January 31, 2012

Embarrassment and Road Work

Is it bad that my ears grow eight sizes every time I hear the phrase "disciplinary reasons"?  Do go on...

They really shouldn't let her wait a few days to do these press conferences.  We need gymnastike in there every week interviewing her immediately (Inexcusable!).

EHH hasn't really been herself so far this year, so they shouldn't suffer too much without her except for her consistency on beam.

The team is embarrassed by that tank.  So were we.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

In numbers news, I've been harping on the necessity to put up those usable road scores early on for RQS, so let's take a look at the average road scores for the top 25 teams.

January 30, 2012

Monday Rankings

National Rankings – Week of January 30th
1. Utah – 196.992
2. Arkansas – 196.756
3. Florida – 196.563
4. Georgia – 196.519
5. Oklahoma – 196.444
6. Alabama – 196.325
7. UCLA – 196.231
8. Oregon State – 196.050
9. Nebraska – 195.900
10. Penn State – 195.869
11. Ohio State – 195.519
12. Stanford – 195.117
13. Auburn – 195.106
14. LSU – 194.900
15. Denver – 194.738
16. Boise State – 194.700
17. Missouri – 194.663
18. Arizona – 194.625
19. Illinois – 194.500
20. West Virginia – 194.444
21. Washington – 194.419
22. Michigan – 194.292
23. NC State – 194.250
24. Iowa – 194.181
25. Minnesota – 194.006

Full rankings at Troester

Let's take a moment and think about how high these scores are.  Utah's current average is higher than Florida's was at this point last season, when everyone was raving about Florida running away with the title.  There has been no such discussion about Utah, and I suppose they do have to prove the ability to bring these scores on the road before we start talking about them as title contenders.

Even beyond the top spot, we have a marked increase.  Penn State's current average puts them at 10th, but it would have been high enough for 5th at this point last season.  And yet, if we then move beyond the top 12, the scores level out in comparison to last year.  Once we get to the Denvers and Missouris and West Virginias of the world, we see that these schools are not getting the same bump in scoring as the top schools are.  So the rich are getting richer while the poorer stay the same.

Why?  There could be several reasons.  The first possible explanation is that the top teams are just more talented than they were last year, and that is reflected in the scores.  It's quite true that the new freshmen are very strong and that almost all of the top schools have traded up from last year.  But if that is the reason, then the coaches as a whole should be concerned.  What has happened to the parity you all have been lauding for the past few years?  The top schools appear to be distancing themselves from the rest, and looking at incoming recruiting classes for next year, that isn't changing.

But maybe that's not the main reason.  Maybe it has more to do with the judges going overboard early in the year (an argument I would support).  But if that's the case, shouldn't all the schools be seeing an equal bump?  Maybe it's just a home scoring issue, that charitable scores at home have increased even more this year for the top teams.  That's also a major problem.  If only top schools get the benefit of the doubt (or the benefit of blindness), then that has a devastating effect on parity as well.

Other thoughts:

January 29, 2012

Top 25 Scores

Scores from the top 25 ranked teams for week 4.

Week 4
1. Florida – 197.775
2. Utah – 197.550
3. Georgia – 197.250
4. Oregon State – 196.800
5. Arkansas – 196.700
6. Oklahoma – 196.475
7. Alabama – 196.275
8. Auburn – 196.250
9. West Virginia – 195.775
10. LSU – 195.750
11. Missouri – 195.725
12. Ohio State – 195.625
13. Penn State – 195.475
14. Denver – 195.400
15. Washington – 195.350
16. UCLA – 194.600
17. Nebraska – 194.550
17. Iowa – 194.550
19. Stanford – 194.525
20. Arizona – 194.350
21. Michigan – 194.225
22. NC State – 194.075
23. Illinois – 193.700
24. Boise State – 193.525
25. Maryland – 193.075

January 28, 2012

Saturday Scores and Residual Thoughts

Follow here after the jump throughout the day for scoring updates on the Saturday meets.

But first, a few thoughts about yesterday, particularly the performances of Florida and UCLA.  It was a very 2011 day for these two teams, with Florida recording a tremendous score and knocking on the door of 198, and UCLA having a truly spectacular combustion for a devastating 194.600.

The UCLA performance was disappointingly predictable the moment we heard that Val would be putting some of the "depth" into the lineup for this meet.  Now, I use depth in quotes because based on the way these second-string gymnasts performed, they cannot be relied upon to be depth for this team.  This has become the classic UCLA conundrum, but one that we have seen them solve in the past.  If we get a press conference about this meet, I expect Val to give us a variation on the usual, "I'm not upset about the obvious things.  I'm not upset about the falls.  I'm upset because we didn't warm up well and competed tight."  This time, there is some truth to the assessment that the falls aren't as relevant, but it's because most of the major mistakes came from gymnasts who won't find themselves in the lineup again for a while.  The much more troubling aspect of UCLA's performance was the parade of 9.7s from top performers and the inability of the team to get the meet back on track after poor performances – to "hit refresh" as the team is fond of saying all the time.  Which begs the question, if you say something enough, does it lose all meaning?  They certainly didn't hit refresh yesterday.

However, this meet was nothing new for UCLA because of the traditional commitment to try out different lineups throughout the season.  Val made specific mention that they needed to get Frattone and Baer into the beam lineup this week so they could get competitive routines under their belts.  No one is expecting either to compete against Stanford next week (unless there is injury, and perhaps Mattie was out of the lineup v. Washington more because of the ankle than because of rest, so we'll watch that).  Let's contrast that to Florida, where Rhonda Faehn has done a commendable thing in being willing to try new strategies and completely change the training schedule, which certainly seemed to influence the team's scores in the first few weeks.  They finally arrived yesterday with something much closer to what we're accustomed to seeing from Florida at home in January.  While most teams would be celebrating such a humongous score, Florida fans have seen it all before.  January 197s don't win championships.

