The two-time defending champions are not the vogue pick to win a third-straight title this year. That has a little bit to do with a lack of positive reputation among vocal fans, many of whom are based in the greater Athens area, and many coaches. Tellingly, the coaches never select Alabama as preseason #1 even though it is almost procedure for Georgia and UCLA to be awarded preseason #1 after they win titles. It’s a reputation that does not extend to judges, though, hence the titles.
Much of the lack of favoritism this year, though, can be attributed to a loss of talent. Last year, the team didn’t feel the graduation of Kayla Hoffman particularly dramatically because Ashley Priess came back. It was mostly a wash. This year, they will feel the lack of Geralen Stack-Eaton. I foresee a season where we hear a lot of “If only Geralen were in that lineup” when the team needs a crucial 9.950 that doesn’t come.
The incoming freshmen, Lauren Beers and Carley Sims, cannot alone be expected to fill those 9.900s on every event. That wouldn’t be a fair or realistic expectation. The upperclassmen will have to be a little more 9.900 and a little less 9.850 across multiple events, but I’ll get to that more in December when I preview the teams as a whole. For now, let’s look at where we can expect the freshmen to contribute.
Lauren Beers has enough talent to compete in the all-around this season if needed, though I don’t anticipate that happening too often. She has the usual Bama strengths, vault and floor, featuring a Yurchenko 1.5 that she competed as an elite and improved in JO and a high double layout on floor. If she’s consistently landing the Y1.5, that should help get her into a very deep vault lineup.
She has the skill set on beam but is definitely not a beamer. My impression of her on that event will forever be tainted by a disastrous performance from elite Nationals when she fell on a stoop-through mount and only barely broke 10 (10.600 with a 5.200 execution). That kind of performance stays with you. On bars, she can compete and likely can score in that 9.800-9.850 territory that we’ve been seeing from Kim Jacob, Sarah Demeo, and Kaitlyn Clark. In fact, her overall style is very similar to Kaitlyn Clark’s, and I see them having similar careers.
I know much less about Carley Sims, but based on her recruiting video, she was born for Bama. Vault is very nice (she outscored Beers there at JO Nationals this year), and floor could come along. Bars is just sort of fine, but I don’t expect to see her on beam at all. When there are wobbles in the recruiting video, it’s usually not a good sign.
I made the same comment last year (so it doesn’t necessarily hold weight because they won the title), but I have concerns about this team on bars. Priess and the occasional Sledge are the only names I anticipate sporting 9.900s next to them this season. They’ll need those 49.600s on vault.