#3 LSU Preview

Recent History
No rise has been more immediate and dramatic than LSU’s. Just a few years ago, LSU had a horrific 2011 season where everyone got a 9.700 and the team made no mark whatsoever, sputtering out of the Georgia regional with a distant 195.350. After that, everything changed. The Tigers returned to nationals in 2012 riding the increased depth provided by the Courville, Jordan, Hall class, and by 2013, they managed to turn things around on their traditional weaknesses, bars and beam, to become a true four-event team that can realistically challenge for a title. That year, they returned to Super Six for the first time since the Jackson/Clare-Kearney era, finishing 5th, then stepped up that result in 2014, finishing 3rd behind the Oklahoma/Florida tie in an all-time best result for the program.

2015 Outlook

LSU has never been better. While the 2014 team has a good argument as the most talented squad LSU has ever produced, the 2015 team may have a better one. There’s every reason to have the highest expectations for this team. Making Super Six may have been a big deal for LSU in 2013, but they’re past that now. Simply making the final, simply finishing 4th or 5th, is no longer good enough. They’re in the hunt to win, and while they still have work to do to catch up with the depth of 9.9s from Florida and Oklahoma, an LSU championship is not an unrealistic or strange notion. They can do it and should at least put up a hearty challenge. Any finish worse than 3rd would be a disappointment. Welcome to the world of expectations.

The best argument in LSU’s corner is that, when counting returning scores, they have the highest total in the country. The Tigers were pretty close to Florida and Oklahoma last year, and they have lost fewer valuable routines than either team. Not having Sarie Morrison on vault and bars will be an issue, but for the most part, the core is back and many of the lineups will end up looking very similar to last season. It’s not a year of reinvention for LSU. It’s a year of continuing on the same track and doing exactly what they did last year, only with fewer weird 9.8s at championships. Rheagan Courville and Jessie Jordan will lead the way in the all-around once again with three-event support from Ashleigh Gnat and potentially Britney Ranzy and spot contributions from Lloimincia Hall and Jessica Savona on floor. That’s already a healthy pack of reliable 9.9s (probably about ten of them) from returning standouts, but we should also expect to see impressive moments from the freshmen Erin Macadaeg and Myia Hambrick. Both can contribute on multiple events, but most importantly, they should provide options on beam to beef up the depth on one of the team’s traditional weaknesses that can’t (and shouldn’t) be one anymore.


Returning lineup — Rheagan Courville (9.940), Jessie Jordan (9.915), Ashleigh Gnat (9.890), Britney Ranzy (9.870)

LSU has a powerhouse reputation for a reason. When they’re good, vault is usually why, and the last few seasons have been no exception. The Tigers finished the regular season ranked #1 on vault in 2014, which makes it easy to say, “Yes. LSU. Vault. Next.” but it’s important not to take events for granted. Evidence for that comes from the last two postseasons, where LSU’s vaulting has been only OK and not as strong as it needs to be. You’re LSU. Why is anyone vaulting a 9.825? Pull it together.

This year, LSU will once again be among the best vaulting teams and will receive plenty of those coveted 49.500s. Still, keep an eye on the depth because this is not a hugely huge group where 9.9s are popping out of every seam. The team has a few definite standouts who can get 9.950s, but those standouts will be relied upon to deliver each week. Rheagan Courville usually lands her yurchenko full somewhere in Texas. She has the best distance in the game, coupled with clean form, so her score usually comes down solely to landing control. She’ll be in it for 10s. Ashleigh Gnat is extremely powerful, which we know because her 1.5 is way too easy. She finishes that vault crazy early, so we should expect control on landings. Jessie Jordan tends to compete early in the lineup, but her full is also top class and worthy of 9.9s, which it would probably get more often if she were later in the lineup. Britney Ranzy was in the Olympic mix in 2008 because of her vaulting, and I was pleased to her finally make the lineup full-time last year. The previous year it was more, how is LSU so good at vault that they don’t even need to use Britney Ranzy?

Speaking of people finally making it into the vault lineup, have we just given up on Savona vaulting for this team? She was great at it once upon a time. Oh well. In the rest of the lineup, Hall is always an option (but probably for 9.825s) and transfer Scarlett Williams can provide a y1/2 for 9.850, but we could—should?—see the freshmen Macadaeg and Hambrick round out the competing six. Both have solid form and competitive height and distance and should live up to the expectations we have for LSU’s vaulting. Without Morrison and Dickson (both of whom had RQSs of 9.9+), there’s a chance for some regression from last season depending on how the freshmen perform, but if Courville and Gnat are doing their thing, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.


Returning lineup — Rheagan Courville (9.915), Britney Ranzy (9.885), Jessie Jordan (9.875), Randii Wyrick (9.845)

Because Sarie Morrison is no longer around, bars would seem a potential worry zone for LSU. That’s probably why they’re trying so hard to convince everyone that bars will be great this year. Note the title of the video at the top, “LSU Gymnastics 101 Excellent Bars.” Well, if you do say so yourself. I’ll be judge of that.