So here's the question: have both of these teams fallen into old patterns?  I say this because, while Florida has attempted to address the peaking issue, they have not yet adequately addressed the depth issue.  While UCLA felt the need to get their backup routines into the lineup and eat a bad score in order to move forward with a stronger team, Florida put the same six gymnasts up on the balance beam (last year's demon) as they have in every meet.  If this continues, how comfortable will Rhonda be making a change in April?  She didn't feel comfortable taking out Mahlich last year.

I hope that we don't see these patterns continue next week.  I hope that UCLA can find a way to be a successful team without being horrible for large stretches of the regular season, and I hope that Florida doesn't completely rely on yesterday's lineup for the rest of the year just because it was successful this weekend.  Florida needs to be willing to climb down to get up.  They need to go into the crevasse.

Saturday things:

January 27, 2012

Friday Continued - UCLA @ Washington

UCLA is about to begin at Washington, and we'll keep an eye on the scores from Utah, Stanford, and Oregon State as the Pac-12 finishes us off on this busy Friday.

For Utah on beam, Lopez leads off well with 9.850.  McAllister follows with 9.725, and Lothrop goes 9.875.  They are going to have to go huge to keep up with Florida, but UCLA's 197.575 looks within reach for them right now.

Happy Friday – Meets Galore

Lots of scores to watch tonight.  Follow along with all my jibber jabber after the jump.

It seems like all eyes are on Florida tonight, with a huge meet at home against Arkansas.  I have a feeling that this meet will do a lot to shape the narrative about both of these teams for the rest of the season.  If Florida has a poor meet, there will be "a lot to overcome" and "a controversial strategy," but if they win or score very well, then we will be on "Rhonda's a genius" watch.  For Arkansas, they are not one of the perennial powers, so people will always be looking for an opportunity to dismiss them and say, "they weren't really one of the great teams, anyway," but if they have another great meet, they will force people to expand the conversation about the top teams to include them.

Oklahoma, Alabama, Utah, and UCLA are also in action throughout the evening.  We'll have a lot to watch.  Expect Utah to score very well at home, and expect UCLA to struggle a little bit without their top lineup out there.  If UCLA can hit in the 196s, they're fine, but the danger of putting out a B-team is that they could really drop in the rankings and lose confidence with a bad score that counts falls.  They really don't need to reopen the Westwood Roller Coaster this year (every car is shaped like Miss Val Eyes, "experience the death-defying 400-foot drop...in the rankings!").

6:00 ET / 3:00 PT – [14] Illinois @ [19] Michigan
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – [1] Arkansas, [24] Maryland, Bridgeport @ [8] Florida
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – [11] Ohio State @ Pittsburgh
7:30 ET / 4:30 PT – [23] Iowa @ Iowa State
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – [20] NC State @ [5] Oklahoma
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – [6] Alabama @ [16] Auburn
9:00 ET / 6:00 PT – BYU @ [3] Utah
9:00 ET / 6:00 PT – [13] Boise State, Southern Utah @ Utah State
9:00 ET / 6:00 PT – [15] Arizona @ Arizona State
10:00 ET / 7:00 PT – [1] UCLA @ [22] Washington
10:00 ET / 7:00 PT – [12] Stanford @ [10] Oregon State

January 25, 2012

The Weekend Agenda (January 27th-29th)

The last meets of January mean the last few opportunities for allowances.  Teams are still permitted to be lackluster this week, but the window is closing.  Starting next week, teams better have one or more (preferably two) scores that they would be willing to count toward RQS, otherwise they are going to be under pressure to deliver every week from here on out.  Once we get into March, it's a good idea to start resting some of those top performers so that they will be ready for the postseason, but teams won't feel comfortable doing that if there is RQS pressure to get into the top six (or top twelve, or whatever the goal may be).  Even though the season seems brand new, we will be more than a third of the way done after this weekend.  January rust has to come off.

Florida has a big meet at home this weekend.  Arkansas is by far the more in-form team, and Florida's trajectory (and injury situation with Caquatto coming back) won't have them ready to start putting up huge scores yet.  But at the same time, I expect to see a more accomplished lineup from Florida than we have seen so far to avoid the potential upset (even though it's not a numerical upset, it would still be an upset if Arkansas won).  This is a major confidence meet for Florida against their first serious competition of the year, and all the big scorers should be in the lineup wherever they are prepared to compete.

As always, I will be following along with all the Friday scores and potentially checking in with some of the live streams we will have.

Top 25 Schedule:
Friday – 1/27/12
6:00 ET / 3:00 PT – [14] Illinois @ [19] Michigan
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – [1] Arkansas, [24] Maryland @ [8] Florida
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – [11] Ohio State @ Pittsburgh
7:30 ET / 4:30 PT – [23] Iowa @ Iowa State
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – [20] NC State @ [5] Oklahoma
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – [6] Alabama @ [16] Auburn
9:00 ET / 6:00 PT – BYU @ [3] Utah
9:00 ET / 6:00 PT – [13] Boise State, Southern Utah @ Utah State
9:00 ET / 6:00 PT – [15] Arizona @ Arizona State
10:00 ET / 7:00 PT – [1] UCLA @ [22] Washington
10:00 ET / 7:00 PT – [12] Stanford @ [10] Oregon State

Saturday – 1/28/12
4:00 ET / 1:00 PT – [17] LSU @ [7] Georgia
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – [20] Missouri @ [4] Nebraska
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – [9] Penn State @ Minnesota
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – Air Force, Centenary @ [18] Denver

Sunday – 1/29/12
1:00 ET / 10:00 PT – George Washington, Towson @ [25] West Virginia

January 24, 2012

Improvement Rankings (2012 vs. 2011)

Teams are ranked based on the difference between their average score after three weeks in 2012 and their average score after three weeks in 2011.  Teams appearing in either top 25 (2012 or 2011) are included in the list.

