The Balance Beam Situation for 2013

Given the name of this blog, I would be remiss if I did not perform my annual analysis of the balance beam situation from the past NCAA season. It’s a tradition now. (2012, 2011)

Rather than simply using the beam rankings to evaluate beam quality, I always find it quite telling to limit the sample specifically to beam routines performed in high-leverage situations, the must-hit routines. Because a score can be dropped, a single beam fall along the way is not a huge deal. Just drop the score and move on. The much bigger deal is the quality of the routines that come after the fall because now they have to count. There is no longer any margin. This could be an opportunity for lots of metaphors about falling off the horse and getting back on, but ugh. I’ll spare you. We don’t do that here.    

To assess the quality of the must-hit routines in 2013, I took the teams that qualified to championships (along with the two highly ranked schools that missed out, Nebraska and Oregon State) and averaged the scores of all beam routines performed at any point after a fall or fall-equivalent performance (a score of 9.500 or lower) to find out how the team fared in those situations.

Average score for must-hit beam routines – 2013
1. Oklahoma – 9.835
2. Alabama – 9.833
3. Michigan – 9.815
4. UCLA – 9.805
5. Nebraska – 9.800
6. Stanford – 9.797
7. LSU – 9.795
8. Oregon State – 9.782
9. Florida – 9.781
9. Minnesota – 9.781
11. Georgia – 9.766
12. Illinois – 9.729
13. Utah – 9.721
14. Arkansas – 9.708

That Oklahoma won is hardly a surprise. This will only serve to feed the Sooners’ credentials as a beam team, but there are some other interesting issues to pick out here.

Let’s begin with Florida’s low ranking because I think it’s the most significant. Florida finished the regular season tied with Oklahoma as the nation’s top beam team, but these numbers tell a different story. The Gators were not as strong on beam in 2013 as in 2012 overall (having to perform four times as many beam routines after falls in 2013 as in 2012), but they were still excellent when allowed a margin for mistakes. Performing after a low score in a must-hit routine, however, they struggled more. Florida recorded scores under 9.700 in 20% of their post-fall beam routines in 2013, compared to 7% for Alabama and 5% for both Oklahoma and UCLA. We all know how crucial this issue became once Super Six rolled around. It almost cost Florida a title.

The surprisingly high rankings for Michigan and Nebraska also warrant discussion. Both teams were actually pretty strong in terms of avoiding counting falls, with Nebraska counting just one all season and Michigan counting none (a feat which largely accounts for both teams’ rankings here), but that does not provide a complete picture. Both teams had a problem with 9.6s and low 9.7s, but routines coming after 9.6s are not included here because they don’t reflect falls. Several non-fall low scores on beam served to usher Nebraska out at Regionals, and Michigan’s epic struggle of a 48.775 on beam in national semifinals included no scores of 9.500 or less (and therefore had no effect on these fall-based statistics), but the rotation was still a horror film full of 9.6s and 9.7s. 

Success on beam can also be subject to the sheer number of routines being performed after falls.

Number of must-hit beam routines – 2013
1. Stanford – 9
2. Alabama – 15
3. Michigan – 17
3. Utah – 17
5. UCLA – 19
6. Florida – 20
6. Arkansas – 20
8. Oklahoma – 21
8. Minnesota – 21
10. Illinois – 23
11. Nebraska – 26
12. Oregon State – 27
13. LSU – 33
14. Georgia – 34

Interestingly, these two lists don’t match up particularly well. Oklahoma actually had to perform quite a few high-leverage routines, which makes the team’s strong average that much more impressive.

Stanford performed the fewest beam routines after falls by a pretty wide margin, much of which is the result of lineup organization. The Cardinal certainly faced issues with beam consistency in 2013 but had five pretty solid members of the rotation throughout the year. They put the sixth question-mark routine last in the order at most meets, so that even if there was a fall, no one performed after that fall. There’s something to be said for that strategy of putting the least certain routine last. The fewer times you put yourself in a position to compete after a beam fall, the fewer falls you will have. The risk, of course, is losing out on the potential for that big end-of-rotation score.

Now, let’s address the individuals. I eliminated anyone who performed under three routines after falls because that’s not enough routines to be significant.

Best individual average for must-hit beam routines – 2013 (minimum 3 routines)
1. Taylor Spears (Oklahoma) – 9.882
2. Kim Jacob (Alabama) – 9.880
3. Rheagan Courville (LSU) – 9.878
4. Ashanee Dickerson (Florida) – 9.856
5. Emily Wong (Nebraska) – 9.854
6. Danusia Francis (UCLA) – 9.850
7. Katie Zurales (Michigan) – 9.845
7. Madison Mooring (Oklahoma) – 9.845
9. Vanessa Zamarripa (UCLA) – 9.842
9. Katherine Grable (Arkansas) – 9.842

Taylor Spears wins the award for being the best at performing after a fall, recording a score of 9.9+ in over half her efforts. Kim Jacob and Rheagan Courville came in right behind her, and Jacob should certainly be the heir to Ashley Priess at the back of that beam lineup. I’m most surprised by Dickerson’s appearance here because she has not always been great in this situation and had the fall in Super Six (the first fall of the two, so she wasn’t performing after a fall), but she was a 9.850 machine competing after falls throughout the season.

I usually do a worst list as well, but this year there were only a handful of people who performed at least three routines after falls and recorded an average under 9.700. Most of the weaker people were in the 9.725-9.750 range, which is not that bad. Plus, a couple of people who would have made the list were a bit misleading, like Marissa King. She had an average of 9.683 because her post-fall beam scores were 9.925, 9.900, and 9.225, so that average is not really representative of quality. It’s just one fall.

This year’s Ironwoman Team Savior Award goes to Rheagan Courville in a landslide because she performed nine routines after falls and fell on none of them, posting four scores in the 9.9s and nothing below a 9.825. She had to perform after a fall in the majority of meets and was a rock. Where would LSU have been without her?

There are a few other notables for the ironwoman award who performed many must-hit routines without recording any scores under 9.750: Taylor Spears (Oklahoma), 7 routines; Danusia Francis (UCLA), 7 routines; Emily Wong (Nebraska), 7 routines; Sydnie Dillard (Arkansas), 6 routines; Chelsea Tang (Oregon State), 6 routines; Alina Weinstein (Illinois), 6 routines; and Vanessa Zamarripa (UCLA), 6 routines.

So there we have it. What stands out to you about these lists?