#3 Oklahoma Preview

Being ranked preseason #3 is a symbolically important step for the Oklahoma Sooners because it indicates that they have finally graduated from that best-of-the-rest status that saw them continually ranked #4 and viewed only as a spoiler to the big-name teams. They’ve now arrived, using another second place finish at Championships to break into the highest echelon.

Oklahoma was the most consistent team at Championships last year, the only one to avoid any scoring disasters, and probably ended up being a couple stuck vaults away from winning the title. Still, they needed a Florida beamtastrophe to be that close, so if they’re hoping to do better than 2nd this year, they’ll have to step up the scoring potential in key places, and that’s just what this freshman class provides. While the team will certainly miss Brie Olson’s significant contributions, McKenzie Wofford, Charity Jones, and Chayse Capps provide a net boost to fill in some of the areas that haven’t previously measured up to the Floridas and Alabamas of the world. The Sooners have graduated from that spoiler status because this is the first year they have a team that can make a legitimate case of being a favorite that can win the title outright.

The reputation question looms over everything in this sport because it all comes down to judges’ perceptions, and this reputation topic seems to surround discussions of Oklahoma’s gymnastics far more than any other team. Does Oklahoma have the reputation to win? Ugh, I’ve decided I’m done with that tired line of reasoning. Issues of reputation are often overstated in NCAA gymnastics in how much they actually influence results, and I’ve been guilty of that. Oklahoma is getting 198s at home, has had years of top-three finishes and massive scores at Nationals, and enjoys huge adoration within the gymnastics community. Oh, to have such little reputation. I promise I will not use the words “reputation” and “Oklahoma” in the same sentence again this season. Call me on it if I do.


Oklahoma received some very high scores on vault at home last season, occasionally misleadingly high, that produced a few unrealistic expectations for their capabilities as a vaulting team. The Sooners were a solid 49.350, give or take some sticks, but they were not really a 49.500 team. Keeping pace with the best teams on vault was always going to be one of the bigger challenges, as it has been for several seasons.

This year, the Sooner vault rotation is receiving an influx of power that should allow them to keep building toward the status of a top vaulting team. Charity Jones and Chayse Capps both excelled on vault in JO and both seem likely to bring aggressive yfulls into the lineup this year to provide a couple more options greater than 9.850. Haley Scaman looks to lead the way in difficulty once again, and Madison Mooring will lead the way in cleanliness with her Y1/2, both of whom have shown regular 9.875s into 9.9s. Maile Kanewa was the nice surprise of last season on this event, and Keeley Kmieciak will probably round out the crew. At least, this was the intrasquad lineup, and it makes the most sense to me. Problematically, I really want Taylor Spears to factor in the AA this year, but vault is her lowest scoring event for frequent 9.800s, so it may be too tough for her to make the lineup this year.

Oklahoma will still need to stick more often than the likes of Florida or Alabama to get the necessary scores, but there should be enough new power to raise the expectations a tad. Unlike some Oklahoma teams in the past, you can’t really say that this group lacks power potential. Now we just need to see those qualities like distance and height manifest in the competition vaults from 1 to 6 in the lineup every week. 


The Sooners have not lacked for much on bars these last few years. They’ve been consistently among the best teams in the country and finished last season with an RQS nearing 49.500. Here, there’s little debate as to the realism of the 49.5s. That’s the quality of this team. Bars is, however, the event where Brie Olson’s contribution was the most significant, so they’ll have to find someone to step into that role of weekly 9.9s in order to keep pace with last year’s scoring. Her name is McKenzie Wofford, and her bars will be one of the key routines for Oklahoma this season because she has the potential to be near best-in-the-country good on this event.

