April 27, 2016

Before They Were NCAA – The 2012 Elites

Now comes the point in the year when we must attempt to wrench ourselves out of an NCAA mindset and pay attention to the elite world again. We're little more than a month away from Classic now, so the Mad Max remake that masquerades as the US Olympic selection process is soon to reach its familiarly feverish levels. "Do we actually need a bars specialist?" he asks, sharpening an abandoned femur into a spear.

As a bridge between the two worlds, I periodically like to take the results of past US elite competitions and examine how the gymnasts ranked at that point compared to how they would eventually fare in NCAA a few years later. Who rises? Who falls? Who is like the mousy girl in the high school movie who takes off her glasses and suddenly turns beautiful in the NCAA code? Who was using elite difficulty to mask deficiencies that are exposed in college? As we know, success in elite and success in NCAA do not have a 1:1 relationship.

Today, I have taken the various AA and event results from the 2012 Visa Championships (Visa Championships...feels so long ago. Like the John Hancock US Championships, which were basically contemporaneous with John Hancock) and bolded the gymnasts who competed in NCAA at some point after this competition (so I didn't include Anna Li since she's a category all her own). A number of items jump out. 

All-around
1. Wieber – 69.650/61.250
2. Douglas – 60.650/61.050
3. Raisman – 69.200/69.750
4. Ross – 59.750/60.200
5. Price – 59.600/58.500
6. Finnegan – 59.150/58.450
7. Vega – 56.500/57.950
8. Baker – 58.050/56.400
9. Dowell – 55.7800/56.900
10. Sloan – 56.250/56.150
11. Milliet – 55.250/55.150
12. Brown – 54.200/55.500
13. McLaughlin – 55.400/53.150
14. Jetter – 53.550/54.850
15. Skinner – 55.550/51.600
16. Jay – 52.550/53.150
17. Wofford – 51.900/53.350

Fewer than half of the future NCAA gymnasts who competed AA at the 2012 championships continued to do AA in college (and only two or three of the eleven have been full-time AAers for multiple seasons), which helps illustrate the danger of assuming NCAA dominance for all elites. Those who continue at the same strength as all-arounders, your Sloans and Prices and Bakers, are the exception more than the rule. Instead, we have the usual random smattering of competition and success levels, ranging from barely-one-event status to best-in-the-country status. But what's of most interest here is the reason they're not competing AA in college.

We tend to assume that the biggest obstacle for elites transitioning to NCAA is health, that they all would be top-ranked gems if their bodies weren't halfway to the glue factory by now after so many trips to Martha's Texas Adventure. While that's true in several cases, many are relatively healthy but simply not making all the lineups. Even someone who counts in the all-around category like Brianna Brown probably wouldn't have done AA this year if Casanova had been available, and Brandie Jay spent three years not even getting close to Georgia's beam lineup, not because of health but because of "Aaahh, beam!" In her 2015 season at Oklahoma, Dowell was in a similar position to Jay. Sometimes, in spite of an elite pedigree and strong rankings through the age of 18, gymnasts are just not top six on their NCAA teams, even on events that were elite strengths.

In breaking down some of the specific rankings, I'm not taking Sloan into account much because she wasn't up to her full level during 2012, so this isn't really reflective of her standing in the elite world the way 2008 and 2009 were. It's not like Sloan was some middle-of-the-pack elite who suddenly bloomed in college.

Brandie Jay is one who leapfrogged many of her higher-ranked elite peers to become a bigger and more influential contributor in NCAA than she was in elite, finishing largely on par with the likes of Kennedy Baker, who was a higher scorer and more compelling contender during the end of the last quad. Jay is probably the best example here of someone whose dominant years were still ahead of her in 2012.