Improvement Rankings – 2012 vs. 2011
1. Arkansas +1.842 (196.775 vs. 194.933)
1. Penn State +1.842 (196.000 vs. 194.158)
3. UCLA +1.656 (196.775 vs. 195.119)
4. Nebraska +1.525 (196.575 vs. 195.050)
5. Arizona +1.281 (194.673 vs. 193.392)
6. Ohio State +1.108 (195.483 vs. 194.375)
7. Maryland +0.800 (194.008 vs. 193.208)
7. Alabama +0.800 (196.325 vs. 195.525)
9. Utah +0.780 (196.713 vs. 195.933)
10. LSU +0.675 (194.617 vs. 193.942)
11. Oklahoma +0.652 (196.433 vs. 195.781)
12. Missouri +0.625 (194.308 vs. 193.683)
13. Denver +0.554 (194.517 vs. 193.963)
14. Auburn +0.550 (194.725 vs. 194.175)
15. Boise State +0.500 (195.288 vs. 194.788)
16. Illinois +0.408 (194.900 vs. 194.492)
17. Oregon State +0.337 (195.675 vs. 195.338)
18. West Virginia +0.225 (194.000 vs. 193.775)
19. Georgia +0.087 (196.275 vs. 196.188)

20. NC State –0.542 (194.308 vs. 194.850)
21. Washington –0.550 (194.108 vs. 194. 658)
21. Florida –0.550 (196.158 vs. 196.708)
23. Iowa –0.617 (194.058 vs. 194.675)
24. Michigan –0.872 (194.325 vs. 195.197)
25. Minnesota –0.942 (193.625 vs. 194.567)
26. Southern Utah –0.983 (193.675 vs. 194.658)
27. Stanford –1.000 (195.413 vs. 196.413)
28. Iowa State –1.220 (193.263 vs. 194.483)
29. Kent State –1.920 (193.088 vs. 195.008)

January 23, 2012

Monday Rankings

National Rankings – Week of January 23rd
T1. UCLA – 196.775
T1. Arkansas – 196.775
3. Utah – 196.713
4. Nebraska – 196.575
5. Oklahoma – 196.433
6. Alabama – 196.325
7. Georgia – 196.275
8. Florida – 196.158
9. Penn State – 196.000
10. Oregon State – 195.675
11. Ohio State – 195.483
12. Stanford – 195.413
13. Boise State – 195.288
14. Illinois – 194.900
15. Arizona – 194.763
16. Auburn – 194.725
17. LSU – 194.617
18. Denver – 194.517
19. Michigan – 194.325
T20. Missouri – 194.308
T20. NC State – 194.308
22. Washington – 194.108
23. Iowa – 194.058
24. Maryland – 194.008
25. West Virginia – 194.000

Full rankings: Troester

A tie at the top, two different paths there.  Arkansas has done it with steady, impressive performances, while UCLA did it with one humongous score to leapfrog everyone it appeared would be above them.  The most encouraging part of yesterday's meet for UCLA is that they were not great on the dismounts or even landing some of the tumbling passes with control.  Ostensibly, they could easily perform five tenths better than they did this week, which would put them into potential 198 territory at home or away at Georgia. Which leads us to the overarching question that has come up again and again this January: what do you do with those routines scoring 9.900-9.925 when the gymnasts actually starting hitting to full potential?  If the judging continues on this trajectory, we will have either a March of Tens or controversy over a January 9.925 still scoring 9.925 in March when the routine has improved.  Let's all keep an eye on that moving forward.

Other thoughts:

January 22, 2012

Top 25 Scores

As a quick reference for the scores each weekend, I'm going to list the scores from the top 25 teams, ranked from highest to lowest.

Week 3
1. UCLA - 197.575
2. Oklahoma - 197.450
3. Arkansas - 197.225
4. LSU - 196.325
5. Florida - 196.250
T6. Alabama - 196.175
T6. Boise State -  196.175
8. Penn State - 196.100
9. Georgia - 195.975
10. Ohio State - 195.900
11. Nebraska - 195.775
12. Stanford - 195.825
13. Auburn - 195.600
14. Illinois - 195.075
15. Oregon State - 194.825
16. Missouri - 194.725
17. Denver - 194.625
18. Arizona - 194.375
19. NC State - 194.200
20. Maryland - 193.950 
21. San Jose State - 193.675 (v. Seattle Pacific; 193.200 v. UCLA)
22. West Virginia - 193.475
23. Michigan - 193.150
24. Minnesota - 193.000
Bye - Utah

After the jump, lists from Week 1 and Week 2

Live Blog - San Jose St. @ UCLA

Watch Live

We've had a bit of a topsy-turvy weekend, which always makes everything more interesting.  Nebraska came back to the field a bit, and Florida and Alabama continued to low 196 their way through January, but Arkansas maintained their upward trajectory, and Oklahoma finally arrived.  Oklahoma should be even more pleased with their season-leading 197.450 because it was a road score, which will be very valuable when RQS comes into play.

As it stands now, Arkansas should take over the #1 ranking on Monday from an idle Utah (196.775 to 196.713 average score).  UCLA has an outside shot at taking the top spot, but they would have to score 197.600 today to do so.  It's possible but highly unlikely.  Let's just go for 24/24, shall we?  UCLA does, however, have a prime opportunity to move into the #3 or #4 spot with Nebraska, Oregon St, Alabama, and Georgia all dropping points (in average) this weekend.  The big ranking loser of the weekend was Michigan, whose 193.150 will see them plummet.  Still no official word on Beilstein's injury, but it can't be good.  I think we call this a rebuilding year.