Taylor Spears is also beautiful here and can score at a similarly 9.9ish level. Those two would be enough to carry most rotations, but the Sooners have a whole bullpen of other options. One of the defining qualities of Oklahoma’s team on bars has been the ability to take someone like Erica Brewer, whom you wouldn’t necessarily ever have said, “9.950 on bars!” about, and turn her into a major scorer. Without recruiting all that many specifically bars stars, Oklahoma still has a whole team of bars workers with 9.9 track records, and returning the rest of the lineup (Brewer, Scaman, Clark, and Kmieciak) from last season would be ideal for huge scores. I’d also keep an eye on Kara Lovan here because she has the potential for quite clean work, though she may not be necessary. Oklahoma and Florida should be 1-2 on bars this year by a comfortable margin once again. 


In a relatively short span of time, the Sooners have carved out an identity as the beam team, and it’s completely deserved. Not only do they consistently show high-scoring, acrobatically secure work to the point that they are often the only team we can rely on for weekly 49.4s (when other teams get that score, it’s “Oh wow, good job at hitting beam!” but for Oklahoma it is an expectation), but they also perform more interesting routines than any other team. It’s not like they’re doing anything groundbreaking. It’s more the little things: an unexpected scale here, a lengthy flexibility passage there, but it makes a tremendous difference.

Oklahoma hasn’t been outside the top two on beam since 2009, and there’s no reason the streak should end this year. Brie Olson wasn’t really a beamer, so last year’s Super Six lineup seems perfectly fine to me: Kmieciak, Alexander, Clark, Brewer, Mooring, Spears. Just keep doing what you’re doing, ladies, and keep getting those 9.9s. In particular, Lauren Alexander stands out here for her routine themed “Dear flexibility, I own you. Love always, Lauren.” Beyond the six, while not necessarily a beam standout before, Chayse Capps does look to be one of those KJ beam inventions with a visually interesting shimmy of a routine. She should push the others for lineup spots. We didn’t see Wofford here during the intrasquad, but I would think she’d be a beam asset as well. The Sooners will not lack for impressive choices and should be comfortable 49.4s again this year.


The floor story is, in many ways, similar to the vault story. Oklahoma is a good floor team that can score well and has scored well, but this has not been a team of powerful gymnasts. They have E passes, but they’re often front double fulls (the “boring E” because it’s less visually spectacular than the high-flying double salto skills), and overall they have not had the huge skills or impressive amplitude of their peers. They can get a few 9.900s no problem, but they haven’t had many gymnasts who scream 9.950 in that Kytra Hunter, Lloimincia Hall kind of way. 

Therefore, much like on vault, expect Charity Jones to get into the lineup to spice things up a bit. Last year, Haley Scaman was the powerful tumbler with her DLO, but now Jones will bring her full-in to the proceedings so that they’re not showing just the one big pass at the end of the rotation. Malie Kanewa, who returned from injury to do just vault last year but will add other events in 2014, also brings a piked full-in as her mount, so suddenly Oklahoma should be boasting three large mounts at the end of this rotation. But are they clean enough? That’s the question. For the other spots, there will be solid 9.850 choices in Spears, Albright, Mooring, Capps, and Brewer, so the options exist and are strong enough for fairly frequent 49.4s and a comfortable 49.3. They’ll still be giving away a bit here to the very top teams by the end of the season, but it should be a competitive lineup. 

For some teams, it was about making Nationals. Then, it was about making Super Six. For the top three teams, however, we must look past those milestones. Picking Oklahoma to make Super Six requires no powers of insight or observation. They should be there, and it would take an injury epidemic or a collapse for that not to happen. For this team, the conversation should revolve around whether a title is a realistic expectation this season.

I think it’s a realistic call, although Oklahoma is not the outright favorite. That status goes to Florida. If Oklahoma is to beat Florida this season, a few things have to happen. The Sooners must be scoring consistently within sight of the Gators on vault and floor, just 0.050-0.075 behind. They cannot afford to give up a margin much larger than that. They also must be the best team in the country on bars and beam. Vault and floor are getting there, but bars and beam are still where they’ll make their mark. Outscoring that Florida bars machine is a very tough task, but it looks necessary for Oklahoma’s path to victory.

