Kicking off the early signing period with a bang, Florida Gymnastics signed or received official commitments from nearly all of their expected athletes for the 2023-2024 season, including freshly-crowned world champion Skye Blakely.
The Gators offered scholarships to Blakely, Gabrielle Disidore, Skylar Draser, and Anya Pilgrim and received walk-on commitments from Alyssa-Carolina Arana and Kaylee Bluffstone on the opening day of the early signing period. Blakely will defer until the 2024-2025 season, as she will be vying for a berth on the 2024 Olympic team in Paris.
With the enormous class about to graduate, the Gators will need strong contributions from all of these athletes to stay at the top of the pack, especially as parity in the SEC and the NCAA increases. Here’s a look at the careers of these future Gators so far and how they might be valuable to their new team.
Easily the headliner of this class, Blakely is a four-year veteran of the U.S. national team with several significant international assignments to her name. The latest of these, and most significant, was her contribution to the team gold medal the U.S. won at the 2022 World Championships in Liverpool just a few weeks ago. She competed bars, beam, and floor in qualifying and just beam in finals, and she also qualified to the beam apparatus final, where she placed fifth.
Obviously, beam is her strong suit, so she’ll be expected to deliver some show-stopping routines for the Gators on the event. Her difficulty is some of the best in the world – she was one of only three women to be credited with a 6.0 or higher difficulty score on beam at World Championships – and her execution is fantastic. Her only question mark in elite has been ‘can she stay on?’, but with her wide skill vocabulary, she and head coach Jenny Rowland should be able to construct a much more consistent routine that’s still difficult and unique while minimizing her fall risk. Check out her incredibly difficult standing tuck full and unique front acrobatic series here in her podium training routine at World Championships.
On the other events, she’s certainly a threat for the bars and floor lineups, so don’t be surprised to see back-to-back Blakelys in the middle of the floor lineup, as Skye will be a freshman when her sister Sloane, currently a sophomore, will be a senior. Her vault will be in question until it’s more clear what vault she will do in college, but her form is certainly clean enough to make the lineup. It’s possible she could be in the top six with just a clean Yurchenko full, a la Megan Skaggs the last two seasons, but we’ll have to see what the 10.0 start value picture looks like come 2025.
One of the more under-the-radar commits from this class, Disidore hails from GAGE, the same gym as current Gator sophomore Leanne Wong. Bars is her strongest event, where she placed second at Development Program National Championships (formerly J.O. National Championships) last year. She’s trained difficult transitions, including a pak salto directly to a van Leeuwen, and some elite release skills, like a Nabieva – the first skill in the video below. These top-level skills and the strong background in basics that GAGE teaches will be a great foundation for bars coach Owen Field to build a dynamic bar routine on.
Bars may not be the only lineup she’ll contend for either. She’s trained several E tumbling passes on floor, including a double layout and a double double. She also competed a double arabian in the floor routine that led her to the AA title at 2018 J.O. National Championships when she was still a junior. Florida is known for its top tumbling, so if Disidore can get one of those options consistent, she’d significantly increase her chances at making the top six.
If you follow elite gymnastics, you might know this name – Skylar Draser has competed elite for the last several years in hopes of making the U.S. national team. At the 2021 GK U.S. Classic, she showed a clean full-twisting Yurchenko vault and a strong beam set that showed a lot of fight. With a little work on her presentation and dance elements, this routine could be NCAA ready!
She also completed a first-place sweep at the Parkettes elite qualifier this summer, which qualified her to compete elite for another U.S. Classic, but she suffered a minor injury in early July. This took her out of selection for Pan American Championships and the rest of the elite season, but taking the time to heal should mean that she’s fully ready for her first season with the Gators.
If this next athlete’s style is familiar to Gator fans, it’s because she comes from a gym with a history with the orange and blue. Anya Pilgrim hails from Hill’s Gymnastics, who produced Gator greats Erinn Dooley, Corey Hartung, and Kytra Hunter, as well as incoming freshman and world champion Kayla DiCello. She’s a former national team member and competed elite for several years, but she’s stepped back to compete Level 10 this year before coming to Florida next fall.
Like her teammates before her, Pilgrim is a strong leg-event athlete – she won vault and took silver on floor at this year’s Development Program National Championships. Her floor in the video below, set to the score from Black Panther, features two passes stuck cold, including her opening double arabian. That pass would fit right in in Florida’s lineup!
In addition to vault and floor, bars could also be a possibility for her. Her long lines and strong swing make her execution lovely to watch, so if Field can help her put together an up-to-the-level dismount combination, she could be a threat for that lineup as well.
One of Florida’s two walk-ons for this class, Arana hails from Miami, so she’ll likely have a big cheering section in the O-Dome every week. She’s not the flashiest member of this class as far as accolades or competition level, but she did earn bronze on beam at Development Program National Championships this year. With her fluidity and confidence on the apparatus, visible in the video below, she might remind Gator fans of super senior Leah Clapper: an integral part of the Gators lineup the last four years and a routine that’ll need replacing come the 2024 season.
Rounding out the recruiting class is Bluffstone, another state local, this time from Tampa. She qualified to her first Development Program National Championships this year and placed fourth on vault and floor, thanks to some major upgrades she’s been working. On vault, that came in the form of a Yurchenko 1.5 that should be a valuable addition to the Gators’ vault lineup, especially with Thomas, Schoenherr, Baumann, and maybe Richards all exiting after this season.
On floor, Bluffstone upgraded her opening pass to a full-in, giving her that coveted E pass that most Florida floor performers compete. She’s also an engaging performer – choreographer Jeremy James Miranda is going to have fun creating routines with her over the years.
Shilese Jones is still missing from the roster, but she Gator chomped for pictures with Blakely and current Gator Leanne Wong with their various medals from World Championships in Liverpool just a few weeks ago. She’s also been praised as a Gator by team members across social media, so keep those fingers crossed! Jones will also be in the mix for Paris, so it’s more likely she’ll sign for 2025 at this point, but after as many seasons she’s deferred now, it’s hard to say.
Some folks may be concerned about how this class is going to replace the massive routine exodus we’ll see after this season. With Baumann, Clapper, Schoenherr, Taylor, and Thomas, that’s likely ten routines from the regular lineup that will need to be replaced, and it could be more if Richards decides not to take her extra year of eligibility. However, this class has more to them than meets the eye, and their strengths vary widely across the board. It’s a well-rounded class, and with Blakely deferring, it doesn’t necessarily have one strongest standout. 2024 should be another great season for the Gators with these five coming in, and Gator fans will wait as long as they need to for Blakely, especially if it means adding another Olympian to the roster!