It's that time of year again. Time to meet some of the brand new characters who will be joining the cast of The Calm and the Confident for the 2015 competition season. Fingers crossed that someone has an amnesiac twin we don't know about yet.
Once December rolls around, I'll preview the top teams in full, but for now, let's at least familiarize ourselves with all these newbies, starting with LSU, Stanford, and Nebraska for reasons that don't exist.
I still think that current co-champions Florida and Oklahoma head into 2015 as the clear frontrunners, but if you wanted to put up an argument for LSU, I wouldn't fight you. This is a big season for LSU, with Courville, Hall, Jordan, and Ranzy all in their final year of eligibility.
The Tigers have lost 6 routines from last year: the early-lineup AA contribution from Kaleigh Dickson and the frequently 9.900 vault and bars routines from Sarie Morrison. That bars routine from Morrison is the critical loss because while LSU has improved dramatically on bars, they still have relied heavily on Morrison to remain competitive with the stronger bars teams. That's gone now. (Maliah Mathis is also gone, but recovery from her Achilles injury prevented her from making any postseason lineups last year.)
But, LSU has two standout freshmen that should be able to make up the majority of the lost scoring potential. Erin Macadaeg competed as a senior elite in 2013, and while she didn't have the difficulty to make an impact in the standings, she caught some eyes for her gracefully executed gymnastics and performance awareness. Note: At Championships, she was one of 3 senior gymnasts to break a 9.000 in execution on beam, the others being Ross and Biles. She just missed it with her elite sojourn by one year. If she had competed this season, she would have been all over that selection camp.
As noted, LSU should be excited about Macadaeg's potential on beam as she tends to be secure on her acro elements and shows precision and mostly clean form, along with the power in that double pike dismount (which is staying in her routine for now). I approve of the amplitude on those leaps as well. Beam has been a struggle in the past for LSU, but last season a stellar three emerged in Courville, Jordan, and Gnat, with Ewing developing into a possible fourth solid beamer. Now, Macadaeg can make the lineup deeper. LSU should be right up toward the top of the standings on beam this year with the group they have now.
Vault and floor are going to be much harder to break into. Derrrr. It's LSU. But, Macadaeg is a real option on both events. She does a double arabian without any major cowboy on floor, so she already gets points from me, and without Morrison and Dickson in the vault lineup now, there's room for some new yfulls with solid form and distance, which she has.
I mentioned the need to find some reinforcements on bars, but that has been Macadaeg's weaker event. You can see in this elite routine from 2013 that the handstands are a problem. Still, she does have the toe point and the usable straddled jaeger to be coached into a solid NCAA routine, so I'm not totally writing her off there yet. That dismount looked good enough in the above training video.
Macadaeg will be joined by L10 standout Myia Hambrick who finished third in Senior C in 2013 and was a floor problem away from repeating that feat in Senior D this year. First of all, your last name is Ham Brick. Let's just get that out of the way right now. Overall, Ham Brick has very similar strengths to Macadaeg and could contribute, at least as a possibility, on three events. I could actually see Hambrick and Macadaeg fighting it out for lineup spots between themselves because they bring many of the same things to the team.
As with Macadaeg, I enjoy Hambrick's work on beam, where she finished second in her division at JO Nationals and has consistently placed toward the top of the standings for hit routines. It's easy to see why. There's sort of an old-fashioned quality to her presentation on beam (in a good way). Does anyone else see that? She could fit in any era. And that double full dismount is right on. You see why I'm bullish on LSU's beam this year?
Hambrick can be a legitimate contender on vault and floor, with a very comfortable yfull on vault and overall power and difficulty on floor, including a piked full in. Oh look, another LSU gymnast with a big E tumbling pass. None of this mounting with double pikes business around here. Speaking of Stanford . . .
Actually, before we get to Stanford I should mention that LSU is also adding walkon Kylie Moran, of whom I've seen next to nothing, and transfer Scarlett Williams from Arkansas. Williams struggled somewhat last year coming back from injury, but before that, I loved her Y1/2 on vault and she was a solid 9.825 beam leadoff on a team that desperately needed it. Watch that space. Now, Stanford . . .
Stanford is bringing in just one freshman this year to replace the outgoing Shona Morgan and Amanda Spinner, but in case you haven't heard, she's kind of a big deal. Elizabeth Price is an exciting addition for Stanford not simply because she was a successful elite (we know that elite success and NCAA success are not always BFFs) but because her strengths are Stanford's current weaknesses and her presence will make this a more well-rounded team.
We know Price has the skill set to contribute big scores in the all-around because she's Ebee Price, so as with most gymnasts in her position, maintaining health and intactness will be the biggest concern rather than the skills. She clearly has the skills and should be a 9.9 gymnast on every event.
Price should be the keystone at the back of those vault and floor lineups (although depending on how well Ivana Hong can come back, I would love to see Price go right before Hong in some lineups because Price will have more difficulty and can bump up Hong's scores - much like Florida does intelligently with Kytra Hunter and Bridgey Caquatto on floor). She has the amplitude, form, and difficulty to bring Stanford out of the land of 9.825s and yfulls and meager double pikes that destroyed their scoring potential on those two events last season. That DLO on floor is a breath of fresh 9.9s for this team. Now we just have to wait to see what routine composition they come up with for her because she has so many options.