Finnegan is also an interesting case because if we were to judge her freshman year by the second-behind-Price standard that 2012 gave us, the 2016 season would be considered somewhat average and not the dominance and team-leading influence normally expected of an Olympic alternate. Yet, having gone through years of "does she do gymnastics?" in between, her three events of 9.850-9.900 and ability to leg-event at all this season are a somewhat unexpected and welcome revelation. A lot happens between elite and NCAA, and we don't often maintain expectations for NCAA based on elite results, especially for certain types of gymnasts. I don't think many would say Abby Milliet's NCAA career has been disappointing so far, but she's certainly not top-6 AA level. Even before Grace McLaughlin started at Florida, she was at "maybe a beam routine?" status, not AA-queen status.

A lot of this does come down to injury history/gymnastics style. We tend to maintain elite expectations for gymnasts with Raisman legs who look like they can hold up to four more years of gymnastics, but with the fragile-looking spinny twisties, we're just happy to see a routine at some point, even if it's an exhibition bars. We're like, "Good for her! I can see knees! She still has them!"  

It's worth noting that there are no "whoops, I broke and then disappeared into witness protection without another word" gymnasts in this AA collection, which is encouraging. Everyone either made the Olympics and turned pro, did NCAA, or will do NCAA. The only one in the whole 2012 competition who doesn't fit into those categories is Bross. There are usually more.

Vault (one vault, two days)
1. Wieber 15.650/15.900
2. Price 15.800/15.600 
3. Douglas 15.350/15.800
4. Sacramone 15.450/15.500
5. Raisman 15.450/15.300
6. Ross 15.100/15.250
7. Finnegan 15.000/14.900
8. Baker 14.650/14.800
9. Skinner 14.550/14.600
10. Jay 14.600/14.500
11. Dowell 14.250/14.700
12. Vega 14.100/14.500
13. Jetter 14.100/14.150
14. Milliet 14.050/14.150
15. Brown 13.950/14.100
16. McLaughlin 13.800/14.200
17. Sloan 13.850/14.150
18. Brannan 13.800/14.150
19. Wofford 12.000/12.200

April 24, 2016

Great Moments in Beam Choreography



End of post.

While Catalina's attempt to explain the schematics of her plan for a space railroad may be the gold standard, Ponor is far from the only member of the "Is this...what is this?" beam hall of fame. The US system has been churning out champions left and right for years and years.

For artistry. We do so much for artistry. And has it ever said thank you? Even once? Pssh.

I mean, who can forget The Legend of Ol' Flappy?


Fly away home, Nastia. Fly away home.

Like any great artist, she inspired a generation who wanted to be just like her.


Nope. Fallen out of the nest.

We all remember where we were the first time we saw this revelation.


Scholars have hotly debated the author's intent in this piece since its debut, and they may never stop. Is she advertising an old-people smoothie juicer? Milking a hover-cow? Explaining how many Memmels it takes to screw in a lightbulb? (Four?) Perhaps it's intentionally ambiguous. For art. 

April 22, 2016

Comings and Goings

Oklahoma won the national title six whole days ago, which is like a thousand years ago. Sorry, Oklahoma. We're moving on. What have you done for us lately? Basically nothing? That's what I thought.

The 2017 season is just around the corner, as long as that corner is really, really far away. We don't know anything real about 2017 yet, but we do know which valuable gems and enthusiastic leaders in the training gym we won't see next year, along with which bright new lights full of possibilities and undiagnosed shin problems will be joining the teams in their place.

Detailed looks at each team and roster will come much later, when the season approaches and I actually vaguely know who these JO gymnasts are, but let's call this a preliminary glance at who's coming and who's going on each team now that the 2016 season is closed and locked away forever and the traditional eight-month moratorium has been placed on the terms "parity," "yurchenko arabian," "confident leadoff," and "life lessons." I've placed the top teams into various categories based on the current outlook and added the RQSs for the routines they will lose after 2016.

This is, of course, assuming that people do what they're supposed to and don't suddenly turn pro or run off to join a traveling circus or whatever.

