#4 Utah Preview

Delaney, Kailah – Senior – VT (possible BB, FX)
Hughes, Breanna – Senior – VT, UB (possible BB, FX)
Lange, Haley – Senior – N/A
Lee, Kari – Sophomore – VT, UB, BB, FX
Lewis, Tiffani – Sophomore – VT, UB, FX
Lopez, Kassandra – Senior – UB, BB
McNatt, Shannon – Freshman
Merrell, MaKenna – Freshman
Muhaw, Erika – Freshman
Partyka, Samantha – Sophomore – VT
Rowe, Baely – Junior – VT, UB, BB, FX
Schwab, Sabrina – Freshman
Stover, Maddy – Sophomore – BB

Recent History
2015 – 2nd
2014 – 8th
2013 – 9th
2012 – 5th
2011 – 5th
2010 – 6th

2016 Outlook
The Utes couldn’t have hoped to do any better than they did at last season’s Marsden farewell celebration tour when the 49.5s suddenly poured straight out of the sky, but in the cold light of an onrushing 2016, things look very different. The holes in this roster are suddenly large and everywhere. Basically, Megan and Tom have to reconstruct half a team, and by necessity, returning gymnasts will be expected to compete events they weren’t making last season. That’s usually a recipe for regression, so don’t expect the same result as in 2015 (though no one really expected it in 2015 either).

The 2016 team we saw at the Red Rocks Preview does possess enough depth to put together competitive lineups, but without too, too many stars/stars-in-the-making, this looks like another season in which Utah will have to workmanlike-9.850 the other contending teams into submission to make it back to Super Six. That strategy has worked plenty of times before. The mission for Utah is to show more depth, constancy, and durability through whole lineups than Pac-12 peers UCLA and Stanford, who will have more 9.9s but may struggle to fill out the entire lineup with competitive scores.

Key Competitor
One underclassman who did emerge as a new bright light amidst that Dabritz/Lothrop ticker-tape parade of a 2015 season was Kari Lee. Most significantly, she brought an elevated level of extension and refinement that had been missing from the beam lineup, but she also has an exceptionally clean and stickable full on vault, a 9.900 floor routine, and a sufficiently usable bars routine that may actually be needed this year. Suddenly this season, she has become the most impressive gymnast on the roster, and she’ll have to lead the charge in creating the big nest of new 9.9s Utah needs to succeed in 2016.


Vault was a tremendous strength for Utah last season, pushing the team right into the vicinity of a title with a whole host of 9.925s and controlled landings (that survived all the way to the championship instead of disappearing around February!). In 2016, however, there’s more reason to question Utah’s viability as a vault powerhouse because of the changes in roster and start value. Kailah Delaney is the one remaining member of the 9.950-a-trons, and while she will once again be an essential component of the lineup, her vault remains a full. That means she’ll be looking at something closer to 9.875-9.900s most weeks, useful scores but not dominant scores.

The member of Utah’s team who will benefit the most from the new vault values is Breanna Hughes. I remember when Hughes first arrived at Utah and I was all up in her 1.5 being a centerpiece of the vault lineup. That never happened even a little, but it has always been a solid vault and one that she stuck in the RRP. This is finally her year to become a vaulter. The coaches should put her difficulty 5th with Delaney 6th to push that Delaney score up as much as possible. Note that you’re going to get very sick of me complaining about vault lineup orders this season. MaKenna Merrell also had a 1.5 in JO, though she showed just a full in the preview, which makes sense because the full was only OK. I’m not sold on her difficulty or placement in the lineup as yet. She might get Hughesed for a while.

The rest of the lineup will be fulls, unless McNatt and her Omelianchik materialize. Kari Lee will certainly be back for 9.850-9.875s since her full is second-best to Delaney’s. Beyond that, a collective of 9.825-9.850 fulls will compete for the remaining three (or so) spots including Lewis, Partyka, Rowe, and Muhaw. It’s a solid contingent, but losing the Dabritz and Wilson vaults will most certainly be felt in the scores. I still like this lineup for an RQS around 49.350, but it doesn’t look like the 49.5s of recent days.


I should probably refrain from writing this section because reality has proven that I just don’t get it with Utah’s bars and the scoring. It eludes me. Right now, I look at the nine or ten options Utah has on bars this year, and they all look around 9.800-9.850 to me. Which means they’ll go 49.600 at nationals. But still, it seems inevitable that the Utes will experience a noticeable drop-off post-Dabritz because, you know, there’s not another auto-10 just hanging out on the roster. Given the lost routines, ending up a couple tenths lower than last year’s bars scores seems a realistic outlook.

