December 30, 2013

#3 Oklahoma Preview

Being ranked preseason #3 is a symbolically important step for the Oklahoma Sooners because it indicates that they have finally graduated from that best-of-the-rest status that saw them continually ranked #4 and viewed only as a spoiler to the big-name teams. They've now arrived, using another second place finish at Championships to break into the highest echelon.

Oklahoma was the most consistent team at Championships last year, the only one to avoid any scoring disasters, and probably ended up being a couple stuck vaults away from winning the title. Still, they needed a Florida beamtastrophe to be that close, so if they're hoping to do better than 2nd this year, they'll have to step up the scoring potential in key places, and that's just what this freshman class provides. While the team will certainly miss Brie Olson's significant contributions, McKenzie Wofford, Charity Jones, and Chayse Capps provide a net boost to fill in some of the areas that haven't previously measured up to the Floridas and Alabamas of the world. The Sooners have graduated from that spoiler status because this is the first year they have a team that can make a legitimate case of being a favorite that can win the title outright.

The reputation question looms over everything in this sport because it all comes down to judges' perceptions, and this reputation topic seems to surround discussions of Oklahoma's gymnastics far more than any other team. Does Oklahoma have the reputation to win? Ugh, I've decided I'm done with that tired line of reasoning. Issues of reputation are often overstated in NCAA gymnastics in how much they actually influence results, and I've been guilty of that. Oklahoma is getting 198s at home, has had years of top-three finishes and massive scores at Nationals, and enjoys huge adoration within the gymnastics community. Oh, to have such little reputation. I promise I will not use the words "reputation" and "Oklahoma" in the same sentence again this season. Call me on it if I do.


Oklahoma received some very high scores on vault at home last season, occasionally misleadingly high, that produced a few unrealistic expectations for their capabilities as a vaulting team. The Sooners were a solid 49.350, give or take some sticks, but they were not really a 49.500 team. Keeping pace with the best teams on vault was always going to be one of the bigger challenges, as it has been for several seasons.

December 28, 2013

#4 UCLA Preview

UCLA had to be disappointed with finishing 4th at a home Championship last year, especially when the preseason outlook was so promising, but considering the injury trials presented to them throughout the season, managing a 4th place finish was a solid result. Without Peszek, without Lee, without Larson, the Bruins got as much as they could from the lineup they had, squeezing out every last drop of depth they could muster. They just didn't have enough big routines to contend for a win. 

Expect the 2014 team to be nearly unrecognizable from the group we saw last season. Whereas for most teams we're talking about filling one or two holes per event, UCLA has to reconstruct a full half of its lineup. Challengingly, it's not just about finding routines that can work in competition, it's about finding the 9.9s to fill the colossal absence of Vanessa Zamarripa. That's why Sam Peszek's return is so vital. She's the one who can step into those lineup spots and get the 9.9s on every event to help this team keep pace with last season. Especially without the Peng, it will fall to Peszek to be the star every week. 

UCLA is bringing in a hearty freshman class with Jennifer Pinches, Hallie Mossett, Angi Cipra, and Mikaela Gerber, but because there are so many openings in these lineups and because UCLA is perpetually recovering from sixty-five injuries, don't expect the depth problems we saw last year on events like vault to dissipate. It's going to be one of those UCLA journey seasons again, with a lot of life lessons, equal parts beautiful and frustrating. 


Vault was always going to be strange this year without Zamarripa. She is the team's identity on this event, so vault rotations are going to feel incomplete or incorrect for a while without her Yurchenko full because we are so used to that one spectacular piece of gymnastics finishing off the rotation and, especially last year, saving an adequate score. From the 2013 lineup, the Bruins are returning Olivia Courtney, a tube of chapstick, and a piece of damp construction paper. There's little to go on. This is where the depth and injury concerns were most apparent last season, and the team may not exactly be flush with vault choices again in 2014. For other teams, we're talking about 8 and 9 solid options and scores in the 49.4s and 49.5s, but for UCLA it's a little bit of, who's on this team now? And does she vault?

December 27, 2013

#5 LSU Preview

LSU enters 2014 still basking in one of the all-time best years for the program in 2013 during which the Tigers spent the regular season beating perennial favorites and matching or nearly matching the scores from the top teams in the country. They reached Super Six without much fuss or worry at all and came in as a potential dark horse for the title. In fact, had they vaulted up to the potential they had shown throughout the season, they could have finished as a high as second, which would have been a complete coup for the program.

While no one will deny that vault and floor rather unsurprisingly made up a significant portion of the path to success, bars began to come into line last season with the team breaking 49.4 on the event for the first time since 2009. Progressing on weaknesses was one of the most encouraging aspects of LSU's 2013, as was the fact that they did so with significant underclassman contribution. There are a couple holes to fill on beam this year, but other than that, the team has lost little and will look for opportunities to shore up lineups and leapfrog last year's quality. A big potential leapfrogger will be freshman Ashleigh Gnat who comes in as one of the top L10 recruits in the country and can factor in the AA, including breaking into those already deep vault and floor lineups.

Judging by the team the Tigers have put together, they are fully capable or repeating last year's scores and results. They just aren't losing enough gymnasts to expect any significant regression, but it will be interesting to watch if the upward trajectory established on bars and beam continues or plateaus this season.


It's LSU and vault. This team has more power and options than it knows what to do with. For most of the teams previewed so far, I've been judging vault on the potential to go 49.400, which lately has been the standard separating the competitive vaulting teams from the uncompetitive ones. In the case of LSU, however, we can look higher than that. This team is certainly capable of repeating as #1 on vault, and we can expect 49.5s from time to time this year.

December 26, 2013

#6 Utah Preview

The 2013 season was ultimately a disappointing one for Utah. While a final placement of 9th isn't exactly a shameful finish all things considered, it is the worst in the school's NCAA history, so I think that counts as a discouraging result. Of course, if you're Utah, you take pride in the fact that you've never finished lower than 9th, which no other school can claim, rather than depression that the record used to be 7th. Regardless of how much silver lining you try to weave, however, 2013 won't be a year for the memory banks. 

Yet, there is every reason to believe this team will improve its lot in 2014. Of primary importance is the fact that they lost no seniors at the end of last season, providing the luxury of staying with what has worked and trading in what hasn't for shinier, more impressive models (presenting, Beam Rotation 2.0, now with more hitting!) There is no need to work against the loss of important routines, which is quite the enviable position. The injury returners Corrie Lothrop and Kailah Delaney, and freshman Baely Rowe, can simply be slotted in wherever they can boost the team's scoring potential.

This increase in options was apparent at the Red Rocks preview, though I should mention that I missed the second half of it. I was entirely unconcerned about this breach of NCAA fandom because, well, it's Utah. All the routines will obviously be up on youtube before I even have time to frown, right? But no, only vault and bars are up, the events I already saw. What is this, Marsden? I don't even think I know you anymore. As a result, my beam and floor awareness is a little less defined than it might have been otherwise, but we'll endure somehow. Let's dive in.


Vault was a little bit all over the place for Utah last year. It often provided a strong score into the 49.4s, but the early half of the lineup also suffered from amplitude and secure-landing issues that were not always apparent in the team score because Tory Wilson and Georgia Dabritz would save a strong overall number with their 9.9s. As for Tory Wilson, the girl can land a vault, and when she sticks, she'll be minimum 9.900 and in contention for 9.950s. Dabritz is never far behind her in 9.9 land, but crucially Dabritz and Wilson may have to do less lineup saving this year because they'll be rejoined in the back of the rotation by Kailah Delaney, who was getting 9.9s every week during her freshman season. The introduction of a third likely 9.9er means that team scores greater than 49.4 seem exceptionally attainable, even with 9.825-9.850s from the first three gymnasts.

December 24, 2013

#7 Michigan Preview

After the depressing, injury-plagued slog that was the 2012 season, Michigan's 2013 saw a return to form for a team that should easily be top 10 in the nation every season. In fact, the Wolverines wholly exceeded expectations last year. I was optimistic that they would return to Nationals in comfortable fashion, but they came quite close to making Super Six and, in the much tougher semifinal, would have been right in it with UCLA and Oklahoma for those last spots if not for a rough beam adventure (and we'll get there in a minute).

