December 31, 2015

#3 Alabama Preview

Armbrecht, Abby - Freshman
Bailey, Katie - Junior - VT, UB, BB, FX
Beers, Lauren - Senior - VT, UB, BB, FX
Brannan, Mackenzie - Sophomore - VT, UB, FX (possible BB)
Bresette, Jenna - Freshman
Giancroce, Angelina - Freshman
Guerra, Ari - Freshman
Guerrero, Nickie - Sophomore - BB (possible VT)
Huang, Amanda - Freshman
Jetter, Amanda - Junior - UB, FX
Loeb, Jennie - Sophomore - N/A
McNeer, Keely - Junior - VT, UB, BB
Rickett, Avery - Freshman
Sanders, Mary Lillian - Junior - N/A
Sims, Aja - Junior - UB, BB, FX
Sims, Carley - Senior - VT, FX (possible UB, BB)
Valentin, Mackenzie - Junior - VT, FX
Winston, Kiana - Sophomore - VT, UB, BB, FX

Recent History
2015 - 4th
2014 - 4th
2013 - 3rd
2012 - 1st
2011 - 1st
2010 - 3rd

2016 Outlook
Alabama enters 2016 as an obvious Super Six pick and one of the top few contenders for the championship, a deep roster that should be able to improve on the quality of last year's team. Among the first-tier teams, that's a claim that really only Alabama can make this season, which is probably the best argument for potential glory at this point in the year. Alabama performed well in 2015, right on track with the quality we expect every year, yet was always one notch behind the very best schools. The biggest scores were just out of reach. Even though the losses of Clark and Williams put a dent in Alabama's scoring potential, between the injury comebacks of Winston and Bailey and the large class of freshman contributors, Alabama has gained more scores than lost and should be a more convincing contender for the title this time around.

Key Competitor
Kiana Winston. She's the secret weapon this year and basically counts as a bonus freshman since she wasn't able to come back fully last season. Winston was recruited to be an anchor-star for this team, so as the likes of Clark and Williams make way, it becomes more important for Winston to take up that mantle. To truly challenge Florida and Oklahoma (and not simply keep pace with last year's performances), Alabama needs an extra injection of 9.9s across three or four events that wasn't around last season, and Winston is the most likely to provide that. If she's truly back and actually healthy for five consecutive minutes, she has both the power and execution to be a top all-arounder.


I'm interested to see how vault develops for Alabama this year. Because it's Alabama and vault, the score needs to be a big deal, but the coaches have some decisions to make about difficulty. A number of people on the roster are capable of 1.5s, but Lauren Beers is coming off an offseason of surgeries and is a bit behind on vault and floor, while Mack Brannan, Nickie Guerrero, Ari Guerra, and Abby Armbrecht have all performed 1.5s in the recent past but lately have been working fulls. I'd expect to see 1.5s from at least a few of them this season, but in the case of someone like Brannan, she went down to the full last year because it was the better score. We'll have to see if the 0.05 boost changes that or if the full is the still the more prudent vault. Regardless, there's a sufficient mix of huge fulls and potential difficulty on the roster to see this as a 49.350-49.400 event again. The question is how consistently the 1.5s show up and if they help/are necessary. 

In addition to these vaulters, Carley Sims and Keely McNeer both scored well enough for their fulls last season in early lineup positions and should be able to go into the 9.8s again this year. I'd certainly add Winston to that mix along with perhaps Bresette, giving the team a healthy crop of powerful, high-amplitude options. And then there's someone like Kenzie Valentin, who was an important vaulter for Arizona but hasn't been close to getting a look for Alabama. Does having a 10.0 vault help her stock? With the cloud of difficulty looming over everyone this year and Alabama's added depth, it may be tougher this season for past vaulters like Katie Bailey to make it back. She'll be one of the choices, but it's a serious 11-12 competitor fight, which means the team should be able to pick the very best 9.850+ fulls to go along with the 1.5s that do emerge.


Given the abilities and career track record of the gymnasts on this deep roster, Alabama shouldn't really have a problem on bars this year, but as with many of the other teams across the country, Alabama has been bleeding bars 9.9s and counting a few too many 9.8s over the last year or so. Those 49.275s at nationals last year were not competitive enough, leaving at least some room for further stuck-in-the-49.2s worries this season. How much will we be missing those big, nailed Sledge/Clark/Jacob DLOs, or will the talent deliver? 

Jetter was supposed to be the next bars leader, but issues in landing that terrifying double front have rendered her more a supporting 9.850 than a scoring star, which means the duty falls to Kiana Winston this year to elevate the lineup. She has 9.9s in her, and with the official Bars Queen scepter still sitting unclaimed on its plush red pillow, the opportunity to begin her dynasty is there for the taking. Other occasional 9.9s will come from Katie Bailey and her famous full-out and Lauren Beers, who has suddenly become a bars worker late in her career and can power her way through a solid routine, though leg breaks and steps on her own double front can bring the score down. When those four have their dismounts clicking, this lineup will be strong and won't have an excuse for going under the 49.3 plateau, but I am concerned about stepping to 9.825s.

December 30, 2015

#4 Utah Preview

Delaney, Kailah - Senior - VT (possible BB, FX)
Hughes, Breanna - Senior - VT, UB (possible BB, FX)
Lange, Haley - Senior - N/A
Lee, Kari - Sophomore - VT, UB, BB, FX
Lewis, Tiffani - Sophomore - VT, UB, FX
Lopez, Kassandra - Senior - UB, BB
McNatt, Shannon - Freshman
Merrell, MaKenna - Freshman
Muhaw, Erika - Freshman
Partyka, Samantha - Sophomore - VT
Rowe, Baely - Junior - VT, UB, BB, FX
Schwab, Sabrina - Freshman
Stover, Maddy - Sophomore - BB

Recent History
2015 - 2nd
2014 - 8th
2013 - 9th
2012 - 5th
2011 - 5th
2010 - 6th

2016 Outlook
The Utes couldn't have hoped to do any better than they did at last season's Marsden farewell celebration tour when the 49.5s suddenly poured straight out of the sky, but in the cold light of an onrushing 2016, things look very different. The holes in this roster are suddenly large and everywhere. Basically, Megan and Tom have to reconstruct half a team, and by necessity, returning gymnasts will be expected to compete events they weren't making last season. That's usually a recipe for regression, so don't expect the same result as in 2015 (though no one really expected it in 2015 either).

The 2016 team we saw at the Red Rocks Preview does possess enough depth to put together competitive lineups, but without too, too many stars/stars-in-the-making, this looks like another season in which Utah will have to workmanlike-9.850 the other contending teams into submission to make it back to Super Six. That strategy has worked plenty of times before. The mission for Utah is to show more depth, constancy, and durability through whole lineups than Pac-12 peers UCLA and Stanford, who will have more 9.9s but may struggle to fill out the entire lineup with competitive scores.