On vault, we could see pretty much any Yurchenko option. Price is the first gymnast with an Amanar to enter college gymnastics, and while I firmly believe she could perform it in NCAA for good scores, the 1.5 is probably the smartest choice. She should be able to stick that. Maybe break out the double every once in a while and make everyone lose their minds? Please?
As for bars and beam, Price isn't known as much for those events, but that was truer in her junior elite days than it is now. Once she built up her difficulty on bars, that routine was a thing, and she'll be able to contribute just as much on bars and beam as on vault and floor. In elite, Price did not get the same execution scores on bars and beam, but she should benefit from NCAA routine composition. In the bars routine above, the biggest trouble spot is the hip full after the shaposh, which she certainly won't have to bother with in college. It's much the same with the switch 1/2 on beam. No one is going to make her do that anymore to squeeze out a slightly higher D score. They'll be able to pick and choose the more deduction-free dance elements.
Important question: Is it worth the risk to keep her tuck full on beam? And could we have a Peszek/Price Pac-12 tuck full showdown?
Nebraska tends to be a small team, and that's the case again this year with just the 12 gymnasts. The consequence of having a small team is that more is expected of each competitor, so it's especially important that all three of the new freshmen have placed very well in the all-around standings in JO. While I definitely don't expect all of them to compete the all-around, the option for 12 whole new routines is there. With only 6 outgoing routines from Wong and Schleppenbach, 2015 should see a net gain in depth for the team, even if there's no replacing Emily Wong because obviously.
This incoming Husker class has been on the excitement radar for a few years now because it features refugee Geddert's stars Grace Williams and Kamerin Moore. Williams has been raking it in on the L10 circuit for the last 4 years or so, from winning the Nastia Pinkathon in 2011 to winning Senior C this May. She hits routines and wins. That's the Grace Williams story, and that's what she can bring to Nebraska, where we could expect AA contribution from her and strong scores as some of the details are cleaned up.
Williams powers through these routines. I don't really mean that in a bad way. Sometimes "powering through" is referenced as the antithesis of graceful blah blah blah, but she has a powerful and confident style across all the events. It's bam-bam gymnastics. That quality is clearest on her beam acro elements in the above video. No question or hesitation. She doesn't work tentatively, which we see from a lot of people, even at this level. That confident work is necessary for Nebraska's beam lineup post-Wong.
As for bars, say it with me now: "That was a deltchev!" Love to see a deltchev because we never do anymore. Brie Olson's is the last one that comes to mind. Points for unexpected composition. We know unexpected composition can go very wrong in Geddertland, but this is one of the good ones. As for floor, Williams hasn't competed much difficulty lately (the double arabian hasn't made an appearance in a while), but what she does perform, she hits easily so that shouldn't be much of an obstacle. The dance elements, however, may be an obstacle. Those are the real question marks for her on beam and floor, so once again they'll have to be smart about composition.
Williams is joined by her teammate Kamerin Moore, and it wasn't all that long ago that Moore and Jordyn Wieber were the dynamic duo of Geddert's elites. Moore won an elite friendly in 2009, beating both Caquattuses, but chronic injuries in 2009 and 2010 took her out of elite and out of competition for seemingly forever. It took her a good long while to get her level back, but she did quite well at JO Nationals this year and was just a beam clunker away from winning Senior D (so were a LOT of people).
Moore won bars at JO Nationals with this routine. Those handstands aren't really "won bars at JO Nationals" level, but the individual pieces make it understandable why she tends to place well on bars. She has sufficient amplitude on release elements (including that toe shoot—we often see flat ones) and a pak with actual legs together, at least from this angle. The routine has improved dramatically since they got rid of the tkatchev, which was helping no one, and brought her back up to the DLO dismount. I'm slightly concerned about Nebraska's bars this year, so this is a routine it will be critical to hone.
Both Moore and Williams have solid yfulls with acceptable power and consistent landings. I could see both eventually becoming part of the legacy of Nebraska gymnasts who develop "DAYUM GIRL" blocks on their yfulls. Also like Williams, Moore doesn't show big difficulty on floor these days but hits her double pike lights out and has developed into another member of the steely-faced, attack-minded "I will win floor by murdering it" school. In the dance-element category, she tends to be stronger, so that should work to her advantage.
Of note, Moore performs a double turn on beam that is consistent and excellent enough to be worth including in a JO routine, which is rare. I appreciate that touch. Extra credit.
The third newcomer is Danielle Breen who is a little overshadowed because she has the least name recognition of the three, but she's not an also-ran in this group. Breen finished 2nd in Senior D, and top 5 on every event, which would be the standout result in most incoming classes. There's sparse visual evidence of her recent routines from the successful 2014 season, so I'm really interested to see how her routines play out with Nebraska because that JO result is a significant improvement over the previous year to the tune of a couple tenths per event (and more on bars).
Breen seems the type who can hang around as a possibility on any event. She's usable, and the skills competitive enough, even if she doesn't have the same amplitude or difficulty as some of the other newcomers in this year's class and in this post. She doesn't give all that much away on beam and floor and could be called upon in that clean, straightforward, early-lineup spot that many coaches seem to go for.