Joining Williams in the freshmen class are Kaitlyn Clark and Brooke Parker, both of whom were in that group of secondary elites from the early part of this quad along with Georgia Dabritz, Annette Miele, Morgan Steigerwalt, Rebecca Clark, and their teammate Kim Jacob. Alabama will certainly be hoping to get equivalent performances from these two as they did from Jacob in her freshman year. Clark had back surgery in the offseason, which has set her training back and limited her to bars and some beam, but they will hope to have her return to competing on her better events at some point this season.
Of potential concern to Alabama is that they have recruited a bunch of gymnasts with similar skill sets over the last two years, and that skill set doesn’t include particular strength on the bars. This makes the return of Ashley Priess even more important to add stability at the end of that lineup and bring in those 9.9s.
Other than Priess, Stack-Eaton, and Sledge (who has a wonderful double layout dismount but was buried at the beginning of the lineup last year to add stability), the team doesn’t have big bar routines, and Stack-Eaton can be touch and go sometimes, especially with that dismount. Sarah Demeo and Kim Jacob were solid contributors in 2011, and I expect that to continue, but I’m not sold on them as scoring leaders on this event. While Alabama can probably get by on this event in 2012 in the 49.250-49.300 area, the strengths of this team, particularly the freshmen and sophomores, appear over-stacked on vault and floor with less depth and scoring potential elsewhere, meaning they will be extra reliant on Stack-Eaton and Priess this year (and then what happens in the future or in the event of injury?)
That being said, Alabama is in the advantageous position of having their biggest weaknesses be potential weaknesses should injuries or problems arise. Many of the teams ranked below them have weaknesses that are glaring and not conditional.
The upside of having a potentially lopsided team is that Alabama is very much set on vault and floor and (especially if they do get Priess back to strength on those events) will have six gymnasts performing in competition who should all go 9.850 with the possibility of going 9.900. They won’t be worried about putting up leadoff scores that they will hope to drop as they can be confident counting scores from any number of gymnasts. Even on beam (where they will still have to experiment to find a lineup that works), they should have enough gymnasts capable of competing and showing strong difficulty. A commitment to difficulty (they have a couple double pike dismounts) will help them here as well.
As in the case of Florida, it would not be a surprise if Alabama repeated and won the title. They have enough potential 9.9 routines to do it. However, aside from the concerns about getting Priess back or the depth on bars, Alabama may also become the victim of simply being outclassed by other teams. How many times have we seen them put together a very strong team that finished 2nd or 3rd because they just weren’t as amazing or as flashy as another team or because they had great 9.9 routines, but no one was standing up and wanting to give them a 9.950? Looking at this group, there is just a feeling that Alabama’s best gymnastics would be less impressive than Florida or UCLA’s best gymnastics. If Florida has another Florida postseason, and if UCLA has another beam hemorrhage or succumbs to injury, I fully expect Alabama to win the championship, but the quest for the title this year may not be entirely within their control.