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.
Going into the 2018 season, there are a few dozen gymnasts with elite-level experience joining the freshman class. Representing 23 schools and 12 countries, some have been to worlds and the Olympics while others never made their national teams, but all will bring that experience into their collegiate performances, and we’re excited to introduce them to you in our four-part series showcasing each athlete’s strengths as they hope to become major contributors on their new teams.
MEGAN SKAGGS, FLORIDA
Megan had a fairly short but solid career at the elite level in the United States, making the national team in 2015 and earning two international assignments that year, finishing eighth all-around at the City of Jesolo Trophy and then surprising to win the beam silver medal at the Pan American Games where she helped the team to the gold.
As an elite, Megan — who retired in 2016 — didn’t really have a standout event, but was rather just solid and reliable on all four events. With a Yurchenko double vault and good difficulty elsewhere, Megan’s transition back to level 10 this season meant high scores across the board, including highs of 9.9 on vault, 9.8 on bars, 9.75 on beam, and 9.75 on floor, scores that will translate to consistent 9.9s in NCAA.
She reminds me a bit of her Pan Am Games and now Gators teammate Amelia Hundley in that she won’t be a top option or an anchor on any event, but can go up anywhere and be expected to hit. On a team with a ton of superstars, Skaggs will be one of the quiet savior types who will do her job so well that she’ll be a frontrunner for team captain as a senior.
CLAUDIA GOYCO, BALL STATE
At 15, Claudia’s biggest experience in the sport of gymnastics was getting a spot at Level 9 Eastern Championships, where she placed 10th and won the title on floor. A few months later, she was representing the Dominican Republic at the 2014 Pan American Championships and then the Central American & Caribbean Games.
Her difficulty was quite low compared to the other elites at these competitions, but even so, she showed talent and potential on vault and floor, events she continued to stand out on when she began competing level 10 the following year. She never went back to elite competition, instead focusing on her J.O. career during which she made regionals all three seasons, though never qualified to nationals, getting closest this past season with a 12th-place finish at the Region 8 Championships.
Claudia will compete all four events for Ball State, where she’s sure to add depth for the program that finished 43rd in the regular season last year.
EMILY SCHILD, GEORGIA
As one of Georgia’s top recruits this season, Emily trained and competed at the elite level for four years, making the national team in 2015, earning three international assignments, winning the vault bronze in Jesolo and helping the 2015 Pan Am Games team to gold, and getting an invite to the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2016, where she finished 13th in the all-around.
Emily, who trained at Everest, went to one of the national team camps after the Olympics, but then retired shortly after, taking the 2017 season off completely. As an elite, Emily was known for her powerful Yurchenko double, but she was actually quite good on bars as well, with clean skills and nice form, and with NCAA-level skills, Emily can definitely be a standout on all four events.
Unfortunately, Emily, who will compete alongside Everest teammate Marissa Oakley at Georgia, injured her knee a few weeks ago and will miss a couple of months, though she seems determined to get back in time to compete this season and will hopefully at the very least get to do bars, where she’ll be a huge help to the GymDogs’ struggling lineup.
Fun Fact: With Emily Schild and Megan Skaggs beginning their collegiate careers this season, all five members of the 2015 U.S. Pan Am Games team are now freshmen or sophomores in college, all at SEC programs!
KYLIE DICKSON, ALABAMA
The Crimson Tide has one of the most impressive incoming team of freshmen, and Kylie might just be the best. If you’ve heard about Kylie before, it’s because she infamously earned an Olympic test event spot for Belarus at worlds in 2015 when her coach, Artur Akopyan, worked out a deal with Belarusian federation head Nellie Kim that allowed his athletes to compete at worlds over the Belarusian girls originally slated to attend if they funded the trip, essentially ensuring Belarus an Olympic spot at zero cost to the federation.
A lot of people are still super pissed off about this, but it wasn’t really Kylie’s fault — she was 16 at the time and hardly the mastermind behind the situation. While I think it’s hilarious that there were reportedly fans waving Belarusian flags in the stands at Alabama’s intrasquad, and while I’m sure her experience will be the conversation du jour on every single SEC Network broadcast this season, I think the people so hell-bent on actively hating her need to chill.
Kylie, who finished second-to-last in the all-around at Olympic qualifications, qualified as a U.S. elite before she “became Belarusian,” placing 11th all-around at the U.S. Classic in 2015 but missing her nationals score. Despite her initial claims that she’d go to Belarus after Rio to “help the team,” Kylie ended up dropping back to level 10 this season, winning states and placing 19th at J.O. nationals.
Vault should continue to be Kylie’s strong point at the NCAA level, just as it was in elite. She competed a Yurchenko double for most of her career, including as a level 10 this past season, and it seems like she’s planning on keeping the vault at Bama, which would be huge for the team as we all know NCAA judges give DTYers 10s just for existing. In addition to vault, no longer competing elite-level difficulty will be a huge help in getting Kylie back to a clean and solid level on her other events, and she looks great in Bama’s training videos. Even with a stacked Bama team, Kylie has a lot of value and will definitely stand out from the start.
CHRISTINA DESIDERIO, LSU
After four seasons competing as an elite gymnast in the United States, Christina — who turned 17 this summer — decided to go to LSU a year early after deciding that due to nagging injuries, her body couldn’t handle training at the elite level anymore.