Eight routines from Zurales, Martinez, and Colbert have been lost since last year, and we can expect newcomers Talia Chiarelli and Nicole Artz to step into most of those roles, competing on a couple events each. Bev Plocki has also been touting increased contribution from Austin Sheppard this season to fill a few of those eight openings as well. When Brooke Parker transferred from Alabama, it appeared she was actually going to get to compete now, but at least so far she has been right back in the "great depth for our team" category.

Michigan in 2014 is still on the smaller side, relying on a few key stars, but most of the team members are believable on multiple events, so they can still be 9 and 10 deep on a couple of the apparatuses and shouldn't have to struggle to find enough 9.8 routines in the way we have seen at times over the last couple years. Much of that depth comes from the big senior class, which occasionally makes up half of the event lineups, so there is some urgency for this team to do something special this season while they still can. Let's explore a bit further.


Vault was regularly very impressive for Michigan last year, the prime area that carried them to momentary #1 and put them consistently in the top 5. The Wolverines finished the year ranked #4 on vault as the top non-SEC team.

The scoring leaders were Joanna Sampson and Austin Sheppard, who both brought in frequent 9.9s with huge power and height on their yfulls, and we can expect them to be 5th and 6th in the lineup this year for similar scores. Sachi Sugiyama is a bit more frequently down in the 9.825 area than the other two because the landing on the 1.5 can be so much more challenging, but she is also a great vaulter who can and will get 9.900 at times during the season. Natalie Beilstein is the fourth I'm mentioning, but she would be anchoring many teams. Ditto about the landing on the 1.5. Nonetheless, for all four of these vaulters, 9.850 is a weak score. They will each expect much better than that every time out and can lead the team to 49.400. 

December 23, 2013

#8 Georgia Preview

Big applause for Elizabeth Grimsley for putting together this intrasquad highlight video, including athlete IDs.

The first year of the Durante era must be deemed an unqualified success. The 2013 season was all about returning to Super Six for the first time P.S. (Post Suzanne), and the team accomplished that goal comfortably. They weren't strong enough to finish higher than 6th (and some downright weird scores in S6 didn't help anything), but they made it there. Durante also managed to squeeze career-best seasons out of Christa Tanella and Shayla Worley, both of whom I had certainly already written off, and got the team performing up to the potential of its roster in a way it hadn't done in years.

Now comes challenge #2: Maintaining the same level when the smart money says a sophomore slump is coming. The team has lost Worley, Tanella, and Noel Couch, a class with a high pedigree (even if it didn't always show), and is now bringing in an unheralded collection of Level 10s with far, far less expected of them. Losing some scoring potential compared to last year seems likely, at least on paper, so finding a way to get the same quality of out this group will be the goal of the season and will define not only the course of 2014 but potentially the years to come. As we learned during the recent verbal exodus, Georgia will not be getting too many big-name elites any time soon, so getting top scores out this kind of class will be Georgia's route to success in the near future.


The silver lining of the fact that Worley and Tanella weren't getting anywhere near vault even if it were made of Championships, and that Couch was off the event most of last season with injury, is that the vault lineup from 2013 remains almost entirely intact. We should see very little fluctuation in either the competition order or the scoring. The team's RQS last season was exactly 49.400, and with the excellence of Rogers, Cheek, and Jay vaulting at the end of that lineup again, something around 49.4s should be very attainable again this year.

December 22, 2013

#9 Stanford Preview

I mentioned in my preseason rankings that if Stanford is able to meet the potential of its roster in 2014, #9 is a very soft projection, and I stand by that statement. The ceiling for this team is quite a bit higher, and they have every opportunity to be much stronger in 2014 than in 2013. In 2013, Stanford met expectations by making Nationals but went out on a depressing note after an Ivana Hong injury followed by woeful bars and beam rotations.

Speaking of Hong, the official Ivana Hong color-coded injury alert system is perpetually in the  yellow range, verging on ocher, but in the aftermath of her nasty Semifinal knee injury last year, she's up to burnt umber. Do we know what's going on with her now? This is NCAA, where some teams guard information about serious injuries like its a matter of national security, so it's always hard to tell where gymnasts stand (if they can). Usually we just have to check people's twitter accounts, and when they suddenly start retweeting a lot of quotes about perseverance and heart, we know everything has gone wrong. For the purpose of this preview, I'm including Ivana Hong in these events because I haven't heard otherwise. Innocent until proven guilty, or something like that. 

Fortunately, Stanford fans no longer have to pretend that Hong, Shapiro, and Vaculik will all be healthy and hitting for 9.9s at the same time in order to trick themselves to sleep at night. There are big-potential freshmen worth getting excited about this year, especially because this new crop is a powerful collection that should renovate the lineups on vault and floor and prop up a few of Stanford's weak areas. We could see all-around contribution from Rachel Daum, Nicolette McNair, and possibly Sophia Lee (though we haven't seen anything from her since 2012, so it's harder to judge). Here we go.


Without top vaulter Nicole Dayton, Stanford's returning vault lineup would primarily consist of a couple yfulls for 9.825s, making it all but impossible to contend with those power vaulting 49.500 teams, which is why we can expect the largest influx of freshman routines on this event. That should be the biggest signpost as to how well Stanford is doing on vault this year. The more freshmen making it into the lineup, the better off they will be.

Rachel Daum competed a high-scoring Y1.5 in JO and certainly has the power to own a full, and speaking of owning a full, Nicolette McNair should do just that and figure near the end of the lineup as well. Her sister, Danielle, is the less heralded of the McNairs, but vault is the event on which she is most likely to appear. As mentioned, we haven't seen as much from Sophia Lee lately, but she always had a handy yfull as well. The team is getting new life on vault this year, and we could see all four of these freshmen in the rotation.

December 20, 2013

#10 Nebraska Preview

In 2013, Nebraska and Oregon State taught us the valuable lesson that winning a conference championship is the worst. Teams, you really shouldn't bother. Nebraska scored a 250 million at Big Tens (or, as you're supposed to write, B10s, but then you'd have to spontaneously melt out of shame), yet when it came to Regionals, they imploded on three of four events to get edged by Illinois in the most exciting rotation of the season. Illinois finished on beam needing a 49.050 to make Nationals after Nebraska killed vault, and they kept getting 9.750, 9.800, 9.800. Ack, it was so close. It's the wonder of NCAA gymnastics, and the main thing I emphasize when talking up this sport. On amazing days like Regionals, you may never have seen one iota of Illinois gymnastics before, but you'll suddenly end up caring more about their beam rotation than you do about the Olympics. I promise. (Now we just need to find a way to inject that feeling into the regular season.)  

For the Huskers in 2014, it's a season of redemption. They were way too talented to miss Nationals last year, and they need to prove it this year by erasing that result. They certainly should be capable of doing so. While Nebraska is once again a small team, it's hopefully a healthier team, which should boost some of the rotations. With both Ariel Martin and Jordyn Beck returning as redshirt freshmen to join this year's new class, it's a bit like Nebraska is getting two classes full of freshmen, which should help infuse these lineups with new potential to back up the stars, Emily Wong and Jessie DeZiel.

But because the team basically has two new classes, only six of the twelve current members have ever competed routines before, which is a little unnerving because there are few proven options. Nothing says you need proven options, but we've seen so little from the unproven ones that there's nothing to go on as of yet, especially because Nebraska is one of the teams we often know the least about given the dearth of preseason videos and broadcast meets. But we must manage somehow. 


In case you haven't heard, Nebraska can vault a little bit. This team gets tremendous blocks and distance on their vaults, and once they pick up steam with those landings at the end of the season, can vault with any team in the country. This is a huge asset because, even if the other events are a little rough, vault can salvage an adequate score (as it almost did at Regionals—they could have overcome two weak events, but not three).

December 18, 2013

#11 Arkansas Preview

Katherine Grable runs this town. That's all there is to it. If Arkansas is going to have a successful 2014 and make Nationals, it will be on the strength of Grable's 39.675s in the AA. She's capable of saving rotations with 9.950s and making those events seem suddenly good even though everyone else got a 2. Recall last season that she was out of the lineup for one meet, and the team scored a 193. Don't do that again. She's a senior this year, so the Razorbacks need to take advantage of what she brings while they still have the chance.

