#1 Alabama Preview

And so we arrive at the top with the defending champions.

In contrast to Florida, which has received an influx of major talent, and UCLA, which has lost so many routines, Alabama should remain the most intact from last season. Geralen Stack-Eaton leaves a void that will need to be filled on each event, but that’s just one routine per apparatus. There are plenty of other 9.9s sticking around, and I would not be surprised at all to see the other five workers on each event remain the same. That’s a strong group, a championship-winning group, and there’s little need to rearrange things and little evidence that there are better options.

The two new freshmen, Lauren Beers and Carley Sims, are both possible contributors. Beers could come in on any event and Sims could compete on vault and floor, but neither will be an automatic replacement for Stack-Eaton in the later positions on all the events. I expect Sims to compete a few routines and potentially make a lineup, and Beers will dabble on most events and make a couple lineups.

Alabama is not suddenly going to be a different team or even a better team than last year, but matching the 2012 performance is possible. The concern for Alabama is that simply staying as good is often not enough to win the title. The championship team from 2011 would not have come close to winning the title in 2012. The team improved, most notably in those first and second spots on most events. Florida is going to be a more formidable opponent, so where does that improvement lie this year?


Surpassing Florida’s scoring potential is going to be a rough task, but the landings on vault will be one of the most important areas where Alabama can establish an edge. This team is somewhat more capable of producing a lineup that sticks every time, and those will be valuable .05s come the postseason.

I see very little danger of an Alabama vaulting team that scores below 49.400. There are too many powerful Yurchenkos in this group so that even those who don’t land precisely can still score 9.850. Even when Diandra Milliner vaults poorly by her standards, her only deductions are .050 for bent knees and .100 for the landing. She should anchor again, supported by Gutierrez who has my favorite full on the team now and who will also only very rarely go below 9.900.

There will be options for the rest of the spots, but Kayla Williams needs to be deep in that lineup. I’d love to see the 1.5 manifest in competition, but regardless of which vault she performs, she is too talented and powerful to be settling for a perfectly fine vault that maxes out at 9.900 in the leadoff spot. Someone who has done this should be contending for 10s.

Ashley Sledge is a good bet for one of the earlier spots, but she does have a bit more trouble controlling her vault and ventures down to 9.850 more often than the others, so keep an eye on that. Depending on her sturdiness at this point, Priess should also be vaulting with a proven 9.875. The team does have enough depth that, if it becomes necessary to save Priess for bars and beam, they can do so without losing much. Kaitlyn Clark is another option, but keep an eye on both Beers and Sims for spots in this lineup. Beers has a 1.5, and both have strong potential for 9.9s. They will contend fiercely for spots, likely over some of the supporting 9.850 sisters. I expect multiple scores over 49.500 this year, both at home and away.


This rotation is the single biggest reason that Florida is the favorite over Alabama for the title this year. Stack-Eaton was crucial to this lineup, and without her, Alabama has only two proven 9.9s, Priess and Sledge. Both Priess and Sledge should score well, but they are not guaranteed those 9.9s every week. Both have been known to have moments where they dip into the 9.8 territory, and both are unlikely to come up with 9.950s that can save a weaker performance from an earlier gymnast.

The rest of the team is a perfectly acceptable but ultimately pedestrian 9.850 parade, and it’s quite likely that without another standout emerging, this rotation will frequently score in that dreaded 49.250–49.300 level that provokes adjectives like good, fine, regular, and solid. I’m not convinced by any of the returners who didn’t make the lineup last season, so I expect the group to remain the same with everyone jumping up a peg to replace Stack-Eaton and with Beers coming in somewhere in the beginning. Apparently, some of these early 9.850s are adding difficulty this year, which is commendable, but I am yet to be sold on any increased scoring potential. When Florida has Sloan or Mackenzie Caquatto in the 4th position and Alabama is countering with Clark or Beers, a definite scoring disparity emerges.


