December 21, 2014

#8 Michigan Preview

Recent History
Last year, Michigan finished an OK, if somewhat disappointing, 9th. They qualified comfortably to championships but failed to put up a major challenge for a Super Six spot. While Michigan was not one of the seeded favorites to advance, they (like Stanford) will have kicked themselves for not taking advantage of the upset opportunity sitting in from of them. The Wolverines ended up needing just a 49.050 on beam to make Super Six, but that didn't really happen.

Michigan has spent the last few seasons right in the mix around the 7-9 area in the rankings, which is just where the coaches have ranked them this year. Their best recent season came in 2011, Kylie Botterman's senior year, when they qualified to Super Six for the first time since the Elise Ray years, but that excellent performance was followed by a low point the next year when a combination of graduations and injuries left them ranked in the 20s for most of the season and unable to challenge. 

2015 Outlook
Given the roster situation this year, with all those essential routines from last year lost and a few key players recovering from injury and yet currently ready to compete, you would be forgiven for having some 2012 flashbacks. The scenarios are somewhat similar, but even though it will be a tough season for Michigan, I'm not putting them down in the 20s. This team should be able to compete, and given what we've seen so far in the preseason and in past performances, I'd still pick them to make it to nationals without hesitation. Super Six will be a very tough ask, but that's probably hypocritical of me to say since I was optimistic about Stanford even though they currently have -3 healthy gymnasts. Michigan has enough people to make lineups right now, and that's a start. 

One concern for Michigan (and one major difference between Michigan and some of the other teams ranked similarly in the preseason poll) is the number of 9.9s in these lineups. Most of the 9.9s from last season aren't here anymore, and the pressure will be on returning gymnasts to score 9.9s for routines that haven't regularly received 9.9s before. In particular, it will be down to Sachi Sugiyama and Nicole Artz to transform from early-lineup supporting players into anchoring stars.

Vault

(Beautiful vault, but let's talk about how one judge gave it a 10. False.)

Returning lineup — Austin Sheppard (9.945), Sachi Sugiyama, (9.870), Talia Chiarelli (9.815), Nicole Artz (no RQS)

Without question, Austin Sheppard is the star vaulter on this team. She was one of the strongest vaulters in the country last season and has done everything except get a 10 on this event. She's the 9.975 queen—usually more deserved than in the video above. Getting Sheppard healthy and back into the vault lineup is essential. I don't see the rest of the team getting much more than a 49.2 without her, which isn't a bad score but is at least three tenths below what the best teams will be recording. If Sheppard's usual vault comes back, Michigan will be much more competitive and much more capable of challenging for 49.3+ (or absorbing an early 9.7 if necessary).

Sugiyama and her 1.5 will be similarly critical. I really liked the idea of putting Sugiyama in the leadoff position last year (early-lineup difficulty is my favorite—it's harder to underscore difficulty and it also has the potential to push up the scores of cleaner, easier routines to follow), but without Sampson and Beilstein this season, Sugiyama's vault is so much more important than it was last year. Michigan in 2015 doesn't have the luxury of putting her in the leadoff spot. She needs to be deep in the lineup getting 9.9s.

A couple more strong scores will need to join them, and Nicole Artz and Talia Chiarelli are the most likely candidates. Chiarelli was getting a lot of 9.800s and 9.850s last year, which is fine, but not the Brestyan's vaulting she can produce. When you're a Brestyan's gymnast, your vault needs punch everyone else in the face every time. I need to be punched in the face this season. There are a few other 9.7ish options for the remaining spots in Brooke Parker and Briley Casanova, but a couple of the freshmen should see time here as well. Vault is not Brianna Brown's best event, but she can work a full, and Ilana Gordon could be a factor as well. I do anticipate a couple early-lineup lower scores this year, so it will be down to the big anchor vaults to lift up the total.

December 20, 2014

Fantasy Gymnastics Time

First things first, if you're not already doing college fantasy gymnastics (and enjoy that kind of thing), you should do it. I played last year and did . . . fine. My major weaknesses were everything, particularly that my beam lineup consisted of two people who could be relied upon to hit well, a couple others who were really happy to get a 9.700, several tumbleweeds, and a box of garbage. It didn't go beautifully.

This year I plan on making the exact same mistakes and having a grand old time doing it. Really, the best part of fantasy gymnastics is making fun of how terribly your team is doing. I've been working on drafting my team and ranking my possible selections today (I'm almost up to the full 150 gymnasts, but I better not get some of these people), and I thought I'd share my rankings and my overthinking process. If you're playing, feel free to do the same. We can all make fun of each other together this year!