For UCLA, the huge beam score (too huge, but a UCLA team hit 6/6 on beam in January, so let's just enjoy it) from last week should help their confidence to do it again.  If they hit the first five routines well, I'd like to see Peszek's standing full come back in (the routine without it is a bit too easy for her skill level).  Also important will be Mattie Larson's floor routine.  She's been taking the marionette thing a bit too seriously when landing her passes, and she hasn't fully hit a floor routine in competition since August 2010.  That kind of thing wears on you.  She needs to get hitting immediately.  On vault, the judges at Cal broke the 10 barrier for Zamarripa, so now we can expect to start seeing them every time she sticks at home.

Live commentary after the jump

January 21, 2012

Saturday Scores - Alabama, Michigan, and Penn State

Soon, Michigan will get underway visiting Minnesota and Alabama will begin at Penn State (along with Michigan State and Cornell).

If Alabama can hit bars, they have the potential to score exceptionally well and keep pace with Arkansas's weekend-leading 197.225.  This will be Alabama's first road meet, and it will be interesting to see whether they can match their huge home score on vault and keep pace with UCLA on that event.  However, the bars issue is most important because, like last year, this group really has no business making numerous mistakes on bars.  While scoring in the 49.3-49.4 range that they will need to in the postseason could be an issue down the road, hitting six routines should not be.  We saw way too many errors on handstands against Georgia.  I'd rather them be short and take a minor deduction than go over and ruin the routine.

For Michigan, the goal should be putting up six usable routines on every apparatus, finding a group that can hit beam well, and trying to break into the 196 range.  They have little depth, but I'd like to see some of it coming into play.  They'll need Annette Miele fully healthy and hitting well this year.

Follow here with scores and comments.

January 20, 2012

Follow (the Scores) Friday

No free streams today, so we'll be following scores from Florida @ Kentucky (7:00/4:00), Nebraska @ Iowa State (7:30/4:30), and the Arkansas and Georgia meets (8:00/5:00).

Florida has been steady, scoring in the low 196s for the first two meets, though they did have an unfortunate floor rotation last week and should have scored higher.  They're still missing key members (Caquatto, half an Alaina Johnson), and I don't expect them to reach the heights of performance (though they can still score hugely at home without them) until they return.  Florida is still scoring well enough for January, so confidence should be pretty high even though they haven't put up the big numbers. Confidence could become an issue, though, if they continue having to count falls.  24 for 24 should be the goal tonight, and if the score is still low 196s, then so be it.

For Nebraska, in the long term they have to find a way to sustain the performance level that put them at #1.  But for today, that's not the biggest concern.  They won't score that well every week, especially on the road, so a lower score today should not be seen as a loss.  It is much more important for them to build up a team that can perform well for months on end, meaning that they need to get 24 usable performances into the lineup immediately.  Even if they wouldn't necessarily want those gymnasts performing in postseason, they have to start building the depth.  Plan A is obviously Jessie DeZiel, but what's Plan B?  

Notes on scores after the jump from 7:00 ET.

January 18, 2012

The Weekend Agenda (January 20th-22nd)

First, a bit of news: Natasha Kelley has retired from gymnastics.  This announcement was expected after her body broke down on her yet again with the Achilles tear during preseason.  Even before this latest injury, she was running mostly on grit and knee braces.  How many devastating injuries can a person really come back from?

As for this week's schedule, the live streams are rather unkind to us on Friday (and then fast forward two weeks to when Florida @ Alabama and Georgia @ Utah are happening at the same time.  Dear Schedule: Be better.  Love, Everyone).  Nonetheless, I will do an abbreviated follow along blog for the scores of earlier meets on Friday and another for the Alabama and Michigan meets on Saturday.  Then on Sunday, I will be back with a real live blog of surprising #19 San Jose State @ UCLA.

Top 25 Schedule:
Friday – 1/20/12
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – [8] Florida @ Kentucky
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – Alaska-Anchorage, Bridgeport @ [23] Maryland
7:30 ET / 4:30 PT – [1] Nebraska @ Iowa State
7:30 ET / 4:30 PT – [16] Denver @ [22] Missouri
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – [25] LSU @ [3] Arkansas
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – [6] Georgia @ [20] Auburn
9:00 ET / 6:00 PT – Sacramento State @ [17] Boise State
10:00 ET / 7:00 PT – [4] Oregon State @ [13] Arizona

Saturday – 1/21/12
4:00 ET / 1:00 PT – George Washington @ [12] Ohio State
6:00 ET / 3:00 PT – [15] Illinois @ Iowa
6:00 ET / 3:00 PT – [18] NC State @ UIC
6:00 ET / 3:00 PT – [21] West Virginia @ Bowling Green
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – [5] Alabama, Michigan State, Cornell @ [9] Penn State
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – [11] Michigan @ [24] Minnesota
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – [10] Oklahoma, Utah State, Centenary @ Texas Women's

Sunday – 1/22/12
5:00 ET / 2:00 PT – [19] San Jose State @ [7] UCLA
5:00 ET / 2:00 PT – Washington @ [14] Stanford

January 17, 2012

On Scoring and Subjectivity

This past weekend, we saw a number of high team scores awarded and a number of 10s awarded to individual routines by at least one of the two judges.  These 10s all had varying degrees of believability, but my intention with this post is not to break down the scoring or continue harping on the routines because, regardless of your feelings on them, these individual scores do not warrant more than a few sentences either way.  Well done on your good score, now go to class.  Instead, I want to use these scores as a jumping off point to discuss attitudes toward scoring in general.