Alabama absolutely won the beam award at Championships last year (recovering from that trauma at SECs) on the strength of 9.900s from everyone who has ever lived. Even more than on bars, I expect this lineup to stay intact because it worked last year and because the freshmen are not stellar enough on this event to change things. Someone has to come in and replace Stack-Eaton, and there is discussion that it will be Kaitlyn Clark, though she rarely competed last year.

I would prefer to see Ashley Sledge and Marissa Gutierrez compete on this event because they are my favorite gymnasts on the team, but I also recognize how misguided that is. There are enough Alabama beamers who feel comfortable up there and would require some kind of gale force wind to be removed from the apparatus that there is no need to put up any heart attack routines. My one concern is perhaps Milliner because she always works beam with a facial expression somewhere in the realm of nervous collapse/possessed by a ghoul, but it seems to work for her because she doesn’t really fall.

The lineup order should change, though, since it won’t be necessary to bury Kim Jacob in that leadoff position and stunt her score. Yes, we know she can hit, but they all can hit. Anyone could take that leadoff spot and do well after some experience. Jacob can be a 9.950 and should probably be performing in the 5th position right behind Priess. Demeo will probably be in the later part of the lineup as well, but I’d actually consider putting her earlier. Because it’s so difficult to stick a double pike, Demeo has a lower scoring ceiling than does someone like Jacob, so it’s less likely that she would be the beneficiary of score building. Plus, I love starting out a rotation with a showpiece skill.


It’s Alabama and floor. We know there will be power. We know there will be big scores. Success here is not, however, a given. I’d like to see a bit more turnover in this rotation than on some of the other events because there is no need to settle for scores below 9.900. Kayla Williams needs to be in this lineup. There is no way she isn’t one of the best tumblers on the team, so the coaches need to wrench a competition-worthy performance out of her somehow. Going on talent, she should score up there with the best in the country

Gutierrez has an excellent routine and will be deep in this lineup, and Milliner is strong enough to get those 9.9s consistently. I don’t think any other position is certain. Ashley Priess could be here, but her tumbling doesn’t match that of some of her teammates. It’s only going to get more difficult for her. Just like on beam, I think Kim Jacob’s score gets stunted by going first. She’s one of the better floor performers on the team, and I would prefer her here over even Priess if that’s the choice. Ideally, I’d have both of them in the lineup along with Lauren Beers (I’ve almost written Cortni Beers every single time), but that does oust Ashley Sledge. It’s sort of crazy that she doesn’t have more impressive tumbling, but her routine has not been 9.9-worthy in the past. Until she gets to that level, she’s not one of my top six. 

Floor is the other strong event for Carley Sims. She may not be needed this year but likely will be next year, so I’d expect to see her get some competition time early in the season. Lora Leigh Frost is another possibility, but her consistency didn’t convince me at all last year. She’s sort of the Becca Alexin of floor, the one who has the skills and positive qualities but probably shouldn’t be in the lineup in an ideal situation. This is another potentially 49.400-49.500 event, but the gymnast selection will be key. Who are the judges going to be willing to crown with 9.9s?

It would be quite remarkable if this Alabama team were to win three consecutive championships. As of now, it’s possible but not the most likely scenario. As I mentioned on vault, if everything remains in its current state of health, Alabama’s best route to beating Florida is by being better stickers. It’s been two championships in a row now that Alabama has won on the strength of superior landings. If Florida can’t get them together, the Gators may find themselves falling short again. As we get into March, compare the landings. It will tell us a great deal.

I think there are enough 9.9s on this team that the disappeared scoring potential of Stack-Eaton won’t feel like a major loss. There should still be gymnasts to come into that 5th position on each event and get a 9.900. I don’t anticipate that Alabama will be in need of a star to save the day, but if the routines that are coming in to each event to replace GSE are the dropped scores, then there could be a problem in overall scoring potential. Watch out for that as well as the scores of the 9.850 brigade on bars. If they become even the 9.875 brigade this season, bars might be a survivable rotation.

