Saturday, January 30, 2016

Interview: Jay Clark

Only six teams have won an NCAA Championships in the history of collegiate gymnastics. Since Jay Clark's arrival in 2012, the LSU Tigers have been inching closer and closer to adding their name to that list. Prior to LSU, Clark served as the assistant coach/associate head coach at the University of Georgia for 20 seasons. After their legendary coach Suzanne Yoculan announced her retirement following the 2009 season, Clark stepped in as the head coach and remained there for four seasons. Now in his fourth season at LSU, Clark is helping the Tigers do big things, including breaking numerous school records. In 2011, Clark was voted as the #9 recruiter in all of women's college sports. This season LSU brought in the top ranked freshman class in the country with big names such as Lexie Priessman, Sarah Finnegan, and McKenna Kelley.

In our interview, Jay talks about how his coaching career began, his thoughts on this season so far and he shares his opinion on the trend of early recruiting.

PC: Emily Brauner

How did your coaching career begin?
My coaching career started in an unconventional way. With the exception of having taken gymnastics classes when I was younger, my background was in every other sport and not extensive in Gymnastics. I had always wanted to be involved in UGA athletics since I was a youngster. My parents and entire family are UGA Grads, as am I, so while I was an undergrad I became good friends with several of the gymnasts: Heather Stepp, Sandy Rowlette, Jen Carbone and others. Through that friendship and sort of hanging around the gym, I began to help with equipment, camps, etc... 
Doug McAvinn tore his bicep tendon, and Suzanne needed a guy to help with spotting duties and such in the gym. Thus began my unlikely career, and in the fall of 1990 I was officially on the payroll at UGA as a greenhorn coach.

Doug took me under his wing and taught me a great deal about techniques and spotting in the gym. We watched hours upon hours of VHS tape where he would break skills down for me. I was eager to learn as much as possible, so I also began to work other people’s camps. I worked at Alabama’s camp as well as coaching at a local gym. Then I met Stormy Eaton who had a camp in Arizona called Super Camp. Suzanne had let me recruit by this time, and I thought a great way to go get Kim Arnold would be to have Stormy let me work his camp for free! He told me that "If I could find it, then I could work it". Well, I found it on my own dime, and that started another mentoring relationship that was hugely influential on me. In the process we also were able to sign Kim, which is one of my most memorable and exciting recruiting moments ever. Kids from that gym had always gone to Utah, so it was big to be able to go get her.

Suzanne began to give me more and more autonomy and responsibility even though my experience didn't really warrant it. For those many opportunities to grow, I will always be grateful to her. She saw my enthusiasm and allowed me to mature and make mistakes.

So from there it just continued to grow and grow. At one point I owned a private gym. We had kids make JO National Teams and go into college and continue their careers. That gym was successful primarily because of my wife Julie and my business partner Grant Coulter. They made that place go and we had about 9 awesome years together in that.

All the while I was continuing my career at UGA and loving every minute of coaching at my alma mater. Of course, we went on to win so many championships both Nationally and at the conference level, and it was an amazing time full of memories that I will never forget.

As they say, all good things come to an end and my career there was no different. That is a subject we could go on for hours about, but suffice to say it was one of the most painful periods of my life in many ways…which led me to LSU, and the absolute joy that I have found in being here with D-D and Bob and everyone here. This place is incredible, the people are incredible, and we are doing fantastic things here in Baton Rouge. Attendance has been as high at 13,000-plus and is averaging around 10,000. New facilities, great recruits and relationships here have rehabbed my confidence and enthusiasm for what it's all about.

PC: LSU Gymnastics

You are known for being a top recruiter in college sports. (Voted #9 in ESPN Magazine in 2011) What do you look for when recruiting athletes?
Well obviously in recruiting you are looking for the best talent available, but that doesn't always mean they are a fit. I also want to try and ascertain personality traits, work ethic, values from a standpoint of how they relate to their parents, coaches and teammates. Also, does their gymnastics complement areas where we are already strong and improve us where we may be weak? I like a team that has variety of skills, experience level and personality. Culture matters immensely, and we try to make that clear to recruits up front.

How would you describe your coaching style?
My coaching style is fun loving, consistency and efficiency oriented, easy going so long as the production is high. I like to tell the girls I am a mirror reflection of what you give. I like to know each gymnast on a personal level so that I can extend to them exactly what they need. I also believe in what one of my mentors taught me. "You can't respect someone you don't know." You can respect the position, but not the person. For that reason I think they also need to know us as human beings and not just coaches barking out orders. If they, as 18-22 year old young women, are to respect us, then we need to take the time to know each other and the how’s and why’s of each other. That’s very important to me. 

What are your thoughts on the trend of early recruiting and commitments? 
On the early recruiting, I despise it! It is no good for all parties concerned, and I have written and proposed legislation on it for 4 years now only to have it tabled. Our coaches association is in agreement that all unofficial visits (i.e. on or off campus contact) should not begin until September of the 11th grade year. However, until the NCAA changes it, the genie is out of the bottle, and we all have to play the game we are presented with. This is a subject you could do an entire blog on, and I could provide you a litany of reasons that it needs to change.

What are your thoughts on the yurchenko full being devalued? 
I agree with the changes on vault. I think what we saw from Bugs last week is a great example of why. That DTY would have never been seen if not for the rule change. Our sport is progressive by nature, and we had become stagnant on that event to a compulsory level. I think it was the right decision and hopefully will encourage variety as well as difficulty.

What are some of the highlights of your coaching career so far? 
I have had so many highlights in my career and am thankful for each one of them and the people involved. If I had to pick one, I would pick two! The 2005 National Championship was amazing because of the way it happened. It was a freshman-dependent team that went through real growing pains with four losses in a row and barely making nationals as the 12 seed. But those kids were special and were invested in one another. They actually are very similar to this team here at LSU this year!

The second would be last year, and we sold out the PMAC here at LSU. 13,179 people attended our meet versus Minnesota a week after 12,000+ had attended our home meet victory against Florida. It is so fun to see this happen here at LSU after seeing it happen at UGA 20 years ago. It's an exciting time to be at LSU!!

LSU had an amazing new training facility built, do you think that makes a difference in training?
We actually just got into the facility last month. We are just now making the adjustments to the new equipment, but the facility is fantastic. Facilities don't win championships by themselves, but they don't hurt! This is beyond a doubt the most spectacular facility in the nation. We are very fortunate and grateful, and every recruit in the world should come check it out just to see if LSU might be a possibility. It’s unbelievable!