A lot of these routine options look pretty similar right now, so expect some mixing and matching with the ultimate lineup spots determined by stickability. The stalwarts should be Lopez, who has been a bars constant for a thousand years and has always scored well, and Baely Rowe, who was a reliable 9.850 all last season. Across the whole team, though, Rowe’s bars work looked the most improved at this year’s preview, with a better finishing position on her full turn, tidy legs on the bail, and a stuck DLO, so I could see her scoring higher this season. As for the new ones, I’m most looking forward to seeing Sabrina Schwab develop as a bars worker. She has the best line and toe point on the roster, so if they can put together competitive difficulty for her with a dismount she can stick, she’ll be a future bars star. In the present, she at least needs to be an integral early-mid lineup piece.

The remaining merry band of 9.8s is large enough to allay any depth worries. Tiffani Lewis will be a thing. Her tkatchev is now a jaeger this year, which is a shame because I enjoyed her tkatchev the most on the team (Utah’s tkatchevs tend to look a little clunky and lack the counter-rotation the best ones have), but her routine should score about the same as last season. Breanna Hughes didn’t have a great year on bars in 2015 and often got stuck in the 9.7s, so she’ll have to fight for the leftover spots with the likes of Lee, Partyka, and Merrell. While bars does look like a perfectly fine 49.200-49.250 event, this is now a lineup without showcase routines, and that can be a recipe for getting stuck in the 9.825s. 


Beam has been an issue to varying degrees for Utah for several centuries now, almost costing the Utes the season at regionals last year and, even on better days, often getting stuck in the 9.800 purgatory of meh. Among the underclassmen, however, Utah is going through a medium-level beam renaissance that should provoke greater expectations both for scores and elegance this season. Beam will still be abjectly terrifying in terms of consistency without Lothrop, but multiple members of the lineup have real 9.9 potential, even away from home.

The sophomores Lee and Stover will have to be the da Vincis of this renaissance. Lee’s fluidity and precision make her the best beamer on the team, and while Stover struggled with a case of the wobblies and got too many 9.7s early in the 2015 season, she can be just as strong and should emerge as a lineup leader this year. It has taken Baely Rowe a little while to become the beamer she was supposed to be when she started, so while she still has the occasional hilarious fall/wobble, hers is a more reliable score these days. Those three will be the core of the lineup and three best scores, but I like the freshmen Merrell and Schwab to join them to augment beam away from 49.150-49.200 and toward 49.300s. Both have the line and potentially not-awful splits to develop into constants. They did look extremely tentative and terrified about all of life’s ills in their performances at the RRP, but that happens. If they can work through it, they could even help make beam almost a strength for Utah. I said it.

For any remaining spots, just roll the dice and see who ends up the most consistent because it all looks a little too scary right now. Though I do need to give 100 self-aware bonus points to Breanna Hughes for picking beam music with the lyrics “I’m a little unsteady.” We know. We’re all in this together, Breanna.


Oops, the floor lineup’s gone. Where did it go? Floor was a huge event for Utah last season and a reliable 49.4+ most weeks, but every single person has left now including the auto-9.9s from Dabritz and Tutka. Don’t expect last year’s performance to carry over into this year. Floor will still go 49.4 sometimes because the best schools always do here and there, but it won’t consistently be the same strength without that pack of dominant floor performers and big bang-bang landings. 

Continuing the theme, Lee becomes the de facto leader of this lineup as the best returning score on the roster. Her triple full is a consistent, if staggered, landing, and by not giving away much in the dance elements, she’s good for a 9.900 for any mostly controlled routine. I also expect Tiffani Lewis to emerge as a serious score on floor this season. She was a clean, early-lineup double pike last year, but she has since added a pretty solid full-in and seems to be on track toward becoming the new Tutka. I’d expect those two to lead, but Rowe will necessary again and Delaney has always been pecking around the vicinity of this lineup. She may finally get her chance with all these new spots opening up. Among the freshmen, Merrell will also see some time, and Schwab showed plenty of floor potential as a JO gymnast. If Lewis is to be new-Tutka, then it looks like Schwab is being made into new-Damianova, the one with the simpler “I’m being artistic” D-pass routine who can get scores through cleanliness.

As on the other events, there are a bunch of 9.8y looking options for any leftover spots, which is one of the reasons I still like the Utes to have a good season. They have retained a worthwhile and complete batch of usable options to fill out the lineups with room to spare. There’s Partyka, Hughes, yada yada yada. Stover has good twisting form. I actually thought Lopez looked the best of the rest in the RRP, which was surprising since she has made this lineup a grand total of never before. I’ll be rooting for that one. Love a senior making a lineup she never has before.