Key Competitor
One underclassman who did emerge as a new bright light amidst that Dabritz/Lothrop ticker-tape parade of a 2015 season was Kari Lee. Most significantly, she brought an elevated level of extension and refinement that had been missing from the beam lineup, but she also has an exceptionally clean and stickable full on vault, a 9.900 floor routine, and a sufficiently usable bars routine that may actually be needed this year. Suddenly this season, she has become the most impressive gymnast on the roster, and she'll have to lead the charge in creating the big nest of new 9.9s Utah needs to succeed in 2016.


Vault was a tremendous strength for Utah last season, pushing the team right into the vicinity of a title with a whole host of 9.925s and controlled landings (that survived all the way to the championship instead of disappearing around February!). In 2016, however, there's more reason to question Utah's viability as a vault powerhouse because of the changes in roster and start value. Kailah Delaney is the one remaining member of the 9.950-a-trons, and while she will once again be an essential component of the lineup, her vault remains a full. That means she'll be looking at something closer to 9.875-9.900s most weeks, useful scores but not dominant scores.

The member of Utah's team who will benefit the most from the new vault values is Breanna Hughes. I remember when Hughes first arrived at Utah and I was all up in her 1.5 being a centerpiece of the vault lineup. That never happened even a little, but it has always been a solid vault and one that she stuck in the RRP. This is finally her year to become a vaulter. The coaches should put her difficulty 5th with Delaney 6th to push that Delaney score up as much as possible. Note that you're going to get very sick of me complaining about vault lineup orders this season. MaKenna Merrell also had a 1.5 in JO, though she showed just a full in the preview, which makes sense because the full was only OK. I'm not sold on her difficulty or placement in the lineup as yet. She might get Hughesed for a while.

The rest of the lineup will be fulls, unless McNatt and her Omelianchik materialize. Kari Lee will certainly be back for 9.850-9.875s since her full is second-best to Delaney's. Beyond that, a collective of 9.825-9.850 fulls will compete for the remaining three (or so) spots including Lewis, Partyka, Rowe, and Muhaw. It's a solid contingent, but losing the Dabritz and Wilson vaults will most certainly be felt in the scores. I still like this lineup for an RQS around 49.350, but it doesn't look like the 49.5s of recent days.


I should probably refrain from writing this section because reality has proven that I just don't get it with Utah's bars and the scoring. It eludes me. Right now, I look at the nine or ten options Utah has on bars this year, and they all look around 9.800-9.850 to me. Which means they'll go 49.600 at nationals. But still, it seems inevitable that the Utes will experience a noticeable drop-off post-Dabritz because, you know, there's not another auto-10 just hanging out on the roster. Given the lost routines, ending up a couple tenths lower than last year's bars scores seems a realistic outlook.

A lot of these routine options look pretty similar right now, so expect some mixing and matching with the ultimate lineup spots determined by stickability. The stalwarts should be Lopez, who has been a bars constant for a thousand years and has always scored well, and Baely Rowe, who was a reliable 9.850 all last season. Across the whole team, though, Rowe's bars work looked the most improved at this year's preview, with a better finishing position on her full turn, tidy legs on the bail, and a stuck DLO, so I could see her scoring higher this season. As for the new ones, I'm most looking forward to seeing Sabrina Schwab develop as a bars worker. She has the best line and toe point on the roster, so if they can put together competitive difficulty for her with a dismount she can stick, she'll be a future bars star. In the present, she at least needs to be an integral early-mid lineup piece.

December 28, 2015

#5 LSU Preview

Cannamela, Julianna - Freshman
Ewing, Sydney - Junior - VT, BB, FX
Finnegan, Sarah - Freshman
Gauthier, Michelle - Senior - backup BB, FX
Gnat, Ashleigh - Junior - VT, UB, BB, FX
Hambrick, Myia - Sophomore - VT, UB, BB, FX
Kelley, McKenna - Freshman
Li, Lauren - Sophomore - backup VT, UB, FX
Macadaeg, Erin - Sophomore - VT, BB
Moran, Kylie - Sophomore - N/A
Priessman, Lexie Lee - Freshman
Savona, Jessica - Senior - VT, UB, BB, FX
Szafranski, Kaitlyn - Freshman
Wyrick, Randii - Senior - UB (backup VT, FX)
Zamardi, Shae - Junior - UB (backup FX)

Recent History
2015 - 10th
2014 - 3rd
2013 - 5th
2012 - 9th
2011 - 20th
2010 - 9th

2016 Outlook
LSU enters 2016 wallowing in the aftermath of an extremely disappointing collapse at nationals last year (THE FRESHMAN LOST HER MIND) and, much more significantly, the departure of the class that lifted this program back into the big time. So, some trepidation about this season is understandable. It seemed that LSU would be relying on a super-talented, but often MIA and legs-made-of-dust, freshman class to have a shot at repeating the top-three quality of the last couple years. Very dangerous territory. Thankfully, the complete and solid-for-December lineups LSU put up in the preseason showcase (without Priessman and Kelley) were very reassuring as to the status and competitive ability of the returning core of this team. LSU is a Super Six team even if the big-name freshmen aren't able to deliver significant numbers, and will challenge for the title if they are.

Key Competitor
I'm going with Ashleigh Gnat. Gnat spent the first two years of her LSU career hanging out around the 4th spot on her main events, a prominent contributor on whom the team relied for scores but not necessarily the lineup leader or an absolutely essential score. When she had the occasional bad one, Courville and Jordan (or Hall on floor) were there to pick up the slack and save a great rotation total. Without them, Gnat will be expected to anchor multiple lineups and get 9.9s on vault, beam, and floor every single time, which is a new role and a new level of responsibility. In the absence of Courville, she has to become a Courville to keep LSU on track. 


Under ideal health circumstances, LSU's vault lineup will be Gnat, Priessman, Savona, Ewing, Kelley, and Hambrick. That's a serious 49.4+ group even without the benefit of Courville's mile-long vault (the start-value change also mitigates LSU's vault losses since Courville and Jordan wouldn't have scored as well this year anyway). Gnat continues to vault the DTY, which is developing into a US-elite level DTY that would provoke a tropical storm of Amanar rumors were she elite and competing it at Classic. She'll be the head vaulter for the Tigers, and let's hope the new values adequately reward her difficulty now instead of giving her a 9.875 every time and placing her on par with average yurchenko fulls.

When Priessman is able (she's expected to return on at least bars by mid-January), she's more than capable of producing a 10.0 SV since her Amanar remained only somewhat terrifying all the way through 2012, after which she was completing DTYs quite easily. Complementing those two will be Savona and Ewing, who both made their way into the vault lineup last season with sufficiently powerful 1.5s that will be even more valuable this year. With what should be four 10.0 starts and two other strong fulls, this lineup boasts both the difficulty and the execution to be a top-four vaulting team. At least. For the remaining fulls, I'd go with Kelley for her power and Hambrick for her incredible perfect perfection made of perfect. Her vault is a total joy and one of the few that qualifies as artistic. She can still hit 9.900 with a full this year.

When any of these six aren't available, both Cannamela and Macadaeg have perfectly acceptable fulls (Macadaeg has nice pop but isn't as steady on the landing) that should be able to score into the 9.8 range themselves and keep everything on track.