My draft:
  1. Bridget Sloan
  2. Rheagan Courville
  3. Kytra Hunter
  4. Samantha Peszek
  5. Lindsay Mable
  6. Georgia Dabritz
  7. Chayse Capps
  8. Haley Scaman
  9. Jessie Jordan
  10. Jessie DeZiel
  11. Brenna Dowell
  12. Kennedy Baker
  13. Bridgette Caquatto
  14. Alex McMurtry
  15. Kara Lovan
  16. Ivana Hong
  17. Christine Peng-Peng Lee
  18. Elizabeth Price
  19. Caitlin Atkinson
  20. Danusia Francis
  21. Kristina Vaculik
  22. Grace Williams
  23. Mackenzie Brannan
  24. Brittany Rogers
  25. Tory Wilson
  26. Brandie Jay
  27. Ashleigh Gnat
  28. Hollie Blanske
  29. Ciera Perkins
  30. Katie Bailey
  31. Nicole Artz
  32. Corrie Lothrop
  33. Madeline Gardiner
  34. Kaitlyn Clark
  35. Kayla Williams
  36. Maile'ana Kanewa
  37. Lauren Beers
  38. Sachi Sugiyama
  39. Brittni Watkins
  40. Kari Lee
  41. Abigail Milliet
  42. Chelsea Davis
  43. Amanda Wellick
  44. Chelsea Tang
  45. Kamerin Moore
  46. Natalie Vaculik
  47. Kaytianna McMillan
  48. Jennifer Pinches
  49. Shelby Edwards
  50. Kiera Brown
  51. Keeley Kmieciak
  52. Erin Macadaeg
  53. Rebecca Clark
  54. Taylor Harrison
  55. Vivi Babalis
  56. Toni-Ann Williams
  57. MJ Rott
  58. Austin Sheppard
  59. Jennie Laeng
  60. Brianna Brown
  61. Talia Chiarelli
  62. Lloimincia Hall
  63. Braie Speed
  64. Becky Tutka
  65. Kailah Delaney
  66. Taylor Rice
  67. Baely Rowe
  68. McKenzie Wofford
  69. Claire Boyce
  70. Aja Sims
  71. Rachel Spicer
  72. Giana O'Connor
  73. Risa Perez
  74. Bri Guy
  75. Angi Cipra
Am I pretending that all of this makes sense? No. But it's what I have right now. This is the part that I've thought about. After #75, it's just "I've heard of you/You got a 9.850 once that I remember."

Thoughts:
  • Everyone plus a thousand other people will be putting Bridget Sloan first, so it would be a smart strategy to select someone else as #1 because you would be more likely to get her. I have not done that.

December 18, 2014

#9 Nebraska Preview

Recent History
Nebraska scored the upset of the championship last season, using a 9.900-athon on beam to zoom past both UCLA and Utah and qualify to Super Six. Several counting errors in the final saw the Huskers fall well behind the top teams, but making it there was the victory. It was Nebraska's first Super Six showing since 2011, when senior Erin Davis led them safely through the error-ridden catastrophe that was the second semifinal. Since a rough patch in the late 2000s, culminating in missing out on their home championships, Nebraska has qualified for championships four of the last five years, though the memory of that three-event regional meltdown in 2013 still lingers.

2015 Outlook
Nebraska came into championships as the #9 team last year, but in spite of making Super Six, they appear to have made no progress in the eyes of the coaches, remaining right at #9 in this year's preseason poll. It makes sense. It's hard to expect a Super Six surprise two years in a row when so many similar-quality teams are improving over last year. I also have Nebraska at #9, but I don't feel good about it, especially because in spite of losing Emily Wong, there's a very good chance that they too will be better in 2015 than in 2014.

Jessie DeZiel and Hollie Blanske look to be the AA backbone of the team among the returning competitors (if you're looking for a good fantasy gym AA option that not everyone is picking, I'd recommend Blankse), and a good deal of last year's solid supporting cast of 9.850s is either returning or coming back from injury as well. That will give Nebraska more depth than we usually expect and should end up providing a larger margin for new injuries than teams like Stanford, Michigan, and UCLA will have, which could be decisive. The Huskers are one of the more mysterious teams because they don't get a lot of meet exposure and don't produce a lot of preseason media (a big reason why it's always kind of a surprise when they're good), but they're an easy bet to return to championships this year. And if freshmen Grace Williams and Kamerin Moore are able to use their combined powers to replace those Wong scores, Super Six is reasonable and would come as less of a surprise than last year.  

Vault


Returning lineup — Jessie DeZiel (9.935 RQS), Hollie Blanske (9.885), Ariel Martin (9.865), Desire' Stephens (9.850), Jennie Laeng (no RQS)

Nebraska can vault. We know that. Their blocks are consistently among the best in the country, and we regularly see Nebraska gymnasts that seemingly have no business in a vault lineup ultimately developing into integral high-scoring vaulters. That's why even though last postseason was a roaring success for Nebraska, those vault scores in the 49.2s were a letdown. I expected them to be a couple tenths better than that, especially coming off a 2013 season that ended in disappointment but also ended with some back-to-back-to-back insane 9.950 vaults, many from gymnasts who returned in 2014. 