#2 UCLA Preview

UCLA is a tough one this year. Peszek was a rock, Hopfner-Hibbs was a beam and floor star, Gerber was a beauty on the weaker events, and Frattone was a dominant vaulter. Losing those eleven routines (which include seven of the twelve back-half routines from last season) is almost impossible to endure while maintaining the same quality. The Bruins will have a difficult road to repeat the accomplishments of the last three years, but a strong class of freshman specialists and the lure of unfulfilled potential mean that it is still a possibility.

The Bruins are less secure in success than many of the other top teams because any projected triumph is going to be based on what athletes will need to do rather than what they have already proven they can do. It’s not about continuing on the same worn path; it’s about finding a new one full of terrible, trite metaphors about tangled branches and overgrown cottages and a single rose. It is imperative that Mattie Larson become an all-around threat who can contribute in the 4th and 5th positions of every rotation. She needs to be the plucky sidekick stenographer to Vanessa Zamarripa’s pants-wearing, cigarette holder-clutching leading lady. A repeat of the 2012 performance will see the team suffer in a way it didn’t last year.

Danusia Francis seems to be a perfect fit for this team, and she will be expected to star on beam and contribute on floor right away, which will lessen the blow of the Hopfner-Hibbs/Peszek losses. Sophina DeJesus is a wonderful dancer, but the jury is out on commendations more emphatic than that. Asi Peko had success as a junior elite and a Level 10, but it’s been a while, and her level is still a mystery.

Most of all, though, the freshman class is about Peng Peng Lee, and if she were healthy, it would be a lot easier to be emphatic about this team. It’s a real shame that Lee and Zamarripa will never get to compete the AA together, though I suppose the idea is that Lee becomes the new Zamarripa. She can be that good. There was some discussion about whether Lee would be pushed to come back for the end of the year, but the injury to Peszek all but guarantees that as long as her health allows it, Lee will be back on bars and beam for the postseason.

Looking through these potential lineups, there is no guarantee against this team becoming a catastrophe. We have no mental giants in Westwood. But if if if everyone, Mattie, does what she is capable of doing, Mattie, this team could be a sight to see. 


The Bruins had a tremendous punch at the end of this lineup last year that helped them easily keep pace with the massive scores posted by Alabama and Florida. They’ve lost two significant cogs in Frattone and Peszek, but Olivia Courtney should still be vaulting for 9.9s every week, and Zamarripa is Zamarripa. Those 5th and 6th routines will help the event from being a problem, even if they are receiving just supporting 9.850s from the rest of the team (though I think they’ll get a bit more than that).

At the Meet the Bruins event, Zamarripa showed the RO 1/2 on, layout 1/2 instead of the Yurchenko full, and I’m of multiple minds about her actually competing it. On the one hand, I’m in favor of the RO 1/2 because otherwise this will lineup will be a snoozer with six Yfulls, and we’ll all die of boredom. On the other hand, without Frattone and Peszek, the Bruins needs to squeeze every possible tenth out of this lineup, and the Yfull is a proven 10 with fewer opportunities for deductions. The boring path may be the smarter one.  

I have to assume that Mattie Larson struggled on vault in training at the end of last season because otherwise it was ludicrous to compete Kaelie Baer’s 9.800 over Larson’s 9.875. While the DTY was always a struggle for Larson as an elite, she is a strong vaulter with commendable amplitude, and it will be unacceptable for her miss the lineup or compete for 9.825s. She needs to be vaulting fourth for 9.9s.

As for the rest of the lineup, there will be no shortage of vaults in the low-mid 9.8 range from which to choose (Baer, Sawa, Wong, De La Torre, McDonald), but competing more than one of those vaults is going to help the team right to a 49.350. Fine, but already allowing a deficit to Alabama and Florida. Sawa has a bit more potential to stick for a higher score, so I expect to see some of her. Wong can be graceful but lacks distance and a solid landing. A few of these vaulters will need to prove worthy of more than they have in the past, especially away from Pauley.  

