December 30, 2012

#1 Alabama Preview



And so we arrive at the top with the defending champions.

In contrast to Florida, which has received an influx of major talent, and UCLA, which has lost so many routines, Alabama should remain the most intact from last season. Geralen Stack-Eaton leaves a void that will need to be filled on each event, but that's just one routine per apparatus. There are plenty of other 9.9s sticking around, and I would not be surprised at all to see the other five workers on each event remain the same. That's a strong group, a championship-winning group, and there's little need to rearrange things and little evidence that there are better options.

The two new freshmen, Lauren Beers and Carley Sims, are both possible contributors. Beers could come in on any event and Sims could compete on vault and floor, but neither will be an automatic replacement for Stack-Eaton in the later positions on all the events. I expect Sims to compete a few routines and potentially make a lineup, and Beers will dabble on most events and make a couple lineups.

Alabama is not suddenly going to be a different team or even a better team than last year, but matching the 2012 performance is possible. The concern for Alabama is that simply staying as good is often not enough to win the title. The championship team from 2011 would not have come close to winning the title in 2012. The team improved, most notably in those first and second spots on most events. Florida is going to be a more formidable opponent, so where does that improvement lie this year?

Vault:


Surpassing Florida's scoring potential is going to be a rough task, but the landings on vault will be one of the most important areas where Alabama can establish an edge. This team is somewhat more capable of producing a lineup that sticks every time, and those will be valuable .05s come the postseason.

I see very little danger of an Alabama vaulting team that scores below 49.400. There are too many powerful Yurchenkos in this group so that even those who don't land precisely can still score 9.850. Even when Diandra Milliner vaults poorly by her standards, her only deductions are .050 for bent knees and .100 for the landing. She should anchor again, supported by Gutierrez who has my favorite full on the team now and who will also only very rarely go below 9.900.

There will be options for the rest of the spots, but Kayla Williams needs to be deep in that lineup. I'd love to see the 1.5 manifest in competition, but regardless of which vault she performs, she is too talented and powerful to be settling for a perfectly fine vault that maxes out at 9.900 in the leadoff spot. Someone who has done this should be contending for 10s.

Ashley Sledge is a good bet for one of the earlier spots, but she does have a bit more trouble controlling her vault and ventures down to 9.850 more often than the others, so keep an eye on that. Depending on her sturdiness at this point, Priess should also be vaulting with a proven 9.875. The team does have enough depth that, if it becomes necessary to save Priess for bars and beam, they can do so without losing much. Kaitlyn Clark is another option, but keep an eye on both Beers and Sims for spots in this lineup. Beers has a 1.5, and both have strong potential for 9.9s. They will contend fiercely for spots, likely over some of the supporting 9.850 sisters. I expect multiple scores over 49.500 this year, both at home and away.

December 29, 2012

#2 UCLA Preview


UCLA is a tough one this year. Peszek was a rock, Hopfner-Hibbs was a beam and floor star, Gerber was a beauty on the weaker events, and Frattone was a dominant vaulter. Losing those eleven routines (which include seven of the twelve back-half routines from last season) is almost impossible to endure while maintaining the same quality. The Bruins will have a difficult road to repeat the accomplishments of the last three years, but a strong class of freshman specialists and the lure of unfulfilled potential mean that it is still a possibility.

The Bruins are less secure in success than many of the other top teams because any projected triumph is going to be based on what athletes will need to do rather than what they have already proven they can do. It's not about continuing on the same worn path; it's about finding a new one full of terrible, trite metaphors about tangled branches and overgrown cottages and a single rose. It is imperative that Mattie Larson become an all-around threat who can contribute in the 4th and 5th positions of every rotation. She needs to be the plucky sidekick stenographer to Vanessa Zamarripa's pants-wearing, cigarette holder-clutching leading lady. A repeat of the 2012 performance will see the team suffer in a way it didn't last year.

Danusia Francis seems to be a perfect fit for this team, and she will be expected to star on beam and contribute on floor right away, which will lessen the blow of the Hopfner-Hibbs/Peszek losses. Sophina DeJesus is a wonderful dancer, but the jury is out on commendations more emphatic than that. Asi Peko had success as a junior elite and a Level 10, but it's been a while, and her level is still a mystery.

Most of all, though, the freshman class is about Peng Peng Lee, and if she were healthy, it would be a lot easier to be emphatic about this team. It's a real shame that Lee and Zamarripa will never get to compete the AA together, though I suppose the idea is that Lee becomes the new Zamarripa. She can be that good. There was some discussion about whether Lee would be pushed to come back for the end of the year, but the injury to Peszek all but guarantees that as long as her health allows it, Lee will be back on bars and beam for the postseason.

Looking through these potential lineups, there is no guarantee against this team becoming a catastrophe. We have no mental giants in Westwood. But if if if everyone, Mattie, does what she is capable of doing, Mattie, this team could be a sight to see. 

Vault:


The Bruins had a tremendous punch at the end of this lineup last year that helped them easily keep pace with the massive scores posted by Alabama and Florida. They've lost two significant cogs in Frattone and Peszek, but Olivia Courtney should still be vaulting for 9.9s every week, and Zamarripa is Zamarripa. Those 5th and 6th routines will help the event from being a problem, even if they are receiving just supporting 9.850s from the rest of the team (though I think they'll get a bit more than that).

At the Meet the Bruins event, Zamarripa showed the RO 1/2 on, layout 1/2 instead of the Yurchenko full, and I'm of multiple minds about her actually competing it. On the one hand, I'm in favor of the RO 1/2 because otherwise this will lineup will be a snoozer with six Yfulls, and we'll all die of boredom. On the other hand, without Frattone and Peszek, the Bruins needs to squeeze every possible tenth out of this lineup, and the Yfull is a proven 10 with fewer opportunities for deductions. The boring path may be the smarter one.  

I have to assume that Mattie Larson struggled on vault in training at the end of last season because otherwise it was ludicrous to compete Kaelie Baer's 9.800 over Larson's 9.875. While the DTY was always a struggle for Larson as an elite, she is a strong vaulter with commendable amplitude, and it will be unacceptable for her miss the lineup or compete for 9.825s. She needs to be vaulting fourth for 9.9s.

As for the rest of the lineup, there will be no shortage of vaults in the low-mid 9.8 range from which to choose (Baer, Sawa, Wong, De La Torre, McDonald), but competing more than one of those vaults is going to help the team right to a 49.350. Fine, but already allowing a deficit to Alabama and Florida. Sawa has a bit more potential to stick for a higher score, so I expect to see some of her. Wong can be graceful but lacks distance and a solid landing. A few of these vaulters will need to prove worthy of more than they have in the past, especially away from Pauley.  

Asi Peko is the big question mark here. She showed promise on vault sixteen decades ago, and she can be a major boost to the lineup if she's the same gymnast that she was then. The other healthy freshmen are unlikely to factor here. Danusia Francis has a whippy little British Yurchenko with no lift, and Sophina DeJesus shouldn't be allowed to look at the vaulting table.

December 28, 2012

#3 Florida Preview



For the moment, let's all pretend that we live in a fantasy land where Florida is actually the #3 team in the country. Things will be more interesting that way. Then we can talk about how this plucky upstart took the nation by storm instead of talking about how the obviously most talented team acted like itself and achieved the #1 ranking. Regardless of how the season finishes, because no one can ever predict what kind of horrors and wonders will take place in Super Six, I do expect the Gators to be ranked #1 for the majority of the season. They are too grand and talented not to be.

In direct contrast to Oklahoma, where success will be cobbled together from every member of the group pitching in a little bit, Florida is a team of stars. While we will likely see one or two routines from outside the galaxy, the Gators in 2013 will be a small, familiar cast of seven all-arounders, each of whom would be the one star on another team: Marissa King, Ashanee Dickerson, Alaina Johnson, Mackenzie Caquatto, Kytra Hunter, Bridget Sloan, and Bridgette Caquatto. Put any combination of six of those seven gymnasts on any event and a 49.500 would not be a surprise. That's how good this team can be. A 198 (at least one) is attainable.