Vault is one of the events where Nebraska should have a surplus of 9.825-9.850s this year, with likely early-mid lineup options from Martin, Laeng, Stephens, and possibly Ashley Lambert (who missed the end of last season but is, I believe, indestructible). The freshmen Williams and Moore both bring solid, respectable, regular yurchenko fulls that I expect to develop at Nebraska, Danielle Breen has a clean enough yhalf, and DeZiel and Blanske should return to the deeper lineup spots. DeZiel is the one vital competition who can definitely be relied upon for those essential 9.950s to keep pace with the big guns. Nine vaulters and a bunch of 9.850s may not sound like a big deal, but coming off multiple seasons where Nebraska has been able to put up only five vaulters in multiple meets, it is.


December 15, 2014

#10 Stanford Preview

Recent History
Stanford's recent results have been very much a mixed bag, the mixed-est of mixed bags. Since those very strong teams of 2007 and 2008 (the Tabitha Yim, Liz Tricase, Carly Janiga years), each year the Cardinal either finish a surprising and admirable 4th that few predicted (2010, 2012) or disappoint, missing Nationals entirely in 2011, suffering the Ivana Hong injury and limping to a semifinal 194 in 2013, or recording last year's fine but tepid semifinal 196.600 (with 49.025s on vault and floor) that whiffed at a legitimate opportunity to take advantage of an off day from LSU.

2015 Outlook
At its healthy ideal, this year's team appears closer to 4th place than a whiff and would seem under-ranked at #10. The roster should be emboldened by Ivana Hong's return after a long injury layoff and the introduction of Elizabeth Price, who is still one of the top all-arounders in the world and is the most impressive freshman in this year's national incoming class. They're the boost this team needs, and with many of the routines from last season returning, the amount of Hong and Price contribution will largely dictate how much Stanford can improve on that 9th-place finish from last year.

As usual, don't be surprised by some January and February 195s, especially as Price comes back from whatever foot-adjacent issue she has been dealing with, but in the end, Super Six is a realistic expectation for this roster. Anything less than that would be a disappointing finish. That's especially true because several significant gymnasts, namely Kristina Vaculik, are in their final year of eligibility. It's going to be harder in 2016 than it will be 2015. This is the year, at least until those other they're-going-to-Stanford-but-no-one's-saying-it elites arrive.

Vault


Returning lineup — Nicolette McNair (9.910 RQS), Rachel Daum (9.870), Kristina Vaculik (9.870), Taylor Rice (9.835), Danielle McNair (9.830), Melissa Chuang (9.825)

Stanford managed to put together a fairly competitive vault lineup last season, finishing 9th in the nation with an RQS of 49.325. They did, however, falter in the postseason with way too many 9.800s and 9.825s. One or two of those scores is OK this year, but it can't be the entire lineup if they expect to make those Super Six dreams come true. The good news is that all six postseason vaults from last year are returning, so there's no reason to expect regression and every reason to expect improvement. No, that's not the good news. The actual good news is Elizabeth Price. Because obviously.

Last year, Stanford's biggest problem on vault was the lack that one stellar routine, the 9.950 that can erase some wonky landings early in the lineup. They recorded zero 9.950s on vault all year, so there was rarely a margin for any bouncy landings. Price can be that stellar vaulter when healthy, and she and Nicolette McNair should be a competitive top duo for 9.9s. If the rest of the team can cobble together at least three more consistently 9.850 vaults, they should have a solid baseline from which to work toward 49.350s. That will keep them competitive enough so that they can shine on bars and beam. It's not going to be the biggest, baddest vault lineup from top to bottom, but it doesn't need to be a weakness this year. The rest of the returning vaulters should fight it out for the remaining spots, with Daum and Vaculik seeming the most likely given their performances last year, and Danielle McNair bringing the difficulty with her y1.5 for 9.825.

We all know Ivana Hong has an excellent yfull that can score a 9.900 as well, but in a career with two ACL tears suffered on vault, I wouldn't count on anything . . . Just give us a lovely bars and beam, and we have no right to ask for anything more.

December 13, 2014

2015 Preseason Coaches Poll and Commentary

Once again, the NCAA coaches have made their selections in the year's preseason poll because "But mom, all the other sports get to do it!" That also means it's my turn to take the poll way more seriously than is intended or healthy.

-The coaches aren't really going through and dissecting all the other teams and what routines they'll be putting up this year, so selections are usually based on last year's results, reputation, friendship, and how much gin is within reaching distance. (Unfortunately, the coaches weren't that drunk this year. It sort of makes sense. Sort of.)