PC: LSU Gymnastics

What are your thoughts on how the team is doing so far this season?
This season has been exactly as we thought it might: Amazing performance coupled with a few hiccups. We have 5 freshmen, upperclassmen in new roles, and have had some untimely injuries to start the season. However, I have rarely been more excited about a team over the last 26 years. If culture and love for one another won championships alone...we are already there, but we also have an enormous amount of talent and variety on this team that is rivaled by few. I think we are on the cusp of breaking out over the next few weeks and seeing things explode in a positive way. We love coaching this team!

LSU has improved tremendously over the last few years, do you think this year will finally be LSU's year to win a National Championship?

You are correct when you describe the growth here at LSU over the last several years. We have seen growth in our performance, our media exposure, our crowds, our overall footprint, and buzz about this program has increased exponentially! A lot of people have worked hard and gotten on board with our vision for this program. D-D is an iconic figure here in Baton Rouge, and I am enjoying seeing all her years of work come to fruition! She deserves it, and this program deserves it. As for winning a championship this year…I can tell you this: There are so many things that must fall into place for that to happen. It is something that we work for but cannot force, so I don't make predictions. I believe we have more than enough talent to do it. I believe in the culture of this team immensely. I believe in their heart and their desire, and I believe we are doing the right things so far. Will we win this year? Who knows? Why not us? But I know this! We are going to win one here at LSU at some point. That is what we are about, and that is what we want our recruits to desire when they come here. It's a special place full of special people all pulling in the same direction! When you have that great things are going to happen!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Interview: Greg Marsden

When it comes to college gymnastics, Greg Marsden is royalty. From its inception in the mid 70's until his retirement after the 2015 season, Greg coached the University of Utah Gymnastics team to a long list of accomplishments. For 40 years he lead the Red Rocks to success on the competition floor and in the stands. The Utes won 10 National Championships under his leadership and have the highest attendance record in all of women's collegiate sports. In 2009 they set a new average attendance record of 13,861 fans per meet. Their meet against Michigan last season had a record breaking 16,019 fans in the stands! They are also the only team to qualify to every single National Championships that has been held and they've never placed lower than 10th. After his 40th season of coaching, Greg announced his retirement, passing the torch to Tom Farden and his wife, Megan. Although he has retired from coaching, Greg is still very much involved with the sport. A few months after retiring he was hired as an analyst for Pac-12 Networks and can be heard commentating at several meets this season. Greg is also on Twitter sharing all his ideas and plenty of knowledge. (You can follow him by clicking here.We recently caught up with Greg to reflect back on his coaching career, hear his thoughts on this season so far and hear his opinions on early recruiting and team success.

How did your coaching career begin? 
I was a diver at a small college in Arkansas and took a gymnastics class, because I thought it would help my diving. I wound up competing a little bit of low-level AAU gymnastics. After teaching high school for a year, I came to Utah to work on a graduate degree in Psychology of Sport, with the intention of teaching. As part of my graduate assistantship, I was teaching winter camping, lifesaving, handball and a gymnastics class. Title IX was requiring Universities to start varsity women's sports teams. I was asked if I would help start a gymnastics team. I was paid $1,500 and my budget included 5 in-state tuition waivers and $4,500. We put a notice in the student newspaper and held tryouts. Somehow, that first year, we qualified to Championships and finished 10th. I fell in love with coaching and the rest, as they say, is history.

Note in The Daily Utah Chronicle, fall of 1975
What would you consider to be some of the highlights of your coaching career? 
This is going to sound cornball but my entire career seems like a highlight reel. I've had too many great memories to single any out. 

Can you talk about making the decision to retire? Was it a difficult decision to make? 
No. I knew it was time to pass the torch on to a new generation of talented young coaches. I loved coaching, from day one, to the very last day of my career but somehow I just knew it was time for me to move on to new challenges. 

How are you enjoying life on the other side as a commentator and fan? I know the gymnastics world really loves reading your opinions on Twitter! 
I really had no ambition to be on TV but when the Pac-12 Networks called and said they thought I could bring a unique perspective, I agreed to give it a try. I'm not convinced I'll be any good at it but if not, I'll be happy to step away. The Pac-12 Networks actually encouraged me to get a Twitter account. I'm glad to hear that someone enjoys my thoughts. I'm excited about the number of programs that are working to improve their attendance and the number of live television broadcasts. I strongly believe that the future of NCAA Gymnastics is tied to attendance and television viewership. 

Utah has always been known for having a huge crowd at home meets. What can other teams do to get people interested and fill up those stands? 
First, create a fast moving, informative and entertaining meet format. If you get people to come and the format is not good, they will never be back. Then, it's hard work and more hard work. Get out into the community with your team to meet people, tell your story and get them to your meets. If they have a good experience, they will spread the word. Utah has been going to Elementary schools and professional organizations for more than 30 years and it continues to be the most important thing they do in order to develop new fans. Building an audience has to be a priority of the head coach. You cannot leave that to others, because they will never have the same passion for gymnastics or for your program that you do. If you look at the programs that are successful with their attendance, it's ALWAYS a priority of the head coach.

Having been the coach of a very successful team, what do you think are the key components for success? 
Well, that depends on your definition of success. I always thought of success as doing the best we could with the personnel we had, while developing strong, confident, independent young women. If we could do that, I considered the year to be a success. Sometimes that also translated in to success on the score sheet. For what it's worth, to me, it's always been about the process, rather than the outcome. If you have talent and the process is well thought out, implemented consistently, with discipline and enthusiasm, the outcome will take care of itself. With that approach, many teams have a chance for success and many young women will go to have successful lives, in part, as a result of their experience with gymnastics. 

What are some changes you would like to see made in NCAA gymnastics? 
  • Add the directional and out of bounds lines to the vault landing area.
  • Count all scores, with no exhibition routines.
  • Whenever possible compete with two teams, but NEVER with more than four, including at NCAA Regional meets and NCAA Championships.
  • Either do away with individual awards and become a "team sport" or bring back event finals.
What are your thoughts on the trend of early recruiting and commitments? 
One of the reasons I felt it was time to retire is that I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with where recruiting is going. To be a 65 year-old man talking to 12 or 13 year-old girls about recruiting, just seemed creepy. And the math just wasn't working out anymore, when it's going to be three or four years before they are even on campus and then have four years on the team...unless I was going to coach to 100! It's ridiculous that girls that young are making that type of commitment before they're really old enough to make an informed decision. It's forcing coaches to be disingenuous when they make commitments that they may or may not be able to keep. There are simply too many variables for this to be good for either side. But now that the genie is out of the bottle, it's hard to put it back, as both sides feel pressure to get this done. 

