Before the Red Rocks Preview, I didn’t realize just how young Utah’s team is this year. While it seems like every coach every season says, “We have such a young team this year,” Utah is looking at a bunch of lineups made up of Corrie Lothrop and underclassmen, which is not necessarily a problem but could be a recipe for some early-season falls. These lineups won’t be full of obvious choices. They will have to be molded.
While McAllister, Robarts, and Beers weren’t usually full of 9.9s, they brought in a bunch of reliable routines in the 9.850 range that will need to be replaced somehow. Usually, finding a 9.850 from somewhere isn’t a problem for a team like Utah, but the Utes have an uncharacteristic lack of depth right now where they are merely eight deep on events where they are usually ten or eleven.
A large factor in that lack of choice is the injury problem. Kailah Delaney and Taylor Allex will be out until midseason, which creates a scenario where some new people will have to come in on events that they probably wouldn’t otherwise compete. We’ll probably see a bit more of Tory Wilson and some of Lia Del Priore as well, at least early in the season.
Lothrop and Georgia Dabritz will have to lead the team with late-lineup routines on every event that are 9.875 at minimum and probably more like 9.900. At Regionals and Nationals last season, Lothrop and Dabritz recorded four scores in the 9.9s out of twenty-one routines. For this team to be successful in 2013, that 9.9 rate is going to need to be closer to 50%. The freshmen are a bit difficult to evaluate because neither Allex nor Breanna Hughes is fully healthy. Ideally, Hughes could be a contributor on any event and Allex could go on vault and floor. Haley Lange is probably closest to competing on beam.
Vault will be the biggest work in progress until the returns of Delaney and Allex. Delaney has the best Yurchenko full on the team, and she will likely need to anchor for 9.925s when she gets back into the lineup.
Until then, in a trend we will see on many events, Dabritz is going to have to take on more scoring responsibility than she did last year and be more than just a fine third up. She began to hit her stride on vault at the end of last season to record the 9.9s that we all know she’s worth, and that will have to be the case from the very start this year. Expect Wilson to vault every week as well. She’s sort of the Noel Couch of this lineup. She’s not going to win any contests for dynamics or grace, but the girl can stick a vault like no one’s business. I was also pleased to see the improvement in Lothrop’s Omelianchik at the RRP, and that will be a useful mid-lineup vault for high 9.8s.
Both Allex and Hughes can be strong vaulters when healthy, and there will be the usual slew of 9.800s that can fill in until the team is 100%. Lopez and Del Priore, for instance, are perfectly acceptable vaulters who can go when necessary but won’t be ideal in a later-season lineup. I think we’ll see a few 49.1s in the beginning while the lineup is figuring itself out, but I expect 49.300+ as we progress.
Bars is more troubling than vault because even last year, though it wasn’t always the weakest event, it had the lowest ceiling. There were never going to be many 9.9s, and now the anchor is gone. Dabritz will absolutely have anchor the rotation this season. She has a Comaneci and good form, and there’s no reason she shouldn’t be 9.9s every week. I’d certainly like to see her later in the lineup than Lothrop because Dabritz’s scoring potential is greater. Lothrop is a workmanlike 9.850-9.875, but her lack of amplitude on flight elements will keep her from being the big-scoring anchor.
Breanna Hughes is going to be a major addition here. She didn’t dismount at the RRP because she still wasn’t completely healthy, but she has some of the best form on the team and will be called upon to be more than just a 9.850. Speaking of 9.850, that’s probably going to be Hailee Hansen’s ceiling (at least on the road) because while she has nice qualities, the leg separations are going to knock her down. Beyond these four, I’m concerned. Kassandra Lopez can be a leadoff 9.800 again, but it’s going to be a struggle to put together six high scoring routines. Damianova maybe? Lofgren? We’re already at the bottom of the barrel. Dabritz, Lothrop, and Hughes need to be excellent because the rest of the lineup is going to take a hit.
Half the beam lineup has graduated, and it’s going to show. Even last year the beam group was nerve-racking enough that Lothrop had to be the leadoff and Lopez the anchor, which conceded some score building and any opportunity to squeeze a 9.900 or two out of the lineup. Though she lacks lift in her elements, Lothrop is the top beamer on this team and needs to go sixth.
Expect Lofgren and Lopez to stay in the lineup as well, but after that there will be opportunities for whoever can prove the ability to hit. Dabritz is too talented to be out of this lineup, and I expect her to be given multiple chances to be an all-arounder. I’m not giving out awards for her dance elements, but it’s becoming clearer and clearer that her overall skill level and refinement can be a savior for Utah this year. The consistency still has to come. Of the freshmen, Haley Lange was a surprise from the RRP and can figure on this event along with potentially Hughes.
Even without two of the better workers from last season, McAllister and Robarts, this event still looks to be among the healthier for Utah. Lothrop and Dabritz should be strong in those final two positions, and there are several sophomores with the tumbling prowess to figure in the lineup the way that Tutka did last season (and probably again this season). I would also anticipate seeing Damianova as well as a couple of the freshmen (with Allex the most likely).
Unlike bars and beam, Utah should not have a problem finding six floor routines that can go 9.850 and can probably keep pace with what the team did last year for 49.300+. Last year’s postseason proved that the judges really aren’t concerned with difficulty as long as the routine starts from a 10, so I don’t believe that the E-passes narrative will change any specific scoring for the Utes, though I do commend their trying to establish an identity as the team of difficulty. Now that just needs to translate to the other events. You can’t be the team of difficulty if you’re dismounting beam with gainer fulls.
There are going to be some squeaks and groans early in the season (meaning 195s). Those bars and beam lineups are nowhere near solidly defined yet, and it’s going to take some time to create routines and see who can hit them. As we progress, I envision a lot of meets in the mid-high 196s where vault and floor are 49.300s and then bars and beam are hovering around 49.000.
We’re accustomed to uncertainty with some of the teams, but this is less usual territory for Utah. They really will have to experiment to see what works in terms of lineups. The Utah reputation helps because I’m inclined to give them the benefit of consistency. I can’t see Utah showing up to Nationals with a beam rotation that can’t hit. They may very well be hitting for 9.825s that will send them out before Saturday, but they’re going to be able to hit.
Step one will be getting the entire team healthy, but once that happens, pay specific attention the first two routines on bars and beam. If those are solid and reliable (again, even if just 9.825s) this will probably be the same Utah season we’ve seen for the past three years, but if they are settling for questionable hits or 9.775s, 2013 could be a problem.