Unfortunately, Grable cannot compete in every spot in the lineup, so there must be a healthy supply of 9.850s, with a couple 9.9s here and there alongside her, if Arkansas is to stand a chance of matching last year's Nationals performance and being somewhat competitive with the schools that comfortably score 197. A bunch of these 49.100 rotations will not cut it. The notable freshmen, Amanda Wellick and Samantha Nelson, should help make up for the losses of Amy Borsellino and Kelci Lewis, and expect them to slot into many of those same lineup spots. They'll need to do so if Arkansas is to continue with the high 196s from the end of last season because the team doesn't have a plethora of options on a few of these events. Depth will be the watchword. Let's break it down.


So, get this. Katherine Grable does a vault, and it's not a Yurchenko full. I know! Her Pod (round-off 1/2 on, pike 1/2) makes the world a better place and is one of those routines that should be regularly 9.9 and can get 9.950s. Arkansas often had trouble getting six vaults out there last season, but her score still allowed them to scrape a 49.2.

December 15, 2013

#12 Oregon State Preview

We have the coaches poll, we have our intrasquad videos, we have everything we need to be ready for the season to begin. So, all that remains now is to put together team previews. Over the next couple weeks, I'll be going through each of the teams in the top 12 of the coaches poll, walking through every event and giving some overall impressions of what to expect this season.

For Oregon State, it was the days of being high and low in 2013. The Beavs began the year with a shocking performance in Cancun that seemed to confirm all of the fears we observers had for them going into the season, but by March they had willed themselves into becoming a 197 team. They were the only team to show up at Pac-12s ready to hit and cruised to a title. But then, in the span of about ten minutes, all that hope came crashing to the ground like so many busted DLOs when three falls on bars obliterated their season in the first rotation of Regionals.

Oregon State was probably the 8th or 9th best team in the country last year all things considered, and the nasty taste of that Regionals performance partially accounts for why both the coaches and I put them down at #12 for the moment, but much of my trepidation also comes from this being a second straight year of losing two top gymnasts. The old guard (Leslie Mak, Olivia Vivian, Makayla Stambaugh, Melanie Jones, and even Laura-Ann Chong and Mandi Rodriguez if we want to go back a little farther), the group that made a national impact and that we associate with the recent strength of Oregon State, is officially gone.

In its place, we're left with a returning squad of supporting actresses, a gaggle of 9.850s, and much of Oregon State's story in 2014 will be a journey to find those leading ladies again. Keep a close eye on how the freshmen are contributing in the early months, because this year's big, talented incoming class provides the opportunity for rebirth and for new stars to emerge. We won't really know how well OSU can do this year until we see what they bring.


The fortune of fortunes for the Beavers on vault is Kelsi Blalock being granted a 5th year. She is the star vaulter for this team and the only consistently huge score among the returning gymnasts. She gets excellent distance on her yfull, and while a slight pike at the end is the main thing keeping her from 10s, she sticks well, so the 9.950s should come and 9.900 should be the expectation.

December 12, 2013

2014 Preseason Coaches Poll

The 2014 Coaches Poll is finally here. LINK

Overall, it's a bit of a letdown. I always look forward to its crazy choices, but this poll is completely realistic and makes a lot of sense. Maybe I just think that because these rankings are exceptionally similar to mine. Coaches, have you been copying again?

A few reflections:

December 10, 2013

The Latest from Michigan, Oklahoma, and UCLA

Over the weekend, a few top teams displayed their wares to adoring crowds of dozens, and like the timely person I am, I'm now getting around to summing up what happened.

Michigan held an exhibition meet against Central Michigan, complete with live video, commentary, and live scoring. It was a bit like the season had come early, and I was altogether too excited by that. When I do the team previews, I'll go into more depth about how the lineups look on each event, but for now let's talk about floor because it was the clear highlight. The team showed eight routines, as most do in these preseason meets, and all eight mounted with E skills and showed a very high level of tumbling overall. The six competition routines could certainly be the final lineup, and there were fewer endurance issues than I expected.

Vault and bars looked pretty impressive for this point in the season as well, with seven good lineup contenders on each event (seven isn't ideal, but it's workable). In the training videos, Austin Sheppard has been an unexpected bars highlight. Here, she went over on her straddle back and had to correct and cowboyed her double front, but the piked tkatchev was huge and the potential is there. Beam was the worry, surprising no one, with some seriously wobbly performances, which was reflected in the scores. Still, it's just December. The big positive on beam, however, was Talia Chiarelli, who performed the most secure routine of the eight competitors and worked with a confidence we never saw from her on this event as an elite. I was very concerned about her on beam, so this was pleasing to see. Let's hope she's one of those gymnasts who gains confidence as the more difficult elite skills are removed from her routine.

With the exception of Briley Casanova, who has been out with concussion issues, all of the returning gymnasts from last season look like strong bets to make their events again. Brooke Parker also appeared, exhibitioning on two events like she's right back at Alabama.

In other news, Double Front has a whole mess of videos from Oklahoma's intrasquad for your perusal. Event winners were Kmieciak on vault, Spears on bars, Mooring and Clark on beam, and Spears on floor.

December 7, 2013

Land of the Rising Scores

You know that rainy Saturday feeling when you just want to put on your floor exercise music Pandora station and kick back with some data entry? No? Anyone? OK. Deal with it anyway.

I've addressed the trend of drastically rising scores in NCAA before (at least weekly), but this should be a somewhat more complete assessment. For each of the last 15 years of NCAA competition, I averaged the team scores of the top 36 teams (regular season) to arrive at a single number to indicate the average score for that season, at least for the higher-level teams. Knowing as I do how much you all love graphs, I have plotted them to display the results:

The 2004 season is still unparalleled in being the land of 198s, but as is made obvious in the scores, a significant adjustment was made after that season. It has been a gradual ascent, but scores have now all but returned to the levels from 2004, with 2013 ranking as the second-highest scoring season of the last 15. What's been happening over the last couple of years interests me the most since it's happening right now, so let's focus specifically on that chunk of the graph:

December 6, 2013

Intrasquad Week Schedule

Over the next week or so, NCAA teams will be conducting their various public scrimmages and preseason showcases, and we will all use every morsel of them to make wildly sweeping conclusions about the upcoming season. Yay, December!

While a few stellar programs are going to stream their previews, seeing the action from most of these intrasquads will require being there in person (and who would ever want to go anywhere?) Still, we can anticipate post-showcase videos regardless, and that's really what we're looking for. Here's the rundown.

Friday, December 6th
7:00pm PT – Oregon State Orange and Black Exhibition

Saturday, December 7th
4:00pm CT – Oklahoma Preseason Intrasquad

Sunday, December 8th
2:00pm ET – Michigan Exhibition v. Central Michigan (Live video)
2:00pm CT – Illinois Orange and Blue Exhibition
2:00pm PT – UCLA Meet the Bruins Pawliday Party (this name . . .)

Tuesday, December 10th
6:00pm ET – Kentucky Blue/White Intrasquad

Thursday, December 12th
7:00pm ET – Penn State Blue/White Showcase
7:00pm ET – Maryland Red vs. Black Preview

Friday, December 13th
7:00 MT – Utah Red Rocks Preview (Live video will be available)

Saturday, December 14th 
10:00am ET – Georgia Sneak Peek
6:00pm MT – Denver Intrasquad

Sunday, December 15th
2:00pm PT – Stanford Scrimmage v. Sacramento State

You'll note some teams aren't here, but we do have videos.

December 4, 2013


A few bits and pieces from around the NCAA world as we stand around waiting for the season to start.

-The coaches poll isn't out yet. There is rarely rhyme or reason to when it is released each year. I think it has to do with the winter solstice, or the second waning moon after the SEC coaches slaughter a lamb at the altar of Mercury or something like that. I don't know, it's in the CoP.