#4 UCLA Preview

UCLA had to be disappointed with finishing 4th at a home Championship last year, especially when the preseason outlook was so promising, but considering the injury trials presented to them throughout the season, managing a 4th place finish was a solid result. Without Peszek, without Lee, without Larson, the Bruins got as much as they could from the lineup they had, squeezing out every last drop of depth they could muster. They just didn’t have enough big routines to contend for a win. 

Expect the 2014 team to be nearly unrecognizable from the group we saw last season. Whereas for most teams we’re talking about filling one or two holes per event, UCLA has to reconstruct a full half of its lineup. Challengingly, it’s not just about finding routines that can work in competition, it’s about finding the 9.9s to fill the colossal absence of Vanessa Zamarripa. That’s why Sam Peszek’s return is so vital. She’s the one who can step into those lineup spots and get the 9.9s on every event to help this team keep pace with last season. Especially without the Peng, it will fall to Peszek to be the star every week. 

UCLA is bringing in a hearty freshman class with Jennifer Pinches, Hallie Mossett, Angi Cipra, and Mikaela Gerber, but because there are so many openings in these lineups and because UCLA is perpetually recovering from sixty-five injuries, don’t expect the depth problems we saw last year on events like vault to dissipate. It’s going to be one of those UCLA journey seasons again, with a lot of life lessons, equal parts beautiful and frustrating. 


Vault was always going to be strange this year without Zamarripa. She is the team’s identity on this event, so vault rotations are going to feel incomplete or incorrect for a while without her Yurchenko full because we are so used to that one spectacular piece of gymnastics finishing off the rotation and, especially last year, saving an adequate score. From the 2013 lineup, the Bruins are returning Olivia Courtney, a tube of chapstick, and a piece of damp construction paper. There’s little to go on. This is where the depth and injury concerns were most apparent last season, and the team may not exactly be flush with vault choices again in 2014. For other teams, we’re talking about 8 and 9 solid options and scores in the 49.4s and 49.5s, but for UCLA it’s a little bit of, who’s on this team now? And does she vault?

The keys will be Peszek and Courtney. They must anchor for 9.9s and are capable of covering up potential depth concerns with their big scores to help remain at least in sight of the best vaulting teams. After those two, the most crucial routines will likely end up being from the freshmen Pinches and Cipra, both of whom have the potential to be competitive scorers who eventually step into that 4th up, 9.875 role. Elsewhere, Dana McDonald and Syd Sawa have vaulted for 9.8s before, and Sadiqua Bynum has learned a Y1/2 that will see competition time. I fear for options. Who’s going to have to learn a Yurchenko full in a week this season? What they need here is a hearty dose of Mattie, but we can’t assume that’s ever going to happen. Actually, what they really need is to invest in a platinum blonde wig and a convincing fake nose to introduce Flordyn Flieber, a new walk-on from SCATS who enjoys horseback riding, baking cupcakes, and the films of Ryan Gosling, and has a Yurchenko 2.5 no one knew about.


While UCLA is returning a few more bars routines than vaults, there is still need for a big infusion of talent because Zamarripa did a lot of carrying the team last year, Zam-standing her way to 9.9s. Even though Peszek is least known for bars, she can and will return with a batch of strong, late-lineup 9.875s. Still, she’s not the huge scoring leader on bars that she is on the other events. Thankfully, Olivia Courtney has been training a toe-on tkatchev, and she needs it. Her routine has been looking a little lackluster since they removed her same-bar release, but if she hits a strong tkatchev and sticks her dismount the way she can, she will be worthy of the end of the lineup as well.

