December 31, 2014

#2 Oklahoma Preview

Recent History
From the time K.J. Kindler took over as head coach in 2006, Oklahoma has transformed from a team that occasionally made nationals and finished 12th, first into a perennial nationals qualifier (placing somewhere between 8th and 10th each year), then into a title contender (three top 3 finishes from 2010–2013), and finally last year into a champion. Well, co-champion, but I found it difficult to muster my usual abhorrence for ties (everyone's a winner!) because Oklahoma's first title was so well deserved as a reward for the tremendous progress made over the last decade. Plus, that means six teams have now won national championships, which is almost a normal amount of teams! Almost. Still work to do.   

2015 Outlook
Oklahoma actually managed to win the title a year earlier than I thought they would be able to. Back when we first started hearing about the 2015 incoming class (at that point Wofford was also part of this class), it seemed like 2015 would be the season Oklahoma finally broke through. They jumped the gun a little bit last year, but 2015 remains a pretty good bet for the Sooners to insanely-exaggerated-salute their way to another title. While a few significant scores are gone, last year's team remains largely intact, with four or five lineup routines returning on each event including thirteen of the seventeen 9.9s from that impressive Super Six performance.

The Sooners will most certainly be back in 2015 with their usual batch of ninja Level 10s who all excel on three events, plus the boost from the standout freshman class that we've been waiting for, featuring Brenna Dowell. It's a slight breach of Oklahoma etiquette that Dowell is a well-known elite instead of an obscure and suddenly amazing Level 10, but I think we'll all get past it somehow. We did for Hollie Vise and Natasha Kelley. The key to Dowell's success as an NCAA gymnast? Be less injured than Natasha Kelley. 

Oklahoma is going to be good this season (analysis!), but the path to winning these days is slightly different than we have come to expect for Oklahoma. They're in the midst of an identity transition. In years past, Oklahoma's success would come from staying close enough on vault and floor and then destroying everyone on bars and beam, but lately the Sooners have recruited gymnasts specifically to beef up those perceived weaknesses. Vault and floor were their highest scoring events in 2014, and this year's powerful freshman class makes Oklahoma's new status as a vault and floor team even more entrenched. Well, I shouldn't say vault and floor team. They're an every event team. Beam, obviously. But, they should be winning vault at the very least, and in 2015, the road to repeat likely includes being #1 in the country on the power events.


Returning lineup — Haley Scaman (9.940), Maile Kanewa (9.915), Keeley Kmieciak (9.905), Chayse Capps (9.900), Kara Lovan (9.870)

The reason for my bullishness about Oklahoma's vault should be pretty clear. They were exceptional already last year, finishing the regular season ranked #2 in the country, and the vault corps will be even better this season with the additions of Dowell and Ali Jackson. Dowell, of course, had a 2.5 as an elite and is currently working a 1.5 that is altogether too easy for her. Jackson also has a big-power 1.5 with impressive height and distance that has the makings of a high score. Remember when we used to worry about Oklahoma's difficulty and explosiveness on vault? Not so much anymore.

Those two would lead most lineup, but they're just the newbies joining an already strong group that contains at least a couple returning 9.950s. Haley Scaman has been the vault leader for this team, especially since downgrading to that beautiful full, which she can open out of and stick for the occasional 10. Maile Kanewa brings impressive power for consistent 9.900-9.950s, and while Chayse Capps has received attention mostly for her work on beam and floor, her distance and stickitude for yet more 9.9s on vault is just as essential to the team. Capps' best score often comes on vault. Just to add to the supply, Keeley Kmieciak recorded an RQS over 9.9 last year, Kara Lovan was an unexpected addition to the lineup who was usually clean for 9.850s, and even Hunter Price's front pike half is finally coming along. Depending on the injury status of Charity Jones, she's another one to watch. Jones seemed like an easy choice for the vault lineup before her injury last year considering that she competed a DTY in JO. You know it's a strong vault lineup when someone who used to have a DTY is almost an afterthought among the options. There will be 9.9s who fail to make the lineup this year, and 49.500s seem much more realistic than they ought to be. The other top vaulting teams will provide tough competition, but if Dowell and Jackson develop the kinds of landings they're capable of on their 1.5s, Oklahoma should be the best vault team in 2015. Not to oversell it or anything.

December 29, 2014

#3 LSU Preview

Recent History
No rise has been more immediate and dramatic than LSU's. Just a few years ago, LSU had a horrific 2011 season where everyone got a 9.700 and the team made no mark whatsoever, sputtering out of the Georgia regional with a distant 195.350. After that, everything changed. The Tigers returned to nationals in 2012 riding the increased depth provided by the Courville, Jordan, Hall class, and by 2013, they managed to turn things around on their traditional weaknesses, bars and beam, to become a true four-event team that can realistically challenge for a title. That year, they returned to Super Six for the first time since the Jackson/Clare-Kearney era, finishing 5th, then stepped up that result in 2014, finishing 3rd behind the Oklahoma/Florida tie in an all-time best result for the program.

2015 Outlook

LSU has never been better. While the 2014 team has a good argument as the most talented squad LSU has ever produced, the 2015 team may have a better one. There's every reason to have the highest expectations for this team. Making Super Six may have been a big deal for LSU in 2013, but they're past that now. Simply making the final, simply finishing 4th or 5th, is no longer good enough. They're in the hunt to win, and while they still have work to do to catch up with the depth of 9.9s from Florida and Oklahoma, an LSU championship is not an unrealistic or strange notion. They can do it and should at least put up a hearty challenge. Any finish worse than 3rd would be a disappointment. Welcome to the world of expectations.