Asi Peko is the big question mark here. She showed promise on vault sixteen decades ago, and she can be a major boost to the lineup if she’s the same gymnast that she was then. The other healthy freshmen are unlikely to factor here. Danusia Francis has a whippy little British Yurchenko with no lift, and Sophina DeJesus shouldn’t be allowed to look at the vaulting table.


I’m forecasting this as the year of bad bars. Florida is the only team that appears strong enough on this event to garner massive scores. UCLA lost its anchor in Gerber and its stalwart mid-lineup 9.875–9.900 in Peszek. Zamarripa will need to be her 9.925 self in the anchor position every week, but I do hope she ends up adding a same-bar release this season because otherwise her routine comes across as too easy and risk-free for her. Her Deltchev in 2010 was wonderful. What happened to that?

Zamarripa is the reliable big score, but the most important bar routines for the Bruins this year will be from Larson and De La Torre. They both recorded far too many scores in the 9.7s last year (the acceptable number was none, by the way). The team managed last year but cannot get by this year without positive scores from both of them every time out. There aren’t other 9.9s that can save them anymore.

Olivia Courtney will compete for 9.850-9.875s (though she is another one who needs her same-bar release back), and her ability to stick the tuck full dismount almost every time is a useful tool that can bump up her score. If we’re going solely based on talent, Lichelle Wong should also be in this lineup, but she has never had a routine composition that allows her to score well. Something has to be done about that dismount.

There will be options to fill the remaining spot or spots (again there are many capable 9.800s on this team), but I anticipate a lineup spot going to a rather random choice like Ellette Craddock or whoever has the most compelling narrative. Really, all of this is just about holding the fort until Peng Peng Lee can come back. The lineup is looking awfully 49.275 without her, and her potential brilliance can save it from mediocrity.


If this beam rotation were an insufferable indie movie about LA-based twentysomething artists with substance abuse problems who learn that a family can be made anywhere, it would be called terr1fy1ng/g0rge0us.

Regardless of the problems in Super Six, Gerber and Hopfner-Hibbs were this beam lineup. Cut them out along with the Sturdiest Little Hoosier (that’s the children’s book I’m writing about Sam Peszek where she stops a runaway train by doing a tuck full in front of it), and this rotation is teetering on the brink of one of those seasons with thirty-five falls per meet. That’s the terrifying part. When Mattie Larson is “the reliable one” . . .

And yet, this rotation can be absolutely beautiful. Imagine a lineup that includes Wong, Francis, Larson, Lee, and Zamarripa. That’s one of the more graceful, exciting groups that could occupy a beam rotation. We know what Larson and Zamarripa can do, and Peng Peng Lee is total elegance from head to toe. Add to that Danusia Francis who, even if she doesn’t compete her spiffy aerial cartwheel in side position, has the difficulty, amplitude, and consistency to make her a star on this event and Lichelle Wong, who was finally becoming a little beamer when she tore her Achilles last year. It’s a heart disease of a group, yes, but it can be stellar.

For the other spot (or the other two spots pre-Peng), Baer is an obvious choice who scored well most of the time last year, and Courtney can come in as well if you feel lineup wasn’t nerve-racking enough already. In all, I expect the usual scores of 48.300 here and there in January and February, but it would be a real shame if this rotation isn’t scoring among the best in the country by the end.


Just like on beam, the team has lost three routines from the 2012 rotation, but I have far fewer concerns about how this lineup will fare. While floor is by far Zamarripa’s worst event, it’s not a disaster. For someone who is never not dancing and smiling, it’s a bit strange how self-conscious she suddenly becomes when performing choreography. Nonetheless, she floats wonderfully through her tumbling elements and hits her dance skills. I expect better routine composition this year along with a fair few 9.9s, especially if she’s throwing the DLO. Olivia Courtney should also be a consistent high scorer. I love how compact she gets on the double Arabian, but occasionally she struggles to control the landing. That skill will determine her overall scoring potential.