It's important, however, not to anoint too early. There are cracks. Small cracks, but cracks nonetheless. Say crack again. Crack. More than a few of these gymnasts have been felled by beam inconsistency before. We need only think back to 2011. More worrisome, though, is injury. This is largely a fragile bunch of elites, and it will be vital that the likes of Randy Stageberg, Kiersten Wang, and Rachel Spicer are ready to compete at the drop of a fibula. If these stars align properly, though, anything less than greatness would be a disappointment.

Vault:


The Gators don't have an event that can be considered anything near a weakness, but their success will be measured relative to their closest competitor, Alabama. If Alabama is getting regular 9.9s from every spot in the vault lineup as I expect, Florida needs to be able to match that (or come within a tenth that can be made up on bars). The opening 9.850s from Wang and Spicer that served the team well last postseason will make for comfortable backups but probably shouldn't be used in an ideal lineup. The goal should be a 49.500.

King always gets underscored with some nonsense 9.850, but her Tsuk 1.5 is made from clouds and liberty and hope for a better future, so I'd love to see her remain in the 5th spot out of spite, sending a little message that her vault is worthy of a 9.9+ every time. Hunter will surely anchor again, and I would not be surprised to see a 10 or two for her this season.

Sloan gets tremendous amplitude on her Yurchenko vaults (one of the main factors that stoked those perennial Amanar rumors), so the full should be quite easy for her and should become a regularly stuck vault for big scores. Dickerson and Johnson likewise will frequently reach 9.9 if they vault the way that they have the past couple of years. The sixth vaulter could very easily be Wang or Spicer without causing much problem for the scores, but Caquatto the Elder has higher scoring potential and can be that sixth 9.9 score. If there is any kind of concern about her leg health, however, I'd prefer to see her saved for bars and beam. It's not worth the risk.

December 27, 2012

#4 Oklahoma Preview

Every refrain about the Oklahoma Sooners after last season began with "If they had been healthy," and so it was for previews of this season. If they stay healthy, they're easily a Super Six team and probably the most likely to challenge the top three. Well, that's all gone out the window already. Kayla Nowak is done for the season, and with her go at least three solid 9.850-9.875 routines.

There is a perception that the Sooners are a bit like a hydra. Cut off a 9.850, and the team will be fine because three more will grow from nothing in its place. Ergo, Kayla Nowak's scores are replaceable. Like many perceptions, this one is about 75% true. This coaching staff does have the commendable capability to create depth, not just routines but real depth, where it seemed none existed. Expect the team to go on as if no one missed a beat. At the same time, the losses to injury and graduation are starting to pile up without heirs making themselves apparent. A team does not need stars to be successful, but it does need more than lineups full of commendable replacements. It needs 9.9s. Oklahoma is returning just three RQSs of 9.875 or better, fewer than Utah, Stanford, Nebraska, LSU, Georgia, and Oregon State. The Sooners are a better team than that statistic indicates, but there is work to be done to show it.

A significant factor in building up those high-scoring routines will be the freshman class. Powerful Level 10 standouts Keeley Kmieciak and Haley Scaman lead the group, and both will be expected to contribute on at least vault and floor from the start. These two are capable of bringing that RQS total from three to seven on their own. As for the other freshmen, we have seen little from Maile'ana Kanewa recently and nothing at all from Hunter Price, so expect less of them. The return of Lauren Alexander will be more influential.

Vault:


If Oklahoma is to match the successes of 2010 and 2011, it will be earned largely through improvement on vault. While that makeshift postseason lineup didn't do the team any favors, vault was the weakest event throughout 2012, often languishing in the 49.2s while bars and beam were in the 49.4s. On vault, anything less than a 49.350 becomes a disability when the best teams are in the 49.5s and 49.6s.

The Sooners will miss Sara Stone's 9.9s, certainly, but the additions of Scaman and Kmieciak will more than make up for it, bringing both a quality and a level of difficulty that the team couldn't always boast in the past. Both freshmen competed strong 1.5s in JO, and Scaman's has been excellent in the preseason. Kmieciak has been training just a full instead of the 1.5, at least for now, but it will be worthy of the late lineup nonetheless. Expect the 4th, 5th, and 6th vaults to be Kmieciak, Olson, and Scaman, all capable of 9.9s.  

Taylor Spears and Madison Mooring will be good for 9.850s in the opening half of the lineup, and the Sooners will be pleased that they can now treat 9.850s as establishing scores for the big guns (as they should be) rather than desirable routines for the 5th position. There will be some degree of choice for the final vaulter, with Clark the most likely and Brewer another option.

December 23, 2012

#5 Utah Preview

Before the Red Rocks Preview, I didn't realize just how young Utah's team is this year. While it seems like every coach every season says, "We have such a young team this year," Utah is looking at a bunch of lineups made up of Corrie Lothrop and underclassmen, which is not necessarily a problem but could be a recipe for some early-season falls. These lineups won't be full of obvious choices. They will have to be molded. 

While McAllister, Robarts, and Beers weren't usually full of 9.9s, they brought in a bunch of reliable routines in the 9.850 range that will need to be replaced somehow. Usually, finding a 9.850 from somewhere isn't a problem for a team like Utah, but the Utes have an uncharacteristic lack of depth right now where they are merely eight deep on events where they are usually ten or eleven.

A large factor in that lack of choice is the injury problem. Kailah Delaney and Taylor Allex will be out until midseason, which creates a scenario where some new people will have to come in on events that they probably wouldn't otherwise compete. We'll probably see a bit more of Tory Wilson and some of Lia Del Priore as well, at least early in the season. 

Lothrop and Georgia Dabritz will have to lead the team with late-lineup routines on every event that are 9.875 at minimum and probably more like 9.900. At Regionals and Nationals last season, Lothrop and Dabritz recorded four scores in the 9.9s out of twenty-one routines. For this team to be successful in 2013, that 9.9 rate is going to need to be closer to 50%. The freshmen are a bit difficult to evaluate because neither Allex nor Breanna Hughes is fully healthy. Ideally, Hughes could be a contributor on any event and Allex could go on vault and floor. Haley Lange is probably closest to competing on beam.

Vault:


Vault will be the biggest work in progress until the returns of Delaney and Allex. Delaney has the best Yurchenko full on the team, and she will likely need to anchor for 9.925s when she gets back into the lineup.

Until then, in a trend we will see on many events, Dabritz is going to have to take on more scoring responsibility than she did last year and be more than just a fine third up. She began to hit her stride on vault at the end of last season to record the 9.9s that we all know she's worth, and that will have to be the case from the very start this year. Expect Wilson to vault every week as well. She's sort of the Noel Couch of this lineup. She's not going to win any contests for dynamics or grace, but the girl can stick a vault like no one's business. I was also pleased to see the improvement in Lothrop's Omelianchik at the RRP, and that will be a useful mid-lineup vault for high 9.8s.

Both Allex and Hughes can be strong vaulters when healthy, and there will be the usual slew of 9.800s that can fill in until the team is 100%. Lopez and Del Priore, for instance, are perfectly acceptable vaulters who can go when necessary but won't be ideal in a later-season lineup. I think we'll see a few 49.1s in the beginning while the lineup is figuring itself out, but I expect 49.300+ as we progress.

December 22, 2012

#6 Stanford Preview

Of all the teams, Stanford was the most difficult to rank in my preseason ranking because this team opens the door for so much fluctuation in quality. For the first two months of last season, they were a catastrophe, and not just a "they'll find their way once they figure out a beam lineup and start working sticks" kind of catastrophe, either. A 194 kind of catastrophe. No one can claim with any confidence that they won't at least begin 2013 the exact same way.

Yet, it ultimately didn't take as much as it seemed like it would to dredge them out of 194 land. Getting Alyssa Brown into the lineup on all her events and putting Ivana Hong in the all-around abruptly made this a Super Six team. I have some concern about roster turnover because I don't see anywhere near the same kind of 9.9 potential in the freshmen that we saw from Brown and Nicole Pechanec. That's normal because they're new, but it won't help the team compete in the short term.