The only thing that I can see that MAY work, would be to allow NO INTERACTION between college coaches and recruits and their families until a certain time, such as their junior year of high school. That means, no correspondence, no phone calls, no unofficial visits, no incidental contact at clubs or meets and no working through the club coach to recruit somebody prior to their junior year. Whenever recruiting begins, the NCAA should allow universities to pay for official visits, so that families are no longer asked to pay for the gymnasts to visit campuses. In fact, they should also allow universities to pay for a parent to accompany the gymnast in order to cut down on some of the shenanigans that goes on during official visits.   

Who do you think will be the dark horses this season? 
I think LSU or Michigan have a chance to become the seventh school to win a NCAA Championship and I think Boise State may have a chance to make it to NCAA Championships. 

What are your overall thoughts on the NCAA season so far? What teams are you most impressed with? 
I am impressed that more teams are becoming competitive. How about George Washington! On a given night, many teams have a chance to upset higher ranked teams and we are already seeing that happen. Florida and Oklahoma seem to be the teams to beat but the season is young and there are a number of teams that may be capable of doing that. It's going to be a fun season of NCAA gymnastics and I look forward to watching it develop. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Moving Forward | An interview with Hollie Dykes

If you were a gymnastics fan during the 2005-2008 Olympic quad then you probably have heard of Hollie Dykes. With her beauty, grace and perfect technique, Dykes was instantly a fan favorite and lauded as the next star for Australian Gymnastics. She was a true talent- the kind of gymnast you could watch all day long. Hollie broke out onto the international senior elite scene in 2006 when she won gold on floor at the Commonwealth Games as well as the gold medal with the Australian team. In addition to her two golds, Hollie won a silver on beam and a bronze in the all-around. As a member of the Pacific Alliance team she helped the Australians to a second place finish behind the United States as well as finishing third all-around. Hollie's world class beam work earned her a 16.0 in the team competition- the first time a score that high was awarded on beam under the open ended scoring system. Later that year, Hollie competed at the World Championships where the Australian team placed seventh. Individually she placed seventh all-around and was one of very few athletes to make it through the competition without a fall. Unfortunately mistakes kept Hollie out of the beam finals where she easily would have been a medal threat. Notably her score from the all-around final would have been good enough to win her the gold had she made event finals! After such a dominate year in 2006, things slowed down for Hollie in 2007 as she faced injuries. Dykes was a member of the 2007 Australian World's team which would be her final competition. The gymnastics world was shocked when Hollie announced her retirement from the sport in January of 2008, just months before the Olympic Games in Beijing. Although her career ended so soon, Hollie will forever be remembered for her beautiful gymnastics and poise. 

We were fortunate enough to chat with Hollie about her gymnastics career and see what she is up to today! 

How did you get started in gymnastics?
I started gymnastics at the age of 4 1/2. My mum took me just for a bit of fun being that I was so young.

Who were some of your idols or inspirations growing up?
I didn't have one that young- I was really just having fun, but as I got older, around my teenage years, my inspiration was my dad. He was a motocross rider and competed at a high level so I always looked up to him. My idols growing up were Lleyton Hewitt, Lilia Podkopayeva, and Michael Klim.

At what age did you realize you had the potential to go far in gymnastics?
I got moved into the elite stream at around age 6. My coaches saw my talent and moved me up quite quickly. I realized around age 7 when I got talent scouted by Ju-Ping Tian at the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) when my club, Gold Coast Gymnastics Club attended a competition there.

With the 2000 Olympics being held in Australia, you and a few other girls got to perform an exhibition routine in the Olympic arena. What was that like?
It was such an amazing experience. I still remember training so hard and practicing that routine in sync with the other girls to get it perfect. It was one of the best experiences and so inspiring to be able to meet gymnasts competing in the 2000 Olympics. I remember how excited we were to get their autographs on our t-shirts, we were in awe! Also, whenever I hear Vanessa Amorosi's song "Shine" it brings it all back to me as this was the opening song to the ceremony. It is the best feeling.

You were always known for your grace and beautiful lines, did you ever have any dance training? 
No, I didn't have any formal training. Most of my gymnastics training was from the Chinese and I found they spent more time with us doing basics and quality control, Ju-Ping Tian was a major part of my quality basics and clean lines. We did do ballet everyday from around 8 years old which definitely gave us a strong foundation.

What would you consider the highlight of your gymnastics career? 
The highlight of my career is hard to pinpoint to one thing. The 2006 Pacific Alliance in Hawaii was such a highlight. I was at my peak and I medaled on the podium with Chellsie [Memmel] and Nastia [Liukin]. I had also scored the first 16.0 on beam ever in the new code which I will never forget. The 2006 Commonwealth Games was something I will never forget and gave me extra experience and confidence for my career. Lastly, the 2007 Worlds in Denmark, finishing 7th all-around was definitely a highlight. All of these experiences had their ups and downs, but they are what I remember the most and I'm most proud of.

What was your favorite part about gymnastics? 
My favorite part was pushing myself and working with my coaches to reach a goal, training hard then showing what you can do in a competition. The traveling part was awesome too, I never got sick of it!

What was your least favorite part about gymnastics? 
My least favorite part was probably being held back by injuries and not being able to push your body to where you wanted to be. Also, the sacrifice you have to make in order to be successful, nothing else matters in gymnastics. It was quite challenging through the teenage years with body changes, injuries, hormones, etc.

Your retirement came as as surprise to many. Can you talk about what went into making that decision? 
Yes it did come as a shock to many. I think it had been leading up to that point. I had been injured for quite some time and the coaching structure had changed dramatically. I was not happy and I was taking my attitude to the gym with me. I also struggled communicating my feelings which made it that much harder. Everything had built up and I had had enough. I was also starting to focus less and was bringing fear to my training which isn't safe. I lost my ambition and was put in a place where I did not want to continue. All in all, it was a build up of frustration from injuries, fitness levels, coaching staff and changes.