Too often in collegiate gymnastics we define a 10 as an absence of deductions.  We see that a gymnast's legs were together and that the landing was stuck, and because there were no overt faults, the routine becomes a 10.  But really, a 10 should be defined by much more than that.  A 10 routine should be something rare and tremendous.  It should not be defined by what it lacks (finite deductions) and rather should be defined by what it brings, an unrivaled quality that makes the routine not just better than what anyone else is doing but better than what anyone else can do.  Some of the best gymnasts should look at a 10 routine and say, "I can't do it like that," or "I didn't even know it was possible to do it like that."

A large part of the reason we don't see this attitude taken toward 10s is a fear of subjectivity.  The routine quality that I described above fundamentally cannot be measured and will never be agreed upon by two different judges, coaches, gymnasts, or fans viewing the same routine.  That scares people.  They are afraid of incurring criticism for inconsistency or favoritism and therefore revert to that which is objective because objective qualities can more easily be defended from that same inevitable criticism.  We see this all the time when people discuss their favorite and, more often, least favorite gymnasts.  They will point out flexed feet on a Tkatchev or crossed legs on twists as reasons for disliking a gymnast because those are objective qualities that can be supported visually, but in actuality, because gymnastics is such an aesthetic and artistic sport, our true reasons for liking and disliking gymnasts tend to be far less tangible and far more inexplicable.  Often our opinions are more about a feeling or an attitude, one that cannot always be supported visually or verbally but is no less valid because of that.  

I would argue that this fear of subjective measure is the single biggest contributor to the recent devolution of elite gymnastics.  Panic over incurring controversy caused the FIG to change the elite code, and in so doing they attempted to make elite scoring more objective and, therefore, justifiable when the inevitable controversy does arrive.  This change has had the most negative influence in the area of artistry scoring, something that cannot and should not be evaluated with objective guidelines.  The Women's Technical Committee has deemed that the awkward pointed-toe running to indirectly connect dance elements is objectively artistic.  That very phrase is an oxymoron.  Dictating that a person must move in a certain way is the opposite of artistry.  Artistry cannot be written down; it cannot be prescribed.  In the same way, the qualities of a 10 cannot be prescribed.

Every viewer will bring different values and biases to the evaluation of gymnastics.  One person's 9.9 is another person's 10, and that's fine.  That's good, as long as the people in question truly think the routine was deserving of a 10, rather than resigning themselves to a lack of deductions.  It shows that the sport is vibrant when it is provoking that kind of disagreement.  When everyone values the same things and is viewing routines in the same way, there is no need for discussion; there is no need for evaluation.  When gymnastics fails to embrace its own fundamental subjectivity, it loses its defining quality and becomes just another sport where "getting it done" and "winning ugly" are valued characteristics.  Aesthetic opinion is something to be valued and cultivated rather than eliminated and ignored.  We must encourage judges to incorporate aesthetic opinion into their judging and trust their experience and expertise to know how to apply it correctly.

In gymnastics, success can't just be about getting it done to the satisfaction of an established set of specifications.  It has to be about doing more, flying higher than anyone expected, moving in a way that no one wants to stop watching.  Evaluating one routine as better than another because of an unquantifiable quality is not a vice.  It is to be encouraged.  It is what makes this sport special.  We don't have a specific judging category for inducing wonder, but we should always have a way to reward it.  And that's what a 10 should be.

January 16, 2012

Monday Rankings

National Rankings - Week of January 16th
1. Nebraska – 197.375
2. Utah – 196.713
3. Arkansas – 196.550
4. Oregon State – 196.525
5. Alabama – 196.475
6. Georgia – 196.425
7. UCLA – 196.375
8. Florida – 196.100
9. Penn State – 195.950
10. Oklahoma – 195.925
11. Michigan – 195.500
12. Ohio State – 195.275
13. Arizona – 195.150
14. Stanford – 194.900
15. Illinois – 194.725
16. Denver – 194.463
17. Boise State – 194.400
18. NC State – 194.363
19. San Jose State – 194.300
20. Auburn – 194.288
21. West Virginia – 194.263
22. Missouri – 194.100
23. Maryland – 194.038
24. Minnesota – 193.938
25. LSU – 193.763

As always, full rankings at Troester

Not much can be gleaned from these rankings as they are the definition of a small sample size, with some teams having competed in only one meet.  Nonetheless, that will not stop me from over-analyzing them.

January 15, 2012

Follow Along Sunday

Stanford is about to get underway with a quad meet at home, and UCLA is visiting Cal today.  We don't have live video for either of these meets, but I'm going to update here with scores and thoughts.

UCLA needs to get the confidence going on beam (inexcusable!) as soon as possible to set themselves up for the rest of the season.  I'd also like to see a more complete floor rotation out of this meet.  This is a meet they should win handily, so normally I would expect to see a lot of lineup experimentation, but the coaches may want to keep things the same to build this group confidence up on those two events at least.

For Stanford, Shapiro is in the lineup on only bars and Ivana Hong is not in at all.  We knew going into the season that this team would be very reliant on these two freshmen and was in a risky situation with their injury history.  We will have to see how they cope without some of the star routines they were relying on.

January 13, 2012

Live Blog – Georgia @ Alabama

As much as other gymnastics teams might wish they could create a rivalry like this, Georgia vs. Alabama remains one of a kind.  Even though it's early in the season, this year's edition still provides us with some intriguing story lines.  By all tangible measures, Alabama should be the favorite.  They are coming off a national championship, competing at home, and fielding a deeper and more accomplished squad. Certainly, a loss would be a bigger blow to Alabama than it would be to Georgia.

And yet, it cannot be easy to open a season with what feels like a must-win meet.  Now, it's definitely not a must-win meet in the logical scheme of the season (Alabama could be horrible here and still do just fine for the year), but the Alabama/Georgia rivalry defies logical schemes.  That pressure to win will be heavy on Alabama, and if Georgia puts up the same kind of meet they did last weekend, they are more than capable of pulling this one out.  Georgia put up the highest score last week, and if they follow that up with a win against Bama away, you'll need your telescope to view that inflated confidence level.