-Gymcastic is beginning a series explaining the requirements of women's NCAA gym in preparation for the season. It's a must-read for newer fans and a good refresher for old, jaded wretches as well. 

-Some of the coaches are being very good boys and girls this year and releasing tons of videos. Others are electing to promote their teams and the sport via telepathy and the power of having no regrets.

-Minnesota scores bonus points for giving us every routine from a recent intrasquad. The program earns enough of my good will from this that I will refrain from dissecting how dire the bars situation appears. (But . . . ) A lot of people seem to be missing. In happier affairs, here's Lindsay Mable being all excellent on beam:

-Dave Kuzara is also giving us everything we could have hoped for in terms of Michigan videos. There's a bunch of good stuff there, but I'm including Austin Sheppard's bars in particular. Where did this come from?

December 1, 2013

2014 Balance Beam Situation Preseason Ranking

The coaches' poll for 2014 will soon be upon us, followed by one of my favorite gymnastics holidays, Making Fun of the Coaches' Poll Day. In anticipation of this momentous occasion, I submit my own preseason ranking list.

Keep in mind that this is not a prediction of April results but an assessment of where teams stand at the current moment. As always, treat this list as brilliant and perfect. (Note: I rank only 15 teams instead of 25 because once we get into that 16-25 range, so little separates the teams that trying to rank them with respect to one another would be based entirely on reputation and nothing.) Let us commence.

Yes, Rhonda, you're the winner. Being the defending champion affords Florida first claim to the top spot, and their argument is convincing, especially the Bridget Sloan and Kytra Hunter parts. Without Marissa King and Ashanee Dickerson, don't expect the Gators to be quite as strong in 2014 as they were in 2013, but they don't need to be in order to win. The Sloan, Hunter, Alaina Johnson, and Mackenzie Caquatto quartet remains the most formidable group of four gymnasts in the country, and
they will have a healthy enough dose of supporting routines to make 49.450s on each event seem like a far easier prospect than it has any right to be. 198s? Sure. 

It's finally time to promote the Sooners from the #4 spot. The team that came two vault landings away from snatching the title from Florida last season has added an exceptionally talented freshman class to help assemble what I see as the strongest team in the program's history. Oklahoma of 2014 should be able to improve on both its strengths and weaknesses, incorporating even more gracefully energetic work into bars and beam and injecting a bit more raw power into vault and floor to help make the amplitude goblins go away. They have the 9.9s. The question is, are there enough 9.950s to win a national championship?

Kim Jacob, Diandra Milliner, and Sarah DeMeo are poised to take over the starring roles that have long belonged to the Ashleys, Priess and Sledge. They have been groomed well for the part, and we can expect 9.9s to blossom all over the place for that trio on two to three events apiece. Now congratulate me for going two whole sentences discussing Alabama's prospects for 2014 without mentioning bars. For Alabama to reign at the top, they can't be the short handstand sisters and will likely need three consistently 9.9-caliber routines to avoid falling behind. This will not be a year where they can rest on vault and floor. Freshmen, you have your mission.

On paper, UCLA was right in the same pack as Oklahoma and Alabama going into this season in spite of the several thousand lost routines, but the continued injury saga of Peng Peng Lee has pushed the Bruins back a touch. They probably needed her routines to contend, and this now puts immense significance on the comeback of Sam Peszek. For UCLA to have any chance, she must be the queen of scoring, which of course she can be. There are a number of enticing routines on this team, as there always are, but they will have to prove they are more than a smattering of nice routines here and there. There's a Zamarripa-shaped hole in the doors to Pauley, and someone needs to fill it.

November 29, 2013

Uneven Bars and Vault Champions Showdowns

Courtney Kupets has overcome her second place finish in the floor champions showdown to put on a near-McCullough display of dominance in the beam showdown. Can she keep it up on bars?

I didn't plan these polls out particularly well, so I'm including both bars and vault in the same post because after today will come time to start thinking about preseason rankings and the coaches poll and team previews and all of those delicious morsels.

2013 NCAA Bars Champion – Alaina Johnson (I just wrote Alabama Johnson on the first try. Ugh, me.)

2012 NCAA Bars Champion – Kat Ding (routine begins at 17:30)

November 27, 2013

Balance Beam Champions Showdown

The floor workers have had their turn, and Brittani McCullough is pretty much crushing the competition with 44% of the vote to 22% for Kupets. Now, let's allow the best beamers of the last five years to have their say.

Who is your champion of champions for beam?

2013 NCAA Beam Champion – Bridget Sloan

2012 NCAA Beam Champion – Geralen Stack-Eaton
(It should be embedded at the right time, but if it's not there, Geralen's routine begins at 1:01:27)

November 25, 2013

Floor Exercise Champions Showdown

Floor exercise showdown.

Six NCAA champions enter.

One leaves.

You decide.

2013 NCAA Floor Champion – Joanna Sampson

2012 NCAA Floor Champion – Kat Ding

November 24, 2013

The Balance Beam Situation for 2013

Given the name of this blog, I would be remiss if I did not perform my annual analysis of the balance beam situation from the past NCAA season. It's a tradition now. (2012, 2011)

Rather than simply using the beam rankings to evaluate beam quality, I always find it quite telling to limit the sample specifically to beam routines performed in high-leverage situations, the must-hit routines. Because a score can be dropped, a single beam fall along the way is not a huge deal. Just drop the score and move on. The much bigger deal is the quality of the routines that come after the fall because now they have to count. There is no longer any margin. This could be an opportunity for lots of metaphors about falling off the horse and getting back on, but ugh. I'll spare you. We don't do that here.    

To assess the quality of the must-hit routines in 2013, I took the teams that qualified to championships (along with the two highly ranked schools that missed out, Nebraska and Oregon State) and averaged the scores of all beam routines performed at any point after a fall or fall-equivalent performance (a score of 9.500 or lower) to find out how the team fared in those situations.

Average score for must-hit beam routines – 2013
1. Oklahoma – 9.835
2. Alabama – 9.833
3. Michigan – 9.815
4. UCLA – 9.805
5. Nebraska – 9.800
6. Stanford – 9.797
7. LSU – 9.795
8. Oregon State – 9.782
9. Florida – 9.781
9. Minnesota – 9.781
11. Georgia – 9.766
12. Illinois – 9.729
13. Utah – 9.721
14. Arkansas – 9.708

That Oklahoma won is hardly a surprise. This will only serve to feed the Sooners' credentials as a beam team, but there are some other interesting issues to pick out here.

Let's begin with Florida's low ranking because I think it's the most significant. Florida finished the regular season tied with Oklahoma as the nation's top beam team, but these numbers tell a different story. The Gators were not as strong on beam in 2013 as in 2012 overall (having to perform four times as many beam routines after falls in 2013 as in 2012), but they were still excellent when allowed a margin for mistakes. Performing after a low score in a must-hit routine, however, they struggled more. Florida recorded scores under 9.700 in 20% of their post-fall beam routines in 2013, compared to 7% for Alabama and 5% for both Oklahoma and UCLA. We all know how crucial this issue became once Super Six rolled around. It almost cost Florida a title.

November 17, 2013

Freshman Meet and Greet: Alabama

I've been putting off doing the Alabama freshmen for a while because there are eleventy million of them, but here we go.

Alabama lost a fairly significant group after 2013 in Priess, Sledge, Gutierrez, and Alexin, both in terms of lineup contribution and fan favorite routines. Ashley Sledge and Marissa Gutierrez were my favorite Bammers, so there are places in my shrine to be won if these freshmen are up to the task. We'll see. Side question for Alabama fans: If you're a UCLA athlete, you're a Bruin. If you're a Florida athlete, you're a Gator. What is the approved singular noun term for an Alabama athlete? A Bammer? A Tide? A Crimson? Guidance is appreciated.

Because of these exiting routines, 2014 seemed like it would be a down year for the Tide, especially since the original signing group was comprised of just Amanda Jetter and Katie Bailey, who alone would not be able to make up for the lost scores. But then Sarah went to work, and now this freshmen class is a monster.