The best argument in LSU's corner is that, when counting returning scores, they have the highest total in the country. The Tigers were pretty close to Florida and Oklahoma last year, and they have lost fewer valuable routines than either team. Not having Sarie Morrison on vault and bars will be an issue, but for the most part, the core is back and many of the lineups will end up looking very similar to last season. It's not a year of reinvention for LSU. It's a year of continuing on the same track and doing exactly what they did last year, only with fewer weird 9.8s at championships. Rheagan Courville and Jessie Jordan will lead the way in the all-around once again with three-event support from Ashleigh Gnat and potentially Britney Ranzy and spot contributions from Lloimincia Hall and Jessica Savona on floor. That's already a healthy pack of reliable 9.9s (probably about ten of them) from returning standouts, but we should also expect to see impressive moments from the freshmen Erin Macadaeg and Myia Hambrick. Both can contribute on multiple events, but most importantly, they should provide options on beam to beef up the depth on one of the team's traditional weaknesses that can't (and shouldn't) be one anymore.


Returning lineup — Rheagan Courville (9.940), Jessie Jordan (9.915), Ashleigh Gnat (9.890), Britney Ranzy (9.870)

LSU has a powerhouse reputation for a reason. When they're good, vault is usually why, and the last few seasons have been no exception. The Tigers finished the regular season ranked #1 on vault in 2014, which makes it easy to say, "Yes. LSU. Vault. Next." but it's important not to take events for granted. Evidence for that comes from the last two postseasons, where LSU's vaulting has been only OK and not as strong as it needs to be. You're LSU. Why is anyone vaulting a 9.825? Pull it together.

This year, LSU will once again be among the best vaulting teams and will receive plenty of those coveted 49.500s. Still, keep an eye on the depth because this is not a hugely huge group where 9.9s are popping out of every seam. The team has a few definite standouts who can get 9.950s, but those standouts will be relied upon to deliver each week. Rheagan Courville usually lands her yurchenko full somewhere in Texas. She has the best distance in the game, coupled with clean form, so her score usually comes down solely to landing control. She'll be in it for 10s. Ashleigh Gnat is extremely powerful, which we know because her 1.5 is way too easy. She finishes that vault crazy early, so we should expect control on landings. Jessie Jordan tends to compete early in the lineup, but her full is also top class and worthy of 9.9s, which it would probably get more often if she were later in the lineup. Britney Ranzy was in the Olympic mix in 2008 because of her vaulting, and I was pleased to her finally make the lineup full-time last year. The previous year it was more, how is LSU so good at vault that they don't even need to use Britney Ranzy?

Speaking of people finally making it into the vault lineup, have we just given up on Savona vaulting for this team? She was great at it once upon a time. Oh well. In the rest of the lineup, Hall is always an option (but probably for 9.825s) and transfer Scarlett Williams can provide a y1/2 for 9.850, but we could—should?—see the freshmen Macadaeg and Hambrick round out the competing six. Both have solid form and competitive height and distance and should live up to the expectations we have for LSU's vaulting. Without Morrison and Dickson (both of whom had RQSs of 9.9+), there's a chance for some regression from last season depending on how the freshmen perform, but if Courville and Gnat are doing their thing, it shouldn't be too much of a problem.

December 28, 2014

#4 Alabama Preview

Recent History
The history of recent championships is pretty rosy for Alabama. Save for a couple rough finishes in 2007 and 2008, the Tide have put up a legitimate challenge for the title every year, ultimately succeeding in 2011 and 2012 when they went back-to-back to claim the program's fifth and six national titles overall. Since then, Alabama has remained right in the middle of the championship fight. They placed 3rd in 2013 and 4th at home in 2014, but it's easy to forget that if not for crucial mistakes on beam, Alabama could be the four-time defending champion. In each of the last two Super Sixes, they had it. Counting a 9.625 on beam put them behind Florida in 2013, and last year, they needed just 9.900 from Clark and Jacob in the last two spots to jump ahead of the Florida/Oklahoma tie, which was pretty realistic. It didn't happen.

2015 Outlook
Now, we enter a new era in Alabama gymnastics. Sarah Patterson is gone, and the identity of the Duckworth reign is yet to be defined. It will be a different Alabama this year. There are always changes when a new coach takes over, even if that coach was with the team already, but the most important contributor to Alabama's 2015 evolution will not be the coaching change but the roster turnover. Kim Jacob, Diandra Milliner, and Sarah DeMeo accounted for 3 routines on vault, beam, and floor, and 2 on bars, many of which were 9.9s and the rest were all-but-guaranteed 9.850s. Without those three, Alabama will be putting up be a lot of new-look lineups, and it's reasonable to expect some drop in quality from last season. 

That drop puts Alabama down below the current big three (Florida, Oklahoma, and LSU), the three teams with the clearest, most believable chance to win the championship this year. Still, I kept Alabama at #4 in my rankings, and the coaches did the same, because enough consistent talent, routine options, and supporting 9.875s remain on this team to consider them one of the safer bets to make Super Six. In spite of the lost routines, they still have 7 scores of 9.900+ returning from last year's Super Six performance, which is a very solid foundation that none of the teams ranked below them can match. 

Much like Michigan, a team that has also lost a small village worth of routines, Alabama's success will depend on key returning competitors like Lauren Beers and Katie Bailey transitioning from supporting players (mid-lineup, good job getting that 9.850) to lineup leaders who are expected to get 9.9s every time out. 


Returning lineup — Lauren Beers (9.930), Kaitlyn Clark (9.890), Katie Bailey (9.860)

When was the last time Alabama competed vault without Diandra Milliner in the anchor position? She held that spot from the very first meet of her freshman year (and got a 9.900), and it will be slightly strange to see the Tide vault without her 1.5 at the end. Yet in spite of losing the scoring potential of that vault, Alabama shouldn't suffer a major hit on this event because, for some reason, I think Kayla Williams will be able to manage a few 9.950s of her own. Just a world vault champion. You know, no big deal. Having Williams back from injury, whether she's vaulting her massive 1.5 or the full we know she can stick like crazy, will play a significant role in maintaining the quality from last year.