Alyssa Pritchett will surely make an appearance as well. It was a mistake to put her 4th up last season as her routine (which was never going to get more than a 9.850 with even scoring) stunted the scores between Courtney and Peszek. The narrative became more important than reality. She has been training a tucked double double, but that is probably just one of those preseason injury chasers that won’t manifest. If it does appear it competition, it will make her a great leadoff because the judges will want to reward the elite-level difficulty with a higher score, which will effectively bump up the rest of the lineup. If Val makes her the anchor (she wouldn’t, right?), then the story really has become more important than reality.

Sure, Sawa and Wong have both scored well in the past and can make appearances here, but Larson must make the lineup. She has been one of the best floor elites in recent years and made a Worlds team solely for her strength on floor. It’s preposterous that she’s not even competing it in NCAA, and that must change.

Both Danusia Francis and Sophina DeJesus need to be in this lineup as well. They have been given the best choreography on the team; it’s just a matter of the tumbling. I’m not confident in DeJesus’s tumbling at all, but she can probably be a strong enough dancer to make up for it even if there are breaks in skills. More so than on any other event, these freshmen will help UCLA remain near the top of the rankings.

It was always going to be a struggle for UCLA to win the title this season against such formidable opposition. The loss of Lee made it less likely, and the loss of Peszek made it unlikely. The Bruins are still a Super Six team, but they are going to need help to win a title. If they perform to their absolute best at Super Six, they can still be defeated by a couple of teams.

Bringing Lee back on two events will be crucial, but getting Mattie Larson to arrive will be even more crucial. Even with the graduations and injuries, this team has enough gymnasts that can be absolutely thrilling to make it an entertaining season, one that will still surely be packed with more than a few 197s. If we’re hearing a lot about Courtney and Sawa and Pritchett, then this will probably be a 5th-place season, but if we’re hearing about Larson, Francis, Wong, and Lee, the streak of top-three finishes can and should continue.     

#3 Florida Preview

For the moment, let’s all pretend that we live in a fantasy land where Florida is actually the #3 team in the country. Things will be more interesting that way. Then we can talk about how this plucky upstart took the nation by storm instead of talking about how the obviously most talented team acted like itself and achieved the #1 ranking. Regardless of how the season finishes, because no one can ever predict what kind of horrors and wonders will take place in Super Six, I do expect the Gators to be ranked #1 for the majority of the season. They are too grand and talented not to be.

In direct contrast to Oklahoma, where success will be cobbled together from every member of the group pitching in a little bit, Florida is a team of stars. While we will likely see one or two routines from outside the galaxy, the Gators in 2013 will be a small, familiar cast of seven all-arounders, each of whom would be the one star on another team: Marissa King, Ashanee Dickerson, Alaina Johnson, Mackenzie Caquatto, Kytra Hunter, Bridget Sloan, and Bridgette Caquatto. Put any combination of six of those seven gymnasts on any event and a 49.500 would not be a surprise. That’s how good this team can be. A 198 (at least one) is attainable.

It’s important, however, not to anoint too early. There are cracks. Small cracks, but cracks nonetheless. Say crack again. Crack. More than a few of these gymnasts have been felled by beam inconsistency before. We need only think back to 2011. More worrisome, though, is injury. This is largely a fragile bunch of elites, and it will be vital that the likes of Randy Stageberg, Kiersten Wang, and Rachel Spicer are ready to compete at the drop of a fibula. If these stars align properly, though, anything less than greatness would be a disappointment.


The Gators don’t have an event that can be considered anything near a weakness, but their success will be measured relative to their closest competitor, Alabama. If Alabama is getting regular 9.9s from every spot in the vault lineup as I expect, Florida needs to be able to match that (or come within a tenth that can be made up on bars). The opening 9.850s from Wang and Spicer that served the team well last postseason will make for comfortable backups but probably shouldn’t be used in an ideal lineup. The goal should be a 49.500.

King always gets underscored with some nonsense 9.850, but her Tsuk 1.5 is made from clouds and liberty and hope for a better future, so I’d love to see her remain in the 5th spot out of spite, sending a little message that her vault is worthy of a 9.9+ every time. Hunter will surely anchor again, and I would not be surprised to see a 10 or two for her this season.