Bars is the worry event. While the Tigers have more than enough 9.800-level gymnasts to put together a workable lineup, they've been bleeding bars leaders for the last couple seasons in Morrison and now Courville and Jordan, leaving the team with mostly supporting characters and few stars. Conclusion: Sarah Finnegan. Finnegan has the toes, handstands, and general "she's Sarah Finnegan" to become one of the strongest bars workers around, especially now that she can get rid of a few of those pesky elite skills that gave Elfi a case of the post-diarrhea moans at 2012 Trials. Finnegan will need to become the new 9.9er. Priessman must also contribute, though her bars execution score in elite was not always so much with the great. Still, paring down to NCAA skills should give her something cleaner that can be a definite mid-lineup routine if not necessarily a starring routine the way Finnegan's should be. On twitter, Yosemite Clark took a short break from being the whole problem to post a video of her routine, which was fine if a little whippy in the DLO and a little leg-breaky in the pak.

December 26, 2015

#6 UCLA Preview

Brow, Matteah - Freshman
Bynum, Sadiqua - Senior - VT, FX
Cipra, Angi - Junior - VT, FX (possible BB)
DeJesus, Sophina - Senior - UB, BB, FX
Dennis, Rechelle - Sophomore - possible backup UB
Francis, Danusia - Senior - UB, BB, FX (we all saw that full in Glasgow so no more pretending you can't VT)
Gerber, Mikaela - Junior - BB, FX
Hall, Pua - Sophomore - FX (VT, please)
Honest, Janay - Sophomore - VT, UB, FX
Lee, Peng Peng - Junior - VT, UB, BB (FX, please)
Meraz, Sonya - Sophomore - VT, UB, BB, FX
Metcalf, Melissa - Sophomore - UB
Mossett, Hallie - Junior - UB, BB, FX
Ohashi, Katelyn - Freshman
Preston, Madison - Freshman
Savvidou, Stella - Freshman
Shapiro, Nicki - Freshman
Toronjo, Macy - Freshman - (out with should injury)

Recent History
2015 - 11th
2014 - 7th
2013 - 4th
2012 - 3rd
2011 - 2nd
2010 - 1st

2016 Outlook
UCLA has suffered a gradual descent ever since the grand Anna Li coronation of 2010, a descent that picked up a little speed in the last year or so. 11th. The future is certainly bright for the Bruins, as the Ross/Kocian/Ohashi sparkleplosion moves closer and closer to reality, but for the present, the mission is figuring out how to improve on last season's unconvincing result, now without Sam Peszek to go up 6th and fix all the bad scores.

Even without Her Lady of 9.900s, this remains a talented roster that should be able to put together another cusp-of-Super-Six season. A successful result for UCLA would be built on using the back half of lineups to out-9.9 teams like Michigan, Georgia, and Utah, and given the capabilities of gymnasts like Ohashi, Lee, and Francis, that's quite possible. If all three are healthy and competing all their events at the end of the year (because apparently we live in a world of make believe), this can still be an extremely impressive team even before Kyla saves everyone just by looking at us. What's holding the Bruins back from being a favorite right now is the selection of viable supporting scores. Who else is there besides the big three? And can they legitimately bring enough 9.850-9.900 routines to make UCLA a full competitive team rather than just a couple appealing stars and the rest? Which brings me to...

Key Competitor(s)
Sophina DeJesus and Angi Cipra. Playtime is over. These two very talented upperclassmen have underachieved so far and must do more this year for the team to thrive. On their best events, and even some of their not-best events, DeJesus and Cipra need to be scoring near the same level as Francis and Lee to give the team a nationally competitive complement of scores. Without Peszek, there's nowhere for them to hide anymore. They must step up to fill that void and become scoring leaders, not just accessory pieces who occasionally stumble upon a 9.900, because if they don't who else will? DeJesus has always been capable of starring on beam and floor rather than just getting a 9.800 and a [scene missing]. Floor really should be her best event, and with that Sophina spitfire routine she has this year, the lineup needs her. Cipra is currently the strongest floor worker on the team, and the Bruins now depend on her too much to be able to tolerate those occasional falls and 9.7s from the last two seasons. She has to go 9.9+, and do it every time, along with serious contributions on vault and ideally beam (her beam talent is greater than her no-routines-ever career would suggest).

We can probably put Hallie Mossett in this category as well. This trio needs to have a "by your powers combined" Captain Planet moment to unite and create that final magnificent star gymnast the team needs in order to challenge the best schools.


I count enough vaulters to form an acceptable lineup, but the real worry is going to be difficulty. Most top teams have a few vaulters who did a 1.5 in JO/elite and might be able to bring it back, but the large majority of UCLA vaulters from last season appear maxed out at their current amount of yurchenko twisting. The Bruin vault approach may end up being to squeeze all possible tenths out of fulls rather than going for a bunch of 10.0 SVs. Or, is it vault-teaching time again? Who wants to learn an Omelianchik? The answer should be everybody because it's the best.

The options returning from last year's lineup are predominately early lineup/backup vaults, with Cipra capable of a relatively solid-scoring full as long as the landing works out, Meraz and Honest both bringing perfectly OK 9.750-9.800 fulls, Bynum occasionally scoring well for her y1/2 (but also occasionally landing short and getting a 9.7), and Peng vaulting a very beautiful full when she's able. Peng's vault is gorgeous, but because of her injury history of "all of them, all the time," it's not the kind of vault a lineup can rely on. This returning group looks extremely 49.1 right now, so the new ones are going to have to bring it. At least a little. A little bringing. I've been wary about expecting too much from Ohashi on vault and floor just because the high priestess must be protected at all costs, but this lineup needs her. She must vault, as must Preston. Vault was usually Preston's best event in JO, with a high and very clean full, so if she has sufficiently recovered from her 2015 bout with Mary Lee Leg, she'll be an integral piece.

Let's also take a moment to address the Pua Hall situation. Hall was a vault recruit, intended to shore up this lineup in the wake of the "we're forcing Niki Tom to vault because there's literally nothing else to do" years. Hall was very strong in JO and has an all-important 1.5 but vaulted a grand total of never last season. That has to change this year. This vaulting squad is too thin to have a 1.5 twiddling her thumbs. If Hall/Preston/Ohashi are actually able to boost the depth, they'll be looking closer to the 49.250-49.300 territory than the dreaded 49.1s.


Welp, Peng already has a thumb injury, so let's just cancel bars. The preseason thumb injury strikes a major blow to this lineup because how much bars training is Peng going to be able to do? And when? The team really relies on her here not just to be the best routine but to get those 9.950s to cancel out some early 9.800s. When available, she makes bars an asset event for the Bruins.