Smooth sailing

LSU
Out: Jessica Savona, Randii Wyrick, Michelle Gauthier
In: Ruby Harrold, Kennedi Edney, Ashlyn Kirby

Savona - VT - 9.820 avg; UB - 9.840; FX - 9.902 avg
Wyrick - UB - 9.810; FX - 9.905



The Tigers certainly lose a few critical routines, the most important being Savona's floor, though they already gained some experience with life after Savona's vault and floor when she was out early this season (and life after Wyrick's bars when she didn't compete in the postseason). They survived, for the most part. Several of these openings should be filled by people already on the roster, and while I don't think we can have any expectations for Priessman at this point because any week she's healthy enough to compete is just a bonus, Kelley should do more next year. Add to that this freshman class, and I think there's every reason to expect LSU 2017 to be stronger than LSU 2016. 

ALABAMA
Out: Lauren Beers, Carley Sims
In: Maddie Desch, Wynter Childers, Shea Mahoney

Beers - VT - 9.905; UB - 9.690; FX - 9.915
Sims - FX - 9.868

Alabama is in a similar position to LSU in terms of not losing that many routines, though Alabama's losses carry a bit more significance, especially on floor with the team's two strongest floories departing. They'll need some of the upperclassmen like Brannan to step up and be a little more Beersy on those events and a little less middle-of-the-lineupy, but with increased contribution from a potential star like Ari Guerra who didn't figure at all by the end of the season and the introduction of Maddie Desch and Wynter Childers, Alabama's first-ever recruit who's also a citizen of District 1, I'm not too worried about the look of Alabama's future roster.

CAL
Out: Serena Leong (?), Kristina Heymann
In: Cassidy Keelen, Rachael Mastrangelo

Cal can't have much to complain about in terms of roster shake-ups since the only two seniors on the roster for 2016 were Heymann, who used to contribute a backup vault, and Leong, who has been injured forever and would be in line for a redshirt season. When healthy, Leong was half of the duo that ushered in Cal's rebirth, along with Asturias. Regardless, Cal shouldn't have to lose anything at all from this season's 7th-place team, only gain for next year. The future is bright.  


Dark, but hopeful
These schools will lose many more significant routines than the smooth-sailing schools, but their incoming classes are cause for optimism about maintaining or improving their current levels nonetheless.

OKLAHOMA
Out: Haley Scaman, Keeley Kmieciak, Hunter Price, Nicole Turner
In: Maggie Nichols, Brenna Dowell, Brehanna Showers, Jade Degouveia

Scaman - VT - 9.890; UB - 9.880; FX - 9.945
Kmieciak - VT - 9.865; UB - 9.930; BB - 9.870; FX - 9.870
Price - VT - 9.871 avg



Oh hi, we just won a national championship, and we're going to have Maggie Nichols and Brenna Dowell (back) next year. Oklahoma is losing eight routines from the championship lineups (which is a high but not necessarily devastating number), though nearly every one of those routines was a realistic and regular 9.900. But then, if Nichols and Dowell do show up and deliver next year, that's pretty much your eight high-scoring replacement routines right there (Dowell didn't compete beam in 2015 but I think we all expect that she will Brandie Jay on beam at some point in her OU career). That doesn't even account for the other newcomers, the traditional Oklahoma magicking up of unexpected routines, and the extra redshirt season from long lost Maile Kanewa.

FLORIDA
Out: Bridget Sloan, Bridgey Caquatto, Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto, Morgan Frazier
In: Amelia Hundley, Alyssa Baumann, Rachel Gowey, Maegan Chant

Sloan - VT - 9.900; UB - 9.945; BB - 9.910; FX - 9.950
Caquatto - VT - 9.810; UB - 9.915; FX - 9.900
BDG - UB - 9.865

You wouldn't think the Gators would be in much trouble next year since they're simply losing the services of that non-competing walk-on Bridget Sloan. (Who?) Still, somehow, Florida is bleeding the same number of essential routines as Oklahoma, with the added problem of losing the team's big old star, 10.0-machine, and four-year identity of the program. It's a worry. Fortunately, as Jean-Ralphio would say, this freshman class is off the cherrrrts.