For several seasons in there, Morrison was the 9.9 in the lineup, so it’s reasonable to wonder who will pick up that burden. The main proven 9.9 returning to the lineup comes from Rheagan Courville. Courville has noticeably stepped up her consistency of execution since she started at LSU (her toe shoot to high bar in particular is a bajillion times less dead-hangy than it used to be), which means she’s much more likely to get 9.9s these days. She got seven 9.9s in 2014, up from two in 2013. Because Courville is back along with Jordan, Wyrick, and Ranzy (all of whom are usually 9.850-9.875 bars workers with a 9.900 or two for luck), there’s no reason to expect a sudden LSU disaster on bars simply because Morrison is gone. They’ll be fairly strong, and 49.300s are easily doable, with a couple random home 49.500s thrown in just to make the “OVERSCORED!” buzzards (who, me?) feel included and let us rant about amplitude.

The X factor that may dictate whether the Tigers are closer to the 49.3 side or the 49.5 side is Shae Zamardi. Zamardi was recruited as part of the 2013-2014 incoming class specifically for her bars routine, but it was clear from her pre-LSU performances that she would be a work in progress and a Jay Clark project. She showed a ton of potential, but her form was all over the place and would have been deducted like crazy. The Jay Clark project is showing signs of progress so far this preseason. Zamardi has toe point and a legit Markelov, but that double arabian dismount still slightly scares the crap out of me. I’m in wait-and-see territory with that routine, but in the market for a potential replacement Morrison, she’s probably the 9.9iest nominee if it all comes together.

It’s also interesting that Myia Hambrick is coming along on bars as a potential option because bars used to be her bad event and did not originally stand out as a place where she could contribute.


Returning lineup — Jessie Jordan (9.920), Rheagan Courville (9.905), Ashleigh Gnat (9.870), Sydney Ewing (9.840), Lloimincia Hall (9.840)

Without 9.9s from Morrison on bars and vault, it’s reasonable to expect that LSU will either roughly maintain last year’s form or regress somewhat on those events. I don’t expect a significant infusion of brand new vault and bars scoring, but beam is a different story. Mark down 2015 as the year LSU becomes a beam team because this lineup it too talented not to be a beam team. Being happy with a 49.250 as in past years is not happening in 2015.

Last year, I talked a lot about LSU making significant strides on beam by finally having a big three. Couville, Jordan, and Gnat all could score 9.900, which made competitive totals much more realistic and provided an actual margin for error so that success wasn’t solely dependent on a certain someone hitting her arabian. LSU had not enjoyed that luxury in recent seasons, when they were more concerned with cobbling together six people who might hit maybe potentially possibly. Having three big beam routines, however, is only half the battle. The emergence of Sydney Ewing as a consistent beamer, bringing a two-footed layout and reliable supporting 9.850s (which started to become 9.9s in the postseason), was a boost, and this year, the boosts continue. The addition of Erin Macadaeg helps make this a full lineup of beamers instead of half a lineup. Macadaeg has the precise acro skills and fully hit dance elements to join that 9.9 trio and comfortably make it a foursome. My only disappointment is seeing her downgrade all the way to a gainer pike dismount. That’s a cop-out dismount for someone who has a pretty good double pike.

LSU hasn’t been talking up Hambrick’s beam as much as Macadaeg’s, but Hambrick also has a lovely style and great potential on beam, and ideally that routine will pan out at some point this year. I hope Hambrick doesn’t become another Randii Wyrick who should be amazing on beam but has never appeared. I still want Wyrick to make that beam lineup at some point, and I won’t stop talking about it until she does. 


Returning lineup — Lloimincia Hall (9.965), Rheagan Courville (9.935), Jessica Savona (9.895), Jessie Jordan (9.875), Ashleigh Gnat (9.870), Britney Ranzy (no RQS)

Last postseason, LSU got some inadvertently helpful practice for their 2015 floor performances when seniors Maliah Mathis and Kaleigh Dickson succumbed to injury and were unavailable for championships. That meant Gnat and Ranzy had to return to the lineup, putting the team’s floor depth to the test, and both proved reliable for big scores. The collection of Hall, Courville, Savona, Gnat, Ranzy, and Jordan went 49.650/49.450/49.550 in the final three competitions of the season, and with all six returning to the team this season, is there a reason to mess with a successful formula? They were a good bet for 49.5s last year, and they should be again this year.

Obviously, the big routine in the lineup is Lloimincia Hall’s, which has been hashed and rehashed so often over the last three seasons that I’m bored of talking about it. She’ll get 10s. Case closed. Courville is right there with her, dropping into that double arabian landing for 9.950s, Savona has magnet feet on her tumbling for regular 9.900s, and the lineup as a whole is among those with a fair chance of putting up straight 9.9s at home for a downright crazy score. Perhaps the only problem for LSU is that Florida’s floor and Oklahoma’s floor are two of the other lineups capable of straight 9.9s. This year won’t be a fight about who is good at floor, because they all are. It will be a fight about who is landing for 9.925s and who is landing for 9.875s. Keep in mind that LSU’s score of 49.550 in Super Six last year was just the 4th-best floor score of the day. It’s a jungle of 9.950s out there. Any slide is a problem and any bounce is devastating.

