#5 Utah Preview

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.   

#6 Stanford Preview

Of all the teams, Stanford was the most difficult to rank in my preseason ranking because this team opens the door for so much fluctuation in quality. For the first two months of last season, they were a catastrophe, and not just a “they’ll find their way once they figure out a beam lineup and start working sticks” kind of catastrophe, either. A 194 kind of catastrophe. No one can claim with any confidence that they won’t at least begin 2013 the exact same way.

Yet, it ultimately didn’t take as much as it seemed like it would to dredge them out of 194 land. Getting Alyssa Brown into the lineup on all her events and putting Ivana Hong in the all-around abruptly made this a Super Six team. I have some concern about roster turnover because I don’t see anywhere near the same kind of 9.9 potential in the freshmen that we saw from Brown and Nicole Pechanec. That’s normal because they’re new, but it won’t help the team compete in the short term.

Stanford’s best road to another 4th-place finish doesn’t travel anywhere near a fantasy land where the new ones are getting multiple 9.9s. Having Samantha Shapiro in the all-around and Kristina Vaculik competing as her most consistent self is going to be Stanford’s route of highest potential. Hong, Shapiro, and Vaculik are talented enough to account for potentially seven or eight 9.900 scores on a good day, which is exactly what a championship-caliber team is looking for from its stars. However, this group is not exactly a paragon of health and consistency. Vaculik had a forgettable freshman year, and last year Shapiro never got in on all her events while Hong barely got in under the wire. 

As for the freshmen, Taylor Rice is the most interesting of the group because she is a Cassie clone, first of all, and can be lineup-ready on a couple of events, especially floor. She seems dogged both mentally and physically, which could come to the rescue of this team of fragility. Melissa Chuang is one of those solid JOs who can get a 9.800 on any event you ask of her, but expect to see the most of her on vault and beam. Maggie Teets and Jenna Frowein were the later signings, and I anticipate seeing less of them.


Nowhere was Stanford more enigmatic last year than on vault. This lineup worried me from the start, and early in the season, they were quite poor, not just in terms of landings that could be cleaned up but in terms of amplitude, body position, and overall quality. Yet, they eventually recorded the second-best score on vault in Super Six, including three vaults over 9.900. Now, a little bit of that was the judging at Nationals that is still near-unspeakable to this day, but the improvement cannot be denied.

Looking at the vaulting group for this year, I have the exact same concerns as I did last preseason. The bright spots are Hong, who got her classy Yurchenko full together by the postseason, and Nicole Dayton, whose Yurchenko half always has the potential to be 9.900. Beyond that, it’s not an accomplished group. Pauline Hanset has landing position problems that hurt her score, and I’ve never been sold on Ashley Morgan’s Yhalf. Vaculik needs to be back and capable of sitting in that 4th slot, and Chuang’s solid Yfull needs to be lineupable (word? word.) immediately. Rice’s full is fine but not amazing, though it may need to be used.

Once again, I see this as a 49.250 rotation, but if Kristen can magic them to another 49.500, then more power to her.


Here’s something important to know about Stanford on bars: of the returning gymnasts, Ashley Morgan had the highest RQS last year. The team is really into the narrative about how much she has improved on bars, but she has improved to a 9.850, not an 11.

In the real world, this lineup will be reliant on Hong, Shapiro, and Vaculik. I was pleased to see that Shapiro’s handstands that were so strong as a junior elite made a comeback last year. She can be an anchor here, and if Vaculik hits, she’s stellar. With Hong, how many years have we said, “if only” about her bars? The Stanford coaching staff has largely fixed the DLO; now it’s time to do the same to the Tkatchev or it needs to go.

There’s a little bit of potential in the freshmen here, but they all need development. I like Rice, but I think she needs a dismount. Teets has a Shaposh and a DLO but needs cleaning. The amount we see them will depend on how the likes of Wing and the Morgans fare in those early positions. I don’t see anyone but the top three in the realm of regular 9.9s, but that can be enough.