December 23, 2015

#7 Michigan Preview

Artz, Nicole - Junior - VT, UB, BB, FX
Brown, Brianna - Sophomore - VT, UB, BB, FX
Casanova, Briley - Senior - VT, UB, BB, FX
Chiarelli, Talia - Junior - VT, BB, FX
Christopherson, Nichelle - Sophomore - UB
Gordon, Ilana - Sophomore - N/A
Karas, Olivia - Freshman
Marinez, Lauren - Sophomore - UB, BB
McLean, Emma - Freshman
McPeak, India - Sophomore - (backup VT, BB, FX)
Sheppard, Austin - Senior - VT, UB (possible FX)
Williams, Lindsay - Senior - UB, BB, FX

Recent History
2015 - 7th
2014 - 10th
2013 - 7th
2012 - 13th
2011 - 6th
2010 - 10th

2016 Outlook
It's time for Michigan to make it back to Super Six. I'm putting it out there. It's been too long. The Wolverines got very close last season, much closer than I expected they would, and this year's team is at least equivalent to that team if not slightly stronger (perhaps a bit better on beam and a bit weaker on bars to even out?). They have the AA leaders along with the 9.9 specialist contributors to make a run at it, as long as they don't have another repeat of the viral meningitis breakdown that thwarted their exhibition meet this month. Develop some kind of advanced quarantine training facility, and this is a Super Six team. No question. The serious worry is the size of the team, as we learned from the exhibition. Michigan does have six strong options on every event—what at this point look like more complete lineups than the likes of Stanford and UCLA—but the well of backups is far from replete. They will be perpetually on the cusp of destruction should a vital injury befall them.

Key Competitor
Olivia Karas. Because the Wolverines have a relatively small contingent of contributors, they will once again be reliant on that same group of top AAers and three-eventers to provide the large majority of 9.9s. The significant change to the roster from last season is the loss of Sachi Sugiyama, and success in 2016 will largely hinge on Karas's ability to fill the Sugiyama role in each lineup and be a major scoring leader on at least three events. She was a star in JO and is very capable of being a star in NCAA, but unlike many freshmen she will not be given the leeway to start slowly or hide behind that flimsy "acclimating to college" excuse for underperforming. The team needs her to be great from week one.


Michigan's best asset on vault this year will be 10.0 start values. The team was fine (though not fantastic) on vault last season, but over the summer and fall, they have worked to develop a nearly complete lineup of viable, difficult vaults with full SVs. In many ways, Michigan will be the test case for whether it really is advisable to throw out new, more difficult vaults in an effort to get that couple-tenth advantage. It will be fun to compare Michigan's results pushing the 10.0 vaults to some of the teams that opt to play it safer and maintain a predominately yfull lineup. Which strategy works better? Are teams rewarded for playing up the difficulty now, or will execution deductions on potentially less comfortable vaults negate any SV advantage, rendering fulls the better choice? If you're a respectable dork, you're really excited to find out the answer to these questions. 

Karas has been vaulting a high and impressive 1.5 for a while now, and Chiarelli is very capable of bumping up the difficulty on her vault without enduring much of an execution knock because of obvious Brestyan's reasons. I'd expect those two to lead the scoring, along with Sheppard when she is able to return from yet another leg injury. Sheppard is also capable of pushing the difficulty, but leg injuries, comebacks, and all that. Just get her into the lineup doing whatever. Casanova has always been pecking around the edge of the vault lineup, but stepping back up to a 1.5 herself should tip the balance in her favor and get her into that six. She (mostly) stuck her 1.5 in the exhibition, so that's an encouraging sign.

But that's not all! Perhaps most interestingly, Artz has learned a front handspring, handspring front pike vault that also starts from a 10 and should be a delight to watch progress this season. This is the one that makes me a little nervous, but I don't care because I love that vault so much. Even if Sheppard stays with the full, it's a fantastic full that will still be one of the best scores on the team, and these five should give Michigan a healthy start toward a great vault total. It's a potentially risky strategy by going for so many challenging landings in one lineup, but it's also an exciting one. In the final spot, I like Emma McLean since she showed a pretty powerful full in JO, but Brianna Brown did well last season with 9.800-9.850 vaults, so she'll be another realistic option, especially until Sheppard is ready. There aren't many choices after that, which is somewhat unnerving, but if they can get through this year using a combination of those seven without having to eat a low score from a backup, this can be a true 49.3-49.4 lineup. 


I have a few more questions about the condition of things on bars this season. This is still a good bars team and probably a top-8 bars team, but they'll miss Sachi Sugiyama the most on this event because there isn't an obvious replacement waiting to take over for a 9.875-9.900. While there are enough options to round out a comfortable lineup, it's not necessarily a strength for many of them and 9.9s may be at a premium. Brown will be essential once again as the gymnast most likely to get those 9.9s with her superior amplitude and precision through handstands. She's the true bars specialist on this team, who provides the added bonus of being solid in the AA. Artz should also pop into the 9.9s from time to time, but the rest of the options look more likely to be 9.825-style contributors. Because of the two leaders, it's a lineup that still should be able get 49.300, if finding it a bit more difficult to get those 49.4s from last season without a final high-scoring piece. 

December 22, 2015

#8 Stanford Preview

Chuang, Melissa - Senior - VT, FX
Daum, Rachel - Junior - VT, BB, FX
Fitzgerald, Taryn - Freshman
Frowein, Jenna - Senior - FX
Hoffman, Hailee - Freshman
Hoffman, Nicole - Freshman
Hong, Ivana - Senior - VT, UB, BB (FX legs permitting?)
Maxwell, Dare - Freshman
McNair, Danielle - Junior - VT, UB
McNair, Nicolette - Junior - VT, UB, BB (hopefully FX this time)
Price, Elizabeth - Sophomore - VT, UB, BB, FX
Rice, Taylor - Senior - VT, UB, BB, FX
Spector, Haley - Junior - FX (possible backup BB)

Recent History
2015 - 5th
2014 - 9th
2013 - 12th
2012 - 4th
2011 - 15th
2010 - 4th

2016 Outlook
Last season, Stanford did usual Stanford things: Start horrifyingly, slowly improve throughout the season, and then smack everyone in the face with bars and beam pretty once nationals roll around. I wouldn't put it past Stanford to do the same thing this year—with the Ivie/Ebee dynamic duo anything is possible—but without Shapiro, Vaculik, and Wing, the dynamic has shifted away from bars and beam to an extent, putting more pressure on vault and floor to be competitive scores. It will be interesting to see if the team can adjust. As always, the primary obstacle will be depth. There aren't a lot of backups on these events, so everyone + 3 other people have to stay healthy all season long. This is a clear nationals team, unless there's a real injury implosion, but Super Six will be a more challenging prospect this time around without some of those stars. And by stars, I mean Kristina Vaculik's gienger, the true meaning of Christmas. Expect the usual game of "197 or 194" roulette.

Key Competitor
The rest of them. The first and second person in each lineup. We know Price can get 9.9s on every event. Hong can get 9.9s on every event she's healthy enough to compete. Rice and Nicolette McNair can go 9.850+ on all their pieces. That's an excellent foundation with Super Six-level scores (if it were four up, four count, Stanford would be among the favorites), but Stanford's success will be determined by who is able to fill out the rest of the lineups. Are there at least two consistent 9.8+ scores per event coming from the likes of Daum, Chuang, Danielle McNair, Maxwell, Fitzgerald, and Spector? Those six gymnasts will determine Stanford's fate this season. The Cardinal got twelve 9.9s in Super Six last year (and eight of them have returned this year). You know who else got twelve 9.9s? Florida. Every other school got fewer. The only thing holding this team back was the contingent of supporting scores. There's even more pressure on them this year to be not a 9.6.


