November 29, 2014

Leeeeeeeeeettle Roza Galieva

Back in the magical year of 1996, when the world was a simpler place and vests, Rachel hair, “Seasons of Love,” and those tiny 15-year-old-girl backpacks that cinched at the top freely roamed the countryside, NBC produced a vital contribution to the canon of American documentary film detailing the trials and tribulations of one Rozalia Galieva. You may have heard.

It gets better every time. So, in a super relevant and timely exercise 18 years in the making, we need to break it down together as a family.  

We begin with the sun fading next to an onion dome. This is definitely not symbolism. No one here is using the subtlety of an anvil to imply that Russia is nothing more than a feeble husk of a former empire pathetically clinging to the last vile, shriveled wisps of long-faded power or anything. Who would do that?

Not Roza Galieva. She is a perfect sparrow made of angels, an innocent victim of an EVIL system, and now all the children of the world must gather around to learn the lessons of the epic, moving tale of the time “this happened to Roza Galieva.”

By “this,” do you mean having her hair smelled in the middle of flexibility training? That does sound traumatic. Of course, we all know that hair smelling is an intrinsic part of any respectable Eastern bloc training regimen. It’s why they’re so artistic. American gymnasts do the rope climb. Russian gymnasts cultivate their scalp scent. But no, something even worse than hair smelling happened to Roza Galieva.

At this point, Tesh informs us that now Roza is a withered old crone of 19, which is basically 40, which is like 90. By 19, a gymnast is more likely to be eaten by a shark than win an Olympic gold medal.

Speaking of being eaten by a shark, the 1992 Unified Team leotard.

But Roza Galieva wasn't always a washed up 19-year-old hag. Back in ancient times when she was a fresh-faced young sprite with an acceptable age like 15, she was full of dreams and innocence. That was before she was personally victimized by Tatiana Gutsu. Tesh drops his voice 16 octaves to introduce Gutsu because she’s Ursula the Sea Witch now or something. He was speaking normally and then leaned into a drainpipe to say, "Tatiana Gutsu." If you go into a bathroom and shout "Tatiana Gutsu" three times, her face will appear in the mirror. Maybe that's what Roza just saw.

Hey Roza, you’re doing such a great job. Quick note: For the next take, could you try curling up into a fetal position and staring into the middle distance while picturing the genocide of millions? That’s really the tone we’re going for with this piece. Thanks so much, sweetie! Because why be emotional when you can be THE EMOTIONEST.

November 26, 2014


Some pre-Thanksgiving notes.

Watching meets in 2015
Fair warning with a month still to go before the season: There will be changes to the way we watch NCAA gymnastics meets this year, mostly involving the SEC. 

In emerging-from-the-cave-to-finally-see-the-light news, the debut of the SEC Network means that we'll actually have the chance to watch SEC gymnastics meets live on a television this season. Who would have ever thought?

It's not a ton of live meets (and it still doesn't include the SEC Championship), but it's something. The Pac-12 Network also had a fairly scanty collection of meets its first season before expanding every year since then to the point where the majority of conference meets will be on TV this year. UCLA had 3 televised meets in the first year of P12N, but had 7 last year, and has 8 this year.

In addition to the TV schedule, a large number of SEC meets will be streamed on SEC Network+, part of the ESPN family of streaming. Not all schools have announced their full streaming schedules, but we do know that all Georgia and Alabama (and almost all LSU) home meets that aren't televised on the SEC Network will be streamed on SECN+. As far as I know, anyone who has ESPN as part of a TV package can sign in to WatchESPN for access to SECN+ [EDIT: See comment below]. So, this is good news for people who live in the US and have a television, and bad news for people who don't.

November 23, 2014

Freshman Notes: UCLA and Others

No, I hadn't forgotten about UCLA. The Bruins just have eleventy billion new (and old-new) gymnasts this year, many of whom are going to be wait-and-see types, so I was putting off talking about them. Of all the giant freshman classes, this is the giantest. We may be returning to the days when UCLA has a hundred walk-ons on the roster that no one has ever seen, may not actually exist, and who disappear after a season. Still, here we are. It's time to meet the new Bruins as well as run through the notable roster entrances and exits on some other teams.

UCLA didn't make Super Six last year for the first time since 2009, and it's not going to be any easier this year after the losses of Olivia Courtney and Syd Sawa. Courtney and Sawa accounted for 7 routines from last year's postseason lineup, and while that's not all that many compared to some other teams, these were mostly significant routines. Besides Danusia Francis's beam and Sam Peszek's everything, Courtney and Sawa accounted for the rest of the realistic 9.9s in 2014, so the Bruins will need to find new 9.9s (particularly floor and vault 9.9s) from somewhere.