-I'm with them on the top 3, as I think pretty much everyone would be. I too would place Florida just ahead of Oklahoma because, even though Florida has lost a few more significant scores than Oklahoma, they're also bringing in a stronger freshman class. Still, there's very, very little between the teams as it stands now—it's basically a dead heat until we see competition routines—so it's interesting that more than twice as many coaches gave Florida a first-place vote than Oklahoma. Oklahoma gets less exposure than Florida and isn't in a gymnastics power conference, and in spite of winning the co-title last season, is still fighting that reputation battle to some extent.

December 10, 2014

The Latest from Training (and Talking)

In verbal news, earlier this week Jazmyn Foberg and Laurie Hernandez of MG Elite both verbaled to Florida, because so is everyone. They're not set to start competing for Florida until 2019 (which is like 2230 as far as I'm concerned), and so much can happen between now and then, but it's worth noting that the Florida elite pipeline is just getting stronger.

Oklahoma
       

Michigan held a scored exhibition last weekend. Gymnastike has a whole mess of videos if you're into that kind of thing. 
There's no need to pay attention to the actual scores because it's the beginning of December, but having just 7 people making the top 6 right now reinforces the importance of those few top-level AAers like Sugiyama and Artz and how much the team will be relying on Brianna Brown right away. Her bars routine still needs some cleaning up but stands out as one with major scoring potential because of her release amplitude. Also note that they were missing Lauren Marinez with injury and Austin Sheppard with continued recovery (?).        

Illinois
 

December 6, 2014

Returning Scores for 2015

Yesterday, the Oklahoma Sooners got all intrasquady and have posted a few videos to faceplace. At the very least, it appears we will have to change Chayse Capps Love Fest 2014 to Chayse Capps Love Fest 2015. Also Haley Scaman is getting really familiar with the floor this year.

In other news, while we wait for the coaches to release their annual and extremely meaningful poll so that we can spend a week making fun of it, I decided to check out how the top teams stack up based only on the scores they're returning from their postseason lineups last season. Because why not. 

For each of the top 10 teams last season, I inserted the RQSs of the returning gymnasts back into the lineups on each event, then replaced all the lost scores from now-departed seniors with 9.800, dropping the lowest score as we always do. I chose 9.800 because for teams of the highest level, it is the baseline replacement-level score. They all should be able to come up with at least 9.800s from backups. It's a fine, regular, middle-of-the-road score.

Ranking the teams like this is a way of seeing how much scoring value each team has lost since last year. We can always say that one team lost 10 routines while another lost only 4, but that doesn't necessarily reflect the value of those individual routines. If a team is losing a bunch of routines, but they're mostly 9.825s, it's probably not that hard to replace those scores. If a team is losing a few routines, but they're 9.950s, that's going to be much harder. Inserting 9.800 in place of those scores illuminates how much scoring value the freshmen, injury returners, and backups from last season will have to contribute for the team to return to (or improve on) last year's level, not just how many lineup spots they'll have to fill.

For gymnasts without an RQS, or one that was not appropriately representative, I used the season average for hit routines, which best mimics what RQS is intended to tell us.

1. LSU – 197.725
Vault - 49.475 [2]
Bars - 49.320 [5]
Beam - 49.375 [1]
Floor - 49.555 [1]

2. OKLAHOMA - 197.650
Vault - 49.530 [1]
Bars - 49.353 [3]
Beam - 49.329 [2]
Floor - 49.438 [3]

3. FLORIDA - 197.600
Vault - 49.390 [4]
Bars - 49.360 [2]
Beam - 49.325 [3]
Floor - 49.525 [2]

-A clear top three emerges in LSU, Oklahoma, and Florida, which is not surprising. Along with Alabama, they were the top teams last season, and Alabama lost a big bag of essential routines.

-Of these three, Florida is taking the biggest knock this year without Caquatto and Johnson, but the Gators will balance that out by having the year's most impressive freshman class. It does means that among these teams, Florida needs to get the most out of its freshmen and returning backups, whereas LSU is returning its entire floor lineup from Super Six last year, so further contribution there would just be a bonus.

-LSU is retaining the most value of any team, but that bars ranking (5th of these 10 teams) reflects the dire lack of Sarie Morrison. The other low(ish) team ranking in this group is Florida's vault, with the 4th-best returning vault contingent, but they do look to be stronger there is season than last season with Kennedy Baker and Alex McMurtry coming in.

-Oklahoma is already returning the best vault scores, and now they're adding Brenna Dowell and Ali Jackson. So there's that. Interestingly, without Taylor Spears, Oklahoma drops below LSU on beam for its returning scores, but make no mistake, the Sooners won't be throwing up some measly replacement-level 9.800 in that lineup.