Was it hard to move on? 
It was one of the hardest times in my life and to be honest, I have only just found peace and "normality" in the last few years. I struggled adjusting to everyday life- not having a specific goal and training everyday to reach that goal. Finding a path in life, changes in my body, learning how to eat well and properly, and letting go of the only thing you is such a difficult time for elite athletes. It took me a long time to accept myself and not regret retiring when I did. I kept saying I should have done this or I should have done that, but I realized that I retired for a reason, I was at the lowest point mentally and could not continue, so I did what I thought was best at the time. It is easy to say now that I should have done this or I should have done that, but I was a different person then and I hadn't matured enough to take control of the situation. If I hadn't of went through of all that, I wouldn't be who I am today and I love who I am today and what I have experienced. I am very blessed and grateful.

Do you stay involved with gymnastics at all today? 
Not anymore. I did coach for a while and absolutely loved every minute of it! I did however need to move on and was struggling to do that properly in the gym. I still watch videos here and there and love seeing what everyone is up to. Maybe one day I will return to coaching!

What are your thoughts on the current state of Australian gymnastics? 
To be honest, I don't actually follow it enough to comment. However, I think Australian Gymnastics has the potential to rise further and further with the up and coming development programs. It's also amazing to see the veterans continuing with their passion. It has definitely changed a lot since I was training in terms of age and the benefit of being that little bit older. I think maturity is a huge part of succeeding in the sport, which is why I think we have seen more success from the more experienced girls. Also, being that little bit older helps as you know exactly what you want. You push your body because you want it! I must say I love following Larrissa [Miller], she is an inspiration to so many. I hope Australian Gymnastics can continue to rise.

What is the best piece of advice you've been given? 
The best piece of advice I was given would have to of been: compete the way you train and take one step at a time. Enjoy everything you do and once that stops then it's time to find a new passion.

Looking back now, what advice would you have given your younger self? 
The advice I would have given to my younger self would be live in the moment, not the past, not the present, but now. Don't worry what people think about you, just do what makes you happy, you will still be loved and accepted. We all make mistakes and that's what makes you stronger! Life is about challenges and learning about yourself, not pleasing people all the time. Lastly, rather than aiming to be perfect, aim to be better than yesterday!

What have you been up to lately? 
I am very happy and grateful for the life I have and I'm so lucky to have such amazing people in my life. I wouldn't be in the place I am now if it wasn't for my fabulous fiance, we recently got engaged and had a beautiful son last year who we are absolutely in love with. My fiance is with [Australian Government Department of Defence] so we are currently posted interstate and moving again in June. I am not currently working, however, I am looking to go back in July. I have not decided what my next career move will be, whether or not I will go back into Real Estate or pursue a new career, I will wait to see what happens and follow my passion. I am enjoying my time at home with my son and making the most of it while I can!

Monday, September 21, 2015

10 Freshman to Watch for This Season

Olivia Karas - University of Michigan

Olivia Karas is one of the freshman we are most excited about this season! Liv, as she calls herself for short, trained at IK Gymnastics in Illinois and was a powerhouse level 10 who had lots of success during her JO career. She's a three time JO National qualifier with her highest finish being in 2014 when she won the all-around and vault titles. In 2015 she placed 4th all-around and claimed the vault title yet again. She's also a two time Nastia Cup qualifier, placing 3rd all-around and 2nd on vault in 2015. With the yurchenko full being devalued starting this season, many teams have been forced to learn new vaults that start from a 10.0. Luckily for the Wolverines, Liv has consistently competed a yurchenko 1.5 for the last two years and should be a staple in their vault lineup. Liv also comes to Michigan with some big tumbling- on floor she does an arabian double front (which she has also competed in the piked position and it's amazing!) and a beautiful whip to double twist. It's also noteworthy that on beam she does a standing layout step out (that she plans to connect to a split jump) and on bars she dismounts with a very unique toe on front pike- which we love! The Wolverines are lucky to have her for the next four years!

Katelyn Ohashi- UCLA

One of the biggest names joining the NCAA this season is Katelyn Ohashi. Katelyn is best known for being one of the top elite gymnasts in the country during the 2012 quad and was considered by many to be a contender for Rio until injuries took her out of the game in 2013. Luckily for UCLA, she's healthy now and should make a great impact on all their lineups, but especially on beam. Katelyn was the beam queen during her elite days and once had a start value as high as 17.3 (which easily could have won her a World or Olympic gold medal if she was able to compete.) Ohashi was known for her beautiful lines and signature back handspring layout full. Prior to coming to UCLA, Katelyn trained at WOGA and was a national team member from 2009-2013. She is the 2011 Junior National Champion and won the American Cup in her only competition as a senior elite in 2013. We can't wait to see what Katelyn will accomplish at UCLA!

Sarah Finnegan- LSU

Another big name joining the NCAA this season is Sarah Finnegan. It's been a long time since we've seen Finnegan compete- her last major competition was the 2012 Olympic Trials where she was named an alternate to the 2012 Olympic team. Finnegan was a national team member from 2010-2012 and trained at GAGE for most of her career. In 2012 she won a silver medal on beam at the Visa Championships and took home three medals from the Jesolo Trophy meet in Italy. (Gold with the team and bronze on floor and in the all-around.) The anticipation is building for Finnegan's competitive return this season. She will likely be a key contributor in the beam and floor lineups; the two events she's known for and we can only hope she'll still compete those gorgeous wolf turns!

Lizzy Leduc- University of Illinois

Balance Beam - Lizzy Leduc ---- WoW!
Posted by Asia Gymnastics on Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Leduc, who was originally committed to LSU, is a huge pickup for Illinois. From 2009 to 2010, Lizzy competed as an elite in the United States- qualifying to the Visa Championships in both of those years and stealing the hearts of many. In 2011, she decided to drop down to level 10 after spraining both of her elbows. She sat out the next two seasons with injuries and finally returned to competition in 2013- placing 4th all-around at JO Nationals. In 2014, Lizzy became the Texas State and Regional Champion and placed 2nd all-around at JO Nationals. In 2015 she began competing internationally for the Philippines. At the Southeast Asian Games she helped the Philippines team to an historic 3rd place finish. Individually she finished 6th all-around and qualified to beam and floor event finals. Lizzy is a powerful gymnast and could contribute on all four events for the Illini. We're super excited that she decided to come to Illinois because she can really be the star of that team.