Stanford's best road to another 4th-place finish doesn't travel anywhere near a fantasy land where the new ones are getting multiple 9.9s. Having Samantha Shapiro in the all-around and Kristina Vaculik competing as her most consistent self is going to be Stanford's route of highest potential. Hong, Shapiro, and Vaculik are talented enough to account for potentially seven or eight 9.900 scores on a good day, which is exactly what a championship-caliber team is looking for from its stars. However, this group is not exactly a paragon of health and consistency. Vaculik had a forgettable freshman year, and last year Shapiro never got in on all her events while Hong barely got in under the wire. 

As for the freshmen, Taylor Rice is the most interesting of the group because she is a Cassie clone, first of all, and can be lineup-ready on a couple of events, especially floor. She seems dogged both mentally and physically, which could come to the rescue of this team of fragility. Melissa Chuang is one of those solid JOs who can get a 9.800 on any event you ask of her, but expect to see the most of her on vault and beam. Maggie Teets and Jenna Frowein were the later signings, and I anticipate seeing less of them.

Vault:


Nowhere was Stanford more enigmatic last year than on vault. This lineup worried me from the start, and early in the season, they were quite poor, not just in terms of landings that could be cleaned up but in terms of amplitude, body position, and overall quality. Yet, they eventually recorded the second-best score on vault in Super Six, including three vaults over 9.900. Now, a little bit of that was the judging at Nationals that is still near-unspeakable to this day, but the improvement cannot be denied.

Looking at the vaulting group for this year, I have the exact same concerns as I did last preseason. The bright spots are Hong, who got her classy Yurchenko full together by the postseason, and Nicole Dayton, whose Yurchenko half always has the potential to be 9.900. Beyond that, it's not an accomplished group. Pauline Hanset has landing position problems that hurt her score, and I've never been sold on Ashley Morgan's Yhalf. Vaculik needs to be back and capable of sitting in that 4th slot, and Chuang's solid Yfull needs to be lineupable (word? word.) immediately. Rice's full is fine but not amazing, though it may need to be used.

Once again, I see this as a 49.250 rotation, but if Kristen can magic them to another 49.500, then more power to her.

December 19, 2012

#7 Nebraska Preview

Last January I made the comment that Nebraska's ability to survive on what was essentially a team of six gymnasts was both impressive and unsustainable. In practice, the Huskers managed to sustain relative equilibrium in that position much longer than I expected, right up until a postseason injury to Jamie Schleppenbach pulled down the veil and exposed the lack of depth. The Huskers ultimately finished short of another Super Six berth, landing fifth in their Semifinal.

Only Lora Evenstad has graduated from the gang of six that sustained Nebraska though 2012. Expect the big four of Jessie DeZiel, Janelle Giblin, Emily Wong, and Schleppenbach to once again feature in the all-around and lead the scoring with three strong numbers on each event. A Super Six team, however, cannot survive on just four gymnasts, and it is difficult to see Nebraska replicating even the eighth-place finish from last year without developing 5th and 6th routines on each event and cultivating usable backups that are not simply throwaway 9.800s.

Fortunately for the Huskers, their depth will increase in 2013 with four new gymnasts coming in compared to the loss of just one. I expect Hollie Blanske, Ariel Martin, and Jordyn Beck all to see at least some competition time this season to give the team a solid base of eight gymnasts from which to choose. It's not an ideal level of depth, but it is an improvement. These new gymnasts will not necessarily have to be stars because there will be enough 9.9 potential at the back of the lineups, but as Nebraska knows well, every 9.7 erases a 9.9. The freshmen need to prove capable of popping up on multiple events and delivering the kind of 9.850s that depth is made of to be useful in competition.

Vault:


This event is by far the healthiest for Nebraska. While they are probably just a tad short of what the big three teams will bring in, DeZiel, Schleppenbach, Wong, and Giblin are all excellent here and should keep the scores quite high. The lowest RQS for any of them last year was 9.885, which will put the team in the fortunate position of finding even multiple 9.875s disappointing.

In 2012, those four dictated the scoring because Evenstad and Brittany Skinner (and occasionally Jennifer Lauer) were very 9.800. At Championships, Wong and Schleppenbach both vaulted poorly, which killed the rotation. This year, there should be a little bit more backup with Ariel Martin, who is dominant on the power events and has a very clean Yfull, and Hollie Blanske, who has competed a Yurchenko 1.5 in the past. By the postseason, this should be a legitimate 49.450-49.500 rotation.

December 17, 2012

Vault Finals

The full minutes from this summer's committee report are available here, but I wanted to solicit some thoughts on the most interesting recommendation.

b. Vault Finals.
(1) Recommendation. That student-athletes qualifying for the event finals on vault be required to perform one vault with the score determined by averaging all six scores rather than performing two different vaults and the average of the averages of each vault calculated as the final score.

(2) Effective Date. September 1, 2012.

(3) Rationale. Requiring student-athletes to perform a different second vault that they do not train for nor compete the entire year creates an environment that is unsafe for the competitors, lengthens the competition and confuses the general gymnastics fan.

(4) Impact on Budget. None.

(5) Student-Athlete Impact. Positive since the vast majority of student-athletes train one vault all season. This change may potentially lessen the possibility of injuries

What are your thoughts?

To me, this is a better solution than what we have now, but it still is not ideal. The gymnasts who are competent with two different vaults should be able to show that. We need a way to separate those gymnasts from the others so that people with only one vault are not qualifying to finals.

Also included is the new language about floor vocals:
“Vocals will be permitted without deduction when voice is used as an instrument without words. Music with whistles/animal sounds also is permitted. Absence of music or music with speech will receive a 1.00 deduction taken by the chief judge.”
Phew. Good thing whistles and animal sounds are allowed.




The Peszek and Nowak Effects

Far too fresh on the heels of Kayla Nowak's harrowing, season-ending back injury comes the news that Sam Peszek has torn her Achilles tendon and will miss the 2013 season. We always start the preseason with such optimism for the season ahead, and then it gets chipped away with injuries like these.

Unfortunately for the Sooners, they are now accustomed to getting by without Kayla Nowak, having lost her to injury at the end of last season as well. Nowak is capable of being a solid AAer who goes over 9.800 on each event, but she will be particularly missed on bars and floor, where she would be a guarantee for the late lineup. On floor, Oklahoma has been fighting to prove that it is more than just a 9.850 team, and Nowak was a major part of that argument because her routine could regularly warrant a higher score. I have no doubt that Oklahoma can find the routines necessary, but the trend of injuries over the last couple of seasons has slowed the Sooners' progress toward extracting themselves from that second tier of teams.

Speaking of a trend of injuries, UCLA. Sam Peszek makes the fourth member of this team to tear her Achilles in the last couple of seasons, following Zamarripa, Wong, and McDonald. Like Oklahoma, UCLA will not completely fall apart because of this loss, but it will be significant not just because Peszek is a high-scoring AAer but because she brings a solidity that none of the other stars of this team can manage at the moment. While the team will potentially lose .050-.075 in scoring potential on each event without Peszek, it is beam where the loss will be the most painful. Zamarripa and Larson at the end of this lineup don't exactly inspire the confidence of 6 for 6 every week, and they are the strongest workers. Overall, expect to see a lot more of Syd Sawa than we otherwise would have.

#8 LSU Preview

It's been a few years since LSU was a legitimate upset threat in the SEC, and while the Tigers can't claim to challenge Florida or Alabama this season, I would not be remotely surprised to see them finish third at SECs. They were close to that accomplishment last year, and they will be oodles better this season, bolstering their strengths and doing at least a little patching up on their weaknesses. From being a complete afterthought in 2011, this is a team on the rise once again.

Like Michigan, LSU is in the enviable position of not losing much. They will miss Ashley Lee's vault and floor, but the new gymnasts will more than make up for it in terms of scoring potential.

Britney Ranzy is finally eligible to start competing again, and while it's always a bit of a question mark as to what's happening with her, we know she can hit vault and floor for 9.9s when in form. Canadian world team member in 2010 Jessica Savona missed significant time in 2011-2012 with injury, but she too is a standout on the power events who should be a late-lineup contributor. These two will support Courville and Hall to pack some serious tumbling talent into those lineups.

