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.
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.
Returning lineup — Georgia Dabritz (9.950), Corrie Lothrop (9.880), Tory Wilson (9.850), Breanna Hughes (9.850)
Last year, Utah scored very well on bars and ended up ranked 4th on the event, which I suppose is solid evidence for the power of sticking landings because I don't pretend to understand all those scores. But when you stick, good things happen. Unlike on vault, where Utah has a contingent of top performers, bars is really all about Georgia Dabritz. She has received 10s a couple times, and while there are minor form issues that the judges usually don't care so much about involving feet, she's the one with top scoring potential and 9.950 expectations. We'll need to be on Georgia Dabritz Composition Watch on bars as well because she continues to tease us with that comaneci. I hope she actually performs it this year because it gives the routine a special, unique quality to make it more memorable and 10-worthy, but I say that every year and it never happens.
Expect the rest of the returning gymnasts to figure in the lineup. Corrie Lothrop always provides a solid hit with no major issues (and she didn't even fall on her jaeger in the preview this year like she usually does), Breanna Hughes is always hanging around with hit handstands for a clean-enough 9.850, and Tory Wilson has steadied her form on bars over the last season or so to make her routine a more realistic early-lineup option. Kari Lee shows good rhythm and precise vertical handstands in her routine, Tiffani Lewis could be in the running, and Kassandra Lopez is also returning from injury this year and should certainly be in the lineup. Lopez stands out from the other competitors for Utah because she has much more height on her tkatchev and DLO dismount. Some of the other choices who will be pecking around the lineup in the 7th and 8th positions on the depth chart are missing that release amplitude. Outside of the anchor position, Utah is probably looking at a lot of 9.850s on bars this year, but if they're getting the big score from Dabritz, that can still be a competitive lineup.
Returning lineup — Corrie Lothrop (9.860), Kailah Delaney (9.840), Tory Wilson (9.825), Baely Rowe (9.810), Breanna Hughes (9.695)
Yes, Utah is returning five members from last year's beam lineup, but this season should be about throwing everything away and starting again. They'll have the luxury to do that because of the high level of performance we can expect from at least a couple of the freshmen. It's a brand new beam world. Still, Corrie Lothrop can stay. She's always good for a secure straddle-parade of a hit routine for 9.850. But everyone else is in the maybe pile because of the troubles of the last two seasons. For so many weeks last year, Utah could not buy a score higher than 9.850 on beam. Too many people had too many issues on dance elements to expect higher scores even for wobble-free routines.
Among the freshmen who will be glowing balls of light and hope for Utah on this event, Maddy Stover and Kari Lee should be essential right away. They bring revolutionary qualities like straight legs on back handsprings and hit dance elements, which will elevate the lineup. Lee may very well contend for an all-around spot, but for both of these freshmen, beam is their most important apparatus by a large margin. Of course, actually hitting routines (that old thing) will dictate which returners end up coming back into the lineup, but I'd like to see Delaney since she has a true style and presence on beam, as well as Rowe. Rowe excelled on beam in her JO career, and while she made the lineup last year, she has not yet lived up to that potential. There are still some issues with this beam group, but it should be a lot better in 2015.
After three years, I promise I'm done beating the Dabritz drum on beam. I'll just say that it would be cool if she finally made the lineup as a senior and achieved the AA success she deserves.
(It should be a thing this year that they announce Tory Wilson's name before her final pass every time.)
Returning lineup — Georgia Dabritz (9.965), Becky Tutka (9.925), Tory Wilson (9.890),
Coming into the 2015 season, floor is more of an unknown than it has been in recent years because of the number of lost routines. Utah doesn't usually have trouble filling floor lineups, but there is work to be done this time around. Dabritz will obviously be the major scoring threat, and Tory Wilson and her DLO have been reliable for 9.875s for a few seasons now. Tutka is excellent on floor but is currently dealing with an injury, which puts that much more pressure on the rest of the team to come up with a few more competitive routines, especially right away.
Lothrop has the tumbling difficulty and was always in the floor lineup for 9.875-9.900 before her injury, so I expect her to come back and finally give a boost to floor, but beyond Lothrop, the spots are there to be earned. Partyka was excellent at floor in her JO career with a standout double arabian mount and should be useful here, Delaney has competed floor well in meets here and there over the past couple years, Lee has a triple full mount (though currently has just layouts as a middle pass), and Marsden seems to be pushing Baely Rowe in the AA this year, so we may see her as well. There's not usually a lot of mid-season experimentation in the Utah lineups, but it could be helpful on floor this year because there are some definite question mark spots that they'll need to work through and that could feature some early growing pains. Even though beam is getting a scoring infusion, Utah will still need to rely on a big floor score of 49.4+ to be successful, so they need to find a few early 9.850-9.875 routines from a mostly untested group of challengers.