Yes, we’re on the eve of P&G Championships (what’s the over/under on how many times people call it Visas during the broadcasts?), but given that this is an NCAA blog in its heart of hearts, I would be remiss if I didn’t address at least a little NCAA information before going into elite matters.
UCLA has officially announced Jenni Pinches as part of the team. There is some murmuring about the grant-in-aid language in the release and what exactly that means. I am far from knowledgeable on the scholarship aspects of collegiate gymnastics (leave me to my Yurchenkos), but as far as I understand it, committing recruits usually sign two things: the NLI (National Letter of Intent) and the GIA (Grant-in-Aid). The NLI commits the student to the school, and the GIA is the actual scholarship agreement. I assume the reference to Pinches signing the GIA simply indicates that she did not sign an NLI (the form that is usually referenced) because she didn’t go through the normal recruiting process and never had to declare her commitment anywhere to end her recruiting eligibility. I wouldn’t read much into it. She’s joining the team and she’s getting athletic aid. That’s all we really need to know.
The teams are also starting to unveil schedules, which means it’s time to get excited about the season way too early (“Five months away, time to start planning!” says only me). I’ll put together the annual composite schedule in early September once a few more teams have released, but here are a few that we have:
Florida – Facing all Super Six teams from last year, good opener against UCLA. I have been hoping for a Florida/UCLA meet for a few years (championships doesn’t really count), and the January 11 meet could be a tight competition to see who is consciously not peaking in January the most.
LSU – Usual SEC difficulty plus a meet with Oklahoma and the Metroplex. No road meets after February 21 except SECs, so they’ll need to focus on getting some good road scores in the early months when top teams are usually working through consistency and doing depth exploration (sometimes some really deep-sea diving). They’re also always fighting the reputation battle, so early big scores can only help that cause.
OK, now elite matters. Championships begins in two days, everyone.
|A paltry affair|
For me, the women’s competition is all about the health of Elizabeth Price because she is the one who can currently disrupt the expected team balance. Some people seem to be throwing the likes of Ernst and Milliet into Worlds conversations as well because they placed well on bars and beam at Classic, but that is meaningless. Making a team as a specialist is based on ability to challenge for a medal at Worlds, not ability to beat MyKayla Skinner.
This brings up a problem. The traditional outline for an individual Worlds team is 2 AAers, 1 VT/FX specialist, and 1 UB/BB specialist. It doesn’t have to be exactly that way, but since only three of the four team members can compete on each event, some combination of specialists must be used. The US, however, is a nation of pugnacious little tanks bent solely on vault and floor glory. Do we feel very confident in anyone’s ability to challenge Iordache, Komova, and the Chinese on beam? Not particularly. Is anyone other than Kyla Ross even in the vicinity of internationally competitive on bars? No no.
Because there is really only room for one specialist of the vault and floor persuasion, the US may be in a position of sending a filler gymnast as the fourth team member to show up and do bars and beam and maybe sneak into finals on a good day but not contend for a medal. Meanwhile, at least one contender for a floor medal (Biles? Price? Priessman?) would be left home because the vault and floor spots would already be taken. All of that is if Kyla Ross does the AA, which she is very likely to do, especially given her consistency and cleanliness.
The most medal-efficient team, however, would see Ross competing as a UB/BB specialist because she is the most realistic gymnast on those events and wouldn’t be a wasted team member. Then, three other legitimate vault and floor finalists (depending on who has second vaults) – let’s say Biles, Price, and Maroney – could take the three spots on those two events to give the US the best chance at those medals. This team scenario can only happen, however, if two others prove as strong as Ross in the AA so that the US isn’t conceding potential AA contention. Otherwise, the idea is moot. That’s why we must watch Elizabeth Price’s progress because she and Biles could actually do it.
Honestly, if Ross is an AA competitor, the US might be best served by sending a second AAer, a vault specialist as the third, and a floor specialist as the fourth, and letting go of the bars and beam specialist dream.