The perennial concern for LSU is how they will manage bars and beam, which are not nearly up to the level of vault and floor, but Randi Wyrick has the potential to be an important addition who can compete right away on those events (and on all the events, but UB and BB will be her most important routines for the team).

Vault:


Talent-wise, LSU is way better on vault than they have shown in the past year or so. This group should not be settling for low 49s. The increased depth on this event in 2013 should ensure that some of those random 9.700-9.750s that showed up too often last season won't make the lineup.

Courville and Ranzy should camp out in the 5th and 6th positions and bring in frequent 9.9s. Savona showed a DTY as an elite, and while she shouldn't do anything more than a full in NCAA, she has enough lift to make it a strong one. The early part of the lineup carries more uncertainty, but I do think that Hall, Jordan, and potentially Mathis should retain positions in the lineup if they can show that 9.875s are common (all of them have the ability). If necessary, Dickson, Morrison, and Lau are also sitting on potential 9.8s that give the team enough wiggle room to expect to go over 49.300 week in week out even if a few struggle with consistent landings.

December 15, 2012

#9 Oregon State Preview

I smell trouble in 9.9-land for Oregon State. At Regionals and Championships combined last season, Oregon State recorded five scores of 9.900 or greater (which is already too few), and four of those scores came from Leslie Mak and Olivia Vivian.

Without Mak and Vivian in 2013, the Beavers' world will be thrust onto the shoulders of seniors Melanie Jones and Makayla Stambaugh. Both of them can compete the AA if required, as they were last season, but they are not all-around stars. Jones will lead on beam and floor, and Stambaugh will excel on bars and floor, but the other routines are going to be in the lower-9.8 territory. Jones and Stambaugh will both post a flurry of strong scores, but their contributions alone will not be enough to carry the weight of the team.

The safety nets for OSU may be the transfer of Hailey Gaspar and the return of Stephanie McGregor. Neither is going to light the world on fire with scores, but Gaspar in particular may be the only thing standing between the vault lineup and certain peril. These gymnasts will be particularly necessary because of the current recruiting situation. Not only are the Beavers not bringing in American or international elites, they are not getting the best L10 athletes either. Each of the five incoming gymnasts is a perfectly serviceable JO performer who can compete in NCAA, but there is no one who looks primed to take over any kind of scoring responsibility. Tanya needs to get those Canadian and Australian pipelines up and running again.

Vault:


Amplitude, distance, and dynamics. The Beavers are not a bad vaulting team, but when they compete against the powerful teams, their vaults look utterly flat by comparison. There is an awful lot of piking down. The team isn't losing a ton of scoring potential on this event, but is it gaining that much?

Kelsi Blalock and Hailey Gaspar are the most 9.9-capable, and we can probably expect some 9.850s from Stambaugh and Brittany Harris, but this lineup is going to have difficulty breaking out of that 49.2 range. Jones and Chelsea Tang probably shouldn't be competing under deeper circumstances, but they may be required to throw in their 9.775s. The former Texas Dreams/Metroplex gymnast Nicole Turner used to compete an Omelianchik, so that could be a helpful addition if she's in the mix.

December 13, 2012

#10 Michigan Preview

Michigan's 2012 season was the reason analgesic phrases like "rebuilding year" were invented. The team was so depleted that it often struggled to scrape together six routines worthy of competition on each event. It's a credit to the Wolverines that they were able to get as close to Nationals as they did, falling just .125 behind Oregon State for the second spot out of the Auburn Regional. Looking at the rosters for those two teams this year, I would expect the results to flip in a rematch (January 4th).

The Wolverines lose no seniors from last year and gain Natalie Beilstein returning from injury as well as freshmen Morgan Smith, Briley Casanova, Austin Sheppard, and Lindsay Williams. That group of five is capable of bringing in probably ten 9.800+ routines that the team did without last season. The relief of having a backup of a 9.800 instead of a backup of crossed fingers and a cloud of smoke will help the team gain a rhythm much earlier.  

That is not to say that this season will be a smooth ride or that Michigan is necessarily a shoo-in for a Nationals spot. There are too many holes that need to be filled by new, untested, or inconsistent gymnasts to be confident that the old Michigan will be back. The beam rotation in particular needs to be gutted and recast. What is certain is that the team will have the luxury of numbers that it did not have last year. Now, those numbers have to become routines. 

Vault:


Vault should be a strong event for the Wolverines. At the recent exhibition, it was certainly the closest to being ready. Joanna Sampson, Sachi Sugiyama, and Katie Zurales led the team last year with regular ventures up to 9.875-9.900, and I expect the same from them this season. The bonuses should be the return of Beilstein, who is also good for a 9.900, and the introduction of Smith, who had a nice DTY as an elite and should be a scoring leader in NCAA.

Those five are enough to put together a nationally competitive vault rotation that can outscore several of the teams ranked above them. There is potential for value in the sixth spot as well from Casanova, who had a Y1.5 as an elite but should do the full in NCAA, Sheppard, who looked strong in the exhibition, Reema Zakharia, who has a solid handspring pike 1/2, and Stephanie Colbert, who was reliable for 9.775-9.800 last year. If healthy and in form, expect 49.300 to be the norm with potential to go higher.

December 10, 2012

Intrasquad Explosion

A hearty batch of intrasquads and fake intrasquads (UCLA) took place over the weekend. Here's the roundup. 

UCLA hosted its annual Meet the Floor Routines event. Disappointingly, there were no costumes this year. What's the point of you, then? Also, Val is verging on copyright infringement by establishing a ranking system for the quality of people's eyes, which I patented in 2007. You'll be hearing from my lawyers.

The ones to watch so far are Danusia Francis, Sophina DeJesus, and Mattie Larson, so no surprises.



December 9, 2012

#11 Georgia Preview



The Georgia Bulldogs will begin the 2013 season ranked at a historic low of #11, but of all the teams, Georgia has the most potential to rise above its station given the depth of talent. Even though the Jay Clark tenure will be remembered as a disaster, the team was improving and the much-needed new blood had begun to liven up the lineups. Let's all remember that, crazy scoring aside, Georgia was a few more experienced beam workers away from making Super Six in 2012.

There is, however, much work to be done to put the team in a similar or stronger position. The graduations of Kat Ding and Gina Nuccio are significant not only because Ding and Nuccio were excellent gymnastics but because they were the last links to the Suzanne era. Those two performed with a sureness and an attitude (and a stickability) that none of the rest of the team can match.

All eyes will be on Danna Durante to see if she can produce more Dings and Nuccios and fewer of the sturdy, but uninspiring, 9.850 types that marked Clark's leadership of the team. She needs to make a point of cultivating risk over safety to get out of these doldrums. I don't expect some magical change in the upperclassmen (and the risk of a new coach is that the team dynamic changes for the worse, a la 2010), but I do believe that the right coaching still might squeeze some quality out of the potential (be it squandered or yet unfulfilled) that litters this team roster. Is Durante the one to do that? It remains to be seen.

December 8, 2012

#12 Arkansas Preview



In the preseason poll, coaches usually are not too sensitive to individual changes in team rosters, but they certainly have taken Jaime Pisani's departure into account this year, dropping Arkansas all the way down to #12 after a Super Six performance in 2012. This is the lowest ranking for a team that made Super Six the previous season since Iowa State was ranked #13 in the 2007 preseason poll. It is, however, warranted.

While Arkansas had, in many respects, the best season in the school history last year, recording program-best totals and ascending to #1 for a short period, the Razorbacks fell off toward the end of the season and needed a Georgia implosion to qualify to Super Six. Without Pisani's scoring leadership, it will be difficult for the team to put itself in the same position this year, relying on Katherine Grable as the only proven 9.900 gymnast on the team.

Fortunately for Arkansas, important AAer Jordan Salsberg will be returning from her knee injury. However, she's still wearing a brace in intrasquad videos, so it remains to be seen how much she will be able to contribute right now and on which events. In the unfortunate department, Scarlett Williams is out for the season, which puts more pressure on the vault and beam lineups with only eleven possible gymnasts, some of whom should not be allowed near the events. Let's take a look at the team's prospects event by event.