Alabama is sort of like a vaulting hydra. Cut off a 1.5 from Milliner and three more grow in its place. Freshmen Mackenzie Brannan and Nickie Guerrero both have 1.5s of competitive quality that can legitimately make the transition to NCAA. They're powerful options who should contribute right away. Really, Williams should go into Milliner's spot, Brannan and Guerrero should go into Jacob and DeMeo's spots, and we call it a day. Done. 49.500s. Beers and Clark both slam down their fulls for regular 9.9s, and Bailey proved clean enough and showed enough distance on her y1/2 last season that she kept pace with the rest of the team while performing a half twist less. This should be a strong event for Alabama, and because there are question marks on other events, it will be that much more important for Alabama to stock up on 49.5s here. 

December 26, 2014

#5 UCLA Preview

Recent History
In 2010, UCLA managed to shake off two years of consecutive heartbreaking finishes to win the national championship on the strength of Anna Li/Vanessa Zamarripa/Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs/Brittani McCullough brilliance. In the following years, UCLA remained right in the hunt, finishing in 2nd in 2011, 3rd in 2012, and an ultimately surprising 4th at home in 2013 for a team that didn't seem to be as competitive as the previous ones. Still, UCLA's trajectory has been a descent ever since that championship, getting by on fewer and fewer 9.9s each year, and the descent finally caught up to them last season when they missed Super Six for the first time since 2009 and finished a disappointing 8th after a flat performance in the semifinals.

2015 Outlook
What are we going to do with UCLA this year? I don't really know why, but whenever I start thinking too much about UCLA, I get "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" stuck in my head. Oh, UCLA. How do you keep a wave upon the sand? I have great affection for this team and always love watching them, but no school in NCAA gymnastics is more frustrating.

The Bruins are consistently one of the least predictable teams, both in their scores (will this week be a 197 or a 194?) and in their last-minute lineup changes that I swear are just designed to make the TV people furious and confuse Amanda Borden, which I respect. Judging by this roster, it's going to be another one of those pull-your-hair-out 194/197 seasons because so much of UCLA's potential success is dependent on the precarious health of a few stars. Sam Peszek's feet are hanging on by a sinew at this point in her career, and she will have to be rested and managed all year to make sure she has another full season of hard landings in her. Peng Peng Lee hasn't performed a competition routine in 2.5 years because of the ACL trauma. Those two, along with Danusia Francis, can be three of the very best, most exciting gymnasts in NCAA. They evoke the quality of UCLA championship teams of years past. If all three are in form at the end of the year, Super Six should be attainable if not expected, but if they're not, it's going to be hard to find a lot of 9.9s elsewhere.

At least as of right now. Factor #2 for UCLA's hopes of excellence will be the sophomore class. With Jenny Pinches spending last year working to come back from being retired, Hallie Mossett and Mikaela Gerber returning from/dealing with constant injuries, and Angi Cipra getting injured in the middle of the season, no member of that class has lived up her potential yet. There's greatness in there, there are 9.9s in there, but we haven't seen that. This class needs to arrive, especially if the Peszek/Lee/Francis trio can't be out there dominating each week.

Something that should help the Bruins in 2015 is the sheer size of this team. They have a bunch of new freshmen walking on to contribute in certain places (called vault), and the increased number of routines should alleviate some of the depth problems that have plagued them recently.


Returning lineup — Sam Peszek (9.885), Sadiqua Bynum (9.880), Hallie Mossett (9.795), Jenny Pinches (9.770)

It hasn't been good. It just hasn't. UCLA was able to get by on vault last season primarily because of strong anchor scores from Courtney and Peszek that saved the rotation, but they often were only able to save the rotation for 49.2s. The Bruins need to be better than that this year for any chance to contend, which is the major reason for this cavalcade of vaulting walk-ons. They needed vaulters, and they went out and got them. The lineup should be reinvented this season. Expect to see a lot of people whom we didn't see last postseason.

Among the group that we did see last postseason, Sam Peszek is the only one who should be guaranteed a spot in this year's lineup. Even with her my-feet-are-made-of-glass bouncy fake-stick, she should still get 9.9s. Beyond Peszek, vault was never considered a strength for Peng as an elite because she vaulted only a full, but it's an absolutely beautiful full. The more often UCLA feels comfortable putting her in this vault lineup, the better. Freshman Pua Hall's best event has always been vault, and they'll need her to be big for a 9.900 toward the end of the lineup this season as well. I also expect to see Angi Cipra return. She has a potentially excellent full but struggled to control her landings last season. Still, she was getting 9.850s sometimes for vaults with 0.100 steps (albeit at home), so if they can get her landings together, she should be a contributor.

In the collection of vault newbies, there's graduate transfer Jordan Williams from Arizona who always vaulted for 9.8s with solid distance. She's the kind of helpful and reliable mid-range option they were lacking last year. Janay Honest consistently placed well with her full in the JO ranks, and UCLA briefly posted a video of LaNiesha Jopre-Irvin getting some solid height.

That's not to say that the postseason returners other than Peszek won't factor this year. They will. Pinches in particular has the potential to be a great vaulter. She performed a DTY that was absolutely necessary for Team GB for a few years in there. People who had DTYs as elites should be making NCAA vault lineups, but that doesn't always happen (ask Jessica Savona). Sadiqua Bynum learned a y1/2 last year that had fairly high scoring potential (but could also be undercooked for 9.7s), and Hallie Mossett has recorded up to a 9.850. It remains to be seen how many 9.9s they can get out of this supporting group, but look how many vaulters I just named! That's a big depth improvement, which will make 49.4s more common and realistic even if a few options don't pan out. No teaching Alyssa Pritchett an emergency full in 11 seconds this year.