Gymnasts to watch (Alabama):
1) Ashley Priess – How much is she competing (word is 3 events tonight)?  How far along is she in the comeback?  Does her body look like it can withstand the season?  
2) Kayla Williams – I have a sneaking suspicion that Sarah will try to turn her into an all-arounder.  This is unwise.  She needs to be an important specialist.  How is vault?  Is it Kayla 2009 or Kayla 2010?
3) Ashley Sledge – Ashley was a hugely influential early-lineup worker on three events last year and is capable of 9.9s on those three events.  More attention will be paid to Priess, GSE, and Williams this year, but I have a feeling that as goes Sledge, so goes Bama.

Gymnasts to watch (Georgia):  
1) Shayla Worley – Mission accomplished for Shayla in the first meet because she stood up three events.  She desperately needs to do the same tonight so that we can transition to setting less condescending goals for her.  A 9.9 or two would be nice.
2) Chelsea Davis – The meet against Denver made it clear that Georgia needs to get her into the all-around.  I'd love to see her get in on beam this week and fully hit bars.  She was 9.8 last week with a nearly-over handstand.
3) Noel Couch – As critical as I am of Couch sometimes, she remains necessary to the team.  They will not be successful unless she is hitting all her events for 9.8s.  She has to set a consistent tone in order for the rest of them to excel.

After the jump, follow comments on scores coming in from around the country until live commentary on Georgia/Alabama (meet begins at 8:30 ET / 5:30 PT).

January 12, 2012

Week 1: The Numbers

(For the purposes of these statistics, I included scores only from teams in the Top 25 preseason coaches' poll and included all six scores per rotation, not just the five counting scores.)

Average Score by Apparatus – Week 1 
1) Vault – 9.764
2) Beam – 9.620
3) Bars – 9.619
4) Floor – 9.596

Now before you get out your fans and smelling salts because you have the vapors at beam being the second highest scoring event, know that scores of 2.000 from LSU's Jessie Jordan on bars and Arkansas's Scarlett Williams on floor skewed the numbers.  Excluding those scores, the list goes as follows:

1) Vault – 9.764
2) Bars – 9.693
3) Floor – 9.672
4) Beam – 9.620

Average Score by Team – Week 1
1) Georgia – 9.785
2) Florida – 9.783
3) UCLA – 9.775
4) Oklahoma – 9.752
T5) Ohio State – 9.738
T5) Arizona – 9.738

Pretty unexpected, huh?  As mentioned, Arkansas's numbers are odd because of that 2.000 (they would be #3 otherwise), but it's interesting how dropped falls change everything.  I wouldn't have guessed that Ohio State and Arizona would be in the top 5 without doing the math.

Numbers per team per apparatus after the jump

January 11, 2012

The Weekly Agenda

After a sparsely populated first week of the season, everyone is in action this weekend to give us a much clearer view of how the teams stack up against one another.  Friday, in particular, will be a busy day for us score vultures, so we need to have a little situation room action going on with all the scoring windows.

The star meet on Friday is clearly Georgia @ Alabama, and I will be here live blogging that one.  While the rivalry doesn't have quite the same oomph without Suzanne around (and I do wish it were later in the season), Alabama would absolutely die if they lost to Georgia at home as defending national champions. That should provide the necessary intrigue.

Meets of note:
Friday – 1/13/12
6:00 ET / 3:00 PT – Ohio State @ Michigan
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – Illinois-Chicago @ Florida
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – Kentucky @ Arkansas
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – Denver @ Nebraska
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – Auburn @ LSU
8:30 ET / 5:30 PT – Georgia @ Alabama
9:00 ET / 6:00 PT – Utah State @ Utah
9:00 ET / 6:00 PT – Washington @ Boise State
10:00 ET / 7:00 PT – Oklahoma @ Oregon State

Saturday – 1/14/12
5:00 ET / 2:00 PT – Minnesota @ Illinois

Sunday – 1/15/12
1:00 ET / 10:00 PT – Kent State @ Western Michigan
2:00 ET / 11:00 PT – Rutgers @ West Virginia
5:00 ET / 2:00 PT – UCLA @ Cal
5:00 ET / 2:00 PT – Stanford Quad Meet (w/ San Jose St., UC Davis, and Sacramento St.)

January 9, 2012

The Disappointment Has Arrived

A few thoughts about this weekend's team performances.

I haven't had an opportunity to see much of Arkansas or Oklahoma yet, so I don't have a lot to say about those teams aside from Arkansas turning a few heads with that score in the first meet.  It will go a long way toward gaining national reputation if they can reside near the top of the rankings for a while.  We see from the scores that Katherine Grable did indeed perform well to support (outshine?) Jamie Pisani.  The Razorbacks actually appeared to have a very Oklahoma meet with a new gymnast stepping up on each apparatus to boost the scoring.  Keep an eye on them.  For the last few years the line has been, "If you have an off meet, Arkansas will beat you."  They're working hard to remove the conditional clause from that sentence in 2012.  

Georgia - 196.525
Georgia came out of the first weekend with the highest score in the country.  I not so concerned with the (mostly valid) complaints of overscoring at the meets hosted by Georgia and UCLA, especially at this point in the season.  I'm much more concerned with routine quality and potential.  So, Georgia's score is a nice confidence booster for them but is not particularly relevant.

Nonetheless, Georgia has a lot to be proud of from this weekend, most importantly that they put together a complete meet, something they did only a handful of times all of last season.  They weren't close to perfect, but they showed a lineup capable of hitting four solid rotations every single week with a number of standout routines on bars and a few on vault.  Kat Ding's 9.975 on bars and "9.925" on vault were necessary in sparking the team's scoring success, and she will clearly lead the group on those events.

