I’ve been putting off doing the Alabama freshmen for a while because there are eleventy million of them, but here we go.
Alabama lost a fairly significant group after 2013 in Priess, Sledge, Gutierrez, and Alexin, both in terms of lineup contribution and fan favorite routines. Ashley Sledge and Marissa Gutierrez were my favorite Bammers, so there are places in my shrine to be won if these freshmen are up to the task. We’ll see. Side question for Alabama fans: If you’re a UCLA athlete, you’re a Bruin. If you’re a Florida athlete, you’re a Gator. What is the approved singular noun term for an Alabama athlete? A Bammer? A Tide? A Crimson? Guidance is appreciated.
Because of these exiting routines, 2014 seemed like it would be a down year for the Tide, especially since the original signing group was comprised of just Amanda Jetter and Katie Bailey, who alone would not be able to make up for the lost scores. But then Sarah went to work, and now this freshmen class is a monster.
Still, because such significant scores are gone, these freshmen will need to be contributors from the beginning, particularly on bars. Half of the bars lineup is gone, and the returning gymnasts have had a tendency to suffer from handstand-itis, so bars is my primary area of focus for these freshmen. This is a big group that certainly has the potential to contribute on every event, but it also seems that Alabama could come up with nationally competitive vault and floor lineups solely using returning gymnasts if necessary.
We can see bits and pieces from some of the freshman routines already in the video from Ghosts and Goblins.
We’ll start with Jetter, not just because she was well-known as an elite but because she is among those who could be a significant piece of the UB solution. As an elite, she was always associated with Cassie Whitcomb because they emerged at the same time and boast the same strengths, so I have a vague impression that her NCAA career will follow the same path solely by association, but that’s not really fair. All will depend on how much she suffers from CGA back or CGA legs or any of the other eponymous Cincinnati injuries.
Vault – 2012 Nationals
Bars – 2012 Nationals
Floor – 2012 Nationals
Bars was always Jetter’s standout event as an elite, primarily because the US is so desperate for bars workers that anyone who can do a stalder is suddenly the next coming of Chow, but it put her much closer to major international assignments than she would have been otherwise. She has the difficulty and enough of the overall Mary Lee-ness to her work to convince me that this could be another strong Cincinnati bars routine in NCAA.
Floor is probably her second most believable event, given her double arabian and strong twisting skills. There is going to be major competition for those floor spots, however, especially since five of the six Super Six routines from last year are returning. Jetter is not the only member of this freshman class competing for that lineup, either, and I’m still holding out hope that we will see Kayla Williams there at some point as well. When you compete a 3/1 side pass as an elite, you don’t get to go your whole NCAA career without competing floor. You just don’t.
Those two events are my primary considerations as to where Jetter fits into the team, even though she is perfectly capable on the others as well. On beam, for instance, she has strong acrobatic skills and competed an arabian in elite, but I develop an anxiety disorder just thinking about watching one of her beam routines. It’s not even about those big acro skills because she was always quite strong on them. It’s the simpler dance elements. Remember that L turn and that damn popa, and Mary Lee going, “You looked like an idiot!” at that one meet? That’s the only thing in my head when I think of Jetter’s beam. Yes, USAGym archives. Thank you forever. “That popa is out!”
The integral part of Sarah Patterson’s work to beef up this freshman class was getting Aja-Monet Sims to arrive a year early. Sims burst into the gymnastics consciousness a couple years ago when she debuted an original bars skill, a weiler comaneci, and over the last year or so, she has become one of the top-placing JO gymnasts, finishing 2nd at the Nastia “I can’t believe you think I like attention” Cup and 7th in Senior B this year (only after a low bars score). She won’t be joining the team until December, so keep in mind that unlike her classmates, the coaching staff will not have those months of preseason to make adjustments to her routines.
Vault – 2013 Nastia
Bars – 2013 Chicago Style
Beam – 2013 JO Nationals
Floor – 2013 Nastia
Beam should be one of her most important events, and even though my main focus for the class is bars, keep in mind that someone will also need to make up for the loss of Priess on beam. Sims scored into the 9.7s frequently in JO and boasts an acrobatic security that is very attractive for an NCAA lineup, along with hit splits and a strong double back dismount. She has potential on vault and floor as well with big power, even though she hasn’t always shown the most difficulty on floor. Still, expect her to be in the mix. On bars, while she hasn’t competed her original skill much lately, she still has a very nice regular comaneci that could make for a standout routine, but she has been plagued by overall wonky legs, especially on the bail, that will bring her scores way down if not refined. It’s not always as problematic as in the video above, but it could be a concern.
Bama is also getting in on the Canadians this year, with Dominique Pegg joining as another of Sarah’s later adds. We’ve known for a while that Pegg would be coming to Alabama, but it always seemed up in the air when it would happen. Well, the time is now. Pegg had a nice little elite career for herself, culminating in her making the 2012 Olympic team, finishing 17th in the AA final, and competing vault, beam, and, floor in Team Final. She could figure on all those events.
Vault – 2012 Canadian Nationals
Bars – 2012 Canadian Trials
Floor – 2011 Worlds
Surprise, surprise, floor has always been her strongest, so the rich get richer. She ended up missing the floor final in London by just a couple tenths, has a strong DLO, and seems to commit to maintaining personality and expressiveness in her routines, even if the above routine has a little Kupetsishness to it (Are you playing the guitar?). It’ll be interesting to see what they do with her choreographically because she has the potential to bring a different look or style to the floor brigade if they’re open to it. Or, they could just give her some weird techno. Whatever.
In the intrasquad video, we didn’t see anything from her except pieces on bars. Those pieces looked solid, as they always did when she was an elite, but her major obstacle toward getting high bars scores was giving away tons of tiny deductions throughout for leg form and short handstands, so we’ll have to watch that.
Floor – 2013 JO Nationals
Bailey is probably the type who sits in the land of borderline contention on most events and would be a significant contributor on a lesser team. Floor is a strength, with a double arabian that makes her look like Diandra Milliner 2 and a little front 2/1 dismount. You know, no big deal. In the Ghosts and Goblins video, she shows a pretty clean Y1/2 that’s a little under with a step back. It’s not a bad vault, but do we really see Alabama going with a Y1/2 in the vault lineup right now? It would have to be great and stuck every time. Alabama also seems encouraged by her bars work, and her tuck full dismount is gigantor.
Mary Lillian Sanders is also a person, and the G&G video features the first gymnastics I’ve ever seen from her. She has the competitive skills but nothing that looks to me like it will be in the lineups. She’ll probably spend the majority of her time on the team getting the “She provides great depth” kiss of death.
I’ve saved Keely McNeer for last because she’s the big wildcard for me. She’s another whom it’s impossible to judge because we haven’t seen anything from her in so long, but even more so because I definitely thought she was retired for good. But, she had the elite skills at one point, so the potential is there. I’ve included her floor routine from 2010 just as a taste.
Floor – 2010 Nationals
I always felt a little bad for Keely, as I think most gym fans did, because she was Chow’s only elite in the wake of Shawn Johnson mania, so she was always accosted with “YOU’RE GOING TO BE THE NEXT SHAWN JOHNSON, RIGHT???” which is so unfair. Um, no. Go away.