We should see several other returners from last season make up the remainder of the lineup. Sophina DeJesus impressed me last year with how much she improved from early-season crazy legs to Championship 9.9s. Danusia Francis similarly impressed by making the lineup because I didn’t think we’d see her on bars at all. And then there’s Mattie Larson. She must compete here and must give away fewer handstands. She’s too talented to get these 9.750s. She needs to be getting 9.850 minimum. Hallie Mossett is my sleeper pick on bars with those big releases, and Pinches should get time as well because she has the skills (and because we just need to see her as much as possible).

I go back and forth with UCLA on bars because I don’t see that go-to, reliable big score in the group without Peng. There are lots of borderline strong routines, but nothing amazing. They could put together enough 9.875s to get 49.3s but may struggle once other teams start scoring 9.950s.


The UCLA beam relationship is a unique animal. The Bruins have well-documented tribulations on this event of the like we see from many teams, but the potential for beautiful work is always so high that I’m often misguidedly optimistic about their chances. The possibility to be exceptional exists here, and getting big scores on beam will be a crucial facet of UCLA gaining ground on similarly ranked teams.

The Peszek/Francis duo is as strong a one-two punch on beam as any team can manage (matched only in scoring by the Sloan/Macko smackdown in Florida), and they are consistent. They’ll get 9.9s and hit almost every time out. Now, let’s talk about the Danusia dismount. She’s training a transverse aerial + layout full dismount, which is wonderfully original, perfect, and terrifying. It’s risky not only because of the difficulty of the transverse aerial as a standalone skill but because she also needs to make the connection to fulfill the composition requirement and start from a 10. Be excited that she’s doing this, but also be wary that if it does not turn out to be pragmatic in terms of score, they may have to get rid of it, especially if she struggles to stick the full (or gets knocked for landing position or a long pause before the aerial). The team may be in a position of needing a score from her first and foremost, even if she has to go boring to get it.

Beam has been the highest scoring area for Mattie Larson over the last two years, so even if she is a little all over the place occasionally, we should see periodic 9.9s. I don’t love the gainer pike dismount, but whatever makes her feel safe at this point. I’d certainly take DeJesus back in the lineup as well, and Angi Cipra works quite well on beam, which was the unexpected surprise from her. I thought she was just a vault and floor girl, but her beam work can be stellar if they get her hitting. We’ll probably see an early-season revolving door for two spots in this lineup, with lots of exploring depth during away meets, including Mossett, Ellette Craddock, hopefully Mikaela Gerber at some point, and even Olivia Courtney, though she may be glad for the opportunity not to have to compete beam. This lineup has a definite chance for 49.400, but just as much of a chance for 48.400. If they can get a couple solid early routines for 9.850 (where are Niki Tom and Mizuki Sato when you need them?), and then let Peszek and Francis do their thing, they’ll be in strong shape.


One of the problems for UCLA on floor lately has been that they best dancers have not been the best tumblers. The dancers have struggled to make the lineup, and the choreography therefore has not stood out the way we would expect from UCLA. This year, we can hope that DeJesus, Francis, and Cipra all manage to make the lineup to bring that performance flair. Peszek is also coming into her own as a performer these days, and Sawa has been given by far the best routine of her career this season, so there’s reason to expect a bit more engaging floor work this season.

Courtney and Peszek will anchor this rotation with big tumbling and scores, and there is at least the hope for E passes throughout the rotation. Sawa and Francis are both training double arabians that look like they need a lot more time, but we can hope to see them at some point. Sawa has received 9.9s many times in the past. Sadiqua Bynum has learned a DLO that, in training, looks better than any of the double tucks and double pikes she threw last year, and Pinches has been quite a secure tumbler who should make appearances as well. A comfortable amount of options should exist on floor, so the depth monster has clearly been appeased a little bit. I’m encouraged that UCLA will be quite competitive here with the rest of the country for 49.4s.

The continuing injury saga of Peng Peng Lee along with some of the concerns over vault and bars have dropped UCLA back a touch from the pack at the top of the rankings. If any of the current Big Four teams (Florida, Alabama, Oklahoma, and UCLA) looks like the injured, elderly gazelle falling to the back of the herd, it’s the Bruins. We’ve got some Tigers chasing them through the savanna licking their chops. I’m aware that the previous sentence reflects an inconsistent understanding of biomes, but go with it.

