A few thoughts about this weekend’s team performances.
I haven’t had an opportunity to see much of Arkansas or Oklahoma yet, so I don’t have a lot to say about those teams aside from Arkansas turning a few heads with that score in the first meet. It will go a long way toward gaining national reputation if they can reside near the top of the rankings for a while. We see from the scores that Katherine Grable did indeed perform well to support (outshine?) Jamie Pisani. The Razorbacks actually appeared to have a very Oklahoma meet with a new gymnast stepping up on each apparatus to boost the scoring. Keep an eye on them. For the last few years the line has been, “If you have an off meet, Arkansas will beat you.” They’re working hard to remove the conditional clause from that sentence in 2012.
Georgia – 196.525
Georgia came out of the first weekend with the highest score in the country. I not so concerned with the (mostly valid) complaints of overscoring at the meets hosted by Georgia and UCLA, especially at this point in the season. I’m much more concerned with routine quality and potential. So, Georgia’s score is a nice confidence booster for them but is not particularly relevant.
Nonetheless, Georgia has a lot to be proud of from this weekend, most importantly that they put together a complete meet, something they did only a handful of times all of last season. They weren’t close to perfect, but they showed a lineup capable of hitting four solid rotations every single week with a number of standout routines on bars and a few on vault. Kat Ding’s 9.975 on bars and “9.925” on vault were necessary in sparking the team’s scoring success, and she will clearly lead the group on those events.
That being said, it would be foolish to get too excited about Georgia’s potential right now because we also saw some glaring weaknesses exposed. Floor and beam appeared sparse in terms of scoring potential, and going forward it will be crucial to get Chelsea Davis into the all-around to purge the lineup of some of these less pleasant routines. In addition, Shayla Worley needs to be the scoring leader with 9.9s on both of those events. She’s probably their most talented floor worker, and even though it’s hard to envision her staying healthy and consistent enough to post a 9.9 every week, the team needs it. Noel Couch can’t be the floor anchor. She just can’t.
Relying on Couch to get a 9.875 on floor and Christa Tanella to get a 9.850 on beam is not a viable long-term scoring strategy. Davis and Worley have to take up the scoring responsibility on those events with their higher quality, more enjoyable gymnastics. Couch and Tanella both perform like they are trying way too hard to make friends with every single person in the audience in a “look how much fun I’m having!” kind of way. They have a calculated, spastic enthusiasm that comes across more like socially awkward desperation. They need to transition to calm, presentable confidence now that they are upperclassmen. Just settle down, close your mouth, and perform your routine. And that Jaws routine certainly doesn’t help Couch seem like a more mature performer. It’s too mime-y and childish for my taste.
In all, Georgia proved this week that they can be a top 6 team. Remaining at the top of the conversation, though, is a new challenge that they will still have to prove they can meet.
UCLA – 196.075
UCLA should be thanking their lucky stars (and a tremendous vault rotation) that they still came out of the first weekend with the third highest score in the country (with some excellent teams yet to compete). In the previous post we heard Val’s thoughts on the matter, which were both delightful and true. I especially appreciated her dismissal of the trite “we have a lot to work on…” nonsense answer. This was a win that felt like a loss and should be treated like a loss.
I made the comment in the preview regarding Florida that it is fine to have falls on beam in the early meets as long as those falls are part of aggressive routines. None of UCLA’s mistakes were part of aggressive routines. The floor tumbling looked imprecise and unprepared across the lineup, which is especially unfortunate if the team really was as prepared as Val says they were. That floor rotation looked like a November intrasquad.
Of greater (and, unfortunately, expected) concern was the absolute trash heap of a beam rotation. Olivia Courtney and Lichelle Wong performed so nervously and tentatively and probably deserved even lower scores than they received. They looked like they would rather be anywhere else in the world besides competing beam. I won’t spend too much time on the hit routines from Gerber, Larson, and Peszek because at least they hit, but even those were tentative, uncertain performances with a few silly mistakes.
However, the biggest issue of this meet for me was Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs. I usually love watching EHH’s gymnastics. When she’s on, she sells it to the back row like UCLA gymnasts are supposed to, but those times have become fewer and farther between over the last year+. Last season, she seriously underperformed especially at championships when they needed her to step up in the absence of Zamarripa. I know it’s only one meet this year, but she had a silly fall on her go-to skill on beam and followed it up with one of her worst floor performances in a while (on a downgraded routine!) I’m deeply concerned that she won’t get that 2010 quality back.