The new vault values shouldn't be particularly devastating to Stanford, mostly because of a little gem named Elizabeth Price. She vaulted a full last season coming back from injury, and because there was no incentive to do more, but obviously she can do more difficulty than that in her sleep. She's probably the best bet for #1 vaulter in the nation this year, and her weekly 9.9s will take a lot of pressure off the rest of the lineup. It will be worth watching who else pulls out a 1.5 this year, with Danielle McNair and Taryn Fitzgerald both capable of it, but to varying degrees of success. It's not the sure scoring boon it is for Price, so we'll see if it ends up being worth it. Still, the options exist to be worked on. It's a shame Pauline Hanset missed out by a year. Maybe she would have actually been rewarded for her handspring pike 1/2 this year instead of consistently underscored. 

Rice and Nicolette McNair will also return to the lineup and should be able to continue scoring in the 9.8s. The critical factor in filling out this event will be the potential refreshing injury comebacks of Rachel Daum and Melissa Chuang. Back when they were healthy, in the late 60s, Chuang could go 9.800 and Daum could go 9.850. Daum actually had a very strong 1.5 back in JO/elite days as well. Having those two back would be magnificent for filling out the lineup with enough believable options to allow the team to take it easy with Ivana Hong as needed and not feel the pressure to shove her out there on vault every week. I can't imagine they'd push Hong to vault more than a full at this point (because when hasn't she suffered serious knee injuries on vault?), but she still has a glorious full that can be trotted later in the year for big scores. Ideally, she'd vault the whole year, but let's be realistic with our Hong-leg expectations. Because of Price, this lineup should still get into the 49.2s with the occasional 49.3.


Bars should be the most...transformed event from last season because the team will no longer have Vaculik Gienger and Shapiro Toe Point to rely on to bolster the collection of 9.9s. Several 9.9s still exist (so the potential for high scores remains intact), but the problem is a fundamental lack of routines. By that, I mean there are exactly six of them. That makes it pretty easy to come up with a lineup but also puts the team in a really precarious position. No injuries, no falls, no margin whatsoever. Hong and Price are the go-to women, obviously, and are both supremely capable of scoring weekly 9.9s that will be necessary to protect against depth travesties. Nicolette McNair is also quite good on bars and should consistently be pecking around 9.9.

December 20, 2015

#9 Georgia Preview

Arnold, Jasmine - Sophomore - N/A
Babalis, Vivi - Sophomore - BB, FX
Box, Mary Beth - Senior  - BB, FX
Bradford, Caroline - Freshman 
Broussard, Ashlyn - Junior - VT, BB, FX
Cherrey, Gracie - Freshman
Jay, Brandie - Senior - VT, UB, BB, FX
Johnson, Lauren - Junior - VT
Marino, Gigi - Sophomore - VT, FX
Reynolds, Morgan - Junior - VT, BB, FX (out with the NCAA's annual bizarre hospitalization)
Roberts, Beth - Junior - backup on VT, BB, FX
Rogers, Brittany - Senior - VT, UB, BB, FX
Sanders, Hayley - Sophomore - UB
Schick, Rachel - Junior - UB, BB (possible VT)
Snead, Sydney - Freshman
Vaculik, Natalie - Sophomore - VT, UB, BB (possible FX)

Recent History
2015 - 9th
2014 - 5th
2013 - 6th
2012 - 11th
2011 - 10th
2010 - 13th

2016 Outlook
Georgia took a step back last season by being so distraught at the lack of Lindsey Cheek on the team that no one could emotionally handle hitting a beam routine anymore, but this year should be better. The sheer number of returning routines is cause for encouragement because Georgia will have options to work with, especially on beam, and won't get trapped into using iffy routines the way some of these other 6th-12th schools will. The Gymdogs should be a 197 RQS team and will expect to better this preseason ranking (another year of 9th would be a disappointment). This is the last year of Jay and Rogers, so this is the time to do something. It will be much, much harder next season. Super Six is a pretty realistic hope for this group, and anything less would be a missed opportunity that may not come back around for a while.   

Key Competitor
Brittany Rogers, obviously. Rogers is trying to do the borderline impossible, go straight from NCAA to elite, then back to NCAA, then back to elite, while still remaining a living person by the end of it. It's a grueling schedule, but keeping her healthy is missions A, B, C, D, E, and G. (Mission F is stop fucking up beam—such language!) Georgia will need Rogers fully intact to make those Super Six hopes happen, especially after losing so much on bars. She's the remaining diamond. While Rogers has been big on vault and bars throughout her NCAA career, beam isn't always so much with the good, so let's hope she also turned a corner by hitting twice at worlds. She's too good there not to be the best one. No more 9.700s, OK? Rogers needs to be a three-event 9.9er in her final season to join Jay as part of a formidable scoring foundation, and I'm still holding out for a hero on floor as well. 


Making up lineups is so much easier with full intrasquad videos!

This is the most important event for Georgia in 2016. It needs to be such a big score that it punches us in the face. Georgia has been a good vault team throughout the Durante era (although last year the vault RQS was actually lower than the floor RQS, which...what?), but difficulty should make the Gymdogs an excellent vault team this year, at least top 5 and possibly top 3. Main reason: the Jay and Rogers 1.5 duo. While all teams will be looking at slightly withered vault scores this season, the business end of Georgia's lineup retains the same scoring potential and can still do the 9.900-9.950 double, a dying species. Gigi Marino also has the 1.5, but her landing is more questionable, so it won't be quite the same kind of asset. Her vault will still be useful but won't necessarily outscore the better yfulls the way Jay's and Rogers' vaults can.

A fourth 10.0 SV vault should come from Sydney Snead, who had an excellent 1.5 in JO. She's coming back from injury and showed only a full in the video above, but she clearly has the height and power to do a 1.5, made evident by bouncing across several state lines out of that full. Ideally she'll be working back up to that vault, which would give Georgia a significant start-value advantage over even Florida and Oklahoma, allowing leeway for some iffy landings.

As with every team, the Gymdogs will also be putting up some fulls. I like Broussard for one of those spots, and there will be a solid contingent of options for the final opening. Of note, Lauren Johnson of "remember that time I had basically never vaulted before and then won the SEC Championship?" fame is back. And where did that vault from Rachel Schick come from? I guess someone is healthy again, though she may lack the distance to get big scores from it. Regardless, this should be a 49.4 event for Georgia.


Along with vault, we've all become accustomed to bars being a big, reliable score for Georgia, but that may not be the case this season. Expect noticeable regression in the bars score, tenths that they'll need to make up with improvements on beam. Brittany Rogers is now the only remaining member of the powerhouse bars quartet, and she should stalder her way to 9.900s and 9.950s every week once again. After that, this lineup doesn't have a ton of 9.9s, making it look like more of a 49.200 this year than the 49.4s we have come to expect. I believe Brandie Jay is singlehandedly trying to make up for this by throwing all the difficulty ever, including her shushunova and a DLO 1/1 dismount. We'll see how advisable that ends up being and watch for when that DLO 1/1 becomes a DLO for sticking reasons, but the girl is going for it. She should be able to extract herself from leadoff 9.825 purgatory to be a more significant part of the lineup this season since she's now the team's second-best bars worker. 

