Is LIU OK? — Other gym news — Thoughts from Jenna King, aka Rudi the Roster Robot

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, May 20, 2023

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If you’re wondering how I did with the transfer portal predictions this week, I’m now 0-for-5 with the news that Mara Titarsolej will transfer from LIU to Mizzou.

I certainly see the appeal of an SEC team for someone coming from a small program in the northeast. Crowds! Friday Night Heights! KATHY JOHNSON CLARKE COMMENTARY!

Heck, the SEC appeals to transfers from Utah, which fills its own giant arena weekly, and for Sav Schoenherr, the call was coming from inside the house.  I think Titarsolej will become a star for Mizzou, which can certainly benefit from her bars. If she’s able to beam, too, Mizzou — which said goodbye to Helen Hu, Alisa Sheremeta, and beam coach extraordinaire Casey Jo MacPherson after Nattys — will be over the moon. 

But Titarsolej’s announcement brings me to another question I have about the transfer portal this season: What’s going on at LIU? 

First, a cautionary note: I have no firsthand knowledge of anything that may or may not be going on at LIU. But I do have eyes, which detected at least three LIU gymnasts in the transfer portal after the season ended. (Can we call this jumping the shark?)

Titarsolej is one. Ilka Juk is headed to Iowa, and Katy Koopman to Rutgers. Those are three big names for a small program to lose in one year.

According to Juk in an interview that aired this week on the All Things Gymnastics podcast, LIU’s first recruiting class in 2020 (admittedly, a rough year to start…anything) was promised a gym, to be built on campus specifically for the team. It has not materialized, and LIU gymnasts currently drive themselves to practice at a club gym 35 minutes each way from their campus. Juk said that few of her teammates (and none of the international students, like Juk, who is Canadian) had cars, and that while carpools happened, they were not always easy to organize. Juk also said that international gymnasts had trouble securing healthcare coverage and other resources through LIU. “Unfortunately, the institution does not prioritize athletics,” Juk also said.  She also called LIU “a place where not everything is as it seems.” 

Juk said she was looking for “a more stable environment…where we were given more resources” in the transfer process, as well as a campus closer to her family in western Canada. 

Iowa, said Juk, is very inviting to international students, and specifically to Canadians. She described an atmosphere of support, but also a “clean slate.” 

Titarsolej is Dutch, so I wonder if the issues with international students at LIU extended to her as well. (Koopman is not an international student, but she has transferred schools once before, from Bridgeport, and perhaps LIU was a stepping stone for her in an upward trajectory that will carry her to the Big Ten. This is also her COVID year, potentially making her motivations different than that of Juk, a rising junior, and Titarsolej, a rising senior.)

Overall, Juk was very careful not to speak ill of LIU, but it was clear from what she did say that she lacked institutional support there. Hers is one account, but if we are looking at the big picture, we still see more than just her moving on from the program. It is not a good look for LIU Gymnastics, just now graduating its first seniors. If these are growing pains, let’s hope they end soon. 

Other gym news

Kaylia Nemour was released by the French federation and can now compete for Algeria. French journalist Thierry Vildary broke the news in an investigative report on the French federation: 

Nemour thanked him on Twitter “for helping me realize my dream” (pardon my French, literally; I took Latin in high school, but Google Translate helped me out here).

Lauren Hopkins at The Gymternet did a piece on Nemour

And Dvora Meyers at Unorthodox Gymnastics discussed the Nemour controversy last week.  

You can catch all the results from the women’s US National Developmental Program Championships here

Spencer at The Balance Beam Situation recapped Dev Nationals and explained what the results mean for the schools recruiting these gymnasts. 

Paige Anastasi switched her commitment (she was formerly signed with Minnesota) and will now compete for UCLA. 

Sydney Barros said in a comment on this post that she will defer UCLA for a year to train for the Olympics. Barros now competes for Puerto Rico and will compete at the Pan Am Championships later this month, where she can qualify for Worlds and the Pan Am Games. 

Ana Padurariu will demo at Canadian Championships. The gymternet (of which Pamchenkova is royalty) is now speculating that Padurariu may have an elite comeback, and an Olympic run, brewing. I interviewed Padurariu back in December. 