December 23, 2014

#6 Utah Preview

Recent History
It has been a rough last couple years for Utah. Coming off a program-worst 9th place finish in 2013, the Utes once again failed to make Super Six in 2014, finishing less than a tenth of a point behind Nebraska in 7th place. Those finishes are fine for most teams but not for a program that has been among the elite teams in the country throughout its history and basically invented being good at college gymnastics. They won all the titles in the early years, and more recently, were the second-best team in the country throughout the Georgia dynasty of the 2000s. That's the legacy this team has to live up to, which is why 7th and 9th sting that much more.

2015 Outlook
On the positive side, things are looking up for Utah in 2015. I'm more optimistic about Utah's potential performances this season than I have been in a while, and that's primarily because this team is the deepest they've put together in several seasons. The freshman class is poised not just to contribute routines but to step into areas of real weakness (hi beam!) and reinvent those lineups. They'll slot in comfortably alongside the starring routines from last season, of which nearly all are returning. (A couple from Damianova will be missed, but for the most part, the consistent 9.9s are coming back.) Georgia Dabritz and Corrie Lothrop will once again lead the way, and Tory Wilson has been a stalwart option in the AA when desperately needed these last couple years. In the final season of eligibility for all three of those gymnasts, the pressure is on Utah to produce something this time around while they still have access to all those 9.9s.

In each of the last two seasons, Utah has hung around the cusp of the top 6 throughout the year. Right now, they're still in that area, but I would put them comfortably in the top half of that Utah, Alabama, Georgia, UCLA, Stanford, Nebraska group that will all be clawing at each other to make Super Six. For Utah, it's not just that they should make it back to Super Six; it's that they need to. This roster is good enough to do it, and three straight years of missing Super Six is not acceptable for Utah gymnastics.


Returning lineup — Kailah Delaney (9.945), Tory Wilson (9.945), Georgia Dabritz (9.925), Becky Tutka (9.850)

Utah should feel very comfortable with the options on vault this year. The big three of Dabritz, Delaney, and Wilson are all back and should be their usual 9.9+ selves this season to make 49.5s a very realistic expectation. Once again, Utah should be vaulting right up there with the best teams. Of the big three, Dabritz had the lowest RQS last season (low at 9.925) as a result of some experimentation with the 1.5 for steppy landings, but she is the strongest vaulter on the team when taking into account her stickitude. Once the postseason rolled around last year, she was the only one in the lineup sticking her vault. That brings up the one real concern about Utah's vaulting recently, the deterioration of landings as April approaches. Suddenly at championships, those 49.5s become 49.3s, and they can't afford that again this year.

Dabritz showed both the 1.5 and the full at the Red Rocks Preview, and while I expect we'll see both again this year at times, the full is the savvier, if less interesting, choice. I always love to see 1.5s, but she's more likely to stick the full and more likely to get better scores for it. When it gets down to it, composition succumbs to pragmatism.

Beyond those top three vaulters, Utah should get an upgrade in the opening three positions this year along with more competition for those spots. In the preview, Kari Lee, Samantha Partyka, and Tiffani Lewis showed the makings of very strong fulls with the height and form both to score competitively and to ensure there's less of a quality gap this season between the first three and the final three. I would be very happy to see triple freshmen in the first three lineup spots. If you'd like something with a little more seasoning, might I interested you in a Corrie Lothrop? She's coming back to the all-around this year and has vaulted for solid scores in the past, but there's also Becky Tutka, who competed last season for 9.850s and could do so again if she gets healthy, and Breanna Hughes, who interestingly showed an OK 1.5 in the preview. When Hughes arrived at Utah, she was supposed to be a vaulter. She had a great 1.5 in JO, and I'm surprised we've heard so little from her on vault until now. That will be a vault to watch (and a good possible option for my favorite thing—leading off vault with difficulty), and as a whole Utah should be among the top four vault teams once again this season.

December 22, 2014

#7 Georgia Preview

Recent History
Georgia's recent history has been the tale of three eras. The Suzanne era concluded with that preposterous run of five consecutive championships, finishing in 2009 and giving Georgia a legacy of winning that will hang over the head of every coach to follow like an anvil waiting to drop. That anvil dropped on Jay Clark after three straight years of missing out on Super Six and under-performing the talent of his roster, and now Danna Durante enters her third season in charge having led the Gym Dogs back to Super Six in her first two seasons. Last year's 5th-place finish was the strongest for the team since the last title in 2009.

2015 Outlook

Georgia has been on an upward trajectory ever since the doom in 2010 when they missed nationals, but now the question is whether that trajectory can continue and how high they can go. For 2015, it will be challenging to improve on last year's finish in a meaningful way given the quality of teams at the very top and the natural ebb and flow of routines (including the serious and profound lack of Lindsey Cheek this season), but maintaining the results from the last few seasons seems doable. Georgia finished 6th in 2013 and 5th and 2014, and fighting it out with the Pac-12 teams for those Super Six spots in 2015 as well is a realistic outlook.

Once again this year, Georgia will not be dependent on one or two big AAers who dominate rotations with 9.9s at the end of every lineup. A few people can and will do the all-around—in particular it would be nice to see Brittany Rogers get back there, but Georgia's success will rely much more on gymnasts who can be the big star on two events. To put it in the most irritatingly cliched way positive, it will be a real team effort this season. The positive is that they're probably less susceptible to being totally devastated by a key injury, but it also means that a number of gymnasts have to be in form at the same time for them to be as successful as they need to be. There's no one big lineup savior.


