For women’s gymnastics head coach Jeff Thompson and his staff, recruiting future gymnasts has been a step by step process.
Thompson was the head coach of Auburn before accepting the same role at Penn State on July 15, 2010. On Sept. 1, he was allowed to send out letters and emails to rising high school juniors.
During their search, they came across current Nittany Lion freshmen Taylor Alotta and Sammie Musto and arranged for the two to visit in mid-September.
“Sammie and Taylor, we thought were two of the best gymnasts in the country,” Thompson said.
Musto was an uneven bar state champion in her junior year at Delsea Regional High School in New Jersey. Alotta, a New Tripoli native, was regional all-around champion in 2011.
Both Alotta and Musto attended a Friday practice and stayed in the dorms with Penn State gymnasts.
The next day, they went to a football game and Alotta committed to Penn State on the field, with Musto committing a couple of days later.
“Penn State was one of my top choices ever since I was little,” Alotta said. “I came up to a few of their meets and the energy and the fans seemed so cool, I knew I wanted to be in that arena competing.”
In the past, it used to be that coaches had to travel to a meet and watch the gymnast compete or hope that their parents made a video and sent it to coaches.
While that method is still widely used, other ways of evaluating gymnasts have surfaced.
Now simply looking them up on Google or YouTube can show staffs a variety of gymnasts.
To check past statistics, those interested can go on mymeetscores.com, look them up by gymnastics clubs around the country and see the scores of their performances.
This method has the possibility of being very hit or miss according to Thompson, who prefers seeing gymnasts perform live to make his assessments.
“Using scores is not like using times in sports.” Thompson said. “Scores can be like apples and oranges, a lot could depend on the judges.”
Roles divided among staff
Thompson shares some of the responsibilities with the rest of the coaching staff, including his associate head coach Rachelle Thompson and assistant coach Randy Monahan.
“Randy does most of the online cold-searching and routine watching from the kids we don’t normally know about,” Jeff Thompson said. “He and I share the travelling duties of going to meets and watching the kids.”
The coaching staff lets the club coach know well in advance of their visit. They aren’t allowed to talk to possible recruits while visiting them in their meets. They just sit, watch, and evaluate.
“You hope because you’re there watching them that they’ll come to campus at some point and take a tour or watch the team compete,” the head coach said.
When a prospective gymnast takes a campus tour, then the coaches can talk to the gymnasts and their parents.
Jeff Thompson lets Rachelle and Monahan answer most of the questions during the campus tours.
Amount of scholarships and spots on the team
Thompson said the NCAA allows women’s gymnastics programs with the option of giving out full scholarships for tuition to 12 aspiring student athletes. Gymnastics is a head count sport, meaning that partial scholarships can not be given out.
When it comes to deciding who gets a scholarship, the staff must reach a unanimous decision.
“We never offer a kid [a scholarship] unless all three of us think it’s the right thing to do,” Jeff Thompson said.
In a perfect world, a school’s top choice would be the gymnast’s top choice. But that isn’t always the case.
A gymnast can sometimes have her heart set out for another school and have alternate options. At some point, the coaching staff would figure that out.
“Do we want you to settle for Penn State? Or do we want kids that had us at their first choice,” Jeff Thompson said. “Those things come into play at some point.”
Waiting for the school of your choice while having other options could be risky. The gymnast can miss the deadline for their other options and never receive an offer from their dream school, leaving them with nothing.
Road for walk-ons
There are no workouts during campus visits and gymnastics doesn’t hold live tryouts like other sports. Thompson and the staff invite walk-ons based on their performances during their high school years with the expectancy of them being able to compete at the collegiate level on at least one event.
This is different from gymnasts receiving scholarships that are expected to compete in all four events.
“What you’ll find with the walk-ons is they may have passed up scholarships from smaller schools to participate on a team with a big school, fully funded, and a great reputation,” Jeff Thompson said. “Some of them make the choice to pay their own way and have a well-rounded experience with better academics, safer campus and better facilities.”
Roles to fill and a look at the class ahead
While looking at gymnasts to recruit for the team, one of the staff’s main goals is to replace vital competitors who are graduating.
Next year’s incoming class includes Nicole Medvitz from New Jersey, Emma Sibson from Texas, and Christina Postiglione from Long Island.
Medvitz is a two-time national champion on balance beam. Sibson is a 2010 Junior Olympic National Vault champion. Postiglione was also a Junior Olympics participant. Together, Thompson expects them to replace seniors Sharaya Musser and Madison Merriam.
“Nicole is good at floor and vault, Emma is unbelievable on bars and floor, and Christina is outstanding on all four events,” Thompson said. “I think they’ll really help us fill the void our two seniors leave.”