The 9.9 scenario is the main question I have about this freshman class. It's a class of possibilities and yet-to-be-honed raw potential, and I expect to hear a lot this season about how rewarding this class has been to coach. As part of that potential, I see a TON of 9.800s floating around (if UCLA is putting up consistent 9.7s in lineups again this year, they will have only themselves to blame—or not training on podium, or whatever), but are there enough 9.9s?

That's why Peng Peng Lee's comeback is more than essential for UCLA. She is a glorious ray of hope made out of dreams and wishes and 9.9s, and at her best, is capable of partnering with Peszek to lift this team to national competitiveness. Even if they're taking it easy with Peng now that her knee is made out of scalpels (I don't know how surgery works), she can still be a huge boost to bars and beam, which will limit the expectations placed on the freshmen. I suppose Peng sort of counts as a freshman because she has never done a routine for UCLA, but at this point she's one of the oldest members of the team. I'm not profiling her as one of the freshmen, especially because I did last year and then UCLA announced she was out for the year again the very next day. I'm a jinx. Let's stop talking about it and move on to the real freshmen.

Pua Hall is the most recognizable name in the group, having competed as a junior elite in 2009 and 2010. While I do wonder how many big-impact routines there will be in this class, one of those big routines should be Hall's vault, especially for a team that put up way too many 9.725s in the first three spots last season. (In case you're wondering, the correct number of 9.725s is zero.) 

She has been competing that 1.5 for approximately forever, and it's quite good. She won vault in her division at JO Nationals in 2013 and brings the power, distance, and form for a usable score here depending on which vault is selected for her. (I would think full, but this team needs someone doing more difficulty than a yfull. They haven't had that since Zam's occasional Lopez and McCullough's 1.5. It's time for another 1.5). Hall will need to be hanging out with Peszek at the back of that lineup.

Floor is probably the other likely area for Hall to compete for a spot. She shows a double arabian as part of a solid-enough repertoire of tumbling, and now that she's in Val Land, her general foundation of style and presence should be sufficiently UCLA-ified into a true floor performance. As a quick mention, bars has been Hall's weak event in her career, but in kind of a McKayla Maroney way, she has a randomly huge gienger nestled in there. I'm vaguely hoping they can work some magic on that routine so we get to see the gienger. 

November 16, 2014

Freshman Notes: Alabama and Michigan

We're getting there. NLI week is (pretty much) behind us—I'm looking at you Alabama—and slowly but surely, we're moving toward the coaches' poll and preseason intrasquads time of year. But for oday, I'm looking at the freshmen from Alabama and Michigan. Among the top 10 teams in the country, these two freshman classes will be the most essential for their schools because of how much scoring potential both these teams have lost since last season. These freshmen must contribute significant routines (in both quality and number) this year.


Alabama is the team I'm keenest to watch to start the 2015 season. Not only have they lost a legendary head coach, but they've also lost 11 of the 24 routines from Super Six last year. The 2015 team will be a brand new Tide in all the ways. This could go a lot of different directions.

As for the newbies, Alabama brings in a fairly solid freshman class in 2015, even if it's not brimming with routines. There aren't 11 competition-level new performances in this group, but that's OK. This freshman group will not be expected to make up the whole Jacob/Milliner/Demeo deficit. With Kayla Williams coming back from injury and several usable routines that didn't make the lineups last year, Alabama shouldn't be hurting too much for depth on the majority of events, which will take some pressure off this new group. (Helpfully, Gymtide has done a rundown of all the routines shown in the recent intrasquad to give a comprehensive look at current team depth. It's worth a read.)

Still, I do expect moments of essential freshman contribution, particularly from Mackenzie Brannan. As is the theme for the freshmen from these two schools, she competed as a junior elite last quad before making the switch back to L10, so she has the skills on each event to be a realistic contender for four lineups.





Let's start with beam because it has been an occasional issue. Brannan would have won her division easily at JO Nationals the last two years if not for falls on beam, so consistency will be a topic of conversation. Regardless of whether those problems manifest themselves in NCAA, I do expect her to see time on beam because her work there is on the same elite level as the other events and because Alabama needs to find some new beamers somewhere.

