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.
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.
Returning lineup — Jessie DeZiel (9.885), Hollie Blanske (9.860), Desire' Stephens (9.815), Jennie Laeng (9.640), Amanda Lauer (no RQS)
In recent years, bars has been a strength for Nebraska with the likes of Giblin, Evenstad, Wong, and Scaffidi providing reliable 9.900 options for several seasons in a row. With Wong finishing her run last year, that group is gone now, meaning Nebraska needs a bars reboot to stay competitive. Right now, they don't have those guaranteed 9.900s. They have several options in the 9.775-9.825 range—Stephens, Laeng (who is much better than that 9.640 RQS suggests), both Lauers—but taking just the returning gymnasts into account, Nebraska is probably looking at some 49.1s on bars. DeZiel is strong here, as everywhere, and should get some 9.9s, but she can't do it all by herself. She needs a big-scoring partner or three.
The good news is that both Williams and Moore are likely contributors and will help build up the base Nebraska has on bars into something more competitive. Both gymnasts placed very well on bars in JO competitions, and both come in with the amplitude and the competitive skill set to contribute right away. Williams also brings a deltchev that I really hope sticks around. These two freshmen should be able to start the bars reboot process.
Returning lineup — Jessie DeZiel (9.870), Hollie Blanske (9.800), Amanda Lauer (9.760), Jennie Laeng (no RQS)
In contrast to bars, beam has not been a strength for Nebraska lately. Falls and random 9.650s have been the trend for several seasons, but that didn't really seem to matter once semifinals rolled around last April. The Huskers pulled out the top-scoring beam rotation of the day (by a full tenth over any other team), which I certainly didn't see coming. We all knew Wong and DeZiel could beam like crazy, but it was the emergence of Blanske and Laeng as 9.900 possibilities during the postseason that brought Nebraska's beam up to the highest level. I'm somewhat skeptical as to whether those scores are sustainable and realistic throughout the coming season, but without Emily Wong in that anchor position, they'll need to be.
If they are, Nebraska has the makings of a solid beam lineup this season, boasting more potential than they usually have entering a season in spite of losing two significant routines from Wong and Schleppenbach. DeZiel should lead the way, but Grace Williams is also a definite option on beam who has a history of competitive consistency, and Jennifer Lauer can return to the lineup this season with the hope of bringing back the 9.875s she scored in 2013. That may help offset much of what has been lost and infuse the lineup with multiple competitive mid-lineup routines they were missing last year (during the regular season).
Returning lineup — Hollie Blanske (9.885), Jessie DeZiel (9.840), Desire' Stephens (9.805), Ariel Martin (no RQS)
It's hard to decide which apparatus will feel the lack of Emily Wong the most, and while beam may seem the most likely, I'm going with floor. That triple full. But also those scores. In 10 of 14 competitions last year, Wong was the team's only 9.9+ score on floor, and in all 14, she was the team's highest scorer. All 14. That's a fairly remarkable record and one that will be tough for the Huskers to do without this season given the relative lack of 9.9s that the rest of the team was able to put up last year. Some teams at the top will be benching 9.875s, so Nebraska has work to do if they're going to avoid losing too much ground on floor.
The newbies should be able to contribute here as well if the past is any indication. They're definitely capable of putting up a couple clean D-pass routines that can slot in comfortably, but I'm waiting to see what happens in the difficulty department with them. Although, Nebraska isn't completely hurting for difficulty with DeZiel's piked full in and Blanske's tucked version, so a clean double pike of a routine may work out just fine, as long as it really is clean. Clean and simple could be enough to wrench the lineup out of 9.825 land, leg form land, and bouncy landing land where it spent a lot of last season. As on bars, the team has a solid supply of 9.8s to choose from, but I'm waiting to see where the necessary 9.9s are going to come from.