Alicia Boren- University of Florida

Alicia Boren is a tank and I fully expect her to dominate in college gymnastics. To start, she's a four time JO National qualifier and a four time JO National Champion. Yes that's right...she has consecutively won the last four JO National Championships. She's also a three time Nastia Cup qualifier. At the 2015 Nastia Cup, Boren won the vault, beam, and floor titles. A fall on the bars kept her from completely sweeping the competition, but she still managed to place 5th all-around which is very impressive. Alicia competes a yurchenko 1.5 on vault with ease and ends with a full-in on floor. She's definitely a powerhouse and is going to do so well in college!

Lexie Priessman- LSU

Lexie Priessman is another former elite standout who is ready to shine in college gymnastics. A junior National Champion in 2012 and a national team member from 2010-2013, Lexie's promising elite career came to an end after dealing with a string of injuries. She left her long time coach Mary Lee Tracy in 2014 and announced her retirement from elite in June of 2015, confirming that she would be joining the Tigers this season. The gymnastics world first fell in love with Lexie when she won the inaugural Nastia Liukin Cup back in 2010 and was touted as one to watch for on the road to Rio. Throughout her elite career, Lexie competed at various international competitions and competed difficult skills such as an amanar on vault, a full-in dismount off beam, and a double double and laid out full-in on floor. Although she hasn't competed since 2013, Lexie can do big things at LSU when she's a full strength.

 Emma McLean - University of Michigan

Emma Mclean is the second member of the Michigan freshman class and she is going to be another great one! Emma, who trained at Stars & Stripes Gymnastics in Michigan is a three time JO National qualifier and a 2015 Nastia Liukin Cup qualifier. Her best performance at JO Nationals was in 2015 when she placed 2nd on floor, 4th on vault, and 3rd all-around. Emma is a powerful gymnast and will probably make the biggest impact in the vault and floor lineup. (Check out the height on that first pass!)

McKenna Kelly- LSU

LSU brings in another big name this season and it's the daughter of 1984 Olympic Champion Mary Lou Retton.  Mckenna Kelley is a two time JO National qualifier, placing 5th all-around in 2013 and 1st on floor in 2014. Mckenna tied for first all-around at the 2014 Nastia Cup and began her quest towards qualifying elite. She attended several national team camps in 2015 and showed videos of some big upgrades done with ease on her Instagram. (She posted videos of her doing a double double and a laid out full-in on floor and a standing arabian and standing full on beam.) Unfortunately, she struggled to pass her elite compulsories and never made it to elite status, but Mckenna is super talented and will make a great college gymnast for sure.

Haylee Roe- University of Illinois

Haylee joins her Metroplex teammate Lizzy Leduc at Illinois this season. Roe is a five time JO National qualifier and is the level 10 Illinois State Champion in the all-around and on bars and floor. Roe's highest placement at JO Nationals was in 2014 when she placed 3rd all-around. We have followed Haylee's career for a long time and we're super excited to finally see her compete in college this season!

Peyton Ernst- University of Florida

Peyton Ernst is another former elite who trained at Texas Dreams under World Champion Kim Zmeskal. Ernst competed at the elite level for four years and was on the national team for two. At the 2013 Secret Classic she placed 2nd all-around and 1st on beam. She also competed at several international competitions such as the Tokyo World Cup where she placed 2nd all-around. Peyton is a beautiful gymnast to watch and will compliment the Florida team very well.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Dear Gymternet- Journals from Elena Arenas (Entry #14 July 2015)

Dear Gymternet, 

This month I had the Secret Classic in Chicago and my little sister, Ava, started level 1 team in gymnastics. :)

The Secret Classics went pretty well. I had already qualified to the P&G Championships at the American Classic, so I was using this meet to adjust to competing on podium and to prepare for P&Gs which is in 2 weeks. Leading up to the meet, training had been going great. On the meet day I started on vault and did really well. I did a yurchenko full and got a 14.00! I was really happy with that score. Bars was a little rough but not too bad. I was late on my toe full and had to do a kip cast before my pak. I hit my feet a little bit on the low bar when I did the kip after the toe full. I was disappointed because I don't usually do that. I got a 13.35 which was better than I thought it was going to be. In a weird way it excited me because I know I could've done much better and should score higher next time when I hit my routine. On beam, I wasn't really nervous. I had been nailing all my routines in practice at my gym. I was the last one up and the only one going in the whole meet because all the other events had finished that rotation. I was excited to show everyone what I was doing on beam and how much I had improved since last year. On my series, I went crooked and ended up hanging underneath the beam ... I didn't fall to the ground, instead I climbed back up, and finished my routine pretty well. When I climbed back up everyone started cheering for me. It was my favorite part and least favorite part of the meet. I was in shock and so mad at myself because I don't feel like I could've been more prepared to compete on beam. I finished the meet on floor and did okay. I landed a little short on my full in and went out of bounds on my double pike. I didn't have a perfect meet but I'm motivated to do better at P&Gs!

PC: Christy Ann Linder

I had a bunch of family that came to watch me at the meet. It is always great to have a lot of support and have my family there cheering for me. I also met the girl that does a fan page for me on Facebook. She is from Italy and she came all the way to Chicago to see the meet. It was so cool to meet her and talk to her in person. She is so sweet and she brought me a gift that she gave to me after the meet. Hopefully I will see her again someday.

My sister Ava, who is 5, started level one team! It's going to be so cool to watch her compete in January and to see her progress through gymnastics. I've been teaching her new skills like a back handspring and I just taught her a back tuck on trampoline. I'm so proud of her! I gave her all my old leos and she loved them!!! 

Training has been going great since I have been back from Chicago! I'm so excited for P&Gs and can't wait to compete again!

~ Elena Arenas

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The best and worst leotards from the 2015 Secret Classic

There was lots of excitement last weekend at the Secret Classic from returning Olympians, to new skills being debuted, all the way down to the leotards. We ranked some of the leotards from the 2015 Secret Classic from worst to best on a 5 point scale (with 5 being the highest score) to determine which leos were truly the best on the competition floor! The members on our panel include gymnastics fans Lauren Stevens, Patrice Vandenbos, and Sara Neushwander. Do you agree with our opinions? Write some of your favorite/least favorite leotards below! 