Because Florida is losing such important gymnasts, however, these newbies can't come in and be I'm-not-helping elites who are perpetually injured. They have to be multi-event 9.9s, which will make it interesting to watch how they progress during this summer's Trials season. None are in the serious hunt for the US Olympic team, but that doesn't mean they can't be ground into a fine powder trying. Baumann and Gowey are beautiful rays of starlight, but they also have that fragile "I can only do bars and beam in college because my bones are now made of tears and hope" look to them, and Amelia Hundley is from CGA, so enough said. Florida will need to get a couple big leg-event routines out of this group.

April 20, 2016

2016: A Season That Happened

Another NCAA season has come and gone, but our aggressive sighing from the corner of the room will live on forever. They may take our season, but they will never take our eye rolls.

Several days on from Oklahoma toe pointing off into the sunset with a trophy in hand, this seems an appropriate moment to cobble together a series of reflections and important frowns relating to the season just passed and college gymnastics in general. Only eight and a half months until it starts all over again! But, of course, we also have that pitiful little zone meet called the Olympics coming up not nearly soon enough, so I'll be all over the elite action this year with the same level of dedicated preposterousness I usually reserve NCAA. You guys, we have a lot more things to break. At the time, I didn't quite realize what a good job we did breaking Romania last year, but...it definitely took.



That Frogchenko 2/3ish is my new favorite vault. It's going to start from a 10.0 in next year's NCAA code. Cal is already training two of them.

Oklahoma
For the second time, and the first time outright, our champions are the Oklahoma Sooners, who were rewarded for their commitment to performing the cleanest gymnastics in the competition. Super Six wasn't a perfect meet for the Sooners by any means, which is what made it exciting in the first place (a season-best hit from Oklahoma, and this thing isn't very close). Weaker showings on vault and the second half of bars kept the competition finely poised, but Oklahoma's errors were less egregious than those of the other teams and did not include any falls. Focus on details like split and chest positions made it much more difficult for the judges to deny Oklahoma those valuable 9.9s in a theoretically tighter-scored environment, and the Sooner managed to snatch twelve of them. Seven was the most 9.9s coming from any other team in Super Six. 

My questions about Oklahoma's title chances coming into the season primarily revolved around the necessity of replacing valuable 9.9 routines on bars and beam with gymnasts who were already on the roster but not making those lineups, often a recipe for regression. While Oklahoma did have to replace a number of those lost routines with tired old sophomores and juniors, the coaching staff was able to get Oklahoma-level routines out of each them. Ali Jackson doing bars? Chayse Capps getting her best scores on bars? What life if this? I went back to my notes about the freshmen from when Capps started, which I still have because I'm a gymnastics hoarder, and I wrote "Capps - VT, BB, FX. Bars - No." So there's that. I also wrote, "beam could be one of her potential contributions." Could be? Potential? You unbelievable idiot.



This is one of the defining characteristics of the Oklahoma team. People compete events no one ever expected them to compete when they started, from Hollie Vise doing a vault her senior year to all these competitors this season. And while I wouldn't consider these bars and beam lineups all-time great Oklahoma lineups, they more than got the job done. 

Other teams also used gymnasts who weren't making lineups in previous seasons, whether it's McLaughlin and Fassbender filling in on floor for Florida or Sanders doing beam for Alabama, but those routines were the replacement-level 9.825 scores we would expect from someone on the cusp of the lineup. They didn't become difference makers in the way that Oklahoma's replacement routines did, a critical factor in the Sooners' triumph.

The year of the upstarts
Some solid noise was made this season by teams we don't normally expect to do anything. Eastern Michigan came, you know, sort of close to making nationals, George Washington broke into the big girls club, and Bowling Green made regionals, not to mention Cal crashing the party of the normal nationals qualifiers, Iowa sneaking into the realm of contenders, and Boise State and Denver spending some serious time in the first tier.

The storylines were different. There were different teams to follow than usual, which is exciting. But that's all a little too positive, isn't it? If some teams break in, others have to fall out and perform worse than is expected or acceptable. The biggest disappointment of the season was Illinois, a team that appeared to have the talent to make its traditional biennial nationals appearance but was clearly well off the pace even before devastating injuries sealed the season. Ohio State has also completely disappeared from the conversation since a nationals appearance several years ago that shouldn't really have been as random and fluky and Kent Statey as it has become in retrospect. Then there's also Penn State and...well...that whole abuse thing. And DOCTOR Rene Lyst being asked to sashay away from Arizona State, a program that was good as recently as 10 years ago and is now the punchline of the NCAA. 

