fluke on a bail, which she recovered from to finish strong on bars, and even her beam without all of the extra bells and whistles looked incredible, complete with a stuck double tuck. She’ll pretty clearly be a star for this program, and could be a huge help in getting the team back on track in the Super Six as well.
Alexis Beucler, NC State
Once upon a time, we knew Alexis Beucler as “Poof” from her appearances in a Beyond the Routine documentary as the young Cincinnati athlete worked toward her dream of elite. Poof qualified to nationals in 2012, finishing 13th overall, but then injuries and a coaching shake-up kept her out of competition for a couple of years. When she returned in 2015, it was at the J.O. level training at Brandy Johnson’s. This year, she had an overall solid season, finishing 13th at nationals in May, and while she was never one of the biggest superstars at either the elite or J.O. levels, she is a huge catch for NC State and should step in as a contributor on all four events.
Erin McLachlan, Rutgers
Erin was a last-minute grab for Rutgers, joining the team in the coming weeks just in time for the season to begin. As an elite gymnast representing Scotland, Erin was a member of the 2015 and 2016 Northern European Championship teams, placing fourth all-around at the competition in Norway a couple of months ago in addition to winning the silver medal on beam. Erin also competed at the Commonwealth Games as a first-year senior back in 2014, and she was the junior Scottish champion in 2013. She’ll compete at Rutgers with fellow British transplant Polina Poliakova, and should be able to use the pressure of international elite competition to help her become a solid contributor to this rising Big Ten program.
Aleeza Yu, Stanford
With one of the least fortunate elite careers of the bunch, Aleeza had the makings of a star competitor for Canada, but injuries took her down time and again until she finally had to call it quits. As a first-year senior in 2014, Aleeza was one of Canada’s top all-arounders, and placed fifth all-around at Pac Rims, where she also won the bronze on floor. She made the worlds team that year, but injured her knee in qualifications and spent all of 2015 away from the sport. When she returned at Elite Canada earlier this year, she looked great in the all-around competition and won the bronze on beam, but a misstep during her dance elements on floor led to a season-ending injury and the end of her elite career. At Stanford, she’s hoping to compete on all four events, though staying healthy is an obvious priority so we may see her ease her way into things before she picks up added responsibilities.
Article by Lauren Hopkins