Sloan gets tremendous amplitude on her Yurchenko vaults (one of the main factors that stoked those perennial Amanar rumors), so the full should be quite easy for her and should become a regularly stuck vault for big scores. Dickerson and Johnson likewise will frequently reach 9.9 if they vault the way that they have the past couple of years. The sixth vaulter could very easily be Wang or Spicer without causing much problem for the scores, but Caquatto the Elder has higher scoring potential and can be that sixth 9.9 score. If there is any kind of concern about her leg health, however, I’d prefer to see her saved for bars and beam. It’s not worth the risk.


The single biggest weapon in Florida’s orange arsenal is this bars rotation. All of the other contending teams are going to struggle to put together six high scoring routines, while the Gators will be spoiled for choice. If the most recent intrasquad is any indication, M. Caquatto, Sloan, and Johnson are already performing at a 9.9 level. These three can make for the most formidable back-half trio that we have seen on this event in recent years, now featuring two-thirds of the US lineup from 2010 Worlds. 

It’s a bit surprising that, even with Gainesville scoring, we haven’t seen any 10s on bars over the past two seasons. With three potential nominees to bump up the scores now, a 10 becomes even more likely for the anchor, probably Johnson but potentially Sloan.

This is also the event where I see Caquatto the Younger having the most influence, and she should not be discounted from joining that 9.9 party. She is, however, still recovering from injury and so likely won’t be a factor right away.

For the remaining two spots, Florida has a whole slew of other positive-scoring routines in that 9.850-9.875 territory. King looked a little ragged in the intrasquad video, but she is a proven talent here who can be excellent and was clearly the third-strongest worker last season. I expect her in the lineup for most meets along with Hunter. It would be a little silly to keep the reigning AA champion out of the all-around, so Hunter should take that leadoff spot with a perfectly strong 9.850.

The popular pick seems to be to keep Dickerson out of the lineup for now, and I mostly support that since I have been quite hard on her routine in the past. Well, not so much her routine but the scoring of it. When it has the issues with toes, elbows, and handstands and yet gets a 9.950 (a 9.950), that undermines the legitimacy of the judging as well as the quality of the routines later in the lineup. I’m a 9.950, you’re a 9.950, everyone’s a 9.950! And yet, how can a team bench a proven 9.950 (however suspect) in favor of Hunter, who has never received even a 9.900? Will King be the odd woman out? Or Bridgette Caquatto? Someone has to be.


Spoiled for choice is a bit of a theme for Florida this year, and it continues on beam where I see nine legitimate options, each of whom would be a difficult choice to argue against. There should be no question about putting King and Hunter in those final spots, and 9.900 will be the norm for both of them. Mackenzie Caquatto didn’t compete beam in 2012, but she was the best worker on the team in 2011 (with a high score of 9.975) and should easily return to the lineup to support the top two.

The rest of the group is a bit of a hodgepodge, and I think it would be a shame if Rhonda competes only six gymnasts the whole season again because we would be denied some excellent routines. However, the biggest competition hurdle standing between Florida and a title is the threat of counting a fall in Super Six, so while I would prefer the six biggest, most interesting routines, the Gators need to go for the six most consistent routines, even if it means leaving out a big name. That is the most likely reason for us to see routines from Stageberg or Spicer this season. 

Bridget Sloan should be the obvious choice for another high scorer at the end of this lineup, but I still need to be sold on her consistency. She is the queen of falling on the first day of a competition and then hitting on the second day, but there is no room for that in NCAA. Bridgette Caquatto is no rock here either. Johnson and Dickerson would probably join Sloan in my lineup, but it hasn’t always been a smooth journey for them on beam. They both had consistent 2012s, but if the horrors of the 2011 postseason come calling again, the 9.850 sisters, Stageberg and Spicer, might be better choices. I’d love to see the riskier lineup, but Rhonda likely wouldn’t. If all hit, though, the Dickerson, Johnson, M. Caquatto, Sloan, Hunter, King lineup can be 49.500 kinds of amazing.