As a junior, Christina showed tremendous potential on beam and floor, placing eighth on beam at her first U.S. nationals and then winning bronze on floor in 2015, where her fifth-place all-around finish also led to a national team spot. She was a member of the U.S. national team for two seasons, and finished sixth on beam and 12th all-around at the Olympic Trials in 2016.
Christina hopes to eventually compete in the all-around at LSU, but when we talked to her this summer, she said beam and floor will likely continue to be her standout events. She has a ton of power on floor, where her double layout and otherwise solid tumbling will get her some huge scores, while her dance ability also won’t go unnoticed, but beam has always been my favorite event to watch her compete, and she’s sure to get a routine together there that will make her a crowd favorite.
PAULINE TRATZ, UCLA
Pauline began to make a name for herself as a junior elite in Germany, earning a spot on the Euros team in 2014 and showing huge potential right away on vault. When she became a senior the following year, she cemented herself as one of the country’s top vaulters, winning the silver medal at nationals and making the final at Cottbus.
She made the worlds team that year thanks to her huge, clean, and flared Yurchenko full as well as her solid floor work, and when Germany failed to make the team final, she came back for the Olympic test event six months later with a full all-around program that helped the country win the meet, qualifying for the Olympic Games. In 2016, she also won several vault titles throughout Germany, as well as getting the bronze medals on floor at German nationals and at the Olympic team trials, and she was the first alternate named to the Rio squad.
With UCLA’s general lack of depth on vault, Pauline — who has also competed a Yurchenko double in her career and showed a handspring front pike half at Universiade this summer — is someone who can help the lineup a great deal there, but her floor exercise at the Meet the Bruins showcase gave UCLA fans the hope they’ve been looking for on this event.
Pauline, who competed elite just a couple of weeks before coming to campus, is in excellent physical shape and has the kind of clean, powerful tumbling as well as the strength and endurance that the Bruins have so lacked in years past. If Nia Dennis is going to be a star for this team, Pauline will be the hidden gem.
LAUREN NAVARRO, STANFORD
From the time Lauren debuted as a junior back in 2013, she seemed to be one to watch going forward. A year later, she was named as one of the strongest juniors in the country, earning a spot in the senior field at the U.S. Classic and winning the bronze on beam at nationals later that summer.
An injury during her first senior year kept her from being at full strength on vault and floor, and so when she competed at nationals that year she wasn’t quite where she once was, finishing last in the senior field and then retiring after finishing 16th at U.S. nationals in 2016.
I don’t think we ever got to see Lauren reach her full potential as an elite, which is kind of a bummer, but this year she absolutely killed it after dropping back to level 10, medaling in the all-around in every meet, including at states and regionals, before winning the beam gold and all-around and floor silver at J.O. nationals this May. Her scores have been some of the best I’ve seen at the J.O. level, scoring below a 9.5 only four times in her 28 routines this season while maxing out at a 9.75 on vault, 9.8 on bars, 9.875 on beam, and 9.825 on floor.
Consistent as hell without a true weakness, Lauren is exactly what Stanford needs as they approach this new era under head coach Tabitha Yim. With the once top ten program struggling to break into the top 20 last season, Lauren will be a dream come true for the Cardinal.
SYDNEY LAIRD, ARKANSAS
In 2014, Sydney, who trained at First-in-Flight in North Carolina, won states and placed fourth at regionals to earn a spot at J.O. nationals, where she finished 24th all-around. Simultaneously, she was a standout junior competing as an elite gymnast in Canada, placing eighth all-around at Canadian Championships just a few weeks after her J.O. nationals appearance.
Later that year, Sydney traveled to a couple of international meets in Belgium, winning the bronze all-around medal as well as the gold on bars and silver on vault at Coupe Avenir before then taking the silver all-around at Top Gym. After her stellar first season, an injury at the start of Sydney’s senior elite career in 2015 held her back, causing her to miss the majority of the year before she eventually decided to stick just to level 10 in 2016 and beyond.
As a level 10, Sydney captured five all-around titles in the past two seasons, qualifying for J.O. nationals both years, though she was unable to compete due to her Canadian citizenship. Bars has been an especially consistent event for Sydney, though her beauty and style has made her one to watch on all four. Her leaps and her dance ability have always been my favorite, and aside from the Razorbacks benefitting from her big scoring potential, Sydney will also add a lot of value with that little something extra she’ll bring to the table.
LAUREN FARLEY, MICHIGAN
Despite a strong start to her elite career that included a nationals berth in 2013, her first season as a junior elite, injuries hampered Lauren beyond that and she was unable to really make a splash. Coming from WOGA, she was almost instantly considered one to watch, but after appearing at the WOGA Classic on bars and beam in 2014, Lauren was unable to go any further in elite, dropping down to level 10 for the 2015 season and beyond.
Lauren was a rockstar level 10, though, competing the all-around 21 times over three seasons, winning eight titles and only placing out of the top three four times. Lauren had two J.O. nationals appearances, placing second in 2015 and ninth this year, where she struggled on her normally solid vault, though she did end up finishing second on beam.
As a steady and consistent all-arounder, it’s hard to pick a standout event for Lauren, though vault will be an easy way for her to make an immediate impression as a Wolverine. With an Omelianchik, she’ll add a 10.0 vault to Michigan’s dwindling lineup, which lost three to graduation after last season. If I had to pick a favorite for Lauren, though, it’d be beam, where she has a solid triple flight series, a unique 1½ turn, and a gainer pike dismount.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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