Beam has the chance to be a real strength where so many other teams are going to struggle, but the operative word is chance. Hong is a Worlds medalist on this event, and Shapiro can be absolutely beautiful here. Both need to be not only making the lineup but making it in the 5th and 6th positions. I would love to say Vaculik should be in this lineup too, but this is the event where I am the least confident with her. Shona Morgan can be excellent, and Amanda Spinner has been a real find who earns those 9.900s every week.

With Wing, Chuang, Rice, and maybe (maybe) Ashley Morgan, this rotation can be regularly over 49.300, but it epitomizes how much of an unknown Stanford will be this year. Look at this group. It could so easily turn to flames.

This is the event where I get to stop punishing Ashley Morgan for how irritating I find her father and appreciate her talent. She is the 9.9 star here (second pass issues aside). Other than Morgan, I have concerns. There is no questioning the possibility of greatness from Hong and Shapiro, but their fragility makes it less likely that they will both be intact and hitting at the same time on floor. Someone is always going to be injured or falling.

There are plenty of 9.800-9.850s from the likes of Hanset, Dayton, Wing, and Shona Morgan, but they are less likely to be major scorers. Mostly what I’m looking forward to seeing is what Taylor Rice is up to here. Her floor routines have been a ridiculous hoot, and she certainly commits. She’s the only freshman I see competing on floor, so Stanford will need to make sure her level of investment in the tumbling matches her level of investment in the dance. Otherwise, this is another 49.250.

I want to predict this team going to Super Six. I want to. I do believe that if everything turns out as it should, they will be there, but there are too many things that have to go counterintuitively right to have any confidence in that. Hong and Shapiro staying healthy for a whole season and competing the all-around most weeks? Why don’t you just ask the gumdrop princess to decree it from her cloud of peppermint?

If there is an injury to one of the major contributors, or even one of the consistent 9.850ers, I don’t think the team will be able to survive it they way the teams ranked ahead of them would be (or will have to be). I’m penciling them into the Super Six for now, but I would have the same level of surprise to their making Super Six as I would to their missing Nationals. It’s a fragile balance beam they’re walking in 2013 that may very well mimic the trajectory from last year.  


#7 Nebraska Preview

Last January I made the comment that Nebraska’s ability to survive on what was essentially a team of six gymnasts was both impressive and unsustainable. In practice, the Huskers managed to sustain relative equilibrium in that position much longer than I expected, right up until a postseason injury to Jamie Schleppenbach pulled down the veil and exposed the lack of depth. The Huskers ultimately finished short of another Super Six berth, landing fifth in their Semifinal.

Only Lora Evenstad has graduated from the gang of six that sustained Nebraska though 2012. Expect the big four of Jessie DeZiel, Janelle Giblin, Emily Wong, and Schleppenbach to once again feature in the all-around and lead the scoring with three strong numbers on each event. A Super Six team, however, cannot survive on just four gymnasts, and it is difficult to see Nebraska replicating even the eighth-place finish from last year without developing 5th and 6th routines on each event and cultivating usable backups that are not simply throwaway 9.800s.

Fortunately for the Huskers, their depth will increase in 2013 with four new gymnasts coming in compared to the loss of just one. I expect Hollie Blanske, Ariel Martin, and Jordyn Beck all to see at least some competition time this season to give the team a solid base of eight gymnasts from which to choose. It’s not an ideal level of depth, but it is an improvement. These new gymnasts will not necessarily have to be stars because there will be enough 9.9 potential at the back of the lineups, but as Nebraska knows well, every 9.7 erases a 9.9. The freshmen need to prove capable of popping up on multiple events and delivering the kind of 9.850s that depth is made of to be useful in competition.


This event is by far the healthiest for Nebraska. While they are probably just a tad short of what the big three teams will bring in, DeZiel, Schleppenbach, Wong, and Giblin are all excellent here and should keep the scores quite high. The lowest RQS for any of them last year was 9.885, which will put the team in the fortunate position of finding even multiple 9.875s disappointing.

In 2012, those four dictated the scoring because Evenstad and Brittany Skinner (and occasionally Jennifer Lauer) were very 9.800. At Championships, Wong and Schleppenbach both vaulted poorly, which killed the rotation. This year, there should be a little bit more backup with Ariel Martin, who is dominant on the power events and has a very clean Yfull, and Hollie Blanske, who has competed a Yurchenko 1.5 in the past. By the postseason, this should be a legitimate 49.450-49.500 rotation.


