Balance Beam Situation Preseason Ranking

The annual preseason coaches’ poll will be released in the days of soon, so in advance of that completely opposite-of-important event that I look forward to dissecting, I have compiled my own preseason ranking. Please take it as official, scientific, and unimpeachable.

I ranked only fifteen teams instead of twenty-five because of buuuuh, but also once we get into that Missouri, Illinois, Denver, Minnesota, Boise St. group of teams that are all poised to finish a distant third in various regionals, the difference between the teams is so minimal that there would be no legitimate reasoning behind ranking one ahead of another. They will be separated as the season progresses based on consistency and luck with injuries.

So, here we go.

1. Florida
The Gators are the most talented team in the country. I don’t see any valid argument against putting them at #1. With Sloan and B. Caquatto joining Hunter, King, Dickerson, Johnson, and M. Caquatto, this team will have 9.900s to spare and will be able to absorb whatever latest injury has befallen one of the Caquattuses. While the other top contenders will excel on vault and floor, look for Florida to be nearly unstoppable on bars with consistent 49.500+ rotations that won’t be matched even by the second tier of contenders.

2. Alabama
I flipped and flopped about Alabama and UCLA in the second and third positions, and I do think they are essentially interchangeable here, but I put Alabama ahead because the group as a whole is safer. We know what we’re going to get from each of the Alabama gymnasts, and that means a lot of 9.900s and very few falls. The loss of Stack-Eaton is a hit, especially on bars, but the team should be able to withstand it.

UCLA, as always, could be great this season, but I would have a lot more confidence in that proclamation with a healthy Peng Peng Lee and a fully contributing Mattie Larson (one who doesn’t get ranked below an injured Syd Sawa on floor reliability). I am concerned that this season will become about Zamarripa, Peszek, and their merry band of 9.850s, and if it does, there is little chance of a UCLA championship. There are a lot of supporting actresses on this team (the incoming class is full of them), but they need to start taking lead roles with 9.900s on multiple events. 

4. Oklahoma
The Sooners have proven that they are the heirs apparent to the mantle of best team never to win a championship, and I expect them to put up yet another season full of mid-197 scores. The 2013 team will be better on vault than the 2012 team was, which eliminates a major weakness, but we’ve yet to see if anyone can take on that Megan Ferguson responsibility. With the new freshmen and the injury returners, the Sooners should be able to repeat the successes of 2010 and 2011, but can they go any higher with this group of gymnasts? It may still take another season or two before this team can legitimately compete for a title.

5. Utah 
In ranking the teams after the top four, I’m taking the same approach that I took for the Alabama/UCLA decision, and Utah is the safest bet for a more successful season even if the ceiling may not be as high. The Utes have no major strengths or weaknesses, and I fully expect them to put up a whole bushel of 49.275-49.300 rotations. That can be enough to make Super Six again, but I do question whether Utah will be able to doing anything this season to make it different from 2010–2012. In Super Six last year, Alabama had twelve 9.9s and Utah had three. Where are those 9.9s going to come from? The vocal E-pass commitment on floor has not boosted the scores.

6. Stanford
Even with the losses of Brown and Pechanec, the potential of a Hong, Shaprio, and Vaculik scoring triumvirate is very appealing. Stanford would not have to search for 9.900s in the same way that Utah would, but can we really rely on those three? The history of injury/inconsistency is harrowing, but the judges are itching to give them big scores. A healthy Ivana Hong will get 39.700s. It could be great. It could be. 

7. Georgia
Feel free to treat my placement of Georgia at #7 as an atrocity. I’ll allow it. However, even if we put Worley and Tanella aside since I don’t envision any change from the previous seasons for them, the core of the rest of the team is talented enough to make Super Six. Davis, Jay, and Rogers can be scoring leaders, and if Persinger and Earls are cultivated well, they can aspire to more than just high fives for a mid-lineup 9.800 or two. The Gymdogs will hope this isn’t a repeat a Jay Clark’s first year, when a very talented team on paper totally imploded.

8. Nebraska
If it weren’t for beam. The Huskers lose multiple tenths on that event relative to the other top schools. This team had so little depth last year, but it didn’t end up being a problem until Schleppenbach went down and Buscaker had to be relied upon for beam. There are a bunch of new freshmen this year, but they are largely untested and unknown. DeZiel, Giblin, and Wong are solid in the AA and capable of leading a group to success, but like last year, they will need help to be a contending team.

9. LSU
I’m unexpectedly high on LSU this year, and it has nothing to do with Jay Clark. On vault and floor last year, this team was just one or two routines away from being nationally competitive. Throw in Britney Ranzy, Jessica Savona, and Randii Wyrick (who, let’s recall, won Senior D last year), and LSU is basically an acceptable bars rotation away from contending for Super Six. Maybe Jay Clark will be more important than I thought.

10. Arkansas
Arkansas thrived in 2012 because of the Grable-Pisani pairing that could double-handedly turn a 49.100 into a 49.325. In 2013, Grable is the only proven 9.900 gymnast on the team. She is capable of leading Arkansas to mid-196s, but another Super Six showing looks like too much to ask this year.

11. Michigan
The 2013 Michigan team bears little resemblance to the 2012 group, and that’s a good thing. With Beilstein on her way back from injury and the addition of former elites Morgan Smith and Briley Casanova, I expect this team to consistently challenge toward the top 10 of the rankings instead of just hoping to get six routines out on each event even if they are terrifying.

12. Oregon State
The Beavers struggled to make Nationals last year, and they have lost Leslie Mak and Olivia Vivian. The freshmen and sophomores need to prove worthy of more than just 9.775-9.800 scores, otherwise it could be a very disappointing season.

13. Penn State
Last season, I thought Penn State was a better team than Ohio State but simply underperformed at regionals. With Musser and Merriam leaving after this year, this is the most competitive the team is going to be for several seasons. There’s no reason they can’t consistently go 49+ on every event and challenge for Nationals.

14. Ohio State
Last season, the Buckeyes won the lottery of which team of 9.850s would get the final spot for Nationals, and they could certainly do it again this year. All Ohio State routines have competitive composition, which makes OSU capable of getting those random big scores on a good day, which could send them to a nice regionals seeding again. 

15. Auburn
I’m throwing in Auburn as my #15 pick because this team has more standout gymnasts than the other teams at this talent level. Bri Guy (your name rhymes; let’s talk about that and how it makes me think of Fry Guys) is a scoring leader on multiple events, and former elite Caitlin Atkinson brings a nice Yurchenko 1.5 to the team.