#5 LSU Preview

Cannamela, Julianna – Freshman
Ewing, Sydney – Junior – VT, BB, FX
Finnegan, Sarah – Freshman
Gauthier, Michelle – Senior – backup BB, FX
Gnat, Ashleigh – Junior – VT, UB, BB, FX
Hambrick, Myia – Sophomore – VT, UB, BB, FX
Kelley, McKenna – Freshman
Li, Lauren – Sophomore – backup VT, UB, FX
Macadaeg, Erin – Sophomore – VT, BB
Moran, Kylie – Sophomore – N/A
Priessman, Lexie Lee – Freshman
Savona, Jessica – Senior – VT, UB, BB, FX
Szafranski, Kaitlyn – Freshman
Wyrick, Randii – Senior – UB (backup VT, FX)
Zamardi, Shae – Junior – UB (backup FX)

Recent History
2015 – 10th
2014 – 3rd
2013 – 5th
2012 – 9th
2011 – 20th
2010 – 9th

2016 Outlook
LSU enters 2016 wallowing in the aftermath of an extremely disappointing collapse at nationals last year (THE FRESHMAN LOST HER MIND) and, much more significantly, the departure of the class that lifted this program back into the big time. So, some trepidation about this season is understandable. It seemed that LSU would be relying on a super-talented, but often MIA and legs-made-of-dust, freshman class to have a shot at repeating the top-three quality of the last couple years. Very dangerous territory. Thankfully, the complete and solid-for-December lineups LSU put up in the preseason showcase (without Priessman and Kelley) were very reassuring as to the status and competitive ability of the returning core of this team. LSU is a Super Six team even if the big-name freshmen aren’t able to deliver significant numbers, and will challenge for the title if they are.

Key Competitor
I’m going with Ashleigh Gnat. Gnat spent the first two years of her LSU career hanging out around the 4th spot on her main events, a prominent contributor on whom the team relied for scores but not necessarily the lineup leader or an absolutely essential score. When she had the occasional bad one, Courville and Jordan (or Hall on floor) were there to pick up the slack and save a great rotation total. Without them, Gnat will be expected to anchor multiple lineups and get 9.9s on vault, beam, and floor every single time, which is a new role and a new level of responsibility. In the absence of Courville, she has to become a Courville to keep LSU on track. 


Under ideal health circumstances, LSU’s vault lineup will be Gnat, Priessman, Savona, Ewing, Kelley, and Hambrick. That’s a serious 49.4+ group even without the benefit of Courville’s mile-long vault (the start-value change also mitigates LSU’s vault losses since Courville and Jordan wouldn’t have scored as well this year anyway). Gnat continues to vault the DTY, which is developing into a US-elite level DTY that would provoke a tropical storm of Amanar rumors were she elite and competing it at Classic. She’ll be the head vaulter for the Tigers, and let’s hope the new values adequately reward her difficulty now instead of giving her a 9.875 every time and placing her on par with average yurchenko fulls.

When Priessman is able (she’s expected to return on at least bars by mid-January), she’s more than capable of producing a 10.0 SV since her Amanar remained only somewhat terrifying all the way through 2012, after which she was completing DTYs quite easily. Complementing those two will be Savona and Ewing, who both made their way into the vault lineup last season with sufficiently powerful 1.5s that will be even more valuable this year. With what should be four 10.0 starts and two other strong fulls, this lineup boasts both the difficulty and the execution to be a top-four vaulting team. At least. For the remaining fulls, I’d go with Kelley for her power and Hambrick for her incredible perfect perfection made of perfect. Her vault is a total joy and one of the few that qualifies as artistic. She can still hit 9.900 with a full this year.

When any of these six aren’t available, both Cannamela and Macadaeg have perfectly acceptable fulls (Macadaeg has nice pop but isn’t as steady on the landing) that should be able to score into the 9.8 range themselves and keep everything on track.


Bars is the worry event. While the Tigers have more than enough 9.800-level gymnasts to put together a workable lineup, they’ve been bleeding bars leaders for the last couple seasons in Morrison and now Courville and Jordan, leaving the team with mostly supporting characters and few stars. Conclusion: Sarah Finnegan. Finnegan has the toes, handstands, and general “she’s Sarah Finnegan” to become one of the strongest bars workers around, especially now that she can get rid of a few of those pesky elite skills that gave Elfi a case of the post-diarrhea moans at 2012 Trials. Finnegan will need to become the new 9.9er. Priessman must also contribute, though her bars execution score in elite was not always so much with the great. Still, paring down to NCAA skills should give her something cleaner that can be a definite mid-lineup routine if not necessarily a starring routine the way Finnegan’s should be. On twitter, Yosemite Clark took a short break from being the whole problem to post a video of her routine, which was fine if a little whippy in the DLO and a little leg-breaky in the pak.

These freshmen must boost the competitiveness of this group since LSU doesn’t return very many natural bars workers. There is Zamardi, who developed into a good 9.850-9.900 last year after being MIA her freshman year. Zamardi’s double arabian dismount still scares the bejesus out of me, but she has proven a consistently countable score. Wyrick will also return to the lineup. Hers is not a memorable routine