Those aforementioned six don’t have to be the final lineup for LSU. They’ll have a number of options, including the freshmen. Both tumble well with competitive difficulty and would contribute on most teams, but they may not be required to do so on this one. 

#4 Alabama Preview

Recent History
The history of recent championships is pretty rosy for Alabama. Save for a couple rough finishes in 2007 and 2008, the Tide have put up a legitimate challenge for the title every year, ultimately succeeding in 2011 and 2012 when they went back-to-back to claim the program’s fifth and six national titles overall. Since then, Alabama has remained right in the middle of the championship fight. They placed 3rd in 2013 and 4th at home in 2014, but it’s easy to forget that if not for crucial mistakes on beam, Alabama could be the four-time defending champion. In each of the last two Super Sixes, they had it. Counting a 9.625 on beam put them behind Florida in 2013, and last year, they needed just 9.900 from Clark and Jacob in the last two spots to jump ahead of the Florida/Oklahoma tie, which was pretty realistic. It didn’t happen.

2015 Outlook
Now, we enter a new era in Alabama gymnastics. Sarah Patterson is gone, and the identity of the Duckworth reign is yet to be defined. It will be a different Alabama this year. There are always changes when a new coach takes over, even if that coach was with the team already, but the most important contributor to Alabama’s 2015 evolution will not be the coaching change but the roster turnover. Kim Jacob, Diandra Milliner, and Sarah DeMeo accounted for 3 routines on vault, beam, and floor, and 2 on bars, many of which were 9.9s and the rest were all-but-guaranteed 9.850s. Without those three, Alabama will be putting up be a lot of new-look lineups, and it’s reasonable to expect some drop in quality from last season. 

That drop puts Alabama down below the current big three (Florida, Oklahoma, and LSU), the three teams with the clearest, most believable chance to win the championship this year. Still, I kept Alabama at #4 in my rankings, and the coaches did the same, because enough consistent talent, routine options, and supporting 9.875s remain on this team to consider them one of the safer bets to make Super Six. In spite of the lost routines, they still have 7 scores of 9.900+ returning from last year’s Super Six performance, which is a very solid foundation that none of the teams ranked below them can match. 

Much like Michigan, a team that has also lost a small village worth of routines, Alabama’s success will depend on key returning competitors like Lauren Beers and Katie Bailey transitioning from supporting players (mid-lineup, good job getting that 9.850) to lineup leaders who are expected to get 9.9s every time out. 


Returning lineup — Lauren Beers (9.930), Kaitlyn Clark (9.890), Katie Bailey (9.860)

When was the last time Alabama competed vault without Diandra Milliner in the anchor position? She held that spot from the very first meet of her freshman year (and got a 9.900), and it will be slightly strange to see the Tide vault without her 1.5 at the end. Yet in spite of losing the scoring potential of that vault, Alabama shouldn’t suffer a major hit on this event because, for some reason, I think Kayla Williams will be able to manage a few 9.950s of her own. Just a world vault champion. You know, no big deal. Having Williams back from injury, whether she’s vaulting her massive 1.5 or the full we know she can stick like crazy, will play a significant role in maintaining the quality from last year.

Alabama is sort of like a vaulting hydra. Cut off a 1.5 from Milliner and three more grow in its place. Freshmen Mackenzie Brannan and Nickie Guerrero both have 1.5s of competitive quality that can legitimately make the transition to NCAA. They’re powerful options who should contribute right away. Really, Williams should go into Milliner’s spot, Brannan and Guerrero should go into Jacob and DeMeo’s spots, and we call it a day. Done. 49.500s. Beers and Clark both slam down their fulls for regular 9.9s, and Bailey proved clean enough and showed enough distance on her y1/2 last season that she kept pace with the rest of the team while performing a half twist less. This should be a strong event for Alabama, and because there are question marks on other events, it will be that much more important for Alabama to stock up on 49.5s here. 


Returning lineup — Kaitlyn Clark (9.910), Amanda Jetter (9.900), Katie Bailey (9.850), Aja Sims (9.760)

Alabama always seems to pull it together on bars. Early in the season, my handstand radar has a conniption fit about everyone and gives them all a 2.300 out of protest (because that’s the deduction for three missed handstands in one NCAA routine), but then they start sticking enough landings that the 9.950s suddenly fly all over the place for 49.5s and I’m never really sure how it all happened. Lately, this bars lineup has made its money on the no-doubt-about-it stuck DLO landings from Jacob and DeMeo, so I’m interested to see how it will survive without those routines this year. There are still a few quality routines in there, but not as much depth or proven stickitude. Others need to take up the mantle.