December 3, 2012

2013 Preseason Coaches' Poll

Just in case you were wondering, the apostrophe in coaches' poll is optional. One could argue that the coaches have ownership of the poll (in which case the apostrophe is necessary to indicate the possessive), or one could argue that coaches is simply an adjective describing the type of poll (in which case no apostrophe would be included). I'm using the apostrophe because that seems to be the accepted convention.

The poll is bizarre and unrealistic in places as always, but I'm not that worked up about it. Not that worked up about it. Poll available at Troester.

2013 Preseason Coaches' Poll:
1. Alabama (11 first-place votes)
2. UCLA (5)
3. Florida (10)
4. Oklahoma (1)
5. Utah (1)
6. Stanford
7. Nebraska
8. LSU
9. Oregon State
10. Michigan
11. Georgia
12. Arkansas
13. Auburn
14. Ohio State
15. Boise State
16. Penn State
17. Washington
18. Illinois
19. Arizona
20. Denver
21. Missouri
22. NC State
23. Minnesota
24. West Virginia
25. Kentucky

Let's start at the beginning.

December 2, 2012

Balance Beam Situation Preseason Ranking

The annual preseason coaches' poll will be released in the days of soon, so in advance of that completely opposite-of-important event that I look forward to dissecting, I have compiled my own preseason ranking. Please take it as official, scientific, and unimpeachable.

I ranked only fifteen teams instead of twenty-five because of buuuuh, but also once we get into that Missouri, Illinois, Denver, Minnesota, Boise St. group of teams that are all poised to finish a distant third in various regionals, the difference between the teams is so minimal that there would be no legitimate reasoning behind ranking one ahead of another. They will be separated as the season progresses based on consistency and luck with injuries.

So, here we go.

1. Florida
The Gators are the most talented team in the country. I don't see any valid argument against putting them at #1. With Sloan and B. Caquatto joining Hunter, King, Dickerson, Johnson, and M. Caquatto, this team will have 9.900s to spare and will be able to absorb whatever latest injury has befallen one of the Caquattuses. While the other top contenders will excel on vault and floor, look for Florida to be nearly unstoppable on bars with consistent 49.500+ rotations that won't be matched even by the second tier of contenders.

2. Alabama
I flipped and flopped about Alabama and UCLA in the second and third positions, and I do think they are essentially interchangeable here, but I put Alabama ahead because the group as a whole is safer. We know what we're going to get from each of the Alabama gymnasts, and that means a lot of 9.900s and very few falls. The loss of Stack-Eaton is a hit, especially on bars, but the team should be able to withstand it.

3. UCLA
UCLA, as always, could be great this season, but I would have a lot more confidence in that proclamation with a healthy Peng Peng Lee and a fully contributing Mattie Larson (one who doesn't get ranked below an injured Syd Sawa on floor reliability). I am concerned that this season will become about Zamarripa, Peszek, and their merry band of 9.850s, and if it does, there is little chance of a UCLA championship. There are a lot of supporting actresses on this team (the incoming class is full of them), but they need to start taking lead roles with 9.900s on multiple events. 

4. Oklahoma
The Sooners have proven that they are the heirs apparent to the mantle of best team never to win a championship, and I expect them to put up yet another season full of mid-197 scores. The 2013 team will be better on vault than the 2012 team was, which eliminates a major weakness, but we've yet to see if anyone can take on that Megan Ferguson responsibility. With the new freshmen and the injury returners, the Sooners should be able to repeat the successes of 2010 and 2011, but can they go any higher with this group of gymnasts? It may still take another season or two before this team can legitimately compete for a title.

November 25, 2012

The Latest from Training Part 2: Revenge of the Training

FLORIDA
Vault and beam

IDs: Shisler VT, Stageberg BB, Wang VT, M. Caquatto BB, Spicer VT, Johnson BB, Sloan VT, Dickerson BB, King VT, B. Caquatto BB, Hunter VT, Spicer BB, Lemezan VT


IDs: Sloan BB, Stageberg VT, Hunter BB, M. Caquatto VT, King BB, Johnson VT, Wang BB, Dickerson VT, Shisler BB

Bars and floor

IDs: Stageberg FX, Dancose-Giambattisto UB, Sloan FX, Dickerson UB, King FX, M. Caquatto UB, Hunter FX, Johnson UB, King UB, Wang FX, Hunter UB, Dickerson FX, Sloan UB, Shisler FX, Johnson FX

OKLAHOMA


November 24, 2012

The Latest from Training

UCLA
Vanessa Zamarripa is planning to return to elite. We'll see. Her gymnastics is so easy to root for, but she will have a tough road from now until next fall. I'm encouraged that she's training for it now, but in 2010 she was not up to the level of competition on beam and floor. Three years and an Achilles tear won't make it any easier to be competitive there. Specializing on vault and bars may be a prudent choice depending on her goals.

If she is serious about making a Worlds team, 2013 is her year because she could conceivably be selected solely for vault, especially if no one else is vaulting two viable vaults. Even to make the team as a vault specialist, though, she's going to need to get the Cheng back (and make it consistent) and upgrade to a DTY to be worth taking. We haven't seen more than a Yurchenko full from her in competition, so we can't just assume a DTY. That vault program is not a given.


Gymnastike has this labeled as Zamarripa's 2013 NCAA routine, but I assume this is a midway work-in-progress routine somewhere between NCAA and elite. It currently doesn't have a turning element, but regardless of that it is needlessly complex for NCAA, with skills like the clear hip after the shaposh that take away from Zamarripa's cleanliness, yet too simple to be competitive in elite.



Alyssa Pritchett is planning a double double on floor. Never trust a preseason upgrade (competition or it didn't happen), but Pritchett's old routine was always going to be in the 9.850 area when hit. Her tuck full was not perfect, so this could be a smart move if it materializes because the judges may decide to give her a difficulty hall pass, which could see her recording some 9.900s away from home.


UTAH

Vault and Bars

November 18, 2012

Fear the Beam 2012

The balance beam, she is a cruel mistress.

In 2011, I examined her cruelty by analyzing how teams fared when performing beam routines after a fall earlier in the rotation. The study yielded the following breakthrough: everything is horrible. Nearly every team had significant difficulty breaking 9.800 in those post-fall routines, often suffering a subsequent fall (or two). 

But what's this? A ray of hope? For this past season, I analyzed the same data for the schools that qualified to Championships, averaging the scores for all routines performed on beam at any point after a fall or fall-equivalent performance (a score of 9.500 or lower), and found significantly stronger results across the country. In fact, beam was the lowest-scoring apparatus for a grand total of none of the teams during this year's Super Six, and most teams put up respectable numbers over the course of the season.

Average beam score after a fall – 2012
1. Florida – 9.885
2. Alabama – 9.841
3. Oklahoma – 9.869
4. Utah – 9.814
5. Arkansas – 9.809
6. UCLA – 9.808
7. Ohio State – 9.780
8. Oregon State – 9.769
9. Georgia – 9.725
10. Nebraska – 9.722
11. Stanford – 9.700
12. LSU – 9.688

For comparison, last year's leader, Utah, would have placed 7th in this year's rankings. In fact, compared to last season, Georgia and Stanford are the only schools analyzed in both lists that regressed in their performances. Georgia actually did pretty well on beam through most of 2012, but the disaster from Championships brought the average down significantly. 

Florida managed a stellar 9.885 and did not record a post-fall beam score lower than 9.850 all year. Now, the Gators did perform only 5 routines after falls all year, so they did not have as many opportunities to ruin everything.

Number of beam routines after falls – 2012
1. Florida – 5
2. Oklahoma – 8
3. Stanford – 10
4. Georgia - 12
5. Alabama – 14
6. Utah – 20
7. Oregon State – 22
8. Arkansas – 25
9. UCLA – 26
10. LSU – 31
11. Ohio State – 32
12. Nebraska – 38

The difference in consistency is slightly amazing. Rare was the week that Nebraska or Ohio State was not fighting an early fall. Nebraska performed 78 beam routines as a team last year, and 38 (49%) of those routines took place after someone else had already fallen.

