It was a severely depleted Sooner team that limped to a still-respectable 196.925 at National Semifinals last year, missing out on Super Six for the first time in three years. Couple the graduations of Megan Ferguson, Sara Stone, and Candace Cindell with the returns of Kayla Nowak, Rebecca Clark, and Lauren Alexander and the introductions of Keeley Kmieciak, Haley Scaman, Maile’ana Kanewa, and Hunter Price, and I think we can expect the 2013 Sooners to be a completely different animal from the group we saw compete at the end of 2012.
The most high-profile challenge for Oklahoma this season will be finding a way to withstand the loss of Ferguson’s three 9.9+ routines. In typical Oklahoma fashion, I expect that to be a team effort. I don’t see one single member of this 2013 group suddenly emerging as a multiple-9.9 machine. Different stars on different events will likely help this team 9.875 most opponents to death.
While the hole left by Ferguson will be notable, I’m more interested in how this group of freshmen will contribute on Ferguson’s nonevent, vault. Vault saw the most serious depletion last year (poor Haley Sorensen was put in the position of having to contribute even though no one could have expected more than a 9.700 from her). Still, no gymnasts recorded 9.9s at Regionals or National Semifinals, so even a healthy team would have been unlikely to contend with the 49.600 sisters. In addition, they have lost their best vaulter in Sara Stone, so the Sooners will need the biggest contribution from the freshmen there, and it appears they will get it.
Keeley Kmieciak was the strongest vaulter in JO last year and recorded the only 9.900 at JO Nationals with her stuck Yurchenko 1.5. Haley Scaman also has a very strong Y1.5 than can verge on excellent. Look for these two to help lift Oklahoma out of that gully of Yurchenko halves they have been sitting in recently.
In fact, every one of these freshmen stands out on vault and floor, which seems to indicate a concerted effort by K.J. Kindler to address the areas where she was falling behind the teams that can potentially put up six 9.900s. Kmieciak won floor in her division at JO Nationals as well and shows a nice tuck full, but more importantly she has confident landings and a comfortable performance persona that should serve her well in NCAA.
Scaman shows a double layout on floor and has strong amplitude overall. She had a bit of an episode on beam at JOs, but she can present well there at times and could make the lineup.
Kanewa, as mentioned, is also a vault and floor specialist who has shown a strong pike full for several seasons now (particularly good posture on landing) and has a workable 9.800-ish Yurchenko full. Based on her JO quality, I wouldn’t expect her to contribute on bars or beam, but Oklahoma always surprises by having unexpected gymnasts emerge on unexpected events. Observe:
Kanewa Bars – February 2012
Kanewa Bars – two weeks ago
The improvement fairy came to visit.
The fourth freshman, Hunter Price, has strengths, but I have trouble seeing her contributing. She shows a nice handspring front pike on vault, but it’s still just a handspring front pike. She would have to upgrade. Similarly, floor can be OK, but I’m not sold on the difficulty or the landings.
Overall, I’m encouraged by vault, but watch the progression of this group on bars because there will need to be continued development to make that a competitive event. We’re not made of Brie Olsons.