UCLA can take some solace that they performed poorly and still scored well. That vault rotation (while not 49.550 good) was still excellent and over time can become a legitimate 49.550 with some stuck landings. Bars was just sort of fine with some smaller errors that can be worked on. Although Whitcomb did look pretty far away from being lineup-ready, and they will need her in that top 6. Presumably the team has already received a patented Val chat and hopefully will come out next week not competing like nervous, untalented wrecks. They’re too good to allow this to happen again this year. Stop it.
Utah – 196.025
Utah fans feel that they should have won that meet against UCLA. In truth, neither team should have won. If I were in charge, they would both receive a loss.
The positive for Utah is that they responded well to adversity. They recovered after a dire first rotation, and they hit after a disastrous beam routine from Lofgren. Even though they scored higher on vault, the best rotation was probably floor. The Marsdens have done a smart thing by having all these E mounts to show off a high skill set, but there are still too many low chest landings for my liking. That’s the kind of thing that will keep them scoring lower than an Alabama or a Florida. Vault scored well, but they don’t have the same amplitude as UCLA and would be well served by getting one or two Yurchenko 1.5s into the lineup.
Beam continued the trend we saw last season, where they can take a victory from being solid and not giving up a second fall, but they don’t have a standout routine. The leadoff isn’t noticeably better than the anchor, and there is no one that jumps out as deserving a 9.9. For all the commitment to difficulty on floor, there are still too many safer routines and dismounts (2 gainer fulls in the group of 6) for my taste. This is a rotation that plays not to lose instead of playing to win. That won’t cut it in the postseason. The 5th and 6th gymnasts at least need to have a standout routine.
As for bars, UCLA’s beam rotation almost scored better than Utah’s bar rotation. That’s how bad it was. There were so many leg separations and so many missed handstands that I started to lose count when doing the live blog. Even though she fell, I would give the award for best routine to Georgia Dabritz because she was the only one who hit handstands and performed with the potential for cleanliness. This rotation should be a big red flag for Utah and needs to be addressed immediately. Cortni Beers in particular was all over the place, just like at the Red Rocks Preview. I’m not really sure why her incredibly sloppy routine is in the lineup right now.
For a team that has to make their way by being more consistent than their rivals, they did not show enough of that this week. While some of the issues on bars and beam can be fixed, they may not have enough great routines. Utah’s performance brings us back to the question, where are the 9.9s?
Florida – 196.025
Even though Florida scored equivalently to UCLA and Utah, I’m the most optimistic about their performance. First, they were away at NC State in a meet that was scored relatively conservatively compared to other meets. While there were some overscores (I thought Ashanee Dickerson got the benefit of the doubt), there were just as many underscores (Marissa King a few times) that it balanced out.
Florida’s pushed back training schedule was on display as we saw a lot of unpolished gymnastics and uncertain landings, but they hit the routines that they needed to hit and can actually use this as a confidence-building result rather than something they have to come back from or atone for. Kiersten Wang and Rachel Spicer clearly are not up to form yet, but I also don’t expect them to be competing as many routines in the future as we saw from them this week. This was, in many ways, a surprisingly experimental lineup from Rhonda, and that willingness to experiment should serve the team well going forward. Even though the beam score was not great with everyone in the 9.750-9.825 range, they got six hit routines and have a starting point from which to evaluate the group.
Of the four teams discussed here, Florida’s lineup was also probably the farthest from ideal. They had only two routines from Alaina Johnson and zero routines from Mackenzie Caquatto, and those six missing scores (all of which should be 9.850+ come the later season) would make a huge difference to Florida’s overall total and quality.
While I take more encouragement from this performance than I do from some others, this meet was not without red flags. Besides the continued wariness about beam (I still don’t really trust anyone in that lineup), my biggest concern is bars depth. The great routines from Caquatto and Johnson are almost like a trick because they mask the averageness of the rest of the team. When it comes to championships, two scores cannot carry a rotation. You need three at least. Rhonda needs to find that third bar routine.
It will be a few weeks before Florida has stiff SEC competition, and I’m interested to see how those bars and beam lineups handle the pressure of a tight meet, especially away. Still, Florida can probably make the legitimate claim that they are on the right track after this meet.