Without Evenstad, the bars rotation is all about Giblin. She’s a dream here, and Wong and DeZiel are both certainly 9.875 capable, but there is much less room for error. On this event, the dynamic end-of-lineup routines are there, but the depth must improve to make up for the lack of Lora Evenstad and the average routines that look to populate the beginning of the lineup.

I expect Schleppenbach and probably Skinner to make the lineup again, but those routines are not going to be priceless. Blanske is solid here and comes i in with better form than most of the other freshmen around the country. This event could be a little rough on some days, but Giblin, Wong, and DeZiel will help keep it over 49.


Speaking of rough, Nebraska on beam. It’s been a struggle these last few years, a cavalcade of falls and 9.7s that continue to make a 49.000 seem like a blessing. There is not a ton of great happening in this rotation. Wong is by far the best one, and her ability to get a 9.9 makes her potentially the strongest all-arounder on the team, which was borne out at the Big 10 Championships. We all also remember the time that DeZiel showed a wobbleburger of a US team how beam is done at Pan Ams, and I’m sure she will show Nebraska how it’s done a few times in 2013 as well.

After that, tumbleweeds. Giblin, Schleppenbach, and Skinner all can do beam routines in the same way that I can shoot a basketball. It doesn’t mean I should. Jennifer Lauer seemed like a reliable 9.800 at the end of last season, so she may be somewhat helpful here, but mostly keep an eye on Jordyn Beck. Beam is my favorite event of hers. She has more precision than the other freshmen and can contribute here.


Floor is the other event where the loss of Evenstad will be a real blow, but I like the routines from DeZiel, Wong, and Giblin enough to feel secure in the lack of real catastrophe. They’ll be good for 9.850-9.900s to keep the rotation safely positive.  

There should be options for the remaining spots. In addition to Schleppenbach and Skinner, Ariel Martin has a DLO (the second salto is a little piked, but the power is there), and Blanske competes a tuck full and a 2.5, so there will be some usable options among the new ones as well. Expect some good 49.300s here but nothing that sets anyone on fire.

Even though the team lost a major contributor, the freshmen should be able to combine to make up for the loss of tenths. The increased depth will help avoid problems should anyone go down, but I’m skeptical as to whether the Huskers can improve on the overall quality of last season’s team. Nonetheless, it’s still going to be a 197-capable group. They should have no trouble making Nationals and on a good day can make Super Six. The eternal beam concerns make it less likely that the good day will happen when it needs to, but it is well within the realm of possibility.

Watch the top four. If they are consistently getting those 39.550s and higher in the AA, this team will be successful and can carry that through to Nationals. If, however, they are throwing in wonky beam performances and 9.825s too often this season, then Nebraska won’t be able to make it up with other gymnasts and will wallow in the mid 196s. 

Vault Finals

The full minutes from this summer’s committee report are available here, but I wanted to solicit some thoughts on the most interesting recommendation.

b. Vault Finals.
(1) Recommendation. That student-athletes qualifying for the event finals on vault be required to perform one vault with the score determined by averaging all six scores rather than performing two different vaults and the average of the averages of each vault calculated as the final score.

(2) Effective Date. September 1, 2012.

(3) Rationale. Requiring student-athletes to perform a different second vault that they do not train for nor compete the entire year creates an environment that is unsafe for the competitors, lengthens the competition and confuses the general gymnastics fan.

(4) Impact on Budget. None.

(5) Student-Athlete Impact. Positive since the vast majority of student-athletes train one vault all season. This change may potentially lessen the possibility of injuries

What are your thoughts?

To me, this is a better solution than what we have now, but it still is not ideal. The gymnasts who are competent with two different vaults should be able to show that. We need a way to separate those gymnasts from the others so that people with only one vault are not qualifying to finals.

Also included is the new language about floor vocals:
“Vocals will be permitted without deduction when voice is used as an instrument without words. Music with whistles/animal sounds also is permitted. Absence of music or music with speech will receive a 1.00 deduction taken by the chief judge.”
Phew. Good thing whistles and animal sounds are allowed.