Returning lineup — Brandie Jay (9.910 RQS), Brittany Rogers (9.885), Chelsea Davis (9.880), Ashlyn Broussard (9.795), Morgan Reynolds (no RQS) 

Georgia's vault should be in acceptable shape this season because of the exceptional quality at the back of the lineup. Brittany Rogers still needs to come back, but once she does, she and Brandie Jay both have 1.5s that regularly score 9.900, with 9.950 a fairly likely outcome depending on the landing/arena. Those two can keep pace with any team. In some of the preseason videos, Jay appeared to be training an Omelianchik all of a sudden. The 1.5 is the better option for her, so I'm glad they've been able to bring that vault back recently even after the trauma of the accidental DTY last year. I'm still not really sure what happened there. Nor is anyone. 

Because of Jay and Rogers, Georgia is 49.4-capable on vault, but that will depend on developing depth and finding the supporting scores so that those two don't have to do all the work. To hang with the top teams, the Gym Dogs probably need to add one more 9.900 and then a couple more 9.850s in the early spots. In spite of Lauren Johnson being out, there should still be some options once various people return from their minor injuries and issues. Chelsea Davis has a very clean, secure vault and has excelled for Georgia early in the order for the last three years. It may be time for a promotion so that she's less likely to get stuck with some dumb 9.825 (like for the above routine) that they can't afford. The freshmen Gigi Marino and Natalie Vaculik will be possibilities, Ashlyn Broussard and Kiera Brown have been vaulting so far in preseason, and Morgan Reynolds also vaulted for 9.775s in the leadoff spot at the end of last year. The gymnasts exist, but they still need to prove they can get 9.850-9.875s and not just meh 9.800s. We'll see. Most teams are trying to find 9.9s on events. Georgia has the 9.9s. It's the rest of the routines that they need to take care of.

December 21, 2014

#8 Michigan Preview

Recent History
Last year, Michigan finished an OK, if somewhat disappointing, 9th. They qualified comfortably to championships but failed to put up a major challenge for a Super Six spot. While Michigan was not one of the seeded favorites to advance, they (like Stanford) will have kicked themselves for not taking advantage of the upset opportunity sitting in from of them. The Wolverines ended up needing just a 49.050 on beam to make Super Six, but that didn't really happen.

Michigan has spent the last few seasons right in the mix around the 7-9 area in the rankings, which is just where the coaches have ranked them this year. Their best recent season came in 2011, Kylie Botterman's senior year, when they qualified to Super Six for the first time since the Elise Ray years, but that excellent performance was followed by a low point the next year when a combination of graduations and injuries left them ranked in the 20s for most of the season and unable to challenge. 

2015 Outlook
Given the roster situation this year, with all those essential routines from last year lost and a few key players recovering from injury and yet currently ready to compete, you would be forgiven for having some 2012 flashbacks. The scenarios are somewhat similar, but even though it will be a tough season for Michigan, I'm not putting them down in the 20s. This team should be able to compete, and given what we've seen so far in the preseason and in past performances, I'd still pick them to make it to nationals without hesitation. Super Six will be a very tough ask, but that's probably hypocritical of me to say since I was optimistic about Stanford even though they currently have -3 healthy gymnasts. Michigan has enough people to make lineups right now, and that's a start. 

One concern for Michigan (and one major difference between Michigan and some of the other teams ranked similarly in the preseason poll) is the number of 9.9s in these lineups. Most of the 9.9s from last season aren't here anymore, and the pressure will be on returning gymnasts to score 9.9s for routines that haven't regularly received 9.9s before. In particular, it will be down to Sachi Sugiyama and Nicole Artz to transform from early-lineup supporting players into anchoring stars.


(Beautiful vault, but let's talk about how one judge gave it a 10. False.)

Returning lineup — Austin Sheppard (9.945), Sachi Sugiyama, (9.870), Talia Chiarelli (9.815), Nicole Artz (no RQS)

Without question, Austin Sheppard is the star vaulter on this team. She was one of the strongest vaulters in the country last season and has done everything except get a 10 on this event. She's the 9.975 queen—usually more deserved than in the video above. Getting Sheppard healthy and back into the vault lineup is essential. I don't see the rest of the team getting much more than a 49.2 without her, which isn't a bad score but is at least three tenths below what the best teams will be recording. If Sheppard's usual vault comes back, Michigan will be much more competitive and much more capable of challenging for 49.3+ (or absorbing an early 9.7 if necessary).

Sugiyama and her 1.5 will be similarly critical. I really liked the idea of putting Sugiyama in the leadoff position last year (early-lineup difficulty is my favorite—it's harder to underscore difficulty and it also has the potential to push up the scores of cleaner, easier routines to follow), but without Sampson and Beilstein this season, Sugiyama's vault is so much more important than it was last year. Michigan in 2015 doesn't have the luxury of putting her in the leadoff spot. She needs to be deep in the lineup getting 9.9s.

A couple more strong scores will need to join them, and Nicole Artz and Talia Chiarelli are the most likely candidates. Chiarelli was getting a lot of 9.800s and 9.850s last year, which is fine, but not the Brestyan's vaulting she can produce. When you're a Brestyan's gymnast, your vault needs punch everyone else in the face every time. I need to be punched in the face this season. There are a few other 9.7ish options for the remaining spots in Brooke Parker and Briley Casanova, but a couple of the freshmen should see time here as well. Vault is not Brianna Brown's best event, but she can work a full, and Ilana Gordon could be a factor as well. I do anticipate a couple early-lineup lower scores this year, so it will be down to the big anchor vaults to lift up the total.

December 20, 2014

Fantasy Gymnastics Time

First things first, if you're not already doing college fantasy gymnastics (and enjoy that kind of thing), you should do it. I played last year and did . . . fine. My major weaknesses were everything, particularly that my beam lineup consisted of two people who could be relied upon to hit well, a couple others who were really happy to get a 9.700, several tumbleweeds, and a box of garbage. It didn't go beautifully.