The are reasons for trepidation, and this very well could be one of those Bruin seasons where they’re ranked 8th all year long but then are suddenly amazing at Championships. That usually seems to happen, so it’s fair to bet on it happening again. They will seem like the easy team to upset right until they aren’t. The crux will be fulfilling that beam potential and finding the vaults. This is clearly a 197 team, but the freshmen must get healthy and get in two or three lineups a piece for the team to have enough depth.

#5 LSU Preview

LSU enters 2014 still basking in one of the all-time best years for the program in 2013 during which the Tigers spent the regular season beating perennial favorites and matching or nearly matching the scores from the top teams in the country. They reached Super Six without much fuss or worry at all and came in as a potential dark horse for the title. In fact, had they vaulted up to the potential they had shown throughout the season, they could have finished as a high as second, which would have been a complete coup for the program.

While no one will deny that vault and floor rather unsurprisingly made up a significant portion of the path to success, bars began to come into line last season with the team breaking 49.4 on the event for the first time since 2009. Progressing on weaknesses was one of the most encouraging aspects of LSU’s 2013, as was the fact that they did so with significant underclassman contribution. There are a couple holes to fill on beam this year, but other than that, the team has lost little and will look for opportunities to shore up lineups and leapfrog last year’s quality. A big potential leapfrogger will be freshman Ashleigh Gnat who comes in as one of the top L10 recruits in the country and can factor in the AA, including breaking into those already deep vault and floor lineups.

Judging by the team the Tigers have put together, they are fully capable or repeating last year’s scores and results. They just aren’t losing enough gymnasts to expect any significant regression, but it will be interesting to watch if the upward trajectory established on bars and beam continues or plateaus this season.


It’s LSU and vault. This team has more power and options than it knows what to do with. For most of the teams previewed so far, I’ve been judging vault on the potential to go 49.400, which lately has been the standard separating the competitive vaulting teams from the uncompetitive ones. In the case of LSU, however, we can look higher than that. This team is certainly capable of repeating as #1 on vault, and we can expect 49.5s from time to time this year.

Making the vault lineup will be the challenging part. Rheagan Courville is NCAA champion and should bring her preposterous distance back to the anchor position for a weekly 9.9+, and prime supporting candidates include Sarie Morrison, who came on strong as a vaulter last year and received a 10, and Ashleigh Gnat, who brings with her a very strong 1.5 (that she opens out of) that can go 9.900 with a good landing. All three should feature. The team could very well stick with the rest of last year’s lineup and stay in the realm of 49.4s and 49.5s with Maliah Mathis and Jessie Jordan getting 9.875-9.900 and Kaleigh Dickson, who is a good sticker in that first spot but doesn’t have the distance to get the same scores as the others.

But there’s no need to stay with the same group because LSU also has Britney Ranzy, who didn’t make the lineup last year but was the vault star at Oregon State for 9.9s. It seems crazy that she wouldn’t vault regularly for any team. There’s also Jessica Savona, who had a DTY as an elite, Lloimincia Hall, who is no slouch, and potentially Sydney Ewing, who scored well on vault in JO. LSU has the options to be very discerning about which 9.875+ vaults come in.  


The 2013 season marked a huge turning point for LSU on bars, but it is still a work in progress. On the good days, the handstands and angles were so much stronger than they have been recently, to the point where LSU wasn’t dropping much on bars compared to the top teams, but just as often they were showing up with missed-handstand festivals for 9.7s. Seeing a consistency in the cleanliness is an important factor as we continue to evaluate the ascension of LSU’s bars.