Nia Dennis/ Legacy Elite

Ashlee: I give Legacy Elite props for always choosing bright colored leotards in attempt to stand out on the competition floor, however- I'm not feeling the blue and purple here. It just doesn't look right. Score: 1.5

Brittany: Wasn't a fan of this leotard from the moment I saw it! Hate the design and the color combination. Score: 1

Lauren: I've liked this design for awhile and it really works well when you get the right color combos. But this color combo is just a no... The black bottom makes the turquoise and magenta clash and it just doesn't look good. Definitely not my cup of tea. Score: 1.5

Patrice: No comment. Can I give this a -5? Score: 0

Sara: It never surprises me when I show up to a meet and wind up hating Legacy Elite’s leos.  Maybe it’s just that I’m sick and tired of their typical purple?  Regardless, you all can call me "Not Impressed McKayla" on this one.  It just wasn’t a leotard that made me want to keep my eyes on her.  Gabby Perea wore the same leotard, but white instead of black, and I wish Nia would have too because I thought it looked much nicer.  Score: 2

Final Score: 1.2

Emily Gaskins/North Port

Ashlee: The design is okay, I'm just not a fan of the orange and purple together, so that kind of ruins it for me. I could handle just orange and white I think, but the purple is too much. Score: 2

Brittany: Emily is such a beautiful and elegant gymnast, this crazy leotard just doesn't match her style in my opinion. I think the color combination is tacky. Orange and purple? Really.. Score: 2

Lauren: I really like the design of this leotard... The rhinestones are great.. But the colors are... UGH! Orange and purple just don't go well together. This leotard could've been gorgeous... But I just can't stand the color combo. Score: 2.5

Patrice: I like the pattern, but not the colours. I feel like I'm looking at orange is the new black - gymnast style. Score: 2

Sara: I absolutely adore Emily Gaskins.  When I saw her in this leotard, I actually cringed a little.  This was one of my least favorite leos of the whole competition, which was disappointing.  The orange and purple clash terribly, plus I don’t think the orange goes well with Emily’s skin tone.  I always envision Emily in darker, more elegant color tones because of the grace and artistry she shows in her gymnastics.  This leo just doesn’t work for Emily’s style of gymnastics and personally, I think her floor routine would be much more beautiful in a solid color, simple leotard (Example: the black and white leotard CGA wore at 2013 Classics). Score: 1.5

Final Score: 2

Sydney Johnson Scharpf/ Brandy Johnson's

Ashlee: Three different shades of pink and then black? No no no no. I don't like the black collar or the flower design either. (You can't really see it in this picture....thank goodness.) I can't think of any gymnast who could pull this leo off. Score:

Brittany: At first glance this leotard isn't horrible. But the more and more I analyze it I'm not a fan of the black collar. I think the leotard would have turned out better if there was only one shade of pink up top. Score: 2

Lauren: I love the design of this leotard. The colors are great and the whole design totally fits Sydney's personality! I would totally give this a 5 if the "collar" was either thinner and still black, or a different color and still the same thickness. Score: 4

Patrice: STOP NECKCOLLARS 2K15! PLEASE! And studded?! UGH. *considers writing a letter to the FIG asking them to ban high neck collars* Score:

Sara: I love Syd, and I love this leotard.  It’s fun and a little bit spunky, while also being beautiful and classy.  I think it fit Sydney’s style and personality.  To put it simply, it fits the age.  I’m not sure I could ever envision it on a Senior gymnast, but for Sydney being so young, it works!  The colors go well together and, the more I look at it, the more I love it on her. Score: 4.5

Final Score: 2.5

Mykayla Skinner/ Dessert Lights

Ashlee: There's nothing wrong with this leotard except for the color. If you're only going to have one color on your leo WHY would you pick pepto bismo pink?! Yuck! Score:

Brittany: I honestly don't know why I don't like this leo? Maybe it's because there is literally NOTHING going on with it. Like literally nothing. So very boring. It could definitely use a pattern somewhere on it to help break up some of the pink. Score: 2.5

Lauren: Ok... I really thought we were making a breakthrough with all of these red and blue leos at this year's Classics... But this pink leotard just ruined it. It's actually a gorgeous design when there's more than one color with it. But other than that this leotard is just no... Especially with the spandex, mesh, and mystique combo. Score: 2 

Patrice: You know, normally I like pink. This is almost too pink, too glossy. and entirely too overdone. There's just too much pink. It's like a pepto bismo ad. "Feel better so you can do flips!" Score:

Sara: I hate myself for loving this leotard.  And I hate that I’m contradicting myself about what I said about finally moving on from #hotpinknation. I’m not afraid to say that I’m not a fan of Skinner, but I can’t deny that I didn’t adore this leotard on her all day.  It goes beautiful with her hair and her skin tone and really makes her stand out from the other gymnastics – but in a good way.  I just thought it was perfect on her.  Score: 4.5

Final Score: 2.6

Christina Desiderio/ Parkettes
Ashlee: On the live feed this leo looked pink and in pictures it looks purple?!? Either way it reminds me of Barney! The design isn't bad, once again I just really don't like that color. Score: 3

Brittany: I'm conflicted. Part of me kinda likes this and part of me doesn't. The design is pretty, I love the shade of light purple on the sleeves, but not the darker purple body. It looks so harsh in comparison. Score: 3

Lauren: I'm just really not a fan of this leotard.. The design isn't all the great and I'm not a fan of the color of the sleeves. If the sleeves would've been white or silver, I probably would've liked it more. Score: 2.5

Patrice: I love this! It's simple and elegant! I think I would have liked it more if the sleeves were white, but overall it's a good choice! Score: 4

Sara: I didn’t pay close attention to the Parkette leotards during the meet, but now that I’m looking back at them, I’ll admit that they are great.  I thought it looked fantastic on each one of the girls and I thought the amount of sparkles – especially on the sleeves  - was the perfect touch.  Has this leo been done in a royal blue?  Because I think that would look stunning, as well. Score: 4

Final Score: 3.3

Jazmyn Foberg/ MG Elite

Ashlee: I like the aqua blue color, I thought it looked beautiful on Laurie and Jazzy. I'm just not a big fan of the nude sleeve and then the mesh sleeve on the other arm that you can't really see in the picture. It's still a nice leotard, it just might have looked better with white mesh. Score: 3.5

Brittany: MG Elite usually wears some pretty out of the box leotards, I think we can all agree on that! While I think Laurie and Jazzy looked beautiful in this, I'm not really a fan of the nude sleeve on one arm. Maybe if it was white I would like it better? Score: 2.5