That said, the places where I expect Brannan's contribution to be the most significant and frequent are vault and bars. That Yurchenko 1.5 is crisp and clean. Her legs are firmly together in the air and she completes the vault quite easily. I could certainly see retaining the 1.5, but either way, she should be in the lineup. On bars, Brannan's work is made for NCAA. Look at those handstands. Yes. She has cleaned up her bars routine significantly since junior elite days, and almost everything is precise these days. Put her on the Jacob/Demeo bam-bam stuck DLO program, and this should be a back half of the lineup routine.

November 11, 2014

NLI Week 2015-2016

Ah, yes. NLI week. The time of year where schools can finally publicly acknowledge what they've known for the last 3-5 years and announce which gymnasts will be joining their teams for the 2015-2016 season. I'll be updating this post over the next week or so, beginning Wednesday, with the announced classes and links to the press releases from the major schools. Sometimes interesting things happen. Usually it's just the confirmation of verbals long since forgotten.

Just to review, NLI stands for National Letter of Intent, and it's what future student-athletes sign to signal an end to the recruiting process and a commitment to attend a particular institution, in most cases along with a scholarship agreement. Previously almost all of these gymnasts, especially the US ones, will have announced a verbal commitment to these schools, but verbal commitments are not official or binding. Once you sign the NLI, it's real.

It begins.

UTAH - Release
MyKayla Skinner, Shannon McNatt, MaKenna Merrell, and Erika Muhaw

The only question here is the Skinner deferral issue, and I expect she's planning on it. Also, if she makes the Worlds team next year, the lure of going pro may be strong in this one.

STANFORD - Release
Hailee Hoffman and Taryn Fitzgerald

Kristyn Hoffa and Monica Riley

MICHIGAN - Release
Olivia Karas and Emma McLean

FLORIDA - Release
Peyton Ernst, Alicia Boren, Lacy Dagen

Brittini Chappell, Drew Hendershot, Jessica Ling, Roya Shirley

PENN STATE - Release
Sabrina Garcia, Mason Hosek, Jessica Jones

LSU - Release
Lexie Priessman, McKenna Kelley, Kaitlyn Szafranski, Julianna Cannamela

-The pressure will be on that LSU class majorly to make up for the losses of Hall, Courville, Jordan, and Ranzy. Basically, all of their potential has to pan out for LSU to retain its current strength.

-Sarah Finnegan has also confirmed LSU is her choice, so basically one crazy-talented class leaves to be replaced by another 

UCLA - Release
Simone Biles, Madison Kocian, Macy Toronjo

UCLA confirms that both Biles and Kocian are planning to defer and go for the Olympic team. That was obvious for Biles but never overtly stated for Kocian. Still, since she made Worlds this year, it makes sense. I wouldn't say it's likely for Kocian, but it's not just a pipe dream. The problem for UCLA here is that (as of now), they'll only have one new gymnast for 2015-2016 in Toronjo. They're losing only Sam Peszek and maybe Ellette Craddock (redshirt possibility?) after this year, so they're not dropping all that many routines, but those Sam Peszek shoes are big ones to fill.

ARKANSAS - Release
Makenzie Anderson

MISSOURI - Release
Allison Bower, Madeleine Huber, Brooke Kelly, Morgan Porter, Michaelee Turner

IOWA STATE - Release
Meaghan Sievers, Sydney Converse, Madeline Johnson

ILLINOIS - Release
Rebecca Cuppy, Haylee Roe

DENVER - Release
Claire Kern, Kaitlyn Schou

GEORGIA - Release
Gracie Cherrey, Jordyn Pedersen, Sydney Snead

Pedersen is also planning to defer until after the Olympics, at least for now.

Sabrina Gill, Mariana Colussi-Pelaez, McKenna Singley

CAL - Release
Emily Howe

KENT STATE - Release
Carmen Joliff, Sarah Lippowitsch, Kennedy Plude

Ellie Pascoe-Long, Josalyn Ray

MARYLAND - Release
Shynelle Agaran, Megan McClelland, Macey Roberts

Skyler Memmel, Kasey Janowicz, Abbie Zoeller, Kailey Miller, Gianna Plaksa

-The [original] headline is "'Special' Class for CMU Volleyball." Great work, everyone.