As she has been for years, Sarie Morrison remains the top bars worker on the team. How many times has she saved them? But crucially, Rheagan Courville made major strides as the season progressed in 2013 to become a top-level supporting routine for 9.875s-9.900s, and the introduction of Randii Wyrick provided the potential for that third, reliable 9.850, as she went sub-9.8 just once after January. That’s scoring consistency they haven’t had for years outside the top spot or so. 

Those three should help keep the rotation moderately healthy, but there are still some 9.7y concerns in the first half, compounded by the fact that this is the area of least contribution from the freshmen. (Shae Zamardi was supposed to be the new bars worker, but have we heard anything from her?) I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see an identical lineup to last season including Dickson, Jordan, and Ranzy, though Gnat may also appear here. This begs the question, can this team continue to improve on bars if they stay with the same lineup, or have we seen the extent of the jump? There will be some struggle days, but the back half of the lineup should save adequate scores the majority of the time.


Let the trend of discussing beam problems continue. Beam was the weakest event last year for LSU. Join the very extensive club. They managed a couple days of 49.3s toward the end of the season, but more often 49.1 was considered a good meet. That won’t cut it. Plus, this is the area of greatest routine loss with Taylor and Garcia exiting the first half of the lineup, so there’s cause for concern.

In truth, this lineup is all about Courville, with her beautiful arabian and hit splits, saving the score as often as she can. She needs to get an 11 every week. She and Jessie Jordan should return to the 5th and 6th positions this year, but they will get a little help this year from Ashleigh Gnat so that they don’t have to do all the work themselves to cover up 9.750s. The first thing I noticed about Gnat’s JO beam work is how solid she is, and that’s a quality LSU will slurp up with a soup spoon. If Gnat can score around where Jordan has been scoring, her routine could be the fulcrum to lift up the Tigers. While beam is not Gnat’s strongest event, it could be her most important event.

In the early-lineup land of “please just get a 9.800,” Hall has been a consistent member of the team here, so even though she always looks like she’s about to throw up during her routine, expect her to return to the lineup. The dance elements often bump her score down, but she can pull out a 9.825. Dickson has been similar, but LSU will need to find some others who can hit. Sydney Ewing maybe? Ranzy? Savona? I’m far from sold on these options. The person I’d really like is to see Randii Wyrick, since I thought beam was her strongest event in JO, showing off that great line, but we’ve barely heard a peep from her on beam since she arrived. Nonetheless, that would be my pick. Expect some trial and error at the beginning of the year. If they can get early 9.8s to build toward a consistent total in the 49.2s, they’ll take it, but finding those six hits could be a journey.


So, just keep everything the same? There’s little to say about LSU and floor because it’s just good and constantly so. Floor was a great event for 49.4s-49.5s last year, and every member of the lineup is back. Ergo, it should be a great event for 49.4s-49.5s once again. Hall is Hall. Courville is a star. Savona has huge difficulty for 9.900, Mathis has that DLO, Jordan is lovely. LSU should be perfectly content with that group and should be among the best teams in the nation again.

Now, there could still be an upgrade. Ashleigh Gnat might very well break in here with her excellent pike full in, big power, and steady landings to be another chance for a 9.9. The team should have six legitimately realistic 9.9s, which provides a few luxuries. First, not everyone has to be good at every meet. In a rotation of stars, there will be big scores even if one of the 9.9 girls loses it. Also, they can rest people throughout the season without sacrificing a score. There’s no pressure to throw out someone who might be battling an injury.

LSU is yet another team that can exclusively ride vault and floor to something close to 197. As long as they are putting up consistently and resolutely OK scores on the other events, they will have a healthy season and could contend for Super Six based solely on that. But after last season’s performance, this team should have stronger aspirations that simply being in the hunt for Super Six along with the other teams ranked 4-9. If LSU’s season is all about the big vault and floor scores, they’ll be sitting ducks to be passed up by the likes of Michigan and Utah with beam improvements.