December 19, 2015

#10 Auburn Preview

Note: Maybe don't start your highlight reel with a yurchenko layout...OUR HIGHLIGHTS.

Atkinson, Caitlin - Senior - VT, UB, BB, FX
Black, Telah - Freshman
Bray, Brooke - Sophomore - N/A
Cerio, Samantha - Freshman
Demers, Lexus - Senior - VT, BB, FX
Engler, Emma - Freshman
Finister, Kennedy - Sophomore - N/A
Garcia, Sarah - Sophomore - backup on VT, UB
Hlawek, Kullen - Junior - FX, possible UB
Jones, Blake - Sophomore - N/A
Kluz, Kait - Senior - VT, UB, FX
Kopec, Kelsey - Junior - VT, UB
Krippner, Taylor - Freshman
Milliet, Abigail - Sophomore - UB, BB (dare we hope for more?)
Phillips, A'Miracal - Freshman
Rott, MJ - Junior - VT, FX (possible BB)
Scaglione, Lucia - Junior - N/A
Slappey, Emma - Freshman
Stricklin, Cara - Sophomore - N/A

Recent History 
2015 - 6th
2014 - 20th
2013 - 13th
2012 - 15th
2011 - 19th
2010 - 19th

2016 Outlook
Last year was an immensely significant season for Auburn, achieving a program-first of some manner or another nearly every week and ultimately making it all the way to Super Six. Auburn has officially made the jump into the first tier, a team that must be seriously considered in Super Six prognostications, though they will not be among the big favorites this year. (Both the coaches and I have them at #10, so that means it's official.) Right now, we're probably looking at a team that's a couple tenths weaker than last season without Walker, Guy, and Webster (though there are enough unknown quantities among the freshmen that this could change), yet they should still be able to score 197s here and there. To repeat last year's accomplishment, Auburn would once again need to take advantage of mistakes from the very top teams, but this is now a team we can fully expect to make nationals. We've never been able to say that about Auburn before. Failing to qualify to nationals would be a major disappointment this year. 

Key Competitor
It has to be Caitlin Atkinson. While proving that the team does have true routine depth instead of just a big roster will be essential for a successful season, Auburn 2016 is a team absolutely dependent on its star. Atkinson is the best gymnast Auburn has on each event and is quite capable of being one of the very top AAers in the country with 9.9s on every piece. The big concern is managing her health because she has quite the colorful injury history and seems to get hurt at nationals every season. It's essential that she be four-event intact at the end of the year because without Atkinson, Auburn is a 196.4-196.5 team that would struggle to stay ahead of the likes of Oregon State and Illinois. I don't even care that her landings on the gainer pike beam dismount are worse than her landings on the double pike (which is insane, but true). Do the gainer pike. Save the Atkinson legs.


Let's continue talking about Caitlin Atkinson, shall we? While the main objective of the new vault rules is to encourage diversity of vaults, the other aim is to appropriately award gymnasts performing high-level 1.5s by providing separation between their scores and those of similarly executed fulls. Atkinson has a very good, comfortably performed 1.5 that usually scores 9.875-9.900, below the scores for many stuck fulls. In 2016, her vault should rise much closer to the top of the standings (Atkinson was just 26th on vault in 2015) and be a major asset for the team. It will also be interesting to see if Kluz's 1.5 comes back now because she can do it, though they have usually opted for the full with her. Either way, she'll be in the lineup, but put her on the 1.5-to-watch list.    

The other sure bets for vault are Rott and Demers, both of whom have pretty much impeccable form on high, long fulls that should score well into the 9.8s and put the team on track toward 49.300, which I anticipate will be a pretty good team vault score this year. The rest of the spots in this lineup are there to be won, and without Guy and Webster, the team will need to find a couple other 9.850-capable vaults to keep this event on track. Kopec is an option, but ideally she'll be a backup to the Emmas (Slappey and Engler), or perhaps Krippner or Phillips, all of whom should be in the running. The wildcard is Abby Milliet, who did not vault last season but had a DTY as recently as two years ago and could be quite the vaulter if she's physically able to do AA in college. Milliet could be the factor that turns Auburn's vault from good to excellent. But mostly, they just don't want to be stuck using a 9.750-9.775 (which is going to happen to plenty of teams this year), undermining the gains Atkinson can make with her 1.5.


On bars, Auburn could take a hit this year without Megan Walker. Last season, they were a little 49.200, often doing the 9.8-9.8-9.8-9.8-9.9-9.9 dance with Walker and Atkinson getting those 9.9s to bring the score up to acceptable levels. They'll still have Atkinson to do that, but this lineup needs more than one likely 9.9 to be competitive. I'm looking to Abby Milliet. She eventually worked her way into form last season, enough to get some 9.850s on bars and beam by the end, but she is precise enough to be a regular 9.9er. As a group, the freshmen aren't really bars workers and aren't so much with the form, so that's cause for some concern about depth here. Samantha Cerio is the exception and could be a standout bars worker. Auburn will need Atkinson, Milliet, and Cerio all firing to make bars an asset event, rather than an event to endure this season.

December 18, 2015

#11 Nebraska Preview

Blanske, Hollie - Senior - VT, UB, BB, FX
Breen, Danielle - Sophomore - UB, BB
Chung, Kelli - Freshman
Crouse, Sienna - Freshman
Kuo, Megan - Freshman
Laeng, Jennie - Junior - VT, UB, BB, occasional FX
Lambert, Ashley - Junior - VT, FX, but can also do UB, BB
McConkey, Madison - Senior - in-a-pinch backup on UB
Orel, Catelyn - Freshman
Schweihofer, Megan - Freshman
Shows, Kami - Freshman
Williams, Grace - Sophomore - VT, UB, BB, FX

Recent History
2015 - 8th
2014 - 6th
2013 - 14th
2012 - 8th
2011 - 4th
2010 - 7th

2016 Outlook
It's difficult to have fluffy, leprechaun-filled Super Six dreams for Nebraska this year after even a cursory glance at the roster. For a team that has lost its star in Jessie Deziel and returns such a sparse supply of realistic routine options, a great deal of pressure will be heaped on an unproven freshman class to contribute not just depth but multiple counting routines on every event, every week. Otherwise, I fear this could turn into a "just the five vaulters again" kind of season. This freshman class does have potential, and with the scoring strength of some of those vital returning gymnasts, remaining a solidly mid-high 196 team and adopting a fairly secure position in the fight to return to nationals seems realistic, as long as actually everyone stays healthy. Competing with the greater star power and depth of the teams ranked in the preseason top 10, however, seems a much greater challenge that would require the emergence of some diamonds in the rough.

Key Competitor
Grace Williams. For someone who was one of the great standout JO gymnasts in her age group after a brief stint with junior elite, Williams' performances were a little too 9.825 last year. I had higher expectations of her becoming the replacement DeZiel on this team, not languishing as a supporting player. She has the talent to be the best-scoring gymnast on this team, and now that DeZiel is gone and those critical 9.9s have been lost, the pressure is on her to become a couple times more brilliant. Those 9.9s have to come from somewhere if Nebraska is to have any chance of unsticking itself from 8th-12th ranking purgatory.