Amanda Jetter’s biggest asset for this team is her bars routine. She’s part of the new MLT tradition of bars workers who are almost good enough to compete bars for the US but never will. Jetter maintains solid rhythm and amplitude throughout her routine, and expect 9.9s depending on how much control she maintains on her double front dismount (see, stickitude is the watchword). Kaitlyn Clark also emerged as a strong anchor last season for frequent 9.9s, including the above SEC title performance for 9.975. Jetter and Clark will be a competitive duo at the back of the lineup, but they’ll need to find a couple more top scores to keep pace with Florida/Oklahoma and avoid the possibility of 9.825 syndrome, which is a realistic concern this year. Is it all going to be a little 49.200? Brannan could ensure that doesn’t happen. I like what I’ve seen from her in the handstand department. Katie Bailey’s routine is very Christa Tanella senior year, and like Tanella, she will be good for consistent 9.850s as a supporting option.

Beyond them, Aja Sims will probably be back. She has some admirable qualities and big skills, but last season her leg form was all over the place to the point where some of her higher scores seemed downright crazy. That routine still needs to be cleaned up to become another 9.9. Carley Sims and Lauren Beers are usually sniffing around the lineup as well, but keep an eye out for Keely McNeer. No one really knew what to expect when she arrived at Alabama because she had recently disappeared into thin air, but McNeer exhibitioned a few times on bars last year and looked pretty close to making the lineup. Also, if freshman Kiana Winston doesn’t end up being out for too long as she continues to rehab past injuries, she could be a significant addition on this event without putting too much pounding pressure on herself.


Returning lineup — Aja Sims (9.895), Katie Bailey (9.865), Kaitlyn Clark (9.850)

It’s funny. Despite two consecutive years of beam issues in Super Six taking a possible title away from Alabama, I don’t consider this Alabama team shaky on beam. Maybe that’s just the power of preconceived narrative, but it’s also because they don’t have nearly the problems throughout the season that other schools do. They’re one of the solidest teams. Lately, that simply hasn’t carried over to the moment it really counts.

This year, I expect Aja Sims to be the major star on beam. While I have concerns about her form on bars, I have no such concerns about beam where she has the strongest dance elements on the team. Alabama is in the middle of a 9.9 exodus after spending so many seasons relying on Stack-Eaton, then Priess, then Jacob to get their huge scores. This year, someone else needs to come in and replace that potential, and Sims seems the most likely option. She’ll be supported by the triumphant return of Kayla Williams, the clean elegance of Katie Bailey, and the solidity of Kaitlyn Clark (note the random 10 last season). That’s a very good four. They’re pretty consistent as far as beam goes and should keep the team in contention for 49.3s-49.4s. There are some truly excellent beam squads knocking around NCAA this year, and while Alabama lacks the same GASP 9.975 THE BEAUTY! routines that some of those excellent beam squads have, they’ll still hit for competitive scores once they find two more reliable routines. I vote for the freshmen Brannan and Guerrero at least to get a chance since it’s always exciting to see new blood, but it will be a hit-off among many options to see who can earn it. With regular hit routines, they will slide right past the beautiful disasters. The Alabama way.


Returning lineup — Lauren Beers (9.885), Katie Bailey (9.840), Lora Leigh Frost (no RQS) 

Alabama is not usually lacking for floor options. While some teams struggle to scrape together E passes, the Tide often have gymnasts with major difficulty sitting down in 10th or 11th on the depth chart. This year, once again, they will have many gymnasts who can give them a competitive routine for an acceptable score. There are a ton of 9.850s on this team. The issue will be finding a way to maintain the scores from last season now that the 9.9+ star routines from Milliner, Jacob, and DeMeo are no more. The back half of the lineup is a wasteland now. Who is going to fill in for 9.950s? 9.950s are what Alabama expects on floor and what Alabama will need in order to stay a member of the top four teams.

As on vault, Lauren Beers lands with such security that she never gives the judges an opportunity to deduct for lack of control. That’s why she’s the one returning floor star and the one member of this team who has already proven the ability to get consistent 9.9s. Her routine is absolutely essential this season. The rest need to take note and keep up. Mackenzie Brannan has a great double arabian that can fit in well, and many of the other contenders who did not make the lineup last season should see their chances improve greatly this year. Jetter and Aja Sims ended up just on the outside of the 6 last year, but they both scored in the high 9.8s and seem legitimate contenders to compete alongside Bailey with her Milliner-esque double arabian and Lora Leigh Frost with her DLO. It’s a solid enough group, but it’s not at the same level as last season.

I also haven’t mentioned Dominique Pegg yet since we saw so very little from her last season, but she shouldn’t just be making up the numbers on this team. She needs to be contributing vital scores because she’s talented enough to do so. Floor seems as good an option for her as any since it was her signature event as an elite. 

I know not to underestimate Alabama on floor because it’s Alabama on floor. Tumbling is what they do, but don’t expect a continuation of the Jacob/Milliner back-to-back 9.950/49.500 parade right away this year. There will be an adjustment period. New huge scores need to be found. 