Still, because such significant scores are gone, these freshmen will need to be contributors from the beginning, particularly on bars. Half of the bars lineup is gone, and the returning gymnasts have had a tendency to suffer from handstand-itis, so bars is my primary area of focus for these freshmen. This is a big group that certainly has the potential to contribute on every event, but it also seems that Alabama could come up with nationally competitive vault and floor lineups solely using returning gymnasts if necessary.

We can see bits and pieces from some of the freshman routines already in the video from Ghosts and Goblins

Amanda Jetter
We'll start with Jetter, not just because she was well-known as an elite but because she is among those who could be a significant piece of the UB solution. As an elite, she was always associated with Cassie Whitcomb because they emerged at the same time and boast the same strengths, so I have a vague impression that her NCAA career will follow the same path solely by association, but that's not really fair. All will depend on how much she suffers from CGA back or CGA legs or any of the other eponymous Cincinnati injuries. 

Vault - 2012 Nationals

Bars - 2012 Nationals

November 16, 2013

The Latest from Training

It's training videos time.

My confession is that I'm not always as interested in preseason team training videos as I'm supposed to be, given my NCAA dedication. Unless you're Danusia Francis performing a fab beam dismount, it's usually just a lot of doing a layout stepout to a Justin Bieber song. It's hard to glean a ton from that.

Still, the videos are beginning to come fast and furious now, so let's see what we can see.


November 12, 2013

NLI Week 2014-2015

Beginning on Wednesday, schools will begin making their official announcements about which gymnasts have signed NLIs (National Letters of Intent) to join these programs for the 2014-2015 season.

We have a fairly complete picture of what this class will look like already because of the verbal announcements (the full list can be viewed at Collegegymfans), but there are always one or two unexpected happenings, usually involving a gymnast we expected to sign not being part of the original announcement. This can happen for a whole number of reasons, usually boring and logistical.

I'll include the announced classes and links to the press releases here as they become available beginning Wednesday and continuing for the next week.

Thank you for your timeliness, teams that announced on the first day.

ALABAMA - Release
Aja Sims and Keely McNeer for 2013-2014
Mackenzie Brannan, Nickie Guerrero, and Kiana Winston for 2014-2015

Most important note: I am highly disappointed that she appears to have dropped the Monet from Aja-Monet Sims. You'll always be Monet to me.

OKLAHOMA - Release
Brenna Dowell, Stefani Catour, Samantha Craus, Alyssa Jackson

GEORGIA - Release
Gigi Marino and Hayley Sanders

MICHIGAN - Release
Brianna Brown, Lauren Marinez, Ilana Gordon, Cailee Hills, Mandy Klun

UTAH - Release
Samantha Partyka, Maddy Stover, Kari Lee, Tiffani Lewis

PENN STATE - Release
Chanen Raygoza, Lauren Li, Oni Timothy, Briannah Tsang

LSU - Release
Erin Macadaeg and Myia Hambrick

FLORIDA - Release
Kennedy Baker, Grace McLaughlin, Ericha Fassbender

STANFORD - Release
Elizabeth Price

ILLINOIS - Release
Bridget Hogan and Jordyn Givens

Alyssa Shermetaro, Joslyn Goings, Emily Liddle, Zoey Schaefer

AUBURN - Release
Abby Milliet and Sarah Garcia

UCLA - Release
Pua Hall and Melissa Metcalf

Bailey Gardner, Ciera Gardner, Hanna Hitchcock, Abby DeMuse (walk-on)

ARKANSAS - Release
Braie Speed, Paige Zaziski, Leah MacMoyle

Danielle Dessaints, Shireen Khamedoost

As of right now, the only notable things are the Brianna Brown switch to Michigan, which we already knew about, and the Kari Lee switch from Arizona to Utah, which I did not know about. Georgia doesn't yet have anyone to fill that Brianna Brown spot, so perhaps they'll look abroad to find someone to fill that spot who can sign during the spring period. I'm reminded of the Dowager Countess. "We'll just have to take her abroad. In these moments, one can usually find an Italian who isn't too picky."

These are some gooood potential rosters. Just look at Stanford. And Florida. And Oklahoma. And Alabama. Let's try to name all the ways they will end up disappointing us.

November 9, 2013

Freshman Meet and Greet: Georgia

The last couple of weeks have not been extremely cheerful for Georgia in the recruiting department. First, Lexie Priessman decided she wanted to get her LSU on instead, and now another Cincinnati verbal, Brianna Brown, has ditched the Gymdogs for the maize-encrusted tundra of Michigan. This is not a particularly surprising development considering the total overhaul of the Georgia staff and the recruiting connection Jay Clark made with CGA when he was head coach. Even though these gymnasts verbally committed after Jay had been removed from sight, the majority of the recruiting process took place under him. In truth, I'm only surprised it took this long. 

Some Georgia fans have been freaking out, but this is far from the end of the world for the Gymdogs and does not indicate some sort of mass shunning of the Georgia program. I wouldn't read too much into it more than the normal changes and growing pains of a new regime. It will take time for Georgia to develop into a championship program again, which was always going to be the case. The team has not been on top of the heap for a few years, so they're not going to get the type of recruits they brought in by the busload in Suzanne's peak years, but this is still Georgia. The words "Georgia gymnastics" carry a cachet regardless of who is in charge. It's still a brand name.

Because of these changes, though, an interesting conversation has arisen over what the identity of the Georgia program is now and if it even has one. To me, it seems that Georgia and Oklahoma have the potential to switch places in some sense. Now, it's Oklahoma drawing in a bunch of the nation's top recruits (a trend I expect to continue and grow), and it may be that Georgia must become the team to find those diamond-in-the-rough Level 10s or written-off gymnasts and turn them into contributors in these years where the elites are not coming in the numbers once expected. We saw last year with Christa Tanella's suddenly strong season that Durante has the capability to change a gymnast's course, so I could see that becoming the new Georgia identity.  

But enough of that future racket. For the year at hand, I'm interested to see if this team can maintain the upward trajectory of results having now lost a fairly significant group in Worley, Couch, and Tanella. The incoming group does not have nearly the same pedigree or name recognition, so this may need to be the first year of Project Diamond in the Rough.

Ashlyn Broussard is the biggest recruit in this class, a WOGA girl with standout skills on multiple events who could believably contribute anywhere. She finished 17th in Senior D this year but would have been top 10 comfortably if not for an iffy beam routine.

Vault - 2013

Bars - 2013

November 3, 2013

Freshman Meet and Greet: UCLA

It's a good thing this UCLA freshman class [used to be] so deep because the Bruins are contending with a lineup exodus unmatched by any other team. Four vaults, three bars, three beam, and two floor routines from last year's Super Six lineup are gone, which is why sending that last minute bat signal to Jenni Pinches may end up being such a crucial move. They need routines, not just to replace the lineup but to create backups that didn't exist before. The depth was not awesome at any point last year, and that must improve.

In assessing the level of freshman contribution we can expect, it's going to be everywhere, all the time, and lots. Aside from the solid position Olivia Courtney has carved out on three events and spot routines from Francis, De Jesus, and Sawa, there are few returning constants to these lineups. Even with the injury comebacks (and assuming an automatic return to previous level after a major injury is a fool's game), UCLA will need to see a number of routines from this new group.

I would start with Peng Peng Lee, but she is out for the season once again this year and everything is the worst. What's the point anymore? Taking away Marissa King and Vanessa Zamarripa from us was bad enough, and now this? I will leave the videos below as a tribute to what could have been.

Vault - 2012 Olympic Test Event

Bars - 2012 Olympic Test Event

Beam - 2012 Pac Rims

October 29, 2013

Freshman Meet and Greet: Oklahoma

When this 2014 signing class started to take shape for the Sooners, it became clear that this class would signal Oklahoma's official entry into a new category: favorite. This is no longer the group of plucky little underdog overlooked Level 10s supporting an elite or two already put out to pasture by the wider gymnastics community. These are many of the top recruits in the country, and the 2014 Oklahoma roster is stacked. It's no longer adorable when Oklahoma finishes second at Nationals like it was in 2010. It's an expectation.