Vault is Nebraska's event, traditionally the team's highest score by a pretty healthy margin. The beginning of last season was no exception when the Huskers started with those back-to-back 49.750, 49.600 scores led by the Lambert 10s. While those scores did not hold for the whole year and drooped down toward the 9.850s as we went along (an issue to keep an eye on) the possibilities remain solid. Much like a more powerful version of Oregon State, however, the Huskers have lately been a team of fulls. If they aren't able to forage for as many 10.0 starts as other teams, will they begin to lose some margin on an event that is more important for them than it is for others?

Lambert will lead the way with the biggest and most stickable full on the roster. She certainly has the power to up the difficulty (and did perform more complex yurchenkos back in the day), though that was a lifetime of health traumas ago. Similarly, Blanske had a 1.5 as a JO gymnast, as did Williams for a hot second when she tried elite, but we're talking 2010-2011 here. So who knows? Part of the fun of vault at the beginning of this season will be watching for who suddenly has a secret 1.5 we weren't expecting. Nebraska can certainly teach a vault. We know that.  

Expect Lambert and Blanske to be the top vault scorers regardless, with Laeng and Williams also returning for scores at least somewhere into the 9.8s. Among the freshmen, I like Schweihofer to get into the lineup since she has the biggest full of the group. Beyond her, Crouse also has an OK full, Shows had a full for a minute way back pre-Achilles tear, and then Orel and the sophomore Breen had 1/2s in JO, so people do exist. It's just a matter of how existy they are. Because of the top-scoring vaulters, I still like this lineup for somewhere around a 49.300 average, but they'll have to Nebraska a couple vaults from the newbies to remain at the level we expect.

December 17, 2015

#12 Oregon State Preview

Let the previews BEGIN! On the roster, I've noted which events the gymnasts normally compete for a quick glance at possible lineup choices.

Aufiero, Erika - Senior - VT, UB (capable of adding BB, maybe FX)
Colussi-Pelaez, Mariana - Freshman
Colussi-Pelaez, Silvia - Junior - UB, BB
Dessaints, Dani - Sophomore - VT, UB
Gardiner, Maddie - Junior - VT, UB, BB, FX
Jacobsen, Mary - Freshman 
Jimenez, Megan - Junior - VT, FX
Khamedoost, Shireen - Sophomore - UB
McMillan, Kaytianna - Junior - VT, UB, BB, FX
Perez, Risa - Senior - BB, FX (possible VT, did UB at ASU)
Radermacher, Jamie - Senior - FX
Ricci, Taylor - Junior - VT, FX
Singley, McKenna - Freshman
Yu, Elizabeth - Freshman 

Recent History
2015 - 12th
2014 - 13th
2013 - 16th
2012 - 12th
2011 - 8th
2010 - 8th

2016 Outlook
Oregon State crossed a significant hurdle last season by returning to nationals at a point when underperforming at important meets was becoming an unfortunate trend. This season, Oregon State should find itself in a similar position, squarely in the fight for a spot at nationals but with nothing guaranteed. It'll be another on-the-cusp season. Because of that, quite a bit will depend on other teams, particularly how well the likes Illinois and Arkansas end up performing, but Oregon State should be a reasonably 196.6 team this year once everything falls into place. The Beavs haven't lost too, too many crucial scores from last season, especially because Tang wasn't scoring at consistently the same level post-injury. Aside from Tang's beam and floor and Keeker's suddenly 9.9 vault, which will absolutely be missed, OSU lost a handful of 9.825s that should be easily replaceable with this roster.

Key Competitor 
Kaytianna McMillan. McMillian suffered a wild knee catastrophe on vault at regionals last year, rendering her unavailable for nationals (and walking) and effectively dashing any hope the team had for stirring up some trouble among the big girls. At this point, she's still in the comeback process, but having her contributing serious routines by the end of the season is a must for Oregon State. If it's just Maddie Gardiner with spot greatness from Aufiero and Perez, this will not be a particularly successful season. Those scores alone do not amount to enough to challenge. They need one more 9.9 leader across multiple events, and it looks like it needs to be McMillan. If she joins the other big contributors and they're all going strong by the end of the season, picking the Beavs to make it back to nationals becomes a much more comfortable prospect.


Vault has not been a traditional strength for Oregon State, usually lacking the power and difficulty of the top teams and forcing the Beavs to hang out closer to the 49.2s than teams cracking the top 10 should be. That concern could be exacerbated this year with the new start values, since Oregon State does look to be vaulting primarily fulls. If they're not pristine fulls, the gap widens. The newbie Mary Jacobsen may then be a serious asset because word on the street from the cool kids (you know how people on the street corner are always talking about vault lineups?) is that Jacobsen will be vaulting a Tsuk full, which still has a 10.0 SV. McMillan also possesses great power and did a 1.5 in JO, but after multiple years of serious leg traumas, it's more important just to get her back vaulting something at some point rather than pushing the difficulty.

Other fulls from Aufiero and Gardiner will certainly return to the lineup and usually (usually) feature comfortable, minimal-deduction landings. Both have gone 9.900 for those vaults, so while that may translate down to 9.850 this year, they will still be valuable. Ideally, McMillan, Aufiero, Gardiner, and Jacobsen will be the vaulting core. When those four are together, expect competitive scores and something that can break out of the 49.2 doldrums. When the second-tier vaulters (Jimenez, Dessaints, Ricci, perhaps Singley) have to jump in and contribute significant routines, that total is probably dropping down toward the 49.1s since they're more likely to hang around 9.800. That puts quite a bit of pressure on the other events to keep the team competitive.


For my money, Erika Aufiero's bars routine is the most important performance on the team this year.  When she sticks that DLO, it's pretty much a guaranteed 9.900 (unless she arches a handstand like in the video above—come on, youtube!). On a roster without any other true bars sorceresses, hers will be an essential weekly score because if she doesn't get it, who else will? There are other definite lineup returners like Gardiner, SCP, and McMillan, all of whom are solid enough on bars, but they're solid for 9.825s, not 9.9+s. They have supporting routines rather than lineup-defining routines and wouldn't be enough to protect the team against those 9.7s that cropped up too often last season.

December 15, 2015

The 2016 Boise State Preseason Coaches Poll

Road to Nationals (the new official NCAA gym ranking site, so you can finally let yourself forget how to spell troester) has released the annual coaches poll, and it did not disappoint, mostly because of one special hero's first place vote.

(Full results at the link above.)

Obviously, the biggest story and only thing I care about is that some snarky little sass monster voted for Boise State as the #1 team and won the coaches poll along with all of our hearts. Well played, stranger. Next year, all of the coaches need to do comedy rankings and just vote for the University of Texas and Madeleine Albright. You have your instructions.

