Because last year’s Super Six and the subsequent discussion was all about the close margin between Alabama, Florida, and UCLA, it’s easy to forget that Utah finished less than half of a point behind the champions. Now, I would make the argument that a lack of proper separation between scores was a problem there (and throughout the season, and always, a point I will be sharpening for, oh, the next six months), but even taking that into account, Utah wasn’t completely blown away by the top three last year.
The single biggest deficit that the Utes faced when compared to the eventual champion Alabama came on vault, which accounted for nearly half of the difference in scores. Utah fans should therefore be pleased that the new freshman class features two standouts on that event (Taylor Allex and Breanna Hughes), both of whom boast solid Yurchenko 1.5s that were consistently scoring in the 9.750-9.800 range in JO. With these two, Utah should be able to withstand the loss of Kyndal Robarts on this event and improve on last season’s scores (while also featuring a refreshingly low-ish number of Yurchenko fulls).
The less pleasant news comes when we rotate to bars. The team is losing routines from both Stephanie McAllister and Cortni Beers, but only one of the new freshmen (Hughes) looks like a potential contributor on that event. Bars is not nearly as strong for Allex or Haley Lange. Someone like Nansy Damianova could come into the lineup to fill the empty spot, but it will be difficult for the team to improve too much on bars from last year, and I foresee a lot of 9.800s.
Overall, this is one of the more unheralded freshman classes of the year because there are no elites, but I anticipate these newcomers competing at the same level we have seen from Utah the past three seasons or so. Expect Breanna Hughes to be the big all-around contributor. She doesn’t have a significantly weaker event, and her nice form on bars and competitive difficulty on all pieces should help her be an early-mid lineup worker wherever the Utes need.
Taylor Allex is a nice recruit for vault and floor, and I see her contributing in both places during the season. Beam is OK, but I would put an asterisk next to it for consistency. Utah has a habit of creating beamers, though, and the team prides itself on beam consistency, so we may see some of Allex there. I’ve seen the least of Haley Lange, but it appears (especially in her beam work) that acro elements are the comfort and dance elements are the nail biters. I do appreciate that she competes handspring vaults, but she will be the type who has to learn new skills and improve some areas of form while at Utah to be a contributor. She’s not entering as a lineup-ready gymnast. The team released video during the summer of her training a double layout on floor, which is exactly the kind of development I’m talking about.