June 1, 2015

2010 US Nationals, NCAA Style

We sort of know what's going to happen to former elites when they enter the NCAA ranks. Sort of. If you're crazy good, you probably shouldn't stop being crazy good all of a sudden. But there are all kinds of subcategories below crazy good that most people occupy, and when the NCAA CoP comes into play and limits what can be gained simply from mashing in the difficulty or absorbing errors, it can disrupt the previous balance of power.

The example I always use, because it's still recent (except I just realized it kind of isn't anymore) and pretty stark, is one Shayla Worley on bars. As an elite, Shayla was all about them bars. She was Duchess Tkatchev of Orlando. She made the 2007 team specifically to do bars in the team final (and floor, but mostly bars), and when we all agreed to pretend like the 2008 team selection came down to finding a bars worker to be the 6th member of the team, she seemed right in the hunt. 

In spite of her pedigree and accomplishments, however, Shayla's bars never became a major NCAA routine, mostly because of the dismount. That double front was never going to cut it in NCAA, both in the scoring department and the staying-alive department, so instead, she had to learn a DLO that never really became comfortable for her. (Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs had to do the same thing at around the same time, and also developed a mostly troubling DLO that was the primary culprit keeping her from weekly 9.9s). Because of that, and in spite of her clear talent on bars, Shayla was usually stuck at 9.850 instead of becoming the big fat star her elite success seemed to foretell. 

On the other side of the argument, we now have Alex McMurtry. (Not an elite, but) she was known for having a bars routine that fell clearly below the level of her other events and her top JO contemporaries. I believe in my preview of the 2015 season, I may have invoked the word "Brestyan's" when describing her bars work, which was probably overstating it a bit, but she was not expected to make an impact on bars for Florida.

(This commentary is a complete LOL now, by the way. No, she would never water down. How dare you suggest such a thing. Also note how Tim compared her gienger to Nastia's. Nastia laughed way too hard. Then immediately ran to a closet and snapped 50 pencils.)

But in the 2015 NCAA season, McMurtry managed to pull off the very rare Reverse Shayla, turning her routine from a nope into something that won Super Six. (And bested Shayla Worley's career high on bars in the process. Welcome to 2015 Super Six scoring, as we've over-discussed already.)

Florida definitely refined this routine quite a bit, but that's easier to do when you take out the hard parts. It's all about having a dismount. That's the difference between McMurtry and Shayla. Getting back that exceptional tuck full makes the whole routine. In spite of having no previous reputation for success on bars, this routine becomes a winner because of one vital, excellent skill. (And exposes some of the holes in the CoP, but holes exist to be exploited.) Get to NCAA, and the balance of power changes. An 8.9 in JO ends up with a better career high than a Worlds TF competitor.

Which is to say, we don't always know what will happen. Part of the joy of watching gymnasts move from elite/L10 into NCAA is in seeing how expectations shift, quality and stature evolve, and previous hierarchies are abolished. It happens all the time, and it can be fun to go back and compare how things stacked up in elite gymnastics compared to how they eventually played out in NCAA. (I should note at this time that I don't know what fun is.) This is the kind of rambling that the post-NCAA, pre-major-elite-events season is for.

I was just checking the standings from 2010 US Nationals, GREAT WEEKEND PLANS, and it's amusing to look back on those results knowing what we know now. Since I've already been talking about bars, I'll keep things there. These are the final rankings on bars from 2010 US Nationals, with the gymnasts who competed NCAA (excluding Whitcomb and Lee, who didn't really have NCAA careers) noted in bold.

1. Rebecca Bross
2. Cassie Whitcomb
3. Mattie Larson
4. Mackenzie Caquatto
5. Chelsea Davis
6. Morgan Smith
7. Vanessa Zamarripa
8. Sophia Lee
9. Samantha Shapiro
9. Bridgey Caquatto
11. Aly Raisman
12. Jaclyn McCartin
13. Kaitlyn Clark
14. Kytra Hunter
15. Georgia Dabritz
16. Rheagan Courville
17. Annette Miele
18. Lauren Beers
19. Brandie Jay
19. Briley Casanova

Not exactly how things stayed. Even in E score, we see Kaitlyn Clark and Rheagan Courville losing to Aly Raisman. Let's break down a few of the most interesting points in these standings.

Dabritz finished 15th out of 20. Now, that does include a fall on day one, but on day two with a hit routine, her execution score still came in clearly behind that of her future NCAA peers Chelsea Davis and Bridgey Caquatto. Bars may have been the strongest event for Dabritz as an elite, but she wasn't necessarily seen as a Sami Shapiro "she's going to destroy the world on bars once she gets to NCAA" type of elite gymnast.