#5 UCLA Preview

Recent History
In 2010, UCLA managed to shake off two years of consecutive heartbreaking finishes to win the national championship on the strength of Anna Li/Vanessa Zamarripa/Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs/Brittani McCullough brilliance. In the following years, UCLA remained right in the hunt, finishing in 2nd in 2011, 3rd in 2012, and an ultimately surprising 4th at home in 2013 for a team that didn’t seem to be as competitive as the previous ones. Still, UCLA’s trajectory has been a descent ever since that championship, getting by on fewer and fewer 9.9s each year, and the descent finally caught up to them last season when they missed Super Six for the first time since 2009 and finished a disappointing 8th after a flat performance in the semifinals.

2015 Outlook
What are we going to do with UCLA this year? I don’t really know why, but whenever I start thinking too much about UCLA, I get “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” stuck in my head. Oh, UCLA. How do you keep a wave upon the sand? I have great affection for this team and always love watching them, but no school in NCAA gymnastics is more frustrating.

The Bruins are consistently one of the least predictable teams, both in their scores (will this week be a 197 or a 194?) and in their last-minute lineup changes that I swear are just designed to make the TV people furious and confuse Amanda Borden, which I respect. Judging by this roster, it’s going to be another one of those pull-your-hair-out 194/197 seasons because so much of UCLA’s potential success is dependent on the precarious health of a few stars. Sam Peszek’s feet are hanging on by a sinew at this point in her career, and she will have to be rested and managed all year to make sure she has another full season of hard landings in her. Peng Peng Lee hasn’t performed a competition routine in 2.5 years because of the ACL trauma. Those two, along with Danusia Francis, can be three of the very best, most exciting gymnasts in NCAA. They evoke the quality of UCLA championship teams of years past. If all three are in form at the end of the year, Super Six should be attainable if not expected, but if they’re not, it’s going to be hard to find a lot of 9.9s elsewhere.

At least as of right now. Factor #2 for UCLA’s hopes of excellence will be the sophomore class. With Jenny Pinches spending last year working to come back from being retired, Hallie Mossett and Mikaela Gerber returning from/dealing with constant injuries, and Angi Cipra getting injured in the middle of the season, no member of that class has lived up her potential yet. There’s greatness in there, there are 9.9s in there, but we haven’t seen that. This class needs to arrive, especially if the Peszek/Lee/Francis trio can’t be out there dominating each week.

Something that should help the Bruins in 2015 is the sheer size of this team. They have a bunch of new freshmen walking on to contribute in certain places (called vault), and the increased number of routines should alleviate some of the depth problems that have plagued them recently.


Returning lineup — Sam Peszek (9.885), Sadiqua Bynum (9.880), Hallie Mossett (9.795), Jenny Pinches (9.770)

It hasn’t been good. It just hasn’t. UCLA was able to get by on vault last season primarily because of strong anchor scores from Courtney and Peszek that saved the rotation, but they often were only able to save the rotation for 49.2s. The Bruins need to be better than that this year for any chance to contend, which is the major reason for this cavalcade of vaulting walk-ons. They needed vaulters, and they went out and got them. The lineup should be reinvented this season. Expect to see a lot of people whom we didn’t see last postseason.

Among the group that we did see last postseason, Sam Peszek is the only one who should be guaranteed a spot in this year’s lineup. Even with her my-feet-are-made-of-glass bouncy fake-stick, she should still get 9.9s. Beyond Peszek, vault was never considered a strength for Peng as an elite because she vaulted only a full, but it’s an absolutely beautiful full. The more often UCLA feels comfortable putting her in this vault lineup, the better. Freshman Pua Hall’s best event has always been vault, and they’ll need her to be big for a 9.900 toward the end of the lineup this season as well. I also expect to see Angi Cipra return. She has a potentially excellent full but struggled to control her landings last season. Still, she was getting 9.850s sometimes for vaults with 0.100 steps (albeit at home), so if they can get her landings together, she should be a contributor.

In the collection of vault newbies, there’s graduate transfer Jordan Williams from Arizona who always vaulted for 9.8s with solid distance. She’s the kind of helpful and reliable mid-range option they were lacking last year. Janay Honest consistently placed well with her full in the JO ranks, and UCLA briefly posted a video of LaNiesha Jopre-Irvin getting some solid height.

That’s not to say that the postseason returners other than Peszek won’t factor this year. They will. Pinches in particular has the potential to be a great vaulter. She performed a DTY that was absolutely necessary for Team GB for a few years in there. People who had DTYs as elites should be making NCAA vault lineups, but that doesn’t always happen (ask Jessica Savona). Sadiqua Bynum learned a y1/2 last year that had fairly high scoring potential (but could also be undercooked for 9.7s), and Hallie Mossett has recorded up to a 9.850. It remains to be seen how many 9.9s they can get out of this supporting group, but look how many vaulters I just named! That’s a big depth improvement, which will make 49.4s more common and realistic even if a few options don’t pan out. No teaching Alyssa Pritchett an emergency full in 11 seconds this year.