Five at The IX: Jenna King aka Rudi the Roster Robot

You know something’s going down on the gymternet when you see Rudi’s eyeballs. Photo credit: @ncaagymrosters on Twitter

Everyone who is anyone on the gymternet knows Rudi the Roster Robot. Rudi announces every change to every college gym roster as it happens, and it is often where fans find out about retirements, transfers, and other adjustments first.

But did you know that Rudi’s not just a bot? There’s a human being behind the magic, and that person is Jenna King. 

King, 35, is a web analytics implementation engineer (translation: she writes “non-creepy,” as she puts it, tracking code for websites) who also serves as the senior editor at College Gym News. (Full disclosure: I recently joined the CGN staff myself as a features writer.) She taught herself Python to create Rudi, which — fun fact! — was originally intended only for internal use at CGN.

Jenna lives in South Florida, and when she’s not creating gymnastics spreadsheets, she loves to play with her dog and have a glass of wine. 

Tell me a little about how you became a gymnastics fan, and how you ended up at CGN? 

JK: I was apparently obsessed with Tatiana Gutsu when I was four years old, but my earliest gymnastics memories are of the Magnificent Seven winning gold at the 1996 Olympics. After that, I was hooked! I followed the sport pretty intensely as a kid then fell into the four-year fan pattern during my high school and college years. 

After the 2012 Olympics, I started following the sport closely again, but it wasn’t until after Rio that I discovered college gymnastics. Eventually, I joined Twitter and found CGN from there. When they advertised an opening for an admin assistant, I jumped at the chance to give back to the gymnastics community in some way. I initially did quality assurance for the site, but with my coding background, my role evolved as we brainstormed how best to use my skills!

What is Rudi the Roster Robot’s origin story? 

JK: At CGN, we maintain a public spreadsheet for past, current, and future team rosters, and we also have a rosters page on our website, so one of the editors’ jobs was to frequently check team rosters to see if anything had changed. 

Obviously, that was a pain, and sometimes it would take a while to notice that someone had dropped off a roster or that their class year had changed. I was looking for an excuse to learn Python, so I took it upon myself to make a program to scrape the team rosters to automatically check for changes. We only used it internally for a few months, but then we decided to share it with the rest of the gymternet in the interest of transparency.

Rudi has been labeled “the messiest bitch on the gymternet.” When that tweet happened two years ago, were you aware that you had created a monster? 

JK: There had been hints before that, like when Ariana Agrapides was mistakenly removed from Iowa’s roster in 2020 and the team account publicly reassured the gymternet that she was still on the team. But the “messiest bitch” tweet definitely solidified Rudi’s status, and it’s been one of the highlights of this journey!

What has been your favorite moment tracking roster news? 

JK: This isn’t one single moment, but I always enjoy seeing the reactions when a high-profile freshman is added to a roster, because the tweet often gets shared well beyond its usual audience. Similarly, I love seeing the tributes that pour in when a beloved senior is removed from the roster after a long and successful career. If I have to pick a single moment, it might be when I got to tweet out LIU’s first roster; it was the first new program to be created in several years, and it felt like a turning point after several programs had been cut.

Who will benefit the most in this upcoming gym season from roster rambunctiousness, and who benefits the least, in your (or Rudi’s) opinion? 

JK: When we unleashed Rudi onto the world, the main reason we went public was to hopefully play a small role in increasing transparency in a sport that has a deep-rooted culture of secrecy. Unlike more mainstream sports, college gymnastics coaches don’t give weekly press conferences where they address changes to their roster or staff, and there aren’t full-time beat editors devoted to each team who have the time to investigate changes.

I like to think that Rudi has played a role in forcing more transparency from coaches and athletic departments, particularly with staff changes. Even if we don’t get full explanations for staff departures, we at least usually get a statement addressing the change, which is more than we used to get before Rudi. 

As for who benefits the least, I’m sure there have been times when gymnasts who were transferring or leaving a team have wished that Rudi hadn’t announced their departure. The Rudi tweets provide a place for the gymternet to react to the news, and the reactions aren’t always positive or supportive in nature. There was one transfer in particular who sticks out to me because a gymnast on her former team responded to the tweet and publicly bashed her. While reactions like that are ultimately inevitable when you’re in a public forum, that was definitely a low point in my journey with Rudi.

Written by Lela Moore