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