Returning lineup — Sam Peszek (9.915), Sophina DeJesus (9.915), Hallie Mossett (9.850), Danusia Francis (9.840)

The main thing UCLA has been missing on bars lately is that one big showpiece routine. That amazing performance full of exciting skills that elevates the rest of the lineup both in quality and scores. Peszek has been anchoring lately, and while she has a great gienger and can be powerful, quick, and efficient for excellent scores, it’s not an “OOOOH, AHHH” routine. From what we’ve seen of Peng’s training, the bhardwaj and the shaposh half both performed with beautiful leg form, she’s bringing top-level E skills that are both unique and well-executed. She can be that showpiece and that spark for 9.9+.

Even through some consistency horrors last year, UCLA endured on bars to finish ranked 6th while putting up a few 49.3s and 49.4s here and there. As long as they find supporting routines to back up Peng and Peszek—both of whom can be counted on for 9.9s—competitive rotations and 49.4s seem doable. The trick will be finding those set-up routines because suddenly there’s not as much depth on bars as on vault this year. Sophina DeJesus will certainly be in there. Expect her to go through her usual pattern of having a crazy-legs gienger at the beginning of the season but then pulling it together by March and somehow sticking that dismount for 9.900. Also, Danusia Francis has turned into a true, reliable bars worker. I would never have called it, but she has been vital for 9.850s in that leadoff spot. That’s a competitive four. What about the other two?

Hallie Mossett has permission to come back into the lineup, but only if that disastrous stalder has been put to rest forever, and we may also see freshman Melissa Metcalf, who put up some solid results in JO on bars over the years. UCLA has a number of other bars workers all at varying levels on the I’m-scared-you-might-get-a-7.500 spectrum (do we get to see Mikaela Gerber on bars this season?), but because they may have multiple 9.800s hanging around, Peng’s bars routine will be her most apparatus for the team. They need that score.


Returning lineup — Danusia Francis (9.930), Sam Peszek (9.925), Hallie Mossett (9.855), Sophina DeJesus (9.805), Ellette Craddock (9.775), 

It wouldn’t really be a UCLA season without a couple beamtastrophes here and there. It’s a tradition. We would be lost and confused without them, and they will definitely happen a couple times in 2015 when the B- team goes up at a road meet. Overall, however, the Bruins should be great on beam, and they must consistently be great because this is an event where they can pick up ground even on excellent teams. On the other events, UCLA has talent but will mostly be trying to keep pace with the top schools. On beam, they can beat them. There’s work to be done, but the potential is there.

The potential is there because the Peszek/Lee/Francis group is the most talented beam trio on any team this season. Get them all out there at the same time, and bam-bam-bam routines for consecutive 9.9+ is not just possible but absolutely necessary. Peszek and Francis did it all the time last year. In fact, it was their unexpectedly human 9.850/9.875 in semifinals that hurt UCLA’s chances of advancing as much as anything. I’ll be fascinated to see the composition choices for these three because they all have plenty of risky, exciting skills in their repertoires. Peszek has her tuck full. Francis has her much-ballyhooed dismount combination. Lee has top-level difficulty in both acro skills and turning elements that she can throw in. Who’s anchoring the lineup and who has permission to throw the difficult skills which week will be interesting to watch.

If only NCAA were three-up-three-count (is something I’ve never said, but UCLA will wish it on beam this year). So many other members of this team are capable of doing silky, lovely beam routines for supporting 9.850s, but the hitting thing is a major issue. Most of the beam competitors last season, whether they came in for one week or the whole season, competed like they had just seen 8 ghosts carrying chainsaws. It’s a scary, wobbly group. Mossett does have tremendous potential as she becomes more comfortable competing. DeJesus was solid her freshman year but struggled much more last season. Craddock came through with a huge 9.875 at nationals, but her score was just as likely to start with an 8 as a 9. Then there’s Gerber, Pinches, Cipra, and the freshmen. Options, but eek! Your guess is as good as mine. UCLA is certainly not afraid of experimenting with lineups, and we’ll probably see a lot of that in order to find the three most likely hits, even if they’re just 9.825. Just enough to let the big trio do its job. 


Returning lineup — Sadiqua Bynum (9.870), Danusia Francis (9.785), Jenny Pinches (9.760), Sam Peszek (no RQS), 

Losing the 5th and 6th floor workers as UCLA has done in Courtney and Sawa is usually a challenge. Along with Peszek, Courtney and Sawa were the sure 9.9s in the lineup last year and the biggest reason the Bruins had their highest RQS on floor. Still, all is not lost. UCLA has enough quality in the rest of the group that maintaining the scoring level from last season seems realistic as long as long as the big hitters are healthy in March and April. Peszek should certainly be the highest scorer on the team, but getting Angi Cipra back in the lineup will be just as crucial because before her injury last year, she emerged as a real find and a new UCLA floor gem who excels at both tumbling and choreography. Those two can be an effective 9.9 duo this year. 

