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.
Beyond Grable, Heather Elswick should be able to provide a comfortably powerful 9.850 with her yfull. The vault lineup will also be buoyed this year by Amanda Wellick, who should have no trouble putting up a competition-worthy yfull, and the return of Scarlett Williams, whose y1/2 has scored into the 9.9s before. Those four vaults should be strong enough to make 49.250 a realistic thought, but once again needing six solid routines instead of four may be cause for worry. We can probably expect Bailee Zumwalde to go early in the lineup and get a 9.775 every week again this year. Other than that, Erin Freier competed last season and eventually got as high as 9.800, and Stephani Canizaro can probably go in a pinch, but there are not a ton of options. They'll look to get 9.8s out of those first two slots so that the top four aren't fighting against a deficit and can try to push toward the 49.3s.
Speaking of affairs that aren't super deep, I'm severely concerned about Arkansas on bars. Usually, we would start with Grable's scoring and try to build around it, but while she is strong on bars as well, it's her weakest scoring event (that damn hip angle on her bail is helping no one). She can get a 9.850, but it's not going to cover up a lack of depth here like it could elsewhere.
Shelby Salmon's strong DLO should keep her in the higher end of the 9.8s as well toward the back of the lineup, and Amanda Wellick can be a similar style bars worker with equivalent scoring potential. Wellick's Wu Jiani/Li Yuejiu upbringing gives me hope for her potential on this event. As a L10, she showed a bigly big jaeger and a double front dismount.
Unfortunately, a bunch of this Arkansas team (Williams, Zumwalde, Elswick, Dillard) doesn't do bars, which minimizes the lineup options significantly. Erin Freier has that tall icicle body and used that to her advantage for 9.8s last year, and then there's maybe Canizaro and new transfer Cailee Ellsworth? Keara Glover competed last year for 9.750s, but she was conspicuously missing from the intrasquad video. Anyone else? I foresee a struggle getting six 9.800-level routines out there this year. Honestly, I'd be happy to see a 49.150 from this group, but it will be tough to keep pace on this event.
It's not often that the beam outlook is more optimistic than the vault and bars outlooks (especially for a team that struggled so mightily here last year), but I could see a fairly strong little lineup developing for Arkansas on beam if they get the hitting under control. It's the one event where I see clear upgrade potential over last year. In 2013, they had to move Grable to the beginning because of falling issues, and while I don't love putting the top worker in the leadoff spot, she has the difficulty in that double pike dismount to overcome the usual first-up lowballing. They may sacrifice a smidge in scores, but she can still get 9.9s in the leadoff spot. It's not as bad as some panic leadoff decisions.
Freier took over the anchor position last year and went as high as 9.900, though her routine can be slightly terrifying; Sydnie Dillard was one of the standout gymnasts last season in terms of hitting after beam falls, being a total Solid Sydnie for 9.850s; Scarlett Williams should be back in the lineup here; and I'm also encouraged by the potential of Wellick and Samantha Nelson, both with better form coming into college on this event than we often see. We can also potentially throw in Shelby Salmon as an option for a 9.800 since she has competed often in the past. There's not a huge amount of depth, but if they can get Freier, Wellick, Nelson, Williams, Dillard, and Grable out there as the six, I'm happy with that lineup.
Let's just agree that Grable needs to win the floor title this year. Yes? Yes. As on vault, her score can turn a tepid rotation into a big score, and 9.950s are not an unrealistic expectation at all. That means that if the rest of the team can just put together a crop of 9.850s around her, they're golden. And that should probably be the strategy.
Floor will see the biggest loss in scoring from departures without Borsellino and Lewis, but Nelson has a strong double front mount and Wellick is powerful (though hasn't always should the most difficulty in the past). I could see them slotting into those roles and keeping pace with last season's performance while keeping the rest of the lineup the same, using Zumwalde, Elswick, and Dillard. Those are probably the best options, but if they get them all in the lineup, it could be one of the stronger events. They had a 49.285 RQS on floor last year, and I could see that continuing give or take a .025.
As I said, depth is the watchword, and it will define Arkansas's success. These basic blueprint lineups I put together can be competitive for the most part, but you'll notice that there are very few options beyond the ones I mentioned. Everyone must remain healthy and hitting for these 49.2ish rotations to happen, otherwise it could get nasty quickly. There will be a bunch of teams this season scoring mid and high 196s, so they'll need to find a way to outmatch them and avoid the early-lineup 9.7s that seem to define the 13-16 teams but not the 9-12 teams.
I'm not ready to predict Arkansas returning to Nationals this year quite yet. The opportunity is there to match the scoring from last season (though remember that they needed help from Oregon State to advance from Regionals, otherwise they would have been knocked out), but they have little margin and could get passed up by up-and-coming teams like Auburn.