That being said, it would be foolish to get too excited about Georgia's potential right now because we also saw some glaring weaknesses exposed.  Floor and beam appeared sparse in terms of scoring potential, and going forward it will be crucial to get Chelsea Davis into the all-around to purge the lineup of some of these less pleasant routines.  In addition, Shayla Worley needs to be the scoring leader with 9.9s on both of those events.  She's probably their most talented floor worker, and even though it's hard to envision her staying healthy and consistent enough to post a 9.9 every week, the team needs it.  Noel Couch can't be the floor anchor.  She just can't.

Relying on Couch to get a 9.875 on floor and Christa Tanella to get a 9.850 on beam is not a viable long-term scoring strategy.  Davis and Worley have to take up the scoring responsibility on those events with their higher quality, more enjoyable gymnastics.  Couch and Tanella both perform like they are trying way too hard to make friends with every single person in the audience in a "look how much fun I'm having!" kind of way.  They have a calculated, spastic enthusiasm that comes across more like socially awkward desperation.  They need to transition to calm, presentable confidence now that they are upperclassmen.  Just settle down, close your mouth, and perform your routine.  And that Jaws routine certainly doesn't help Couch seem like a more mature performer.  It's too mime-y and childish for my taste.

In all, Georgia proved this week that they can be a top 6 team.  Remaining at the top of the conversation, though, is a new challenge that they will still have to prove they can meet.

Furious V

"I think I need more of a cooling off period before we talk about this.  It's inexcusable, and I'm cool and calm right now.  It's inexcusable to come out and compete so well, be so prepared, and then go up and compete tightly on beam.  I mean, I'm so SICK of saying that.  They could not be more prepared.  They couldn't hit better in intrasquads.  It's ridiculous, and I will stop now before I go into a full rant, but I mean, you know, we could sit here and say 'ooh, the silver lining is we've got things to work on, and we're really deep blah, blah, blah,' but it was inexcusable.  It's inexcusable to go up, to be so prepared, and to compete tightly when you're this talented.  DONE."

If anyone ever asks why you love one Valorie Kondos Field, a simple link to this interview will do.  Any time anyone asks me a question from now on, I'm ending my answer with "DONE."

Val's catchphrase last season was "training with purpose."  She will really hope this year's doesn't become "inexcusable."

I'll put up full thoughts on the weekend's meets soon, but Miss Val's interviews were, as always, irresistible.

January 8, 2012

Live Blog - Utah @ UCLA

Live Video

After the first two days of competition, Georgia leads the way with a 196.525.  They will be over the moon if they can pop up in the first Monday rankings as the #1 Georgia Gymdogs, and we probably won't hear the end of it for a while.

However, both of the teams competing this afternoon have a legitimate chance to eclipse that total. Based on the lineup Utah is sending out and their recent training videos, I don't expect to see many 9.9s, but this team is certainly capable of 9.850-ing their way into the mid/high 196s at this point in the season. Watch for Dabritz and Delaney's scores relative to the rest of the team and how far along Robarts is in coming back.  They need her to be a scoring leader.

For UCLA, we have no idea, as always.  I'd like to see them send out as many top gymnasts as are ready to compete for this first meet (with meets against Cal and San Jose St to follow, there will be ample opportunity to experiment), but Val could just as easily decide to "explore depth" here, in which case the scoring expectations would be lower.  Their overall goal needs to be to hit all events (beam!) and make sure they start this season from a place of confidence instead of having to swim against the current of debilitating early performances as we have seen in most of the recent seasons.  Val won't want to have to keep convincing the team that they are on the right track this year.  They should know it from their own performances.

Of note:

  • Allison Taylor will be providing the commentary.  I can barely fathom what to expect.  This will be her biggest contribution ever to a UCLA meet.  I almost miss her one routine (9.225) per year.  Maybe she'll surprise us as a commentator.  Maybe...  
  • Tiffany Hyland is no longer on the UCLA roster.  I'm actually kind of sad.  Freshman walk-ons, you have some very big shoes to fill.  I never would have had a problem had the team not pretended she was part of the roster and a gymnast on the team, rather than a manager/helper/cheerleader.

(Live commentary after the jump)

January 6, 2012

Live Blog - Florida @ NC State

Live Video

It begins.  Because of the influx of freshman talent across the top teams, I'm much more excited for this season than I was for last season.  After this weekend's meets, I'll probably be jaded and cynical about everyone again, but let's just enjoy this moment while we can.

All eyes are on Rhonda this year after the disaster of last postseason, and she knows it.  There is more pressure on Florida than any other team, including defending champion Alabama.  The question coming from all corners is, regardless of talent level, can Rhonda actually coach a team to a championship?  She hasn't proven it yet, and in 2011 with her most talented team ever, she didn't get close.  On the positive side, she is willing to make significant changes to her coaching strategy, and tonight we will begin to see (and evaluate) how those changes are working.

I expect to see more lineup experimentation from Florida this season than we saw last year.  That's necessitated by having such a deep, talented team and the need to explore all options so that many gymnasts are comfortable competing by championship season.  I hope Wang and Spicer get some opportunities tonight so we can begin to evaluate how useful they will be to the team.  It will also be interesting to see how much the team is relying on Hunter this early and how far along Caquatto is.

(Live commentary after the jump)

January 5, 2012

This Is Our Team. This Is Our Year.

Important viewing on the eve of the season.

I don't want to think you have the winner's heartI want to know it.

January 4, 2012

Meet Notes – January 6th-8th

Florida @ NC State – Friday 7:00 ET
This meet is really more like Florida vs. Expectations as NC State should not be in the same scoring stratum as the Gators in a sane world.  NC State currently sits in that frustrating purgatory where they should make Regionals but have no realistic hope of making Championships.  They bring the same composition and skill set as teams in the 13-18 range, but a lack of general amplitude and acceptable split position keeps them a step lower.  We'll see a lot of tuck jumps and cat leaps as a way of avoiding those splits.