Performance-wise, I hold UCLA to a higher standard. It’s the burden of having good floor routines sometimes. On other teams, I’m perfectly happy to let bouncy, posing routines with the theme “I’m smiling at the crowd now” slide because I expect nothing else. With UCLA, I expect to be impressed. There have been a couple memorable routines in recent years (Sawa’s alien abduction was weird, silly, and delightful; Francis is always a standout because she has such a striking presence), but a lot of times lately, many of the best performers haven’t been making the floor lineup, leaving the rotation flatter than it should be. That may happen again this year. It’s one of the frustrating parts I was talking about. Sure, I would love to see Peng and DeJesus do floor routines every week, but it may not be prudent because of fragility concerns and actually-hitting-tumbling-passes concerns. Getting DeJesus hitting consistently would help a lot. As would having a freshman like Pua Hall emerge as another Cipra who can do tumbling and dance at the same time. Cipra, DeJesus, Francis in the same rotation? That’s what I’m talking about.

I do think Danusia Francis should be in the lineup. She has been a little inconsistent like DeJesus in the past, but if she actually has tumbling she’s comfortable with, she can be another big score, which she proved at the end of last season. A lot will be expected of the Brits on floor this year because Pinches also came into her own at the end of last season with consistently secure passes for leadoff 9.850s. That will be essential work again this year. Sadiqua Bynum has continued to refine her DLO, though she still occasionally lands short for 9.7s and misses dance elements, and has carved out a regular spot for herself on floor. Expect to see her back. It’s not going to be the biggest-scoring group in the country. Some of the top teams will have 9.9s in every spot, which UCLA does not, but if they’re able to get big routines from Peszek/Cipra/Francis and 9.850 hits elsewhere, they can be as competitive as they need to be here.

#6 Utah Preview

Recent History
It has been a rough last couple years for Utah. Coming off a program-worst 9th place finish in 2013, the Utes once again failed to make Super Six in 2014, finishing less than a tenth of a point behind Nebraska in 7th place. Those finishes are fine for most teams but not for a program that has been among the elite teams in the country throughout its history and basically invented being good at college gymnastics. They won all the titles in the early years, and more recently, were the second-best team in the country throughout the Georgia dynasty of the 2000s. That’s the legacy this team has to live up to, which is why 7th and 9th sting that much more.

2015 Outlook
On the positive side, things are looking up for Utah in 2015. I’m more optimistic about Utah’s potential performances this season than I have been in a while, and that’s primarily because this team is the deepest they’ve put together in several seasons. The freshman class is poised not just to contribute routines but to step into areas of real weakness (hi beam!) and reinvent those lineups. They’ll slot in comfortably alongside the starring routines from last season, of which nearly all are returning. (A couple from Damianova will be missed, but for the most part, the consistent 9.9s are coming back.) Georgia Dabritz and Corrie Lothrop will once again lead the way, and Tory Wilson has been a stalwart option in the AA when desperately needed these last couple years. In the final season of eligibility for all three of those gymnasts, the pressure is on Utah to produce something this time around while they still have access to all those 9.9s.

In each of the last two seasons, Utah has hung around the cusp of the top 6 throughout the year. Right now, they’re still in that area, but I would put them comfortably in the top half of that Utah, Alabama, Georgia, UCLA, Stanford, Nebraska group that will all be clawing at each other to make Super Six. For Utah, it’s not just that they should make it back to Super Six; it’s that they need to. This roster is good enough to do it, and three straight years of missing Super Six is not acceptable for Utah gymnastics.


Returning lineup — Kailah Delaney (9.945), Tory Wilson (9.945), Georgia Dabritz (9.925), Becky Tutka (9.850)

Utah should feel very comfortable with the options on vault this year. The big three of Dabritz, Delaney, and Wilson are all back and should be their usual 9.9+ selves this season to make 49.5s a very realistic expectation. Once again, Utah should be vaulting right up there with the best teams. Of the big three, Dabritz had the lowest RQS last season (low at 9.925) as a result of some experimentation with the 1.5 for steppy landings, but she is the strongest vaulter on the team when taking into account her stickitude. Once the postseason rolled around last year, she was the only one in the lineup sticking her vault. That brings up the one real concern about Utah’s vaulting recently, the deterioration of landings as April approaches. Suddenly at championships, those 49.5s become 49.3s, and they can’t afford that again this year.

Dabritz showed both the 1.5 and the full at the Red Rocks Preview, and while I expect we’ll see both again this year at times, the full is the savvier, if less interesting, choice. I always love to see 1.5s, but she’s more likely to stick the full and more likely to get better scores for it. When it gets down to it, composition succumbs to pragmatism.

Beyond those top three vaulters, Utah should get an upgrade in the opening three positions this year along with more competition for those spots. In the preview, Kari Lee, Samantha Partyka, and Tiffani Lewis showed the makings of very strong fulls with the height and form both to score competitively and to ensure there’s less of a quality gap this season between the first three and the final three. I would be very happy to see triple freshmen in the first three lineup spots. If you’d like something with a little more seasoning, might I interested you in a Corrie Lothrop? She’s coming back to the all-around this year and has vaulted for solid scores in the past, but there’s also Becky Tutka, who competed last season for 9.850s and could do so again if she gets healthy, and Breanna Hughes, who interestingly showed an OK 1.5 in the preview. When Hughes arrived at Utah, she was supposed to be a vaulter. She had a great 1.5 in JO, and I’m surprised we’ve heard so little from her on vault until now. That will be a vault to watch (and a good possible option for my favorite thing—leading off vault with difficulty), and as a whole Utah should be among the top four vault teams once again this season.