The Sooners will benefit from a huge infusion of depth this season, losing Brie Olson's 3.5 routines (beam was always touch and go) but gaining five gymnasts capable as a group of putting together something like 11-14 routines that could at least contend to make competition lineups. There are some fascinating decisions ahead. It could be another year of few AAers and a bunch of people each contributing on two events. Even someone like Taylor Spears may not get a ton of time as an AAer because . . . does she make this vault lineup now? Let's begin.

McKenzie Wofford was a standout junior elite for a couple of years early in the last quad. She wasn't simply a member of the second tier of elites but was legitimately discussed as a potential future bars solution who could compete at the highest levels. Then, she had some #WOGAProblems and gym switching times, and it became clear that Level 10/NCAA was the ultimate path for her. She did hang on to compete elite in the 2012 season and scored well on bars but wasn't in a position to hit the other events well enough to qualify to Trials. This year, she competed as a Level 10 and finished 4th in Senior C at Nationals, winning bars and placing highly on beam.

Vault - 2012 elite

Bars - 2013 JO Nationals

October 25, 2013

Freshman Meet and Greet: LSU and Michigan

In part 2 of the freshmanification of our general college gymnastics consciousnesses, I'm looking at the four new LSU Tigers and the pair of new Michigan Wolverines for the 2014 season.

Coming off a very important finish last year, half a point off the national title, LSU will be feeling quite confident about how few routines the team is losing and how much opportunity there is for improvement on that result. Expect this new crop of freshmen to do more than simply replace the few missing vault and beam routines. There should be enough quality coming out of this group of four to allow some of those nail biter routines from last year to become backups.

An important theme for both of the teams in this post is that nasty little wretch of a log, the beam. For LSU, I would feel confident in only Courville and Jordan as locks to return to that lineup. The rest of the spots are up for grabs for whoever can show a 9.850. There is room (and need) for some new blood. Let's begin.

The newbie with star power is Ashleigh Gnat, and she certainly has the familial pedigree for us to expect big things. She won both vault and floor in Senior D at JOs last year, so yeah, LSU recruited another vault and floor champion. We're all surprised. But what makes her such a gain is that, in spite of the few routines LSU is losing, she can still make the lineup on every event and be among the scoring leaders on several of them. 

October 20, 2013

Freshman Meet and Greet: Florida and Utah

Before we get to today's business, a bit of commitment news. I don't usually pay too much attention to the various commitments we hear now unless they're for the upcoming season because I don't have the energy to consider 2018 a year that exists yet. This news, however, is a fairly prominent. Here's what happened:

So, Lexie Priessman was standing in the hallway when Georgia walked by, and Lexie went, "Oh my God, I love your championships. Where did you get them?" and Georgia was all like, "They were Suzanne's in the 2000s," and Lexie was all like, "Vintage! So adorable." Then, Georgia walked away, and Lexie went, "Those are the ugliest effing championships I've ever seen."  

That's exactly how it went down. All of which is to say that Lexie Priessman has switched her verbal commitment from Georgia to LSU. And the changing balance of power in women's college gymnastics continues. Priessman had planned to defer until after 2016, but we'll see if that's still on. Sometimes we have Mattie Larson situations where people are going to defer until after the Olympics, and then . . . nevermind. Rio is going to be a fairly long shot for Priessman. She's already behind the likes of Biles, Ross, and Maroney (and a healthy Elizabeth Price probably) in terms of Olympic likelihood, and we still have three years of new seniors to go.

But now to the main business of the day: beginning to look at this year's freshmen and where they might contribute for their teams. Today, I'll start with Florida and Utah (paired for no other reason than that neither team has very many freshmen and they can fit together in a single, non-behemoth post), but I'll go through most of the major teams over the next month or so.

Unless they are prominent elites, we're often blind when it comes to judging how a gymnast might fare in college, going off of a few routines from JO Nationals here and there, which makes it challenging to develop a complete picture before they compete. Usually at this point, it's just about evaluating general style, basics, and skill set.

The Gators are down more routines this year than in the past couple years and are bringing in Claire Boyce and Silvia Colussi-Pelaez to fill in the gaps. Boyce was a junior elite in 2009 and 2010 before dropping back to L10 for the 2012 season, and Colussi-Pelaez continues to be a senior elite, competing for Spain at the most recent World Championships in Antwerp.

As is true for all the incoming gymnasts with elite experience, they have the skill sets to compete on any event (except we need to talk about these bars dismounts) and could be used basically anywhere. The question comes whether they have the quality to break into lineups on a team as strong as Florida. 

Though Florida has lost King, Dickerson, and Stageberg, some of those spots will be filled by Alaina Johnson's AA return and Bridgey Caquatto's potentially increased contribution, as well as someone like Kiersten Wang, who has been on the cusp of several lineups for two years and could use this opportunity to break in fully. We'll get into that more in the full team previews in December. For now, the Gators are looking at maximum two openings per event, in some cases one, and in some other cases zero. On bars, for instance, Johnson, Caquatto, Sloan, Hunter, and BDG are all returning, and that doesn't take into account Caquatto 2 and Wang, who should be right there as well, so the freshmen may be on the outside there. Overall, I expect the contributions of these new freshmen to be about in line with what we've seen from Wang and Spicer the last few years, early lineup or solid backup on multiple events. Let's take a closer look.

Claire Boyce
2011 Elite Qualifier - All events

October 13, 2013

Tenths above Average 2013

You may very well have spent this weekend watching NBC's broadcast of Worlds, not because you hadn't seen the competition already but as a kind of anthropological experiment. It's extraordinarily important for us to see how other cultures like NBC behave in their natural habitats so that we may begin to understand their seemingly bizarre choices and value systems.

The broadcast also helped us add "circumspect" and "contingency" to the list of words to which Tim Daggett does not know the meaning. In addition, please remember the moment Al saw Simone's tuck turn on beam and said, "Now that's a connection!" Nope. F-. That is an individual skill. It frustrates some people, but it makes me exceptionally happy every time. 

Now that's a connection!

Of course, this residual Worlds coverage is just a distraction from the real issue at hand, beginning to prepare for the NCAA season, but the NBC broadcasts always do raise the important issue of the power of narrative and truth through repetition. So many times in gymnastics, a statement will be put forth, and then either because it makes for a good story or simply because it is repeated so many times, it becomes "common knowledge" regardless of its basis in truth. We need look no further than "Aliya Mustafina is a diva," which came up again this year. It's an easy Russia narrative, repeated until it becomes fact through exposure rather than fact through evidence. 

This happens all the time. "The Worlds judges love that international look." Do they? What is the international look–tall, thin, and Russian or multiracial? And is there any evidence that the Worlds judges love that? I've never seen numbers backing that up, and certainly not from any recent competitions. Chellsie Memmel, Vanessa Ferrari, Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Bridget Sloan, Aliya Mustafina, Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles. What standard of international look do they all meet, exactly? And yet, "international look" remains a thing solely because people say that the judges love it, even though there is no evidence that they do.   

Admittedly, this has nothing to do with the completely inoffensive and value-neutral NCAA statistics I'm about to present, but it's an issue that has been on my mind lately, and in a broader sense, it's the reason for my overall emphasis on numerical analysis of gymnastics. A deep look at scores and statistics is so important to gymnastics, especially right now when we have access to more information and more perspectives than ever before, because numerical truth is the antidote to antiquated thinking and inherited nonsense beliefs. The more numbers and evidence we get out there, the less likely the conversation is to be dominated by uninformed claims and irresponsible storytelling. Numbers work to give credit to the ones who deserve it rather than the ones who fit a preconceived story or expectation.

NCAA women's gymnastics is certainly not immune to the supremacy of narrative, and we often see dominance of stories and impressions over reality. We often hear "she's improving so much," or "she's working so hard," or "she's a veteran leader," rather than "her scoring and hit rate merit inclusion in this lineup." The truth is in the scores. They help clarify everything and separate out the noise and chatter.

So, without further ado, some numbers that have absolutely nothing to do with anything I just said.

As a way of transitioning between the 2013 NCAA season and the 2014 season, I'm looking at how much scoring value each team is losing from the gymnasts that left after last year. Sure, we can say, "this team is losing 12 routines" or "this team is losing 4 routines," but that doesn't adequately reflect the individual importance of each of those lost routines. The better way to assess the overall value of those routines is by comparing those lost scores to what we would expect from an average replacement gymnast.  

