Big applause for Elizabeth Grimsley for putting together this intrasquad highlight video, including athlete IDs.
The first year of the Durante era must be deemed an unqualified success. The 2013 season was all about returning to Super Six for the first time P.S. (Post Suzanne), and the team accomplished that goal comfortably. They weren’t strong enough to finish higher than 6th (and some downright weird scores in S6 didn’t help anything), but they made it there. Durante also managed to squeeze career-best seasons out of Christa Tanella and Shayla Worley, both of whom I had certainly already written off, and got the team performing up to the potential of its roster in a way it hadn’t done in years.
Now comes challenge #2: Maintaining the same level when the smart money says a sophomore slump is coming. The team has lost Worley, Tanella, and Noel Couch, a class with a high pedigree (even if it didn’t always show), and is now bringing in an unheralded collection of Level 10s with far, far less expected of them. Losing some scoring potential compared to last year seems likely, at least on paper, so finding a way to get the same quality of out this group will be the goal of the season and will define not only the course of 2014 but potentially the years to come. As we learned during the recent verbal exodus, Georgia will not be getting too many big-name elites any time soon, so getting top scores out this kind of class will be Georgia’s route to success in the near future.
The silver lining of the fact that Worley and Tanella weren’t getting anywhere near vault even if it were made of Championships, and that Couch was off the event most of last season with injury, is that the vault lineup from 2013 remains almost entirely intact. We should see very little fluctuation in either the competition order or the scoring. The team’s RQS last season was exactly 49.400, and with the excellence of Rogers, Cheek, and Jay vaulting at the end of that lineup again, something around 49.4s should be very attainable again this year.
Chelsea Davis is also exceptionally valuable to this lineup. She doesn’t get the big distance that would merit the back of the rotation, but she is quite clean and sticks regularly. Cat Hires had some travails with her vault last season, but she worked it out by the end, and I would expect her right back in the same place this year as well. There is an opening for either Morgan Reynolds or Ashlyn Broussard to take that sixth spot (I’ll give the edge to Broussard), and we could see Sarah Persinger pop back in as well. That’s eight solid options of 9.8 or greater, and I foresee this as Georgia’s strongest scoring event in 2014.
Georgia managed to get along quite well last year on bars even post-Ding and Nuccio, with Davis and Rogers emerging as worthy successors to those thrones. We regularly saw a 9.875 for Rogers and a 9.950 for Davis, and that’s enough to be competitive with nearly every other team in those final bars spots. Davis has changed her dismount to a DLO, so we’ll have to wait and see if her stick rate remains as high, though it looks good enough so far.
Lindsey Cheek and Brandie Jay were good for 9.850s last year and almost surely will return to the lineup, but after that, two new routines will need to be found to replace Worley and Tanella. Since otherwise helpful contributors like Earls and Persinger don’t do bars, there is not exactly as surplus of options. Kiera Brown has an excellent tkatchev, so she seems the most likely choice since it would be unbecoming of Georgia to deny us that skill on a weekly basis. Reynolds and Broussard can be in the mix here as well, and Cat Hires has been sniffing around the edge of the bars lineup being very 9.775 for a while now. We will surely see her at least a few times this year. With this group, 49.3s look attainable, but while I never thought I would say this, in those early spots they may really miss the reliably 9.850 work of Christa Tanella.
Well, it can’t start off any worse than it did last season, which should be some source of comfort. That this team ended up ranked fourth on beam by the end of the year is a testament to . . . well, it’s a testament to the fact that RQS imposes an artificially small sample size on the rankings to produce a misleading impression of the season as a whole without sufficiently reflecting consistency.
While the top routines on vault and bars have returned, Georgia has lost star routines on the remaining events, and coping without Shayla’s beam (which always held at least the potential for 9.9s) could prove a challenge. Brittany Rogers has a wonderfully unique routine that needs to score higher than it has been, and I was quite impressed by Cheek’s work and mesmerizing, borderline frightening sinewy thigh definition that received a 10 in the intrasquad. (You mean Grace Taylor’s judging might not have been 100% accurate?! I’m in shock.) Kaylan Earls and her two layout series will surely be back, and Sarah Persinger has too much elegance to be out of this lineup, even though she gets a little 9.7y sometimes. I’m happy with Broussard on this event, and I think we can expect some early-season lineup experimentation with her, Mary Beth Box, Hires, and hopefully even Jay to see who can hit and earn those final spots.
But who is getting the 9.9s here? Rogers, Cheek, Persinger, and Earls must be the most likely nominees, but we haven’t consistently seen that kind of scoring from any of them before. Rogers and Persinger got two last season, and Earls and Cheek each got three, but that’s not frequent enough for any to be considered a likely 9.9. At least one person has to emerge in that role, getting 9.9s at 50% of meets, and these waist bends for 9.7s must be eradicated if this is to be a competitive event.
The regression concerns I have about beam are heightened on floor because it was Georgia’s weakest event already last season, and now it’s also the only event with just three returners from last season’s final lineup. Georgia looks to be in the position of using people who couldn’t make the lineup last year, which is always trouble. That’s why it’s crucial that Brittany Rogers be a standout. She’s way too talented to fail to make this lineup or for everyone to be really proud when she gets a 9.825. She needs to be a worthy 5th up, which would go a long way to helping this lineup keep pace with last year.
Brandie Jay should anchor again for the strongest scores, and Ashlyn Broussard’s DLO can be a huge help because otherwise there is not a lot of big tumbling on this team. It’s imperative that her DLO be competition-ready and that she regularly be in the lineup. Earls and Persinger should return as well, and there shouldn’t be a shortage of people who can do a routine in some shape or form (Reynolds competed in the IS, Hires has gotten plenty of 9.7s here before, Mary Beth Box exists), but what kind of scores are they getting? I can see this lineup having way too many 9.800s to keep pace with the big tumbling elsewhere in the SEC. That’s why Broussard’s and Rogers’ routines are so vital. If those two and Jay can always be 9.875+, they’ll be OK, but otherwise it will get scary.
Making Nationals should be very straightforward for this team. They can ride strong vault and bars rotations into the high 196s for most of the season, even if they’re just 49 elsewhere, and when good beam days come around (which I do expect to happen periodically), they should have no trouble being a 197 team and settling into a ranking in that 6-8 zone. Georgia could be in a fight with LSU to be the #3 team in the SEC, but when comparing the floor rotations in particular, it’s hard to imagine Georgia reversing their dismal head-to-head with LSU from last year.
Overall, I wouldn’t expect any significant improvement in the scoring over last season. Keeping pace with 2013’s results would be a victory, which is why I cannot predict Georgia returning to Super Six at this point, not when a number of their peers in the second half of the top 10 look to improve markedly over last season.