As for Florida, we got official confirmation this week that Rachel Spicer is joining the team, which should give them some depth and a consistent early-lineup worker on any event.  I have more hope for her making lineups than I do for Kiersten Wang, but time will tell.  The change in fall preparation schedule will likely have an effect on Florida's January quality, but I do still expect them to perform well and score in the 196s.  Although, as explained in my Florida preview, a fall or two on beam in these early meets would not be the worst thing in the world.  All in all, we'll probably see a healthy mix of solid 9.9s and tentative 9.7s, which is to be expected at this time of year.  Pay special attention to Kytra Hunter's contribution here and over the first few weeks.  They will need her sturdiness to take some pressure off of Caquatto's legs in the early season and to anchor vault and floor with 9.9+ in the later season.
Rotation to watch: Florida on beam.  They will need to experiment with this lineup over the course of months since no one should have a guaranteed spot after the performance last postseason.  Watch this rotation more for competition confidence than for scores.  A fall is fine right now as long as it is part of an aggressive routine.  Uncertainty is the biggest red flag.

Denver @ Georgia – Friday 7:30 ET
Here we have another meet where the result shouldn't really be in doubt, although Denver is a better team than NC State, and Georgia is a worse team than Florida.  It wouldn't be entirely inconceivable for Georgia to have a shambolic performance and lose, though I wouldn't bet on it.  Georgia has the benefit of opening the season at home, so expect the scores to be . . . generous with a sarcastic smile.

Jay Clark held a live chat earlier today, which is a pretty boring read, so you don't need to bother unless you really love Jay and/or diplomatic answers.  He did make one odd comment, though, saying that vault and beam would likely be the highest scoring events for Georgia this year.  Really?  Vault?  Where you have Kat Ding, Kaylan Earls, and . . . who else?  Bekah Bennetts and Rue McClanahan?  Bars should be a better event for them with Ding, Worley, Davis, and Nuccio who all should be capable of 9.9s, so bars being weaker than vault would be a concern going forward.

While we usually hear the most discussion each fall about how the freshmen are going to change the complexion of a team, the rhetoric for Georgia this year has been all about Shayla.  "This is Shayla's year."  They better hope so.  Because of her performance over the last two seasons, she has a lower threshold for a slow start.  One fall on beam and those pitchforks are going to be out.  She needs to be a scoring leader from the first meet.

Rotation to watch: Georgia on bars.  They will not be able to contend with the top three teams on vault and, especially, floor.  They just don't have the quality and depth.  A great bars rotation is crucial to help erase that deficit.  Christa Tanella's 9.7 won't cut it here.

Cancun Classic (Arkansas, LSU, Iowa, Auburn, Arizona, San Jose State) – Friday 8:00 ET
I'm calling this meet the Spoiler Alert Classic as Arkansas and LSU are the most discussed spoilers to the top teams.  LSU had a miserable season by their standards in 2011, and they will be relying primarily on an excellent crop of freshmen to lift them up.  Relying on new gymnasts for the majority of late-lineup routines is a dangerous proposition, and I'm not sold on their ability to carry this team.  I'm willing to be proven wrong, but I don't see them challenging consistently.  This meet will be a good first test of how many holes those freshmen can fill and where the team is still lacking.

Arkansas has a bit more experience and depth as a group, which is why I expect them to take this meet.  The big task for Arkansas in 2012 is avoiding being simply The Jamie Pisani Experience Starring Jamie Pisani.  Katherine Grable is the most likely heir to that throne, just as Pisani was the heir to the Casey Jo Magee throne, but the team will need to find more top routines from the likes of Borsellino, Howdeshell, and the freshmen.

Rotation to watch: Arkansas on beam.  If this team is going to make the transition to being a contender instead of a perennial challenger, they can't have rotations that they are just trying to get through, as beam was in 2011.  We're starting to expect more than just a bunch of 9.75s.  Do they exist?

(continued with Saturday and Sunday meets)

January 2, 2012

Get. Ready.

As always, the start of the season has snuck up on us, and it's now only four days away.  Here's a look at what's happening this weekend so you can plan accordingly:

  • Friday: The season begins, and I will be live blogging the broadcast of Florida @ NC State at 7 ET / 4 PT.  Special attention will be paid to Florida's preparation schedule.  I don't need to see a 197 this week.  I'll also be following the scores of Denver @ Georgia and making completely unfounded comments about Shayla's performance level.  
  • Saturday: Oklahoma has a quad meet away that they should win easily.  Note who is making lineups right now and how they are attempting to compensate for Natasha Kelley.
  • Sunday: I'll be back to live blog Utah @ UCLA at 5 ET / 2 PT.  This should be the closest and most interesting meet of the weekend.  How are Mattie and Vanessa coming along?  Does Utah have enough star performances to contend?  Is Tiffany Hyland going to get all the water bottles in time?

Meets of note:

Friday – 1/6/12
6:30 ET / 3:30 PT – Washington @ Michigan State
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – Florida @ NC State
7:30 ET / 4:30 PT – Denver @ Georgia
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – Cancun Classic – (Arkansas, LSU, Iowa, Auburn, Arizona, San Jose St.)
10:00 ET / 7:00 PT – UC Davis @ Arizona State

Saturday – 1/7/12
6:00 ET / 3:00 PT – Oklahoma, Bowling Green, Wisconsin-Oshkosh @ Kentucky
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – Ohio State @ Minnesota 

Sunday – 1/8/12
2:00 ET / 11:00 PT – Penn State, Maryland @ West Virginia
3:00 ET / 12:00 PT – Iowa State @ Missouri
5:00 ET / 2:00 PT – Utah @ UCLA