In a somewhat different category are Oregon State and Arkansas, two teams that had perfectly fine  and respectable seasons and might have made nationals with a kinder regionals draw, in the case of Oregon State (Oregon State was the only school that had to face two eventual Super Six teams at regionals), or without some critical injuries, in the case of Arkansas. Still, this makes three straight years of missing nationals for Arkansas and three of the last four for Oregon State, both programs that at this point should expect to make nationals every time.

The presence of these upstarts puts more and more pressure on the top teams to be better during the regular season so that they don't end up with those very challenging regionals draws, which is positive because it makes the regular season mean more. Stanford did not have an impressive regular season and was a whisker away from being unseeded at regionals, which would have produced an even more challenging setup. For a team that currently has only three home meets a year, several of which are in a glorified black box theater, the incentive to make regular-season meets a more invigorating and successful experience grows stronger.

Scoring the rotation order
Another significant characteristic of the season, perhaps the most extreme, was the presence of the fifth event, Home Floor. Home Floor is the phenomenon in which a host team goes to floor in the final rotation only to find that the code of points has suddenly been replaced with a rainbow lollipop made of panda hearts. Home floor has always been a thing, but this year, floor scoring reached a ten-year high, rendering the effects of home floor more pronounced than ever. If you were a top team who didn't get 49.500 on floor at home, you might as well be counting 80 falls.

So, end-of-meet scoring is a problem, and one that's not simply confined to floor and home meets. At nationals, we also saw the effects of scoring the rotation order and elevating scores based on when the routine came in the meet. In Super Six, the average team score per rotation was 49.206 in the first rotation, 49.2375 in the second, 49.369 in the third, 49.225 in the fourth, 49.350 in the fifth, and then suddenly 49.500 in the final rotation. The highest team score on each apparatus in Super Six was recorded by the team that happened to be competing on it in the final rotation. Of the 37 scores of 9.9 or greater given out in Super Six, 23 came in the second half of the meet compared to 14 in the first half of the meet. As many 9.9s were given out in the final rotation as in the first three rotations combined. Amazing how all the teams got to perform on their best events in the second half of the meet. What a coincidence.

The rotation order should be random nothing. It shouldn't decide the scores, and finishing on a bye (or not starting on a bye) should not be an actual disadvantage in the competition the way it appears to be now. It's a judge's job not to get excited by the circumstances of the meet (which is why smiling should be banned forever—it reads as unprofessional), and judges need to be made aware of tendencies to elevate scores at the ends of meets. They must make a point of judging the first routine of the first rotation with the same lens as the sixth routine of the sixth rotation and repel the natural instinct to loosen and elevate scores as the meet becomes louder, longer, and more exciting, not allowing themselves to be swayed by the siren song of fervent cheering and a passionate atmosphere. They're not here to enjoy this. They're here on business.

April 16, 2016

Super Six Live Blog

The end's not near, it's here.

This is the part where we're supposed to use a lot of nonsense sports cliches, I think. It all comes down to this. The best of the best. All in this together. Teamwork-sisterhood. Teamwisterhood. Lessons. Desire. Heart and grit and other terms that are ambiguous enough so as to avoid actually providing analysis or having anything to say. Montage beginning with a closeup of a sweat droplet to symbolize the hard work no one sees. Leave it all on the floor. Is that making you feel sporty and championshipy enough?

Well, tough.

Anyway, it's Super Six. So, try to enjoy it or whatever. Or actively loathe it if that's your thing. Utah fans, that's probably your thing today. We begin at 9:00 ET/6:00 PT.

LIVE SCORES

LIVE STREAMS

Here is the rotation order, along with the semifinal scores for each team on each event. Once again, the highest score of that rotation is highlighted.



