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.
Beyond Blalock, things get rather challenging in the depth department. Chelsea Tang is usually good for 9.825-9.850, as she is on every event, and Brittany Harris has vaulted well enough to be in the lineup in the past (though she was in and out of it last season). Other than that, there are no other returning gymnasts who have scored in the 9.700+ range in the past, so Oregon State will be looking to freshmen for major contribution all year. Kaytianna McMillan seems the most ripe for 9.9s, competing a strong Y1.5 as a L10 and managing a 9.850 for it at JO Nationals. Whether she ends up with a 1.5 or a full (I'd go with full), she should give the lineup a boost. I can also see Maddie Gardiner, who never featured on vault as an elite but has a solid Yfull, and Megan Jimenez figuring here, but this lineup will be relying on a select few to get by.
I was quite skeptical about OSU's status on bars last year post-Mak and Vivian, but for the most part they did quite well (even though it was the Achilles heel in the end) and managed a program-high score on the event at Pac-12s, which I would not have pegged going into the season. Several new people stepped into the lineup, and the team continued to thrive, even bettering the performance from 2012. It will be interesting to see if the trend of consistently reinventing a strong bars group can continue this year now that coach John Carney has moved on to Missouri and they've bled another top routine in Stambaugh's.
Four routines return from last year's postseason lineup, and in particular Erika Aufiero emerged as a strong contributor last season with a clean and powerful routine, so I'm looking forward to seeing her work here along with, as on every event, newbies Gardiner and McMillan popping in. Gardiner didn't really excel on bars as an elite, but there is enough potential in her work (meaning: she does stalders, so I'm sold) that I could see a strong NCAA routine being weaved together for her to help raise the event above the rather 49.200 quality we might see otherwise.
Oh, beam. I may have called it last preseason that Oregon State would get knocked out at Regionals, but I thought it would be because of beam, not bars. The Beavers overperformed my expectations on beam and, as has happened the past several seasons, they were able to pull together something strong enough to get into the 49.2s by the end of the year. I could certainly see the 49.2s landscape continuing this year, and I'm actually a bit more optimistic about Oregon State on beam this time around than I have been recently, primarily because of Maddie Gardiner.
I mentioned that Oregon State is going to be in the market for stars, and one of those new starring routines should be Gardiner's beam. She has superior difficulty and a wide range of challenging skills to select from, but the most remarkable thing about her beam work is that she performs both a wolf turn and a side somi and makes them not ug-o. That, my friends, is a public service. Beyond that, there are several workable 9.8s returning from the rest of the group, and other new Canadian Taylor Ricci could contribute here. This is also Chelsea Tang's best-scoring piece, so look for her to figure near the end of the lineup as well.
It's hard to know what to make of this floor rotation at the moment because Jones and Stambaugh were this event last season. They both boasted brilliant floor routines and could always be relied upon for 9.900s, at the very least. How many times did they save this team from a 9.7 last year? The team RQS was 49.190, which means those 9.9s often single-handedly made floor a positive event. Without them, the Beavers are returning a lot of 9.825s featuring mostly rudis and 2.5s and double backs, with Kelsi Blalock usually showing the strongest routine of that bunch. While they shouldn't have too many problems putting together a lineup, they'll be in search of the big routine to wake the judges up and take the team out of the 49.1s.
That's why I expect McMillan's strong full-in that she mounted with in JO to be significant here. It's the kind of tumbling pass with big difficulty and amplitude that the team is missing right now.
Oregon State in 2014 is a team that will need to rebuild some lineups, find new 9.9s, and integrate a lot of new gymnasts in places they haven't competed before in order to make up for departed scores, so don't be surprised if it's a process. Some 194s in the early months would not be unusual as they try to work out who the contributors are.
But I'm excited about these freshmen, and the potential in the new class is much greater than it has been for several seasons now. If they thrive, high 196s to low 197s should be doable by the end of the year. The Beavers are currently ranked as the final school to get into Nationals, and I can see them hovering around that 10-12, back end of Nationals, spot for much of the season. This team should be capable of recovering from last season's meltdown and advancing to Nationals again.