This year I plan on making the exact same mistakes and having a grand old time doing it. Really, the best part of fantasy gymnastics is making fun of how terribly your team is doing. I've been working on drafting my team and ranking my possible selections today (I'm almost up to the full 150 gymnasts, but I better not get some of these people), and I thought I'd share my rankings and my overthinking process. If you're playing, feel free to do the same. We can all make fun of each other together this year!

My draft:
  1. Bridget Sloan
  2. Rheagan Courville
  3. Kytra Hunter
  4. Samantha Peszek
  5. Lindsay Mable
  6. Georgia Dabritz
  7. Chayse Capps
  8. Haley Scaman
  9. Jessie Jordan
  10. Jessie DeZiel
  11. Brenna Dowell
  12. Kennedy Baker
  13. Bridgette Caquatto
  14. Alex McMurtry
  15. Kara Lovan
  16. Ivana Hong
  17. Christine Peng-Peng Lee
  18. Elizabeth Price
  19. Caitlin Atkinson
  20. Danusia Francis
  21. Kristina Vaculik
  22. Grace Williams
  23. Mackenzie Brannan
  24. Brittany Rogers
  25. Tory Wilson
  26. Brandie Jay
  27. Ashleigh Gnat
  28. Hollie Blanske
  29. Ciera Perkins
  30. Katie Bailey
  31. Nicole Artz
  32. Corrie Lothrop
  33. Madeline Gardiner
  34. Kaitlyn Clark
  35. Kayla Williams
  36. Maile'ana Kanewa
  37. Lauren Beers
  38. Sachi Sugiyama
  39. Brittni Watkins
  40. Kari Lee
  41. Abigail Milliet
  42. Chelsea Davis
  43. Amanda Wellick
  44. Chelsea Tang
  45. Kamerin Moore
  46. Natalie Vaculik
  47. Kaytianna McMillan
  48. Jennifer Pinches
  49. Shelby Edwards
  50. Kiera Brown
  51. Keeley Kmieciak
  52. Erin Macadaeg
  53. Rebecca Clark
  54. Taylor Harrison
  55. Vivi Babalis
  56. Toni-Ann Williams
  57. MJ Rott
  58. Austin Sheppard
  59. Jennie Laeng
  60. Brianna Brown
  61. Talia Chiarelli
  62. Lloimincia Hall
  63. Braie Speed
  64. Becky Tutka
  65. Kailah Delaney
  66. Taylor Rice
  67. Baely Rowe
  68. McKenzie Wofford
  69. Claire Boyce
  70. Aja Sims
  71. Rachel Spicer
  72. Giana O'Connor
  73. Risa Perez
  74. Bri Guy
  75. Angi Cipra
Am I pretending that all of this makes sense? No. But it's what I have right now. This is the part that I've thought about. After #75, it's just "I've heard of you/You got a 9.850 once that I remember."

  • Everyone plus a thousand other people will be putting Bridget Sloan first, so it would be a smart strategy to select someone else as #1 because you would be more likely to get her. I have not done that.

December 18, 2014

#9 Nebraska Preview

Recent History
Nebraska scored the upset of the championship last season, using a 9.900-athon on beam to zoom past both UCLA and Utah and qualify to Super Six. Several counting errors in the final saw the Huskers fall well behind the top teams, but making it there was the victory. It was Nebraska's first Super Six showing since 2011, when senior Erin Davis led them safely through the error-ridden catastrophe that was the second semifinal. Since a rough patch in the late 2000s, culminating in missing out on their home championships, Nebraska has qualified for championships four of the last five years, though the memory of that three-event regional meltdown in 2013 still lingers.

2015 Outlook
Nebraska came into championships as the #9 team last year, but in spite of making Super Six, they appear to have made no progress in the eyes of the coaches, remaining right at #9 in this year's preseason poll. It makes sense. It's hard to expect a Super Six surprise two years in a row when so many similar-quality teams are improving over last year. I also have Nebraska at #9, but I don't feel good about it, especially because in spite of losing Emily Wong, there's a very good chance that they too will be better in 2015 than in 2014.

Jessie DeZiel and Hollie Blanske look to be the AA backbone of the team among the returning competitors (if you're looking for a good fantasy gym AA option that not everyone is picking, I'd recommend Blankse), and a good deal of last year's solid supporting cast of 9.850s is either returning or coming back from injury as well. That will give Nebraska more depth than we usually expect and should end up providing a larger margin for new injuries than teams like Stanford, Michigan, and UCLA will have, which could be decisive. The Huskers are one of the more mysterious teams because they don't get a lot of meet exposure and don't produce a lot of preseason media (a big reason why it's always kind of a surprise when they're good), but they're an easy bet to return to championships this year. And if freshmen Grace Williams and Kamerin Moore are able to use their combined powers to replace those Wong scores, Super Six is reasonable and would come as less of a surprise than last year.  


Returning lineup — Jessie DeZiel (9.935 RQS), Hollie Blanske (9.885), Ariel Martin (9.865), Desire' Stephens (9.850), Jennie Laeng (no RQS)

Nebraska can vault. We know that. Their blocks are consistently among the best in the country, and we regularly see Nebraska gymnasts that seemingly have no business in a vault lineup ultimately developing into integral high-scoring vaulters. That's why even though last postseason was a roaring success for Nebraska, those vault scores in the 49.2s were a letdown. I expected them to be a couple tenths better than that, especially coming off a 2013 season that ended in disappointment but also ended with some back-to-back-to-back insane 9.950 vaults, many from gymnasts who returned in 2014. 