To make that #5 ranking, to be sure of reaching Super Six again, LSU will need to have consistently strong other events, and that’s what we’ll have to watch this year. The bars rotation needs to continue its trend of improvement, and beam needs to see at least three people who can believably go 9.875. If that happens, feel comfortable about seeing LSU on the final day again.

#6 Utah Preview

The 2013 season was ultimately a disappointing one for Utah. While a final placement of 9th isn’t exactly a shameful finish all things considered, it is the worst in the school’s NCAA history, so I think that counts as a discouraging result. Of course, if you’re Utah, you take pride in the fact that you’ve never finished lower than 9th, which no other school can claim, rather than depression that the record used to be 7th. Regardless of how much silver lining you try to weave, however, 2013 won’t be a year for the memory banks. 

Yet, there is every reason to believe this team will improve its lot in 2014. Of primary importance is the fact that they lost no seniors at the end of last season, providing the luxury of staying with what has worked and trading in what hasn’t for shinier, more impressive models (presenting, Beam Rotation 2.0, now with more hitting!) There is no need to work against the loss of important routines, which is quite the enviable position. The injury returners Corrie Lothrop and Kailah Delaney, and freshman Baely Rowe, can simply be slotted in wherever they can boost the team’s scoring potential.

This increase in options was apparent at the Red Rocks preview, though I should mention that I missed the second half of it. I was entirely unconcerned about this breach of NCAA fandom because, well, it’s Utah. All the routines will obviously be up on youtube before I even have time to frown, right? But no, only vault and bars are up, the events I already saw. What is this, Marsden? I don’t even think I know you anymore. As a result, my beam and floor awareness is a little less defined than it might have been otherwise, but we’ll endure somehow. Let’s dive in.


Vault was a little bit all over the place for Utah last year. It often provided a strong score into the 49.4s, but the early half of the lineup also suffered from amplitude and secure-landing issues that were not always apparent in the team score because Tory Wilson and Georgia Dabritz would save a strong overall number with their 9.9s. As for Tory Wilson, the girl can land a vault, and when she sticks, she’ll be minimum 9.900 and in contention for 9.950s. Dabritz is never far behind her in 9.9 land, but crucially Dabritz and Wilson may have to do less lineup saving this year because they’ll be rejoined in the back of the rotation by Kailah Delaney, who was getting 9.9s every week during her freshman season. The introduction of a third likely 9.9er means that team scores greater than 49.4 seem exceptionally attainable, even with 9.825-9.850s from the first three gymnasts.

There are multiple options for those first three spots, and I could see any of about seven gymnasts rotating through them. Baely Rowe has a strong block on her yfull and gets good height, so I’d like to see her get a shot, and while Lothrop didn’t vault during the preview, her improved Omelianchik was looking clearly 9.850 during her brief stint last season and also provides a different look in the lineup, which I always appreciate. Damianova is the strongest of the other returners from last season’s vault, so I anticipate seeing her often again this year. She can get high 9.8s with a good landing.

This means that the 9.825s from the front half of the lineup last year (Lofgren, Del Priore, Tutka) can all become realistic backups or early lineup contenders, along with Kassandra Lopez, so the team may not have a use a few of those lower 9.8s this year. The competition for spots has increased dramatically, which can only help the scoring potential. 


Bars was one of the weaker events for Utah for most of last season, with big event scores coming occasionally but being strange and often worthy of a side-eye. (That 49.600 . . . ) Sticking certainly helps get those 9.9s, but Utah tends to have more concerns like feet and release amplitude than some similarly ranked teams, which gives the rotation a more 9.850 impression.

The Utes had kind of a hilariously poor showing on bars at the preview in that everyone fell, but that doesn’t seem too likely to indicate falls during the actual season. We may see one early-season bars disaster again this year, but it shouldn’t be a thing. The highlight video above doesn’t include these routines with falls, which is why it’s so short. There wasn’t much else to use. 