In theory, these first two lists should match up almost exactly because the best teams on beam will suffer the fewest falls and record the highest scores overall, but as we see that's not always true. For instance, our regressed schools Stanford and Georgia performed relatively few routines after beam falls but fared rather poorly in those routines. Arkansas and UCLA, however, maintained relatively strong averages considering how many pressure-filled beam routines they were forced to perform.

Interestingly, our individual standouts did not always come from the strongest teams.

November 13, 2012

NLI Week

Starting Wednesday, we will begin to receive the official announcements of gymnasts signing their National Letters of Intent for the 2013-2014 season. The signing period lasts until November 21st.

Most of this information is already available because of verbal commitments (and the list can be seen here), but there are always a few talking points once the press releases come out. This will also give us an opportunity to assess the strengths and weaknesses in each team's recruiting classes moving beyond this season.

I will compile the release links for the major teams here as the week progresses. 

Alabama - Release
Amanda Jetter and Katie Bailey

Florida - Release
Claire Boyce, Silvia Colussi-Pelaez, and Morgan Frazier

UCLA - Release
Hallie Mossett and Angela Cipra

Oklahoma - Release
McKenzie Wofford, Charity Jones, Kara Lovan, Chayse Capps, and Reagan Hemry

Georgia - Release
Ashlyn Broussard, Kiera Brown, Rachel Schick, and Morgan Reynolds

Utah - Release
Baely Rowe

Stanford - Release
Sophia Lee, Rachel Daum, and Carinne Gale

Arkansas - Release
Samantha Nelson, Paris Ryder, and Amanda Wellick

Oregon State  - Release
Megan Jimenez, Kana Kobayashi, Kaytianna McMillian, and Taylor Ricci

LSU - Release
Ashleigh Gnat and Shonacee Oliva.

Ohio State - Release 
Tenille Funches, Anna Hill, and Jaine' Van Putten

Michigan - Release
Talia Chiarelli

Illinois - Release
Mary Jane Horth, Erin Buchanan, and Sarah Lyons

Missouri - Release
Alyson Heimsath, Lark Pokladnik, and Sasha Sander

Auburn - Release
Mary Jane Rott and Kullen Hlawek

Washington - Release
Megan DeLallo, Alexandra Yavalis, Stephanie Stowe, Kaitlyn Duranczyk, and Jessica Nesis


November 10, 2012

Ranking the 2012 Floor Final

Continuing the mission to pick the real winner of things, it's time to look at the 2012 NCAA Floor Final, a.k.a. the vacation home of our very best friend, controversy.

Unlike the vault 10s, in this case we do have an actual winner. Kat Ding won the title with a 9.950 over the 9.9375s for Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs and Geralen Stack-Eaton. There were . . . a lot of opinions about this result the first time around, so it will be interesting to see how things have developed now that we've had months to reflect.

The top 5 finishers are included below. Watch the routines and rank how you think they should have finished. I did not include the 9.900 routines from Zamarripa, Dickerson, and DeZiel because, while they were solid performances, none would be mistaken for a potential winner. The real shame is that Jaime Pisani probably should have been our floor champ, but she didn't have a strong performance in the final.  

(Where would we be without NastiaFan101 uploading all these individual routines?)

Kat Ding - 9.950

November 3, 2012

Ranking the Vault 10s

In 2012, we saw five 10s awarded on vault.

There are two types of gymnastics fans: Those who say, "Great for them! They're all winners!" and those who say, "But who is the actual winner?"

I think it's time to pick an actual winner. The videos of the five vaults are provided below. Let's all watch and rank, and we'll come up with a winner among the 10s.

Feel free to move beyond the scoring system and embrace the inherent subjectivity by using any and all criteria you think is appropriate: body shape, landing position, block, amplitude, distance, difficulty, artistic interpretation, hairstyle selection, ability to convey a theme through movement, leotard quality, coach reaction, etc. Use it all.

Geralen Stack Eaton – January 13, 2012

October 28, 2012

Freshman Orientation: UCLA

I had been holding off on previewing the UCLA freshmen because there is still a degree of doubt as to what the Peng plan is. Peng Peng Lee is in the recovery phase from her summer ACL tear, and at this point it is unclear if UCLA will push to get her back by the end of the season on any event, or if this will simply be a redshirt year. It's a crucial decision because, aside from being every NCAA fan's favorite elite, Lee was going to be the integral part of Operation Enduring Canada. UCLA lost two stellar northerners in Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs and Aisha Gerber, and Lee seemed like the only freshman who could fill Gerber's leotard on bars and beam, at least until Gerber Part Deux arrives in 2013-2014.

In addition to Gerber's bars and beam, UCLA will need to find people to bring in the 9.9s that EHH was delivering on beam and floor and that Tauny Frattone was consistently posting on vault. (I'm less concerned about EHH's vault and Frattone's floor because those should be competently replaced by any number of gymnasts.) Lee would have been tasked with the major part of that assignment, but without her, the other freshmen tasked with keeping UCLA competitive with Alabama and Florida are Danusia Francis, Sophina DeJesus, and Asi Peko, each of whom will be expected to contribute multiple routines to the Zamarripa/Peszek/(Larson?) show in 2013.

Peng Peng Lee 




October 27, 2012

Freshman Orientation: Oklahoma

It was a severely depleted Sooner team that limped to a still-respectable 196.925 at National Semifinals last year, missing out on Super Six for the first time in three years. Couple the graduations of Megan Ferguson, Sara Stone, and Candace Cindell with the returns of Kayla Nowak, Rebecca Clark, and Lauren Alexander and the introductions of Keeley Kmieciak, Haley Scaman, Maile'ana Kanewa, and Hunter Price, and I think we can expect the 2013 Sooners to be a completely different animal from the group we saw compete at the end of 2012. 

The most high-profile challenge for Oklahoma this season will be finding a way to withstand the loss of Ferguson's three 9.9+ routines. In typical Oklahoma fashion, I expect that to be a team effort. I don't see one single member of this 2013 group suddenly emerging as a multiple-9.9 machine. Different stars on different events will likely help this team 9.875 most opponents to death.

While the hole left by Ferguson will be notable, I'm more interested in how this group of freshmen will contribute on Ferguson's nonevent, vault. Vault saw the most serious depletion last year (poor Haley Sorensen was put in the position of having to contribute even though no one could have expected more than a 9.700 from her). Still, no gymnasts recorded 9.9s at Regionals or National Semifinals, so even a healthy team would have been unlikely to contend with the 49.600 sisters. In addition, they have lost their best vaulter in Sara Stone, so the Sooners will need the biggest contribution from the freshmen there, and it appears they will get it.

Keeley Kmieciak was the strongest vaulter in JO last year and recorded the only 9.900 at JO Nationals with her stuck Yurchenko 1.5. Haley Scaman also has a very strong Y1.5 than can verge on excellent. Look for these two to help lift Oklahoma out of that gully of Yurchenko halves they have been sitting in recently.



October 21, 2012

Freshman Orientation: Alabama

The two-time defending champions are not the vogue pick to win a third-straight title this year. That has a little bit to do with a lack of positive reputation among vocal fans, many of whom are based in the greater Athens area, and many coaches. Tellingly, the coaches never select Alabama as preseason #1 even though it is almost procedure for Georgia and UCLA to be awarded preseason #1 after they win titles. It's a reputation that does not extend to judges, though, hence the titles.

Much of the lack of favoritism this year, though, can be attributed to a loss of talent. Last year, the team didn't feel the graduation of Kayla Hoffman particularly dramatically because Ashley Priess came back. It was mostly a wash. This year, they will feel the lack of Geralen Stack-Eaton. I foresee a season where we hear a lot of "If only Geralen were in that lineup" when the team needs a crucial 9.950 that doesn't come.

The incoming freshmen, Lauren Beers and Carley Sims, cannot alone be expected to fill those 9.900s on every event. That wouldn't be a fair or realistic expectation. The upperclassmen will have to be a little more 9.900 and a little less 9.850 across multiple events, but I'll get to that more in December when I preview the teams as a whole. For now, let's look at where we can expect the freshmen to contribute.