Alabama ending on beam, Florida ending on bars, LSU ending on vault...everyone always gets the same order. We all remember Florida finishing on bars last year because McMurtry, and Alabama had this rotation order in 2012, 2013, and 2014. UCLA also famously had this order in...2012? The year EHH went OOB in the first rotation and that ended up being the difference for the title.

April 15, 2016

National Semifinals Live Blog

The time is now. The teams are here. The beam is angry. The only thing we have to fear is everything.

The first semifinal begins at 2:00 ET/11:00 PT, so you'll be familiar with this as the moment when you start to get weirdly nervous, like too nervous, even though you're not one of the competitors and don't even have a vested interest in one result over another. And yet you're still inexplicably freezing. 

Live scores 
Live scores - Semifinal #2
ESPN3 stream-a-thon

By way of unnecessary repetition and...it's nationals today!...here's the rotation breakdown with team RQSs for each event. The highest score in each rotation is highlighted, i.e. the team that "should" win that rotation/gain ground there, but mostly just so that there are colors here to make it look brighter and therefore interesting. 


April 14, 2016

The National Championship Is TOMORROW

Tomorrow. As in, you know, tomorrow.

Let this be your headquarters for all the necessary and wildly unnecessary links and information you could possibly need for the championship. But before I present the links, I have some truly terrible news. Nationals will be using statbroadcast for the live scores. Sigh. They might as well be sent by raven or etched in cuneiform on a tablet and then buried by the sands of time. We all need to be there for each other in this time of crisis.

At least ESPN is continuing the system from SECs and giving us both a TV broadcast and the four-event online view.

"Live" scores
ESPN3 four-event and single-event streams

Going with the main TV feed and the four-event window seemed to work well during SECs. We'll still miss things because there are too many important events going on at one time, but now we have only ourselves to blame instead of the old "I CAN'T BELIEVE THEY DIDN'T SHOW HER, BURN LIFE," which is actually a shame. It's a gymnastics tradition. Where would we be without it?


Times are central, with semifinal #1 at 1:00 CT and semifinal #2 at 7:00 CT. Just know that it's your whole day. You will not be able to do anything else. These are the rules. Super Six is later this year than in the past, at 8:00 CT on Saturday. Oooh, nighttime. Spicy. 

Previews
Semifinal #1
Semifinal #2
Super Six
Individual titles

Semifinal #1, projected lineups and regional scores


Semifinal #2, projected lineups and regional scores


A few little nuggets of news have also been rattling around this week, significantly that Lindsay Mable scored the upset of the century by beating Bridget Sloan for the AAI Award, news that has been communicated in exactly zero places. Great job once again, college gymnastics. Seriously, there's not even an article on Minnesota's website about it. Anyway, it's kind of a big deal. I'm assuming some strategic voting was in place here that gave it to Mable instead of Sloan, enough people thinking that everyone was going to vote for Sloan, so they decided to throw votes at the underdog pick. Or people thinking that Sloan had already won everything and life, so why not go a different direction? Sloan got Streeped here, I think. 

Yesterday also began the spring NLI signing period, which has become the annual Stanford and UCLA former elite announcement day. Stanford signed rare Canadian gem Aleeza Yu, who will fit right in because she's already in a knee brace. Welcome to the team! UCLA announced the signing of Felicia Hano to join the giant bangarang class for next year that will cover everything in sheets of gold and fix all the problems, including Kyla Ross, Madison Kocian, Anna Glenn, Grace Glenn, Schmuel Glenn, Curly Glenn, and Zeppo Glenn. Nica Hults was also supposed to sign for next season but is currently nowhere to be found. If you're thinking that's a lot of people, it is. Even without Hults, my current count of UCLA gymnasts for next year who at least were on scholarship at some point is Cipra, Gerber, Glenn, Glenn, Hall, Hano, Kocian, Lee, Metcalf, Mossett, Ohashi, Preston, Ross, and Toronjo. That's 14 people, so who wants to play a rousing game of Which of You Aren't on Scholarship Anymore?

Also, can Hano maybe vault tomorrow? That's probably allowed, right?