If we have to care about something else, I guess it's worth noting that Oklahoma is the #1 team in a bit of an upset over three-time defending champions Florida. Oklahoma is a completely worthy choice for #1 and will be right there competing for the top spot all season long, so it's hardly a scandal or even much of a question. It's not Boise State. But it is interesting. My first instinct was that K.J. has clearly taken over as the new Rhonda and general beloved leader of the coaching sorority, while Florida didn't get near the same number of first-place votes as Oklahoma because of the change in head coach. Realistic possibility. (Although Georgia did still manage the #1 ranking the year after Suzanne left.)

But checking out the number of voters this season might tell a different part of the story. Major kudos to RTN for getting a whole 66 coaches to vote in the poll this year instead of the usual barely 4. The last couple years, 31 coaches participated, so the sample is greater than double this year. (PROOF OF ADDITION SKILLS!) With a lot more coaches voting and not just the usual suspects, perhaps there was a desire from them to support the team that isn't from the big SEC/Pac-12 powers, all other things being pretty much equal at this point in the year. Perhaps. Last year, Oklahoma got 8 first-place votes and this year 29, so something clearly changed. Whether it's perception of Florida, perception of Oklahoma, or voting demographics, the world may never know.

Elsewhere, there's not that much to report. The coaches have Utah higher than I did, which is understandable given the finish last season, and UCLA is perhaps a little high based on last year's performance + losing Peszek. But also the Valorie Factor. Illinois is a few spots lower than I had (and therefore obviously under-ranked duh), but the Illini didn't make nationals last year. It's always hard to get a good ranking after not making nationals. At least the coaches have hopped onto the Cal wagon with the rest of us.  

December 11, 2015

2016 Balance Beam Situation Preseason Poll (of me)

Welp, I polled myself. That's right, it's time for the annual Balance Beam Situation preseason poll, a glorious tradition conducted by the esteemed committee of me wherein I, much like the Hollywood Foreign Press, take a deep, discerning look at all the fantastic work being done in our field and then just pick the most famous people. Because why should the coaches get all the fun of scribbling out whatever based on advanced analytic systems like "probably" and "I'm friends with her." I can do that too.

In my poll last season, I went 5 for 6 on the eventual Super Six teams (I had LSU instead of Auburn, which I think is pretty understandable), so let's see if I can collect all 6 this year. I can't. Without further ado...

2016 Preseason Nonsense Rankings

1. Florida
Sadly, I've been forced to retire the Rhonda Faehn I'M THE WINNER picture from its annual place atop this post. We need a Jenny Rowland I'M THE WINNER picture now.


Not quite the same. She'll need to win something first. And then double fist pump about it while releasing the pent-up anxiety of several civilizations. Give it a minute. And by a minute, I mean exactly four months. Despite the coaching change, the three-time defending champions are the overwhelmingly logical pick for this spot because, you know, three-time defending champions. Also, they have one of the strongest new classes this year. And Bridget Sloan. So der. 

2. Alabama
TWIST. I know. Oklahoma has carved out a nice little niche as solid #2 behind Florida these last couple years, so it's time to switch things up. Sorry Sooners, gymnastics fans are a fickle bunch. Alabama found itself regularly a hair behind the biggest teams last season, but I like the multitude of routine options the freshman class brings this year along with the expected increased contribution from sophomores like Kiana Winston. Right now, the Tide looks like the best bet among the top teams to improve on last year's scores. 

3. Oklahoma
Not to say that Oklahoma is in a weak position this year by any means. The Sooners remain one of the clear title favorites and should spend the whole season in the 1-2-3 ranking group, especially considering what strong starters they are and how much Chayse Capps and Haley Scaman will be happening all over the place. Their issue right now is having lost more high-level routines than they're bringing in, putting a bit more pressure on previous non-competers to make lineups they weren't making last year. At the same time, developing 9.875-9.900 routines from seeming nowhere is what this coaching staff has built its reputation on. They'll have to prove again this season why they're fandom favorites.

December 6, 2015

Freshman Notes: UCLA, Auburn, and the Rest

One last batch of freshman notes here for all your perusing/fantasy gym needs. After this, we'll still have the coaches poll to look forward to, which is released annually at half past whenever-they-damn-please. That should be some fun nonsense carrying on the grand middle school tradition of ranking people based on their reputations. But for now, there's still the UCLA Medical Center/part-time gymnastics program to break down.

Worried. That's where we'll start. UCLA is coming off an 85%-dismal performance at Nationals last season and is now without Dr. Sam Peszek, PhD in bailing your asses out at every turn. The losses from last season don't amount to all that many routines, but those were extremely valuable routines for both their scores and, more importantly, Peszek's reliability and consistency. Dare I say, calm confidence. (Put a dollar in the "calm confidence" jar.)

Even though most UCLA fans will be waiting for next season when the Ross/Kocian wagon pulls up to the curb and expectations will be much higher, this year's freshman class is exceptionally talented, though sadly also the usual amount of already-in-several-pieces-on-the-floor. We'll start with Macy Toronjo, who is out with a shoulder injury. Because of course she is. That's particularly disheartening news for the Bruins because she's such an ideal NCAA gymnast, with strong basics, precision, and elite skill set across four events. Second-tier elites, the golden fleece of NCAA gym. She would have been relied on in the all-around, and certainly will be in the future. Even in JO, she showed both a DLO and full-in on floor, and nailed the crap out of them along with definitively not-awful dance elements that scored an a million. It would do the same in NCAA.

She brings the same comfort level on both acro and dance elements to beam and has a perfectly fine full on vault that she has done for actually ever. Bars can get iffy sometimes in the handstands and legs, but she performs a Ray and has strong amplitude in release elements that should absolutely become something real. Because so many of the other UCLA pieces are in the beautiful-fragile-inconsistent category, like a SYTYCD performance about broken marionettes to the tune of "Fix You," she'll need to be the constant, reliable one when she comes back.

So, with Toronjo currently on the sidelines, let's focus on that paragon of sturdy physical well-being, Katelyn Ohashi. Remember 2.5 years ago when she was absolutely going to the Olympics? Times change, and injuries change. Ohashi is obviously a glorious gymnast, the most talented entering NCAA this year, but she's a different gymnast now than she was as an elite. Her JO performances in 2015 were encouraging as to her new potential as an NCAA gymnast, but the main questions are how healthy she is and how healthy she'll be able to stay for an NCAA career after being used up and broken in elite. Will her shoulders just get thrown on the pile with the rest of them?

The biggest takeaway from Ohashi's more recent performances is that beam is back. She has maintained impressive difficulty and looks more confident without the burden of that layout full.

She'll need to slot into the Peszek role in the famous Francis-Lee-Peszek triumvirate of beam wonderfulness, as that's still UCLA's greatest asset compared to other teams. She can absolutely be another walking 10. She also has the pike full-in back on floor, and while she downgraded to a full on vault, it's a high and comfortable full. At some point, if they feel they can risk it, she could work the difficulty back up to something 10.0. Now, bars. There was a time last quad when Ohashi was a good bars worker and everyone died about her jaeger every minute of the year, before she was torn asunder in 2013 by introducing those E pirouetting elements she couldn't do. She didn't compete bars during the 2015 comeback, but let's hope she can get her groove back eventually.