OHIO STATE - Release
Casey Carvalho, Jamie Stone

Mackenzie Austin, Kelsey Chan, Madison Hargrave

NEBRASKA - Release
Kami Amemiya-Shows, Sienna Crouse, Catelyn Orel, Megan Schweihofer

ARIZONA - Release
Brittany Robertson, Charle Dembo, Skyler Sheppard, Danielle Spencer

Julia Beyer, Chelsea Eley, Lauren De Meno

Krista Collins, Kensleigh Owens, Brittany West

Natalie Hoffmann, Kamryn Bayer

NC STATE - Release
Caitlyn Fillard, Mackenzie Itcush, Maggie Tamburro, Nicole Wild

UC DAVIS - Release
Kara Jones, Yasmine Yektaparast

OKLAHOMA - Release
Nicole Lehrmann, Megan Thompson (walk-on)

Kirah Koshinski, Sarah Moore, Jaquie Tun, Tiara Wright, Carly Galpin (walk-on)

Rachel Cutler, Selena Ung

AUBURN - Release
Taylor Krippner, Samantha Cerio, Emma Engler, Emma Slappey

 Corinne Belkoff, Eileen Imbus, Katelyn Lentz, Morgan Wilson

KENTUCKY - Release
Sidney Dukes, Alex Hyland, Aubree Rosa, Katie Stuart


....78 millennia later......


ALABAMA - Release
Jenna Bresette, Abby Armbrecht, Amanda Huang, Avery Rickett

-Note that a few teams are announcing people and posting signing pictures on twitter before they do a real release if you want to keep track of that.

-All the coaches are really eager to tell us how outstanding these classes are. I really wish someone would go, "This year's class is just OK" some time.

November 9, 2014

Freshman Notes: Florida and Utah

Let's continue the mission of chopping a path through the 2015 freshmen by moving on to Florida and Utah. The Gators and the Utes boast two more large incoming classes, both bursting with all-arounders who are pretty believable on all four events. For most of them, their eventual contribution will come down more to the depth of team lineups than to their capability to put together a competitive routine. 


The Gators are defending co-champions, and once again there's no reason to demote them from that #1 spot. Despite losing two major contributors and well-known former elites in Mackenzie Caquatto and Alaina Johnson (along with their seven 9.9-likely routines from last postseason) Florida is still able to pad the depth wagon this season with four new contributors, who bring with them more than seven lineup-worthy routines to replace those lost scores. Managing to lose stars without losing scores is the sign of a dynasty. Florida has two titles in a row, and three is very possible. 

We'll start at the top, with Kennedy Baker from Texas Dreams. Baker was an elite for many years and qualified to Olympic Trials in 2012 before dropping down to L10 this year to prepare for Florida. Baker has damn huge gymnastics, and while it's hard to predict a four-event contributor on Florida's team because of the sheer number of quality options, I see her sliding in on each event. 





Floor is my favorite event for Baker, almost entirely because of that killer piked double arabian. It's tremendous, and I can't wait to see that in her routine this year. Pair that skill with her regular double arabian on floor and her excellent Patterson beam dismount, and her portfolio of arabian work is historically good. Florida dropped off just a tad in showing big bad difficulty on floor last year (more front double fulls, fewer DLOs), but Baker will help bring that back in 2015 with her easy power. Not that it stopped them from getting 49.999s last year anyway.

November 2, 2014

Freshman Notes: Oklahoma and Georgia

Why does every team have a hundred thousand freshmen this year? Cool it, people. They're not going out of style. Today, we look at Oklahoma and Georgia.

Boomer. The problem with winning a national championship for the first time is that now anything less than a national championship is a disappointment. No more of this "we're really proud of how much we went through to finish third" business. It's an every-year thing now, and Oklahoma will face some challenges to repeat in 2015 without Spears, Mooring, and Albright, who contributed 6 routines across three events last postseason, most significantly the late-lineup 9.9-athon that was Taylor Spears on bars and beam.

On the bright side, the Sooners have several new freshmen who can believably fill those scoring gaps, bringing with them way more than 6 lineup-ready routines. The first thing to be said about this class is that it officially signals the end of the "Oklahoma doesn't have the power/difficulty on the leg events" narrative era. That comment didn't really apply last year either, but it's definitely dead now. You can't use it anymore. This freshman class is power city.

Let's start with the most well-known of the newcomers, Brenna Dowell, who will be joining the team officially in January and made the smart choice to start this year instead of trying to stick it out in elite with the hope of making an Olympic team that was never going to happen. Not even getting the alternate spot for Worlds this year was the flashing neon sign she needed saying GET TO OKLAHOMA.

Anyone who has watched elite lately is familiar with Dowell's gymnastics, and she's another of those who can conceivably slot in anywhere in any lineup and be a rare AAer for this Oklahoma team. The only thing that would potentially hold her back is consistency, but I expect to see a lot of Dowell this year.