Returning lineup — Georgia Dabritz (9.950), Corrie Lothrop (9.880), Tory Wilson (9.850), Breanna Hughes (9.850)

Last year, Utah scored very well on bars and ended up ranked 4th on the event, which I suppose is solid evidence for the power of sticking landings because I don’t pretend to understand all those scores. But when you stick, good things happen. Unlike on vault, where Utah has a contingent of top performers, bars is really all about Georgia Dabritz. She has received 10s a couple times, and while there are minor form issues that the judges usually don’t care so much about involving feet, she’s the one with top scoring potential and 9.950 expectations. We’ll need to be on Georgia Dabritz Composition Watch on bars as well because she continues to tease us with that comaneci. I hope she actually performs it this year because it gives the routine a special, unique quality to make it more memorable and 10-worthy, but I say that every year and it never happens.

Expect the rest of the returning gymnasts to figure in the lineup. Corrie Lothrop always provides a solid hit with no major issues (and she didn’t even fall on her jaeger in the preview this year like she usually does), Breanna Hughes is always hanging around with hit handstands for a clean-enough 9.850, and Tory Wilson has steadied her form on bars over the last season or so to make her routine a more realistic early-lineup option. Kari Lee shows good rhythm and precise vertical handstands in her routine, Tiffani Lewis could be in the running, and Kassandra Lopez is also returning from injury this year and should certainly be in the lineup. Lopez stands out from the other competitors for Utah because she has much more height on her tkatchev and DLO dismount. Some of the other choices who will be pecking around the lineup in the 7th and 8th positions on the depth chart are missing that release amplitude. Outside of the anchor position, Utah is probably looking at a lot of 9.850s on bars this year, but if they’re getting the big score from Dabritz, that can still be a competitive lineup.


Returning lineup — Corrie Lothrop (9.860), Kailah Delaney (9.840), Tory Wilson (9.825), Baely Rowe (9.810), Breanna Hughes (9.695) 

Yes, Utah is returning five members from last year’s beam lineup, but this season should be about throwing everything away and starting again. They’ll have the luxury to do that because of the high level of performance we can expect from at least a couple of the freshmen. It’s a brand new beam world. Still, Corrie Lothrop can stay. She’s always good for a secure straddle-parade of a hit routine for 9.850. But everyone else is in the maybe pile because of the troubles of the last two seasons. For so many weeks last year, Utah could not buy a score higher than 9.850 on beam. Too many people had too many issues on dance elements to expect higher scores even for wobble-free routines.

Among the freshmen who will be glowing balls of light and hope for Utah on this event, Maddy Stover and Kari Lee should be essential right away. They bring revolutionary qualities like straight legs on back handsprings and hit dance elements, which will elevate the lineup. Lee may very well contend for an all-around spot, but for both of these freshmen, beam is their most important apparatus by a large margin. Of course, actually hitting routines (that old thing) will dictate which returners end up coming back into the lineup, but I’d like to see Delaney since she has a true style and presence on beam, as well as Rowe. Rowe excelled on beam in her JO career, and while she made the lineup last year, she has not yet lived up to that potential. There are still some issues with this beam group, but it should be a lot better in 2015.

After three years, I promise I’m done beating the Dabritz drum on beam. I’ll just say that it would be cool if she finally made the lineup as a senior and achieved the AA success she deserves.


(It should be a thing this year that they announce Tory Wilson’s name before her final pass every time.)

Returning lineup — Georgia Dabritz (9.965), Becky Tutka (9.925), Tory Wilson (9.890),

Coming into the 2015 season, floor is more of an unknown than it has been in recent years because of the number of lost routines. Utah doesn’t usually have trouble filling floor lineups, but there is work to be done this time around. Dabritz will obviously be the major scoring threat, and Tory Wilson and her DLO have been reliable for 9.875s for a few seasons now. Tutka is excellent on floor but is currently dealing with an injury, which puts that much more pressure on the rest of the team to come up with a few more competitive routines, especially right away. 

Lothrop has the tumbling difficulty and was always in the floor lineup for 9.875-9.900 before her injury, so I expect her to come back and finally give a boost to floor, but beyond Lothrop, the spots are there to be earned. Partyka was excellent at floor in her JO career with a standout double arabian mount and should be useful here, Delaney has competed floor well in meets here and there over the past couple years, Lee has a triple full mount (though currently has just layouts as a middle pass), and Marsden seems to be pushing Baely Rowe in the AA this year, so we may see her as well. There’s not usually a lot of mid-season experimentation in the Utah lineups, but it could be helpful on floor this year because there are some definite question mark spots that they’ll need to work through and that could feature some early growing pains. Even though beam is getting a scoring infusion, Utah will still need to rely on a big floor score of 49.4+ to be successful, so they need to find a few early 9.850-9.875 routines from a mostly untested group of challengers.