Vault is one of the events where Nebraska should have a surplus of 9.825-9.850s this year, with likely early-mid lineup options from Martin, Laeng, Stephens, and possibly Ashley Lambert (who missed the end of last season but is, I believe, indestructible). The freshmen Williams and Moore both bring solid, respectable, regular yurchenko fulls that I expect to develop at Nebraska, Danielle Breen has a clean enough yhalf, and DeZiel and Blanske should return to the deeper lineup spots. DeZiel is the one vital competition who can definitely be relied upon for those essential 9.950s to keep pace with the big guns. Nine vaulters and a bunch of 9.850s may not sound like a big deal, but coming off multiple seasons where Nebraska has been able to put up only five vaulters in multiple meets, it is.

December 15, 2014

#10 Stanford Preview

Recent History
Stanford's recent results have been very much a mixed bag, the mixed-est of mixed bags. Since those very strong teams of 2007 and 2008 (the Tabitha Yim, Liz Tricase, Carly Janiga years), each year the Cardinal either finish a surprising and admirable 4th that few predicted (2010, 2012) or disappoint, missing Nationals entirely in 2011, suffering the Ivana Hong injury and limping to a semifinal 194 in 2013, or recording last year's fine but tepid semifinal 196.600 (with 49.025s on vault and floor) that whiffed at a legitimate opportunity to take advantage of an off day from LSU.

2015 Outlook
At its healthy ideal, this year's team appears closer to 4th place than a whiff and would seem under-ranked at #10. The roster should be emboldened by Ivana Hong's return after a long injury layoff and the introduction of Elizabeth Price, who is still one of the top all-arounders in the world and is the most impressive freshman in this year's national incoming class. They're the boost this team needs, and with many of the routines from last season returning, the amount of Hong and Price contribution will largely dictate how much Stanford can improve on that 9th-place finish from last year.

As usual, don't be surprised by some January and February 195s, especially as Price comes back from whatever foot-adjacent issue she has been dealing with, but in the end, Super Six is a realistic expectation for this roster. Anything less than that would be a disappointing finish. That's especially true because several significant gymnasts, namely Kristina Vaculik, are in their final year of eligibility. It's going to be harder in 2016 than it will be 2015. This is the year, at least until those other they're-going-to-Stanford-but-no-one's-saying-it elites arrive.


Returning lineup — Nicolette McNair (9.910 RQS), Rachel Daum (9.870), Kristina Vaculik (9.870), Taylor Rice (9.835), Danielle McNair (9.830), Melissa Chuang (9.825)

Stanford managed to put together a fairly competitive vault lineup last season, finishing 9th in the nation with an RQS of 49.325. They did, however, falter in the postseason with way too many 9.800s and 9.825s. One or two of those scores is OK this year, but it can't be the entire lineup if they expect to make those Super Six dreams come true. The good news is that all six postseason vaults from last year are returning, so there's no reason to expect regression and every reason to expect improvement. No, that's not the good news. The actual good news is Elizabeth Price. Because obviously.

Last year, Stanford's biggest problem on vault was the lack that one stellar routine, the 9.950 that can erase some wonky landings early in the lineup. They recorded zero 9.950s on vault all year, so there was rarely a margin for any bouncy landings. Price can be that stellar vaulter when healthy, and she and Nicolette McNair should be a competitive top duo for 9.9s. If the rest of the team can cobble together at least three more consistently 9.850 vaults, they should have a solid baseline from which to work toward 49.350s. That will keep them competitive enough so that they can shine on bars and beam. It's not going to be the biggest, baddest vault lineup from top to bottom, but it doesn't need to be a weakness this year. The rest of the returning vaulters should fight it out for the remaining spots, with Daum and Vaculik seeming the most likely given their performances last year, and Danielle McNair bringing the difficulty with her y1.5 for 9.825.

We all know Ivana Hong has an excellent yfull that can score a 9.900 as well, but in a career with two ACL tears suffered on vault, I wouldn't count on anything . . . Just give us a lovely bars and beam, and we have no right to ask for anything more.

December 13, 2014

2015 Preseason Coaches Poll and Commentary

Once again, the NCAA coaches have made their selections in the year's preseason poll because "But mom, all the other sports get to do it!" That also means it's my turn to take the poll way more seriously than is intended or healthy.

-The coaches aren't really going through and dissecting all the other teams and what routines they'll be putting up this year, so selections are usually based on last year's results, reputation, friendship, and how much gin is within reaching distance. (Unfortunately, the coaches weren't that drunk this year. It sort of makes sense. Sort of.)

-I'm with them on the top 3, as I think pretty much everyone would be. I too would place Florida just ahead of Oklahoma because, even though Florida has lost a few more significant scores than Oklahoma, they're also bringing in a stronger freshman class. Still, there's very, very little between the teams as it stands now—it's basically a dead heat until we see competition routines—so it's interesting that more than twice as many coaches gave Florida a first-place vote than Oklahoma. Oklahoma gets less exposure than Florida and isn't in a gymnastics power conference, and in spite of winning the co-title last season, is still fighting that reputation battle to some extent.

December 10, 2014

The Latest from Training (and Talking)

In verbal news, earlier this week Jazmyn Foberg and Laurie Hernandez of MG Elite both verbaled to Florida, because so is everyone. They're not set to start competing for Florida until 2019 (which is like 2230 as far as I'm concerned), and so much can happen between now and then, but it's worth noting that the Florida elite pipeline is just getting stronger.


Michigan held a scored exhibition last weekend. Gymnastike has a whole mess of videos if you're into that kind of thing. 
There's no need to pay attention to the actual scores because it's the beginning of December, but having just 7 people making the top 6 right now reinforces the importance of those few top-level AAers like Sugiyama and Artz and how much the team will be relying on Brianna Brown right away. Her bars routine still needs some cleaning up but stands out as one with major scoring potential because of her release amplitude. Also note that they were missing Lauren Marinez with injury and Austin Sheppard with continued recovery (?).        


