Sami Durante with LSU's associate head coach Jay Clark. Photograph: Danna Durante/Twitter

The 2018 NCAA season is still months away, but it is never too early to start knowing the incoming freshman class for each team. This is both a way to begin thinking of potential lineups, and a way to get to know less well-known gymnasts and their routines.

After #1 Oklahoma, we now analyse the freshman class of #2 LSU. The Tigers were the runner-ups at both the 2016 and the 2017 Nationals. They are the current SEC champions, and this year they had their best ever season. Their motto was ‘all heart’ and their commitment and passion have drawn fans from all over the U.S. and beyond (me included!).

LSU said goodbye to three of the best seniors in the country: Sydney Ewing, who was third on vault at Nationals this year and competed every meet on vault, beam and floor. Ewing was also LSU’s lead-off on floor; Shae Zamardi, who was the lead-off on bars and the second up on floor all season long; and Ashleigh Gnat, one of the best gymnasts LSU has ever had. Gnat was the anchor on vault, where she performed a DTY, beam and floor, and scored nine perfect 10.0s throughout her career. She will be the hardest Tiger to replace.

LSU will welcome four new freshmen: Reagan Campbell, from Lewisville, Texas; Gracen Standley, from Mobile, Alabama; Bridget Dean, from Fort Myers, Florida; and, last week’s news, Samantha (Sami) Durante, from Athens, Georgia.

REAGAN CAMPBELL

Reagan Campbell trains at Texas Dreams with Kim Zmeskal, a gym that has produced such great gymnasts as U.S. junior champion Bailie Key, Olympic alternate Ragan Smith and NCAA stars Kiana Winston (Alabama) and Kennedy Baker (Florida).

Campbell qualified for the JO National Championships for four straight years (2013–16) and finished in sixth place or better in all four editions (fifth in 2016, sixth in 2015, fourth in 2014 and third in 2013). She also won silver on balance beam for three consecutive years (2013–15). Campbell also competed at the Nastia Liukin Cup in 2013 and 2014, where she finished fifth in 2013 and eighth in 2014.

Campbell is an excellent all around gymnast. She has pretty lines on all apparatuses, pointed toes, good amplitude and she is very consistent – she basically has the profile Texas Dreams gymnasts are renowned for. She will be a great asset in the all around, but she is particularly consistent on balance beam. She could be in the line-up already in the very first meet.


GRACEN STANDLEY

Gracen Standley trains at Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy with Mary Lee Tracey, who also coached U.S. junior champion and current LSU Tiger Lexie Priessman.

Standley competed at the JO National Championships in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Her best year was 2016, when she finished seventh in the all around and third on bars. In 2016 she also competed at the Nastia Liukin Cup, where she finished thirteenth.

Standley is incredibly strong on the uneven bars and on floor exercise. On bars, her NCAA routine is potentially ready. She performs a Jaeger linked to a shoot-over to the low bar and a high full-in dismount. On floor, she has high tumbling passes and consistent landings. She is a bit shaky on beam, but who knows? Ashleigh Gnat was the same as a freshman, and she ended up anchoring beam for the Tigers in her junior and senior years!


BRIDGET DEAN

Bridget Dean trains at Orlando Metro Gymnastics, a gym that has produced a lot of successful NCAA gymnasts, especially for the local Florida Gators.

Dean competed at the JO National Championships in 2015, where she finished eighth in the all around and seventh on balance beam. In 2015 she was also Florida state champion as a Level 10 in the all around, on bars and beam. Back in 2013 she competed at the Nastia Liukin Cup and finished tenth.

Dean is very strong on the uneven bars, which is very good news for LSU, whose weakest apparatus is indeed bars. She competes a Maloney and a very high double layout. She is also excellent on floor. Back in 2013, she used to perform a whip to double pike, a Rudi and a double tuck.


SAMI DURANTE

Sami Durante trains at Georgia Elite Gymnastics. She has had a tough summer. Until a few months ago, she was planning to join Georgia as a walk-on, where her mother, Danna Durante, was head coach. After a disastrous finish at the NCAA Nationals in April, however, Danna Durante was sacked, and Sami Durante was released from the Gymdogs. After months of uncertainty, Durante announced her decision to join LSU, a university she picked over Oklahoma, Florida, Utah and Pittsburgh.

Durante competed at the JO National Championships in 2017, where she finished sixth on the uneven bars. In 2017 she was also Region 8 champion on the uneven bars and balance beam and was second in the all around. She was also the balance beam champion at the 2017 Georgia State Championships. Durante competed at the JO Nationals also in 2014 and 2015. Her best result came in 2014, when she finished thirteen in the all around.

Durante’s best apparatus is also bars. Her routine is full of difficult skills, including a Jaeger, a Pak salto, a full pirouette and a full-in dismount. She has big potential on the other apparatuses as well. Even though she has been a bit inconsistent in the past, the LSU coaches are miraculous in this regard!


Good luck to the future Tigers!

Related: NCAA 2018: Meet the Oklahoma Freshman Class

By Talitha Ilacqua



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WOGymnastikA

WOGymnastikA is a blog turned website which brings you the latest updates on women’s artistic gymnastics as well as exclusive interviews with your favorite gymnasts. If you are interested in joining our team, please contact us on wogymnastika@gmail.com .

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