Lauren Beers

October 14, 2012

Freshman Orientation: Utah

Because last year's Super Six and the subsequent discussion was all about the close margin between Alabama, Florida, and UCLA, it's easy to forget that Utah finished less than half of a point behind the champions. Now, I would make the argument that a lack of proper separation between scores was a problem there (and throughout the season, and always, a point I will be sharpening for, oh, the next six months), but even taking that into account, Utah wasn't completely blown away by the top three last year.

The single biggest deficit that the Utes faced when compared to the eventual champion Alabama came on vault, which accounted for nearly half of the difference in scores. Utah fans should therefore be pleased that the new freshman class features two standouts on that event (Taylor Allex and Breanna Hughes), both of whom boast solid Yurchenko 1.5s that were consistently scoring in the 9.750-9.800 range in JO. With these two, Utah should be able to withstand the loss of Kyndal Robarts on this event and improve on last season's scores (while also featuring a refreshingly low-ish number of Yurchenko fulls).

The less pleasant news comes when we rotate to bars. The team is losing routines from both Stephanie McAllister and Cortni Beers, but only one of the new freshmen (Hughes) looks like a potential contributor on that event. Bars is not nearly as strong for Allex or Haley Lange. Someone like Nansy Damianova could come into the lineup to fill the empty spot, but it will be difficult for the team to improve too much on bars from last year, and I foresee a lot of 9.800s.

Overall, this is one of the more unheralded freshman classes of the year because there are no elites, but I anticipate these newcomers competing at the same level we have seen from Utah the past three seasons or so. Expect Breanna Hughes to be the big all-around contributor. She doesn't have a significantly weaker event, and her nice form on bars and competitive difficulty on all pieces should help her be an early-mid lineup worker wherever the Utes need.

Taylor Allex is a nice recruit for vault and floor, and I see her contributing in both places during the season. Beam is OK, but I would put an asterisk next to it for consistency. Utah has a habit of creating beamers, though, and the team prides itself on beam consistency, so we may see some of Allex there. I've seen the least of Haley Lange, but it appears (especially in her beam work) that acro elements are the comfort and dance elements are the nail biters. I do appreciate that she competes handspring vaults, but she will be the type who has to learn new skills and improve some areas of form while at Utah to be a contributor. She's not entering as a lineup-ready gymnast. The team released video during the summer of her training a double layout on floor, which is exactly the kind of development I'm talking about.

Breanna Hughes 

October 7, 2012

Freshman Orientation: Florida

The biggest news of the weekend is Lexie Priessman's verbal commitment to Georgia for 2015-2016. It seems like an appropriate fit stylistically, although who knows how the tenor of the team will change under Durante, if at all. Priessman is currently on the Olympic track, so early verbals like this are always to be taken with a hefty tablespoon of squinting.

But continuing our look at the new friends who will be gracing us with their skills this season, we turn to Florida. Of the top teams, Florida should be the least concerned about routine replacement from last season, and yet the Gators have the most accomplished freshman class of the bunch. Recall as well that Aly Raisman was going to be part of this class had that been a realistic commitment.

Last season, the Gators boasted four excellent routines on each apparatus, and Bridget Sloan and Bridgette Caquatto could certainly jump in and make that six out of six on each event (and that is not taking into account a potentially healthy Mackenzie Caquatto because I still have questions about the viability of those ankles). There should be no concerns about talent level here; health will be the biggest factor.

Bridget Sloan

Vault


Bars


Beam


Floor

Certainly, Sloan is capable of scoring 9.900+ on any event. Some of the most accomplished elite recruits of recent years still have a weaker event, but Sloan has proven adept enough on all four (even though beam has been a struggle over the years, I see her making that lineup). If all goes to plan, she will be among the prime favorites for the AA title.

We don't know how things have been going for her since the elbow injury at Trials, and while she said that there would be a significant recovery time, there are no indications that it will legitimately impede her season. The biggest problem for Sloan will be that this is not a one-off injury. She has been constantly injured for the last three and a half years. Assuming that she is going to stay totally healthy for an extended period as a Gator is a gamble I wouldn't be willing to make right now.

Injury history is the usual concern with elites coming in to NCAA, but as we saw with Caquatto the Elder last season, the Gators are deep enough that they can absorb an injury to a top contributor. That depth only increases this season. It's sort of crazy that they might not even need a healthy Sloan to win the title this year.

September 30, 2012

Freshman Orientation: Georgia

Our NCAA teams have now moved out of the not remotely voluntary portion of the preseason and into the official practice portion. There will not be a great deal for them to report about their progress over the next month or two other than groundbreaking stories like "The team is coming together really well" and "We're excited about the season."

But for our purposes, it's time to start familiarizing ourselves with the freshman on each of the top teams so that we can have our utterly arbitrary opinions about how they will perform solidified and gathering mold well before the season begins. 

I'm starting with Georgia, where (in addition to being reliable workhorses in the all-around) the hardest job for incoming standouts Brandie Jay and Brittany Rogers will be finding a way to mitigate the loss of tenths on bars. Kat Ding and Gina Nuccio were bringing in 9.900s every week and showing their teammates what sticking looks like. Chelsea Davis will be expected to take on that Kat Ding responsibility this season, but both Jay and Rogers will need to prove worthy of late lineup positions to ensure there is not a major drop off from last season. Otherwise, they will be looking very 49.200 on an event where they will need 49.400s.

Brandie Jay

Vault


Bars


Beam


Floor

Jay has spent the last three years as one of those solid second-tier elites who lacked some precision and difficulty but who could excel in NCAA because she is talented, has a high skill level, and is relatively injury-free. She has the potential to be the gymnast they were hoping Tanella would be (9.875-y on multiple events).

Vault has been her signature event in the past, and even though it was weaker in 2012 than it had been before, she is capable of putting up a nice late-lineup Yurchenko 1.5 or full that could help make up for the loss of Ding.

Under the elite code, her execution scores were often low on the other events, but many of her major breaks were on skills she wouldn't have to perform in NCAA. There is certainly some leg and foot form in places that I will harp on, and she'll need to improve consistency on beam, but she could be a vital all-arounder. 

September 22, 2012

2013-2016 WAG Code of Points





There's so little going on in the collegiate realm since it's still September, so I can be forgiven for bouncing back to elite for the moment.

We have the offical Code for 2013-2016, so there is much to digest.

You can download it in the WAG section HERE if you don't have it yet.

Most of this is similar to the provisional code from earlier in the year, so I won't address most of that in detail, but there is also some interesting new stuff here that I will react to in no particular order after the jump:


September 15, 2012

Tenths above Replacement

Warning: Contains numbers.

Even though coaches don't like to talk explicitly about replacing routines because every team is different and every gymnast is a unique gemstone with her own personal sparkle blah, blah, blah, barf, finding the routines to replace scores that are no longer with the team can be a major struggle.

Some teams have more work to do than others. As a way of measuring the value of a gymnast that has graduated or retired, we can compare that gymnast's RQS to the score we would expect from an average replacement, a 7th-8th gymnast on a apparatus who competes in the event of an injury and keeps the team from falling apart. Certainly, that's going to vary for every team, and Alabama on vault will be expecting a much higher replacement score than Ohio State on beam.

Still, we can assume that on average most of the top teams will be looking at a replacement score of about 9.800. 9.800 is just OK for a team expecting to make Championships, and nearly all of these teams have 9.800s who were sitting on the bench last season.

So, in analyzing how much replacement work the top 12 teams from last year have to do, we can examine how much the average team score would decrease if we replaced the graduated/retired routines from 2012 (measured by RQS) with 9.800s. That is the tenths above replacement score. For example, if all the Ferguson, Stone, and Cindell routines from last year become 9.800s instead, Oklahoma's team score goes down an average of 0.700.