In general, I expect to see much of the same lineup from last season. Corrie Lothrop will come in for Tory Wilson immediately, and Baely Rowe presents another option and should see time, but I expect those to be the basic routines we see. Dabritz will anchor again, but I still hold out hope that we will see the comaneci in the regular season this year to give her routine a standout quality. It’s way better than the jaeger. Damianova, Lopez, Hughes, and Hansen all look primed for mostly 9.850s again with a couple periodic journeys to 9.900. The reintroduction of Lothrop provides a potential upgrade of about .050-.075 over last year’s group, but otherwise I expect a similar bars landscape.  


These teams and their balance beam situations. I feel like I always have to take a deep breath before thinking about it. At Nationals, Utah came to beam needing a 49.250 to make Super Six, and it was never going to happen. The Utes were just too depleted to contend on beam last year, having to throw anyone who could do a halfway 9.7 routine into the lineup just to get by. A couple crucial additions this year should make the beam landscape decidedly less horrifying. Right away, take Lothrop and Rowe and put them in for Wilson and Tutka. Just do it. Right now. Isn’t everyone’s blood pressure already starting to feel less critical? See, it gets better.

Otherwise, keeping the rotation the same is probably the best option. Dabritz has had hitting problems for two years now, but she needs to be in this lineup. Even if Utah gets the consistency under control, they’ll still be searching for 9.9s, and I maintain that potential is in Dabritz somewhere. Lofgren also periodically got 9.9s last season (though may have more trouble doing that if she’s not the anchor), and Lothrop will be 80 breaths of fresh air for consistent 9.875s. Lopez and Hughes are both fine 9.8s to have around, though I think Hughes can still aspire to more than that. Beam will not suddenly be a huge score for Utah this season, but I can see hit rotations for 49.2s becoming the norm, which is something that happened only twice all of last year.


Floor was one of the strong events for Utah last year, and it’s another event receiving a touch of a boost. At the end of last season, a few of the early routines went on walkabout for 9.6s for some reason, but mid-9.8s rising toward 9.9s should be the expectation for this lineup. It wouldn’t be terrible if the lineup remained the same, and the scores would probably be fine, but there are now several more options to play around with. It may take some time for Lothrop to get back to floor given her injury, but she was such a crucial member of the lineup in the past that they will certainly want her back if she’s at full strength again. She can come in for Lofgren, who was fine for 9.8s last year but doesn’t have the scoring potential of the rest of the team.

Tutka emerged last year as the leader for 9.9s, Wilson brings that huge DLO power, and Dabritz has two E passes and has often gone into the 9.9s herself. Expect strength from those three to be joined by Damianova who, while not owning a powerfully impressive routine, is crazy clean in that double back. It’s nice to have a variation of looks and styles, which she provides for the team. Tumbling-wise, it’s a healthy, pretty deep rotation that won’t lack for potential 9.850s. Expect Utah to be competitive with most teams here for 49.4s throughout the season. 

Utah is usually a good bet to make Super Six, considering that it almost always happens. Last year notwithstanding, this is still Utah. As the rule goes: when in doubt, pick Utah. When doing my preseason rankings, I struggled between Michigan and Utah as to which team to put 6th and which to put 7th, and that was my primary reasoning for Utah in 6th. The Utes find a way. Michigan and Utah are gymnastically similar in many ways this year, so I’m eager to see how both teams start. It should be interesting to watch how they compare throughout the season, especially since both are probably going to be sitting on that Super Six cusp area, striving to see which team can just be a little more acceptable on beam.

At home, expect regular 197s. Utah can probably do that based almost entirely on vault and floor, supported by hit bars and beam rotations. Obviously finding how to solve a problem like beam is the biggest concern, but to get those huge scores when it matters, it will come down to proving the ability for stick for 9.9s on both bars and beam. The best teams will be able to do that several times in the rotation every time out, and that will be what it takes to emerge victorious from that LSU, Utah, Michigan, Georgia, Stanford pack.