December 6, 2014

Returning Scores for 2015

Yesterday, the Oklahoma Sooners got all intrasquady and have posted a few videos to faceplace. At the very least, it appears we will have to change Chayse Capps Love Fest 2014 to Chayse Capps Love Fest 2015. Also Haley Scaman is getting really familiar with the floor this year.

In other news, while we wait for the coaches to release their annual and extremely meaningful poll so that we can spend a week making fun of it, I decided to check out how the top teams stack up based only on the scores they're returning from their postseason lineups last season. Because why not. 

For each of the top 10 teams last season, I inserted the RQSs of the returning gymnasts back into the lineups on each event, then replaced all the lost scores from now-departed seniors with 9.800, dropping the lowest score as we always do. I chose 9.800 because for teams of the highest level, it is the baseline replacement-level score. They all should be able to come up with at least 9.800s from backups. It's a fine, regular, middle-of-the-road score.

Ranking the teams like this is a way of seeing how much scoring value each team has lost since last year. We can always say that one team lost 10 routines while another lost only 4, but that doesn't necessarily reflect the value of those individual routines. If a team is losing a bunch of routines, but they're mostly 9.825s, it's probably not that hard to replace those scores. If a team is losing a few routines, but they're 9.950s, that's going to be much harder. Inserting 9.800 in place of those scores illuminates how much scoring value the freshmen, injury returners, and backups from last season will have to contribute for the team to return to (or improve on) last year's level, not just how many lineup spots they'll have to fill.

For gymnasts without an RQS, or one that was not appropriately representative, I used the season average for hit routines, which best mimics what RQS is intended to tell us.

1. LSU – 197.725
Vault - 49.475 [2]
Bars - 49.320 [5]
Beam - 49.375 [1]
Floor - 49.555 [1]

2. OKLAHOMA - 197.650
Vault - 49.530 [1]
Bars - 49.353 [3]
Beam - 49.329 [2]
Floor - 49.438 [3]

3. FLORIDA - 197.600
Vault - 49.390 [4]
Bars - 49.360 [2]
Beam - 49.325 [3]
Floor - 49.525 [2]

-A clear top three emerges in LSU, Oklahoma, and Florida, which is not surprising. Along with Alabama, they were the top teams last season, and Alabama lost a big bag of essential routines.

-Of these three, Florida is taking the biggest knock this year without Caquatto and Johnson, but the Gators will balance that out by having the year's most impressive freshman class. It does means that among these teams, Florida needs to get the most out of its freshmen and returning backups, whereas LSU is returning its entire floor lineup from Super Six last year, so further contribution there would just be a bonus.

-LSU is retaining the most value of any team, but that bars ranking (5th of these 10 teams) reflects the dire lack of Sarie Morrison. The other low(ish) team ranking in this group is Florida's vault, with the 4th-best returning vault contingent, but they do look to be stronger there is season than last season with Kennedy Baker and Alex McMurtry coming in.

-Oklahoma is already returning the best vault scores, and now they're adding Brenna Dowell and Ali Jackson. So there's that. Interestingly, without Taylor Spears, Oklahoma drops below LSU on beam for its returning scores, but make no mistake, the Sooners won't be throwing up some measly replacement-level 9.800 in that lineup.

December 2, 2014

December Intrasquad Explosion

It's December, time for many teams to unveil their routines at various preseason showcases and intrasquads and fan events. A few teams went early this year (Nebraska, Oregon State, and Auburn among them), but most of the intrasquads will be happening over the next week or two.

Auburn provided a short highlight video of Jeff Graba telling us about their glorified practice. I'm excited about Auburn this year. They disappointed at Regionals last season, but they're my underdog pick for 2015. I wouldn't be surprised by a top 10 ranking.

Also, Oregon State has taken to calling its team the "Gym Beavers," and it's not OK.

Here's the schedule of upcoming events. Utah always streams the Red Rocks Preview, and Michigan's exhibition will be streamed on BTN2Go if you have access.

Time listed are local because they're basically of no use to you unless you plan on attending, in which case I'm assuming you're in the local time zone. If any of you decide to attend any of these, comments about your impressions are welcome.

Friday, December 5th
6:00 CT - Oklahoma Intrasquad
7:00 ET - Central Michigan Intrasquad
7:00 MT - Southern Utah Red vs. White Intrasquad

Saturday, December 6th
11:00 CT - Iowa Black and Gold Intrasquad
2:00 ET - Kent State @ Pittsburgh Exhibition

Sunday, December 7th
2:00 ET - Eastern Michigan @ Michigan Exhibition
2:00 CT - Illinois Orange and Blue Meet

Thursday, December 11th
Florida Intrasquad

Friday, December 12th
7:00 ET - Penn State Blue and White Showcase
7:00 ET - Maryland Red vs. Black Intrasquad
7:00 MT - Utah Red Rocks Preview

Saturday, December 13th 
4:00 ET - New Hampshire Meet the Team
6:00 MT - Denver Crimson vs. Gold Intrasquad

Sunday, December 14th
2:00 ET - Georgia Sneak Peek
1:30 PT - San Jose State @ Stanford Exhibition

Monday, December 15th
7:00 PT - Washington Purple and Gold Meet

Wednesday, December 17th
7:00 CT - LSU Gymnastics 101

Saturday, January 3rd (January 3rd?)
4:00 CT - Minnesota Intrasquad

Rounding out some training videos, Utah can always be counted on for a youtube presence, and now we have a few AA performances from recent training.

Corrie Lothrop

Baely Rowe

Georgia Dabritz

I could see Georgia Dabritz pulling a Kat Ding and suddenly becoming a beamer her senior year (especially because this is the year where they probably need her there the least), but the most interesting things here are that the Comaneci is in on bars (for now - they're such teases), and the pike full-in has been scrapped for a double arabian on floor. I'm in favor of both these developments.