A few notes:
-Gymnasts are included if they made the final lineup for the team, be it in Super Six or Semifinals. That's why Cindell is here even though she likely wouldn't have competed if not for Nowak's injury. A healthy Nowak makes up some of that 0.700 right away.
-In cases where a gymnast competed on an event but the RQS was below replacement level (below 9.800), I did not include that routine in the statistics as it should be replaceable.
-In cases where a gymnast did not have an RQS because of injury but did contribute in the postseason, I used the postseason average instead. I also intervened in the case of Kyndal Robarts since her very low RQS was not representative of the fact that Utah will have to find a score to replace hers on floor. It's cheating, but it creates more realistic numbers. What can I say? I'm a rogue. Without that change, Utah's number would be 0.390, if you're interested.
-The numbers slightly underestimate the importance of the seniors for Ohio State, where 9.800s were more rare and valuable last season. The Buckeyes have some of the most replacing to do.


Tenths above Replacement:

1. Oklahoma - 0.700
Megan Ferguson - 0.380 (Bars: 9.910, Beam: 9.930, Floor: 9.940)
Sara Stone - 0.295 (Vault: 9.935, Beam: 9.875, Floor: 9.885)
Candace Cindell - 0.025 (Bars: 9.825)

September 8, 2012

2013 Composite NCAA Schedule

New look for the blog. Do we like it? I'm not sure yet. I think it's more readable than before but is also maybe a little template-y and sterile, like a blog about orthodontics where orthodontists can say, "Oh, don't you hate when braces do that?" We'll see how it goes.

It's September, which means the preseason is rearing its head all over the place. We're getting schedules and updated rosters and hearing the news that Cassie Whitcomb unsurprisingly took a medical retirement. At her strongest, Whitcomb had some ideal Mary Lee Tracy handstands (flat hips!), so when she couldn't hit any handstands in exhibition routines last season, it became clear that her chronic back injury would not allow her to compete at this level. As a result, Kaelie Baer appears to have received a magic year.

Most of the top teams have now released their 2013 schedules, and I have compiled them here to give us a single handy resource for planning and reference purposes. [Edit: All the top teams have now released their schedules, so let's give a round of applause.]

Georgia has a characteristically packed schedule, but this year it includes no weeks off during the regular season. The first weekend off will be the bye week between SECs and Regionals. That always makes me nervous. Durante will have to be farsighted in her lineup strategy to protect against injury, especially with her frail elites like Worley and Davis. 

Stanford once again is barely competing. Last season, the Cardinal didn't even register on the quality radar until Pac-12s and didn't even settle on final lineups until the day of Super Six, but maybe there's something to that. The team peaked at the right time, that's for sure.  

The SEC teams always have the most difficult schedules out of conference necessity, but Georgia and Alabama stand out this season as having the most challenging roads. The only potentially soft meets for either of those teams are the conference meets against Kentucky and Missouri (as well as Georgia's meet against NC State).

2013 NCAA Schedule
Week 1 – January 4-6

Friday, January 4
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Ball State @ Florida
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – NC State @ LSU
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – Stanford, Sacramento St., UC Davis @ San Jose State
TBA – Cancun Invitational (Oregon State, Michigan, BYU)

Saturday, January 5
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Oklahoma @ Georgia
6:00 ET/3:00 PT – Penn State @ Denver
TBA – Ohio State @ Bowling Green

Sunday, January 6
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Southern Utah @ UCLA

August 22, 2012

Problems for Gym Fans with Eyes

Buried in the hoopla of the Olympics was some not so pleasant news for gymnastics fans who may have an interest in, you know, actually watching the sport that they follow.

First, in vile and disastrous news for elite fans, Universal Sports announced that live streaming of events on their website will henceforth be available only to subscribers of DirecTV and Dish Network who already have the super expensive sports plan of which Universal Sports is a part. So, um, no one.

Universal Sports distributed the following letter from the CEO:

Dear Fans of Universal Sports,

With more than 30 different sports and 25 world championships, Universal Sports Network is your destination to watch your favorite Olympic sports and athletes year-round including exclusive and live event coverage of the Vuelta a EspaƱa, Giro d’Italia, Diamond League track and field, Kona Ironman, Alpine Skiing World Cup and world marathon majors each year.

This Friday, July 27th, our website will become fully authenticated which is a necessary measure in our efforts to continue to provide, and expand upon, the world-class sports content you have come to expect from Universal Sports.  Authentication, or verification, is the ability to login to our website using your current satellite or cable provider account to access live streaming content and online video on demand.

Effective Friday, all online live events and replays on demand will be available exclusively to DIRECTV, DISH and cable customers who have Universal Sports as part of their television package. Individual long-form events and sport packages will no longer be offered for sale online, but will be free to users who verify their subscriptions on our website.  There is no additional charge for this service and a customer’s subscription will not be affected. As always, anyone who visits our website can enjoy video highlights, photos and breaking news for free without authentication.
                 
[...]

Thank you for your loyalty.
Sincerely,
David Sternberg
CEO, Universal Sports Network

Coverage of Secret Classic? BYE.
Coverage of the first day of Nationals? BYE.
Live coverage of Worlds before NBC decides to broadcast it? BYE.

Not good news. 

Also in NCAA coverage news, many cable providers (including mine) are not currently carrying the Pac-12 network. People are in a huff about that right now because college football season is coming up, but I don't so much care about that.

However, the Pac-12 Network is purportedly going to have some excellent coverage of gymnastics come the springtime, so if they don't have a deal worked out by then, they will have some (at least one) very cranky gymnastics fans on their hands. What we lack in numbers, we make up for with mammoth levels of acute judgment and sarcasm. If the situation doesn't improve, we may have to organize an extremely public and angry group reenactment of Anna Li's 2010 routine as a protest. And if all else fails, we'll just make fun of your hair.

August 12, 2012

A Team Sport

Here's a rule: In gymnastics, you're allowed to have the attention span of a hummingbird.

So while the Olympics aren't even cold yet, and we haven't had time to fully process both the winners and those who will spend the next four years resenting the winners through creative use of dartboards and poppets, it's okay if you already want to put a lid on elite until next summer. I know I do.

But before I turn back to the main purpose of this blog, NCAA women's gymnastics, where the schedules are currently coming out but there will be little else to discuss for months, I have a few thoughts on the concept of team in gymnastics.


August 7, 2012

Event Finals Day 3

End of the line, everybody off. Four more event finals to finish off our Olympic Games.

Men's Parallel Bars:
 Women's Beam:
 Men's High Bar:
 Women's Floor:

August 6, 2012

Event Finals Day 2

We already learned during yesterday's finals that Christmas has been cancelled and there is no Northwest Passage, so it's hard to muster enough enthusiasm for today's results to make predictions (also, I haven't the foggiest). Let's just all try to pretend that we're not getting just a little Olympics-ed out so we can bravely push through to the end.

Men's Rings:
 Women's Bars:
 Men's Vault:

Comments forthcoming.

August 5, 2012

Event Finals Day 1

Our first day of the slow descent toward the end of the competition includes men's floor, men's horse featuring Louis Smith (champion if he hits), and women's vault featuring McKayla Maroney (champion even if she doesn't hit). [buhhhhhhhhhhh]

Men's floor:

 Women's vault:

 Men's horse:

Notes when we begin from 9:00 ET/6:00 PT


August 2, 2012

Women's All-Around

This is supposed to be Komova's time. Whether it will be depends entirely on her. If she goes clean (you know, the way she hasn't done yet), no one should be able to touch her.

If we crunch the presumed numbers, I give Douglas a .1-.2 edge on vault, and I give Komova .5-.6 on bars. Then it gets tricky. We get to the events where Komova should have a smooth path to outscoring Douglas, especially on beam, but we don't have the evidence that will happen based on previous performances at these Olympics. And there must have been a reason the coaches put up Grishina instead of Komova on floor in Team Finals, right? Stay on the beam and stay in bounds on floor and the gold should be Komova's.

As for our other contenders, expect Aly Raisman's execution scores to be lower than they were in qualifications. In qualifications, I said "Keep your eye on the ball, and the ball is Aly Raisman." Today, it's "Keep your eye on the ball, and the ball is Aliya Mustafina." She will hit all her routines out of pure spite, so if Komova and Douglas have mistakes, expect Mustafina to sweep in there. Larisa Iordache's DTY and lack of bars will keep her out. Who else is in this competition?



Competition begins at 11:30 ET/8:30 PT as always.