I’m perhaps the least comfortable about Florida on floor. The tumbling prowess and talent level are not questions, but the Gators are probably still kicking themselves for some of those landings in the final rotation of Super Six. They also rather underperformed on floor in the semifinal round and at Regionals. Will the coaching staff try to course correct by training hard landings more often and earlier, and will that increase the injury risk and bring back the peaking conversation that was so famous before last season?

The reality is that, with the injury history of these elites, a Johnson, M. Caquatto, Dickerson, King, Sloan, Hunter lineup is a pipe dream. It would be amazing, but it’s unlikely and not necessarily ideal. In fact, it may be smarter to keep both Caquattuses off this event entirely if the health of the rest of the team allows it. They are much more valuable on bars and beam, and the likelihood of keeping them both healthy for multiple years while also having them regularly compete floor is low. While I’d keep Stageberg out of my beam lineup, she will be a nice leadoff on floor that can protect the rest of the team without losing much in scoring potential.

Last year, after Alabama opened the door with a sloppy bars rotation, the Gators should have walked through it to a title. They couldn’t capitalize. No matter, though. We all knew that they would be more talented in 2013 and would totally win a championship. Now, that time has arrived. If Florida is going to win a title, this is the year. After this season, the team will start bleeding dominant routines from King and Dickerson and start relying more on broken American elites. It will get harder.

The Gators are my pick to win the title this year, and I’m not alone. No matter how it plays out, though, it’s going to be fascinating watching them try to get there. Expectation is a dangerous thing. 

#4 Oklahoma Preview

Every refrain about the Oklahoma Sooners after last season began with “If they had been healthy,” and so it was for previews of this season. If they stay healthy, they’re easily a Super Six team and probably the most likely to challenge the top three. Well, that’s all gone out the window already. Kayla Nowak is done for the season, and with her go at least three solid 9.850-9.875 routines.

There is a perception that the Sooners are a bit like a hydra. Cut off a 9.850, and the team will be fine because three more will grow from nothing in its place. Ergo, Kayla Nowak’s scores are replaceable. Like many perceptions, this one is about 75% true. This coaching staff does have the commendable capability to create depth, not just routines but real depth, where it seemed none existed. Expect the team to go on as if no one missed a beat. At the same time, the losses to injury and graduation are starting to pile up without heirs making themselves apparent. A team does not need stars to be successful, but it does need more than lineups full of commendable replacements. It needs 9.9s. Oklahoma is returning just three RQSs of 9.875 or better, fewer than Utah, Stanford, Nebraska, LSU, Georgia, and Oregon State. The Sooners are a better team than that statistic indicates, but there is work to be done to show it.

A significant factor in building up those high-scoring routines will be the freshman class. Powerful Level 10 standouts Keeley Kmieciak and Haley Scaman lead the group, and both will be expected to contribute on at least vault and floor from the start. These two are capable of bringing that RQS total from three to seven on their own. As for the other freshmen, we have seen little from Maile’ana Kanewa recently and nothing at all from Hunter Price, so expect less of them. The return of Lauren Alexander will be more influential.


If Oklahoma is to match the successes of 2010 and 2011, it will be earned largely through improvement on vault. While that makeshift postseason lineup didn’t do the team any favors, vault was the weakest event throughout 2012, often languishing in the 49.2s while bars and beam were in the 49.4s. On vault, anything less than a 49.350 becomes a disability when the best teams are in the 49.5s and 49.6s.

The Sooners will miss Sara Stone’s 9.9s, certainly, but the additions of Scaman and Kmieciak will more than make up for it, bringing both a quality and a level of difficulty that the team couldn’t always boast in the past. Both freshmen competed strong 1.5s in JO, and Scaman’s has been excellent in the preseason. Kmieciak has been training just a full instead of the 1.5, at least for now, but it will be worthy of the late lineup nonetheless. Expect the 4th, 5th, and 6th vaults to be Kmieciak, Olson, and Scaman, all capable of 9.9s.  