A 9.800 is the basic, normal score. It's the unremarkable, fine performance, the baseline score from which contending teams will look to improve throughout the season. A 9.800 is akin to meeting but not exceeding expectations. No top team wants to be counting 9.800s at Championships, but they're never the end of the world. Once scores go into the 9.7s, they become problems.

If we assume 9.800 as the baseline score, we can gauge how much value each of the teams is losing from gymnasts who graduated or left after 2013 by replacing those graduated scores (as measured by season RQS) with 9.800s and seeing how much the team score differs. The tenths above average score is how much the team score would decrease this year if all lost routines were replaced by 9.800s. For example, the UCLA Bruins would see their team score decrease by 0.868 if the Zamarripa, Wong, Pritchett, Baer, and De La Torre scores from last year all became 9.800s this year, from a 197.200 team RQS to a 196.332. The 0.868 represents how much value over 9.800 the injury returners and newbies for UCLA will have to contribute to maintain the level from last season.

-The rankings include the current top teams in the country, except Utah is not included because no gymnasts left. The Utes' score is 0 because they have nothing to replace.

-Gymnasts are included if they made the final postseason lineup for the team. The exceptions to that are Randy Stageberg and Marissa Gutierrez, who obviously would have been in the postseason lineups had they been healthy and whose absences will have to be dealt with this season.

-In cases where a gymnast competed an event in the postseason but her RQS was below 9.800, I excluded that routine because the score is not significant enough to be viewed as a routine that needs to be replaced. For the most part, we expect teams of this level to be able to come up with a 9.800 to slot into a lineup.

-If a gymnast competed in the postseason but did not have an RQS, I used the postseason average instead to get the best view of contribution to the team. 

Tenths above Average:

1. UCLA – 0.868
Vault - 0.275 (Zamarripa 9.970, Baer 9.890, Wong 9.815)
Bars - 0.253 (Zamarripa 9.843, Wong 9.875, De La Torre 9.843)
Beam - 0.105 (Zamarripa 9.880, Wong 9.825)
Floor - 0.235 (Zamarrpa 9.925, Pritchett 9.910)

Losing Zamarripa was always going to be a massive blow, but the savior for UCLA this year is that Peszek, Lee, and Larson can come back into the lineups. Otherwise, replacing all those scores from last year would be an exceptional challenge for a class of freshmen to do alone. Throw in the potential scores for the three injury returners, and maintaining that quality becomes a realistic expectation. Beam is the area of least loss for UCLA and should be a prime spot for improvement over last year given the quality of the group coming in. 

October 6, 2013

Worlds Reflections and Looking Ahead

The World Championships are over for another year. Breathe. Relax. Maybe have an entire pie. You've earned it. It's an emotionally draining experience that you need to talk over with some food. True science: Watching an Aliya Mustafina training session is the equivalent of running a 10K. You lose a lot of fluids and need to replenish. Here are my reflections about Worlds, as well as some notes about what's to come.
  • On the men's side, I have to say that I'm being less of a disgrace to my sex and getting more into men's gymnastics these days. I think part of the reason is that I don't know the code all that well. I'm like Shannon Miller doing the commentary during the 2012 Olympics. I'm really proud of myself for knowing what a Tippelt is, and that's about it. I don't have a working knowledge of a lot of the deductions (at least the ones that are men-specific and aren't universal gymnastics deductions), so I can enjoy the gymnastics without seeing only deductions. In women's, all I see are the mistakes. 
  • Kohei won again. Yep. OK. Heh. It's such a tough position because we expect everything from him. At this point, he can be interesting only by screwing up. His excellence is no longer news. We're just waiting for him to make a mistake so we can start paying attention. 

  • Sam the Ham, Lord Dancy Pants, had a medal within his grasp in the men's AA, then America-ed his HB routine to finish 6th. That, however, was beside the point because his dancing became the star. It was a serious talking point like it was something unusual. Maybe I've just spent too much time watching NCAA, but my reaction was "Yes, constant dancing, this is normal." You know Bridget Sloan saw his land speed record for podium dancing and was like, "Puh. Child's play. I dance more than that before vault." But honestly, if you didn't compose a chair-based interpretive dance to the between-rotations music from Worlds, then I understand nothing about you. Mine is about the changing of the seasons and loss of innocence. You'll probably cry.
  • Epke Zonderland used the applause-o-meter to win HB over Fabian Hambuechen. (Did you notice Fabian watching Sam Mikulak throughout the competition trying to pick up tips on how to be more hammy? Love it.) It's impossible to be mad at darling Epke because everything about him is a Dr. Seuss character: his face, his last name, his hair. He's basically a truffula tree. In fact, it's a little known truth that Oh, the Places You'll Go! was actually written about Epke's legs. "You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go."

September 29, 2013

Skill Frequency 2013

A few months back, I began looking at the frequency with which skills appeared in US WAG routines in 2012 with the idea that I would then do the same thing for 2013 and compare the numbers to see how the code change was affecting routine composition. Then, I never did that. Fortunately, Uncle Tim tweeted me saying, "If you don't do those goddamn skill frequencies for 2013, I will stab you in the eye with a grapefruit spoon." (It may not have been exactly that. Who can remember?)

So, here we go. While you take a break from speculating about McKayla Maroney's bars capabilities and Aliya Mustafina's floor endurance, enjoy some charts. With colors! The colors are supposed to be red and blue, but you never know with me, so if they're actually purple and orange, just deal with it.

As before, the percentages next to the skills indicate the proportion of gymnasts who performed each skill at National Championships, and skills are sorted by the frequency of their appearances in 2013 senior routines. Some basic skills like giant swings and back handsprings are not included because, obviously 100%. Numbers from 2013 and 2012 are listed side-by-side for easy comparison. Cells highlighted in blue reflect an increase in frequency of at least 10 percentage points over 2012, while cells highlighted in red reflect a decrease of at least the same amount. For the most part, any change less than that is statistically insignificant given the small number of routines we're working with (especially for the seniors). Even some of the larger changes may be attributable to normal variation in routine construction rather than code influence, but I'll talk through some of the larger changes as we go.

NOTES: Because there were so many more juniors, the junior routines have a much larger bearing on the total frequency column. Also, the charts include only skills performed during 2013 Nationals. Many skills dropped off the charts from 2012, but none that were performed more than one or two times last year. I didn't do vault because it's fairly straightforward. Yurchenko land. I classified the skills by what was attempted rather than what would actually be credited because this is about intended composition.


The toe-on full continues to reign as the D pirouetting skill of choice. Even though this code emphasizes release+release combinations, the toe-on full is still a valuable tool connected to a tkatchev or transition for .1 CV.

What's interesting is that the trend favoring toe-on skills over stalder skills seems to be increasing for the seniors, but the opposite is taking place for the juniors. There is a marked increase in the frequency of several of the stalder skills for the juniors. I'm not sure if there is a tangible reason for that, but it's happening. It should be noted that the large majority of those junior stalder fulls might be finishing their turns sometime by the end of the year. Maybe.

So, the Gienger died. That's weird, right? Very abrupt and very dead. The Jaeger just consumed it, apparently. Natural selection. We saw tons of toe-on Tkatchevs this year from the seniors. There are still fewer E releases being performed than I would expect given the new code, but it's early days, and this was not a particularly astounding bars group. They were just happy to get their jaegers in and get out of there.

September 20, 2013

2014 NCAA Schedule

It's almost here, people. Only 3.5 short months away. That's a cup of coffee, really. A cat nap. It's time to start emotionally preparing and deciding how many regrets you're going to have this year. I'm going for maybe something like four. That seems safe.

