By Anna Rose Johnson

As always, April marks the retirements of many NCAA gymnasts—fan favorites who have left lasting impressions on captivated audiences; champions who have competed for four years on the collegiate scene and for years before that in elite or J.O. gymnastics—or both. And as always, fans and journalists and alumnae and former gymnasts alike have a hard time saying good-bye to the athletes whose careers they have followed and celebrated with excitement.

Three of those seniors leaving NCAA gymnastics this spring are some of the most well-known elite gymnasts from the past decade. All three were junior sensations who also achieved notable results at the senior level before transitioning to college, where they shined more brightly than ever.

Photos by LSU Sports Communications and Lloyd Smith

Lexie Priessman burst into the spotlight at the first-ever Nastia Liukin Cup in 2010, winning the event with her trademark vivacious energy. Priessman’s career accelerated from there, and she would go on to win several major international medals before turned 16. Unfortunately, her senior career would be characterized by untimely injuries, but Priessman quickly became one of LSU’s most talented gymnasts—she was even a five-time All-American on uneven bars. Fans also admire her positivity, perseverance, and uplifting personality. “Yes, there were times it became a struggle and I was very down mentally and emotionally (of course physically also), but I knew that God had a plan all along and that I needed to continue to focus on Him,” Priessman told us in an unforgettable interview last year. “I knew in my heart that I have a passion and love for the sport of gymnastics, [and that passion is] way too much to back away from it because of an injury.”

 

Katelyn Ohashi is probably best known for her two viral floor routines—one in 2018, and one earlier this year—but she’s also applauded in the gymnastics community for her inspiring confidence and infectious joy. An immense talent as a junior competitor, Ohashi won the 2011 U.S. junior all-around title and garnered enormous scores for her jaw-dropping beam routines. She won the 2013 American Cup title ahead of Simone Biles, but injuries also prevented Ohashi from meeting her elite goals—and like Priessman, she was just one year too young to compete in London 2012. In time, however, she found her niche in NCAA gymnastics at UCLA under the wise tutelage of Valorie Kondoes Field, and Ohashi has never looked back. “I really enjoy being a part of such a caring and loving team and getting to rediscover the fun in the sport,” Ohashi told us in her freshman year in 2016.

 

Sarah Finnegan has been turning graceful spins since her days as a junior when she helped her team to a gold medal at the 2010 Pan American Championships to her early days in the senior elite field, when she was named an alternate to the 2012 Olympic team. Finnegan popularized the wolf turn on floor exercise and balance beam—it’s now one of the most ubiquitous skills in elite—and she has continued to perform the skill with unhurried elegance and artistry at LSU. For Finnegan, NCAA gymnastics has never been about simply gold medals. “Honestly, the greatest moments in my collegiate career are when I’m with my team,” she told us in 2017. “On the bus, on a plane, in the gym, at meets; we always have SO much fun no matter what we’re doing.”

Anna Rose Johnson writes about women’s artistic and rhythmic gymnastics. She loves Whippets, brownies, and full-twisting double layouts. Her writing portfolio can be viewed at: https://annarosejohnson.contently.com