Taylor Spears and Madison Mooring will be good for 9.850s in the opening half of the lineup, and the Sooners will be pleased that they can now treat 9.850s as establishing scores for the big guns (as they should be) rather than desirable routines for the 5th position. There will be some degree of choice for the final vaulter, with Clark the most likely and Brewer another option.


In a bit of a change, I’m much more concerned about Oklahoma’s bars than I am about vault, mostly because of the uncertainty of the lineup. There was always going to be a little Megan Ferguson-shaped hole under the low bar, but the losses of Nowak and reliable backups Sara Stone and Candace Cindell really smack the depth in the face to the point where I can’t even come up with six likely competitors. It’s Oklahoma, so they will hydra some 9.800s, but expect experimentation and growing pains in this rotation.

Brie Olson will be the anchor for 9.9s (but will need to cut out those mistakes and random 9.825s if she’s to have that responsibility), and Spears, Clark, and Brewer can all come in for something in the 9.850 territory. That’s a respectable group of four who will get the job done. It won’t be amazing, but it will get the team by. For the other two routines, who is there? The freshmen are unproven on bars, but will likely need to become proven soon.  

I have no idea as to the current status of Hayden Ward. She suffered a serious injury at Regionals last year and then disappeared into the ether. She hasn’t featured in any preseason videos, so it’s impossible to make a judgment about her. If she materializes, she will be a very helpful addition to the depth of this lineup.


It’s a tough category, but I would probably rank beam as Megan Ferguson’s best event. Combine no Ferguson with the losses of Stone and Nowak and Oklahoma would seem to be in line for a disaster on this event in 2013, but I anticipate the 49.3s to flow just as readily this year as last year. There may be fewer 9.950s, but the Sooners will have enough routines that are capable of going as high as 9.900 on a good day.

Spears, Mooring, Olson, Clark, and maybe Brewer in a variety of orders should figure in most meets. Lauren Alexander was exceptional at the intrasquad, and if that’s going to be her norm, then she should absolutely be in the lineup. Also expect the unexpected here, like Lara Albright jumping in and getting a 12.950 or something. There are a lot of routines with very similar scoring potentials in that 9.875 area in this group, so one of the challenges here will be finding a lineup order that adequately takes advantage of score building to get certain gymnasts bumped up to those needed 9.925s. 


The group of tested competitors on floor includes a bunch of 9.850s who will occasionally make a 9.900 of things, namely Olson, Albright, Brewer, and Spears. While Mooring doesn’t often compete floor, I can see her being added to the group quite easily and performing to the same level. The tumbling isn’t going to compete with the most powerful schools, so those 9.900s will have to be won through absolute precision in landings.

That bunch alone would probably account for a solid 49.200-49.300 on most days, but I am more enthusiastic about this lineup than I normally would be about that kind of scoring because of the tumbling abilities of the freshmen, who should help here nearly as much as they will on vault. I expect to see a lot of Kmieciak and Scaman, both of whom show appropriate difficulty, large amplitude, and confident landings that can score exceptionally well.

The injuries and graduations of the last couple of years are blows but not decisive ones. This is still a 197 team, but the degree of national competitiveness is now even more dependent on the freshmen, Scaman and Kmieciak, showing at least 9.875s on two events and potentially more. I have no doubt in this group’s ability to put together a whole season of high 196s, but without proven stars (though Brie Olson needs to be one) and without the stalwart Kayla Nowak, this season will be a major test of Oklahoma’s hydra capabilities. To be a team that can show as many as three 9.9s on an event the way the Sooners could manage occasionally with that Vise/Kelley/Ferguson triple play, new routines will have to grow.

I have enough confidence in the coaching staff and the gymnasts themselves that I’m comfortable predicting Oklahoma into Super Six. I can’t put together a realistic argument for six other teams being more likely to make it than Oklahoma. There is going to be some great gymnastics on this team, and if there is enough stability in the bars lineup and more than just a single 9.900 on each event, the Sooners can finish very close to their preseason ranking.