[ELITE TANGENT] I'm feeling particularly NCAA antsy because we're still over a week away from Worlds, which is forever. Still, the updated women's roster was released today. It's so pitiful. I'm betting right now that the cutoff score for the AA final is lower than the junior qualifying score to US Nationals (51.500). Too harsh? At this rate . . . honestly, the Australians who aren't even going are still in medal contention. Silver lining: an attending Icelander has the last name Odinsdottir. That's awesome. If I were a dottir, I would be taking that name as my own instantly. [/ELITE TANGENT]

But for now, enough NCAA teams have finally released their 2014 schedules that I can put together a composite schedule that is beginning to verge on reliable. We're still waiting on a Tardy Timothy or two to release their schedules (I'm referring to you, Nebraska), and Georgia is being total molasses in getting the meet times out, so keep that in mind. Otherwise, the schedule below should tell you what you need to know about the top teams' seasons.  

Oddly, the season is going to false start on the first weekend with only a couple teams competing, which is uncomfortable. It's like during the Olympics when a few events begin before the opening ceremonies. It's just wrong. The actual season won't begin until the 10th of January.

Lots of Saturday meets this season, especially in the Pac-12 as dictated by the TV requirements of the Pac-12 Network. Fortunately for those of us who get the network, many more meets will be on TV this year. Fortunately for those who don't, I'll be my usual live blogging self during all of the good ones, awarding Amanda Borden's hair a 9.825 and maybe talking about the actual gymnastics if there's time. There are also way too many Monday meets for my liking. It's like Stanford's whole schedule.

As usual, the SEC teams have the most challenging schedules because of their conference requirements, and we'll have all the usual mouth-watering match-ups. In particular, circle Alabama hosting Florida on February 28th. Oklahoma's schedule also stands out because, well, look at those road meets. One is the Bart and Nadia Special (which is a home meet in everything but name), two others take place in the state of Texas, and another is in Florida. Those road scores are going to be flying for the Sooners all year long. Don't be remotely surprised by a #1 Oklahoma team for a good chunk of the season.  

So, here we go. Some time after Worlds, I'll begin going through the teams and looking at the freshmen to see where they might contribute.

Week 0 – January 3-5

Sunday, January 5
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – Penn State @ Iowa State
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Stanford, San Jose State, UC Davis @ Sacramento State

Week 1 – January 10-12

Friday, January 10
7:00 ET/4:00 PT ­– Penn State, West Virginia, Ball State @ Kentucky
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Illinois @ Michigan State
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – Michigan @ Iowa State
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Georgia @ Oklahoma
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Centenary @ LSU
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Western Michigan @ Arkansas
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Texas Woman’s @ Auburn
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – Missouri @ Alabama

Saturday, January 11
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Oregon State, Bowling Green @ Ohio State
6:00 ET/3:00 PT – Arizona @ UIC
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Air Force, Lindenwood @ Minnesota
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Northern Illinois @ Nebraska
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Cal @ Denver
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Boise State, Southern Utah, BYU @ Utah
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – Florida @ UCLA

Sunday, January 12
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Georgia @ Stanford

Monday, January 13
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – Minnesota @ Washington

September 15, 2013

US World Team

Some brief thoughts.

The US World team is as follows: Kyla Ross (obvio), Simone Biles (obvio), McKayla Maroney (triple obvio), and Brenna Dowell (okay. . . ).

The non-traveling alternate is Elizabeth Price. No traveling alternate was named, but let's be honest, it's Brenna Dowell. I imagine that was the main thought process behind her selection to the team. She was 3rd in the AA at Nationals, and if Maroney and Price aren't up to the task (as they weren't at Nationals), it appears she is the #3 AAer in the country right now. Therefore, she can step into an AA role if someone gets injured and be a legitimate participant. As it currently stands with her as the UB and BB specialist, she won't get a sniff at beam. It's not out of the question that she could pop into a bars final given the lack of depth going to Worlds from all the countries. However, she would have to outscore Biles in qualification to get a US spot (assuming Kyla scores in the 15s, which neither of the others can do). That's not a given. When we're comparing them to Ross, Mustafina, and the Chinese, both Biles and Dowell are well below that level.  

The interesting thing is that what we've seen from Dowell is less competitive on bars than a healthy Elizabeth Price in both difficulty and execution, which is why I think her selection was mostly a Martha "meh, it has to be someone" selection. In the past, Martha has shown an intense willingness to fill out possibly questionable spots on teams with the next best AAer who can jump into any role if necessary. Dowell basically got the Peszek spot on this team, even though it isn't a team worlds so that doesn't make sense. I had Price as my pick going in, figuring that none of the non-locks are that internationally competitive on beam and Price has the highest potential of the rest on bars, so I'm wondering if perhaps a lack of full AA difficulty or training time made Martha loath to select her for the team, knowing as we do how Martha loves people to have proved their consistency 1500 million times in a row before making a team.

September 1, 2013

A Post about Nothing

Why do such large portions of the gymnastics season insist on being so deeply boring? And then just when we get going - oops, boring again. The US elites are all away in their cupboards under the stairs preparing for their field trip to Six Flags Magic Martha, and the Russians are all made of rice paper and disappointment as usual. BUH. It's not like it will even get much better once selection camp begins because the only conversation is about who will sneak into that filler fourth spot to make up the numbers. The verification for that spot should just be a moving mats and getting water obstacle course. Actually, I would watch that. Note to USAG.

Honestly, I have come around to favoring the US sending a team of three AAers. It will never ever happen because of inevitable claims of unfairness from the other coaches and because of perception issues. Romania is sending just three, and when the team registrations first revealed that information, the prevailing reaction was "Oh, look how feeble Romania's program is now. They can't even come up with four gymnasts to send to worlds." The US would never risk that.

This boredom issue is why NCAA is so much less frustrating than elite. The season begins, and then there's always something happening. NCAA is at least a little concerned about not boring us with lulls. Speaking of, I've noticed on the 2014 schedules that this is one of those seasons where the first weekend in January falls too close to the first, so everyone is beginning the season during the second weekend in January. Championships, however, is still at the same time as always, so the overall season is one week shorter. This means quite a few teams have scheduled no bye weeks between the start of the season and conference championships, so the choices about resting the fragile will be something to watch.

While we're on NCAA, there's a new site going around called road to nationals with some handy charty charts that must have taken damn forever to create and that will make synthesizing information much faster for those of us who like to fill preseason time with NCAA statistical analysis.

Finally, I would like to register my severe disappointment with a number of NCAA programs for completely overhauling their athletic websites since the end of last season. Now I have to go through and change all my bookmarks. Incredibly inconsiderate. Sometimes, I almost feel like other people don't have my convenience constantly in mind. We must address this problem as a nation.

That's all.   

August 20, 2013

That Was Good? The Execution of All Things

Everyone's favorite avuncular analyst and UTRS expert (so, gymnecologist?) recently recalled a post comparing execution scores between the US and international judges that I wrote in June and then promptly forgot about. What, am I supposed to remember everything I say?

Basically, it amounts to the idea that we often think that international judging is some paragon of strictness that would never be as lax and charitable as the US judges, but over the last few years the international judges have been within a believable range with the national judges in execution scores. So, I began to wonder if that will continue this year and if the World judges will mimic what we have seen so far in 2013, which brings us to an analysis of execution scores at this year's Nationals.

You probably had a lot of thoughts during last weekend's P&G Championships, ranging from "Hey, fewer of these hairstyles look like shanty towns" to "Hey, that's not a switch 1/2" to "Hey, so did Nastia kill Elfi?" and all of them are completely understandable. I bet you weren't thinking, "Hey, this is some historically excellent execution." But you know who was thinking that? The judges. Yeah. Deal with it.

The average execution score across the whole senior competition was an 8.515 this year. Guess what that's higher than? 2012 Nationals. And 2011 Nationals. And 2010 Nationals. And 2009 Nationals. In fact, the only recent competition that beats that number is 2012 Olympic Trials, which is to be expected. Trials should contain only the very best athletes at the peak of their Olympic preparation and not these barely qualified, happy to be there types who are getting 8.1s for hit routines. 

Let's also take a deeper look by event. (Numbers in parentheses indicate rank)

Aside from sucking the light fantastic on bars (and being the worst bars year in the United States is quite an accomplishment), 2013 Nationals saw remarkably high execution scores compared to recent competitions. The vault scores in particular are interesting. The vaults this year were okay, but two and three tenths better than recent years? Really? Would the new code alone justify such a bump?