2010 Nationals:

And yet, watching this routine back 5 years later, it's not at all surprising that she eventually became Georgia Dabritz in NCAA. The college gold is there with those handstands and very usable D elements. Clean up that bail, rid yourself of that problematic stalder shoot, and this is what you get, a #1-ranked bars routine: 

2015 NCAA:

Remember Kytra's bars in 2010, when everyone was like, "OMG SHE HAS TO STOP COMPETING BARS IMMEDIATELY BECAUSE MY EYES!!!!!" What was the deal with that? I know she had that mess at 2010 Classic, but this is just a perfectly fine, not-really-a-bars-gymnast kind of elite routine.

2010 Nationals:

Thankfully, sane people prevailed. You don't just throw away a Hill's hindorff, even if the whole routine isn't too elite competitive. Hindorff, bail, dismount. You're NCAA good to go.

One of the keys to Kytra's success as an AAer in NCAA gymnastics was the opportunity NCAA provided to let her pick and choose the types of elements she competed without forcing her to, you know, do a split the way she had to in elite. Beam was not really Hunter's famous event either, at least not in the way vault and floor were, but once you get rid of any skill starting with "switch" in this routine, you've got yourself a thing. 

Kytra, like, invented including a switch 1/2 that you can't do in your beam routine. She should sue for format rights or something. But let's be honest, that switch 1/2 is basically a bag of diamonds compared to some of the ones we're seeing this quad.

Kytra and Bridgey is an interesting comparison, because if you saw these two elite beam routines, which one would you guess would never see the light of day in NCAA?

Making a successful transition to top-level NCAA gymnastics isn't necessary about having a great elite routine. But you need comfortable consistent mastery of about three medium-value, D-ish elements. That's so much more valuable than being Princess Prettywobbles.

Another worthwhile comparison is that of Kytra versus Courville. Neither were bars queens as elites, hanging around the mid-low 13s, but in Kytra's case, you see the tools. Those skills, as is, have the makings of the 9.850-9.900 NCAA routine. (In spite of apparently needing to drop the event immediately, burn her grips, and never touch a bar again.) With Courville, bars was a true struggle all the way through, with those handstands, leg separations, and close catches.

2010 Nationals:

You don't watch this routine and assume the pieces for a 9.900 NCAA routine are there. Courville's eventual bars success was not a matter of paring down the elite skills and finding a composition that shows off her best qualities. It was a function of serious skill improvement, not just tweaking, once she got to NCAA, which saw her eventually zoom up the rankings into being one of the nation's very top scorers. 

Watch Courville's routine, compared to Chelsea Davis's at the same competition, and who do you think would end up being ranked better on bars in NCAA in 2015?

Not to say that Chelsea Davis wasn't awesome on bars in NCAA as well, but just as a comparison of starting point and ending point. 

As mentioned, Shapiro is a different case than these other gymnasts (all to varying degrees) because she was destined from the moment she turned a day old to make everyone weep with beauty on bars as an NCAA gymnast. From very early on, she had all the tools to be magical. But I'm highlighting her work in this competition because, um, what the hell happened to her handstands that year? 

Did she have an issue that my brain has thrown into the memory garbage? Like an auto-immune handstand disease or something?

Thankfully, we still got this.


  1. Seeing McMurtry score 9.95 for a bars routine containing (an overshoot) re-opened wounds that were just beginning to heal.

    1. The NCAA code needs to change. McMurtry's 9.95 is JUST PLAIN WRONG WRONG WRONG.

      Also, after Bridget Sloan's (gorgeous) bars? It's WRONG WRONG WRONG to make folks watch McMurtry!!!

  2. Great post! I find it fascinating to think about gymnasts like Worley and Sacramone who excelled at the Elite level, but couldn't score a 9.9 in NCAA (or stick a landing) if their life depended on it. In any other quad I think these two would've had a hard time making a World or Olympic team. The '05 - '08 quad ruined so much of elite gymnastics for me. Prior to this a wobble on balance beam or not sticking a vault or landing were big deals. Now having four or five balance checks or a major break in a beam routine is just standard procedure. This is why I think NCAA is starting to have greater and greater appeal for me. It more closely resembles the gymnastics I fell in love with as a little girl, I mean boy.

  3. Speaking as someone else who doesn't know the meaning of fun, more of this please.
    Also good grief was Shapiro robbed.

  4. What happened to Sophia Lee? I know she got injured last year at Stanford, but where was she this year?

  5. This begs the question what the hell were the judges smoking to give Sami only a 9.9? KJC raving about how exquisite that was -- b/c it was -- should mean Shapiro outpacing Dabritz and McMurtry.

    1. Shapiro's routine was crazy good, but she does land with her chest basically on her knees.