Lauren: This is a super simple leotard compared to what MG Elite usually wears. I love the shade of blue and the amount of rhinestones is perfect for the simplicity of this leotard. However, I do wish the nude mesh was either white mesh or white mystique. Overall, both Laurie and Jazzy both pulled off this leotard super well! Score: 3

Patrice: There is so much good in this leo except for the mesh! I would have liked this if the blue was paired with something other than nude mesh. Score: 2.5

Sara: I LOVE the MG Elite girls but I don’t always love their leotards.  Whether it was a collar or the wrong color, there have been very few that have impressed me.  Until this one. I could not keep my eyes off of Laurie and Jazzy in these leos!  I’ve been obsessed with them from the second I saw them. They are sleek, sophisticated, and beautiful and they make both of the girls look stunning.  I’m sitting here re-watching Jazzy’s beam and I’m still drooling over it.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the color has something to do with Florida Gators blue, as both Laurie and Jazzy have committed here. Maybe that’s why I think it’s so freakin’ awesome? Score: 5

Final Score: 3.3

Anna Huber/ Rochester Gymnastics

Ashlee: I like this leotard a lot, it's classy and very pretty! This would look great on the international scene too! It actually reminds me a lot of the one Kyla wore in beam finals at Worlds in 2013. Score: 4

Brittany: Didn't the US wear this at World's last year? Looks familiar. Regardless, I like it! Nothing really negative to say about it. Score: 4

Lauren: I love red and white color combos. This leotard is simple, but it works well on Anna. It could have a few more rhinestones on the sleeves. But overall it's a simple & classy leotard! Score: 3

Patrice: I like this! It's cute. I love the red and white, but the white almost goes down too much. Score: 3

Sara: I really like the simplicity of this leo.  It isn’t overly flashy nor do I think it is plain or boring.  I think it is one of those leotards that would look good on almost any gymnast and would sophisticated for the USA at international meets. Score: 3.5

Final Score: 3.5

Ragan Smith/Texas Dreams

Ashlee: I don't hate this leo, but I also don't love it. I always appreciate Texas Dreams creativity, I think the spray paint idea is cool. There's just something not right about this leotard...maybe it's the design on the side I don't like? Score: 3.5

Brittany: At first when I saw this I was like "eww no", but it started to grow on me as the meet progressed. It's very creative and I think the splatter paint idea is pretty sweet looking actually! I think all the Texas Dreams girls looked adorable in this! Score: 4

Lauren: I'm really not sure how I feel about this leotard.. I don't love it.. But I don't hate it (although their matching warm ups are to DIE for). The spray paint print is super unique and not something I ever expected to see. All the girls really pulled off this leotard well. Overall it was a cute leotard, even with it's simplicity. Score: 3.5

Patrice: Texas dreams always shows up with the most creative but strange leos. I love Kim but this was a bad leo choice. The fact that it's mostly black helps make up for it. Kind of... Sorry. Score: 2

Sara: TEXAS DREAMSSSS!  Watching the meet in person, I couldn’t really see the paint splatter design.  So for me, the leotards looked entirely black and white.  Which I thought was fantastic.  Then when I discovered the multi-colored paint splatter, I got even more excited. TD is a classy, well respected club and I thought the black and white fit that description perfectly.  The paint splatter also reminded us of the personality of not only the girls, but the coaches.  Why not spice up a simple leotard with some fun pops of color for the girls?  Personally, I love love love loved it and wouldn’t mind seeing it again. Score: 5

Final Score: 3.6

Aly Raisman/ Brestyans

Ashlee: I think Aly looks nice in this leotard, red is her color for sure! I'm just not a big fan of the overall design; the neck tie part looks odd to me. I think Aly pulled it off though! Score: 3.5

Brittany: I feel like this leotard suits Aly so well! It's very mature and her matching red lipstick looked just fab with it. Oh my god, this girl could literally rock a paper bag and still look beautiful. Great design Aly! Score: 3.5

Lauren: Aly always pulls off red really well. The only thing I don't like about this leotard is the rhinestone placement. Someone on Twitter said that this leotard kind of looks like an "evil face" and now I can't not see it lol! But Aly rocked this leotard and you can really never go wrong with red. Score: 4

Patrice: I LOVE THAT ALY WORE HER OWN LEO TO CLASSICS. I love this. It's perfect. The minimalism with the hot red and glitter gives a mature, and elegant look - perfect for Aly. I'm not sure if I would have liked this leo on any other gymnast, so I'm giving this a 4.5 Score: 4.5

Sara: This leotard was gorgeous on Aly.  She always looks amazing in red.  But, similar to Maggie’s, it reminds me of something familiar.  But I still think it was a smart choice for Aly’s debut and worked well with her body and her style of gymnastics (and her lipstick!). Rank: 4

Final Score: 3.9

Morgan Hurd/ First State

Ashlee: I like this one the more and more I look at it. The design is elegant and the rhinestones are a nice touch. Great pick for the adorable Morgan Hurd! Score: 4

Brittany: This leotard looked purple on the feed, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE that shade of blue! This is such a beautiful leotard. The rhinestone detailing is gorgeous and I can't get over how much I love that blue! AHHH! Yes Morgan! Score: 4.5

Lauren: This had to be one of my favorite leotards of the night. We rarely see blue mesh and it looks absolutely gorgeous with the white bodice. There's a perfect amount of rhinestones and it's just an all-around elegant and gorgeous leotard. Score: 5

Patrice: After I get over how adorable Morgan is, I love this leo! I wouldn't have done a white bottom half, but if the colours were reversed this would have been my fave leo from classics! Score: 4

Sara: Is she attempting to qualify for JO Nationals or elite Nationals?  Because this leotard might as well have been plucked directly from the Region 5 Dream Team (Yes, I’m aware Delaware is not a part of Region 5…even though they probably want to be since Region 5 is the obvi greatest, IMO). Personally, I didn’t find anything remotely interesting about this leotard.  I keep looking at pictures and watching Morgan Hurd’s routines, and I’m trying REALLY hard to like it, but I just can’t. There isn’t anything about it that I find special or unique.  But hey, if you want to throw it over here to the Midwest, those girls in Region 5 would look sharp. Score: 2

Final Score: 3.9

Simone Biles/ World Champions Centre

Ashlee: I like this leotard, I think it looks great on Simone! I'm not a huge fan of the pattern in the middle, but I can tolerate it. Score: 4

Brittany: This leotard isn't horrible! Simone looks amazing in it, however I'm not that big of a fan of that neck part... Score: 3.5

Lauren: I LOVE the color combos of this leotard. I like the design too. It's only two colors, but it's still pretty. There's just something about the design which made me not want to give this leotard a 5... But I just can't figure it out! This leotard was one of my favorites and really looked good on al of the WCC girls! Score: 4

Patrice: I love blue on Simone. I'm not a fan of the neck pattern in the middle, but overall the leo isn't bad! Score: 4

Sara: If it were up to me, the USA would be wearing this leotard internationally.  The metallic blue looked bomb on each one of the World Champion girls and was simple yet sophisticated.  This was a great choice, especially for Simone.  What else would you expect from the #1 gymnast in the entire world? Score: 4.5

Final Score: 4

Maggie Nichols/ Twin City Twisters

Ashlee: I LOVE LOVE LOVE this leo. It's simple yet gorgeous. All of the TCT girls pulled it off really well. This gave me Maggie Nichols at Oklahoma feels all night long! Score: 5

Brittany: You can never go wrong with a classic white/red leo! I believe this is the same leotard Maggie wore last year at Nationals except blue (and I loved that one!) so to see a red version is great! This leotard has just the right amount of rhinestones-so beautiful and simple! Score: 5

Lauren: I LOVE this leotard. When we saw the blue version last year, I loved it, and I love this one just as much! Red and white goes so well together and I just love the rhinestones on it.Definitely one of my favorites from the whole competition. Score: 4.5

Patrice: I LOVE THIS LEO. It's like a Queen of Hearts/Classy/I'm a badass gymnast look. That doesn't even make sense, but this leo is spectacular. Score: 5

Sara: I’m all about the athletes choosing their leotard colors based on their future colleges, so I wasn’t surprised to see Maggie in Oklahoma’s red and white.  While she (and Abby Paulson!) looked stunning, and it’s making me so excited to see her compete weekly in those colors, it wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before.  I don’t know if I’ve seen this same leotard on girls at other competitions, or if there are similar ones like it, but it wasn’t unique. Score: 4

Final Score: 4.7

Madison Kocian/ WOGA

Ashlee: WOGA killed it with this one! Absolutely stunning leotard! The black mesh and white mystique go perfect together. This was by far my favorite leotard of the whole competition! Score: 5

Brittany: Now this is a pretty leo! The black mesh sleeves and the design down the center add just the right touch to make this leotard stand out. It's super sleek and elegant! Hands down one of my favorites from the meet. Score: 5

Lauren: Another one of my favorites of the night. The white mystique and black mesh looked gorgeous. And I love the rhinestones on this leotard. It's such an elegant leotard and there's nothing I don't love about it! Score: 5

Patrice: This may be my favourite WOGA leo yet! I'm not usually a fan of white leos but the white with the black mesh, and the squiggly line patter makes this my favourite leo from classics! Score: 5

Sara: I wonder if Nastia’s heart is breaking to see the WOGA girls in anything other than hot pink?  But hey, there’s no reason for Nastia to be a thing anymore and I’m glad WOGA seems to have moved on from the #hotpinknation.  I thought this leotard was beautiful on each one of the girls and I think it would be a nice choice for Nationals, as well.  Score: 4.5

Final Score: 4.9

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Six impressive routines from the 2015 Secret Classic

There was one message the gymternet should have taken away from the Secret Classic this weekend-- Team USA is awesome and the field is deeper than it's been in a long time! There was a lot of great gymnastics this weekend with plenty of storylines to follow. Here were some routines that caught our attention!

Ragan Smith | Floor | Score: 15.0

This was easily one of her best floor routines to date. With new and improved choreography/music from the last two seasons and some added difficulty (check out that double layout!), Ragan's routine is not only entertaining, but competitive in the senior division with her 16.1 D score. Ragan isn't always as clean and consistent with the landings, but when she nails them like she did here- watch out!

Lauren Hernandez | Bars | Score: 15.0

Laurie has been working hard on this event and it shows! When she last competed at the Secret Classic in 2013, her start value was only a 15.6. In 2015, her start value has been raised by 5 tenths and her routine is beautifully executed with three release moves and perfectly hit handstands. (Love love love her lines!) Laurie is hoping to stay in the mix for Rio with her work on this event in particular.

Deanne Soza | Beam | Score: 14.5

The potential for Deanne Soza is REAL. Reminder that she isn't' eligible for 2016, but could definitely be in the mix for 2020 if she stays healthy. We all remember when Soza contracted a serious eye infection nearly a year ago that could have left her blind. After not being able to train for four months, Soza's determination and fight to get back in top shape is outstanding. This routine was beautiful and is right up there with some of the best in terms of difficulty. Round of applause for Miss Soza!

Simone Biles | Floor | Score: 16.050

Is this routine real? Is Simone Biles real? For starters, I'm really feeling the new choreography; it's fun and sassy and it's by far my favorite routine from her. Then the tumbling is just insane. It's not just what she's doing that's so amazing but how she's doing it! Look at the height and ease she completes each pass with. This routine has a 16,9 start value and there's not a doubt in my mind that she's capable of more. Frankly, does she really need to do more? Simone is definitely in a league of her own. Bring on Rio!

Maggie Nichols | Vault | Score: 15.8
This is great for Maggie. I'm so impressed with this girls improvements over the last two years and her consistency is just what team USA needs. This vault was great for her amanar debut and will definitely keep her in the mix for Rio. With the added difficulty and ability to perform well every time she competes (on every event), Maggie is proving that she could potentially be the second all-arounder for the United States. Never count Maggie Nichols out!

Aly Raisman | Beam | Score: 15.1

Aly Raisman's comeback is probably my favorite comeback ever. I love her work ethic! This routine was great and scored well even with the few small balance checks. She really capped it off with the stuck dismount! Aly has been working so hard and you can tell. I'm impressed with her ability to not only get all her old skills back, but to continue upgrading and working on her flexibility because she knows it counts! I can't wait to see what's in store for Aly because I think she's going to do great things. Her difficulty, maturity, and confidence is something that would be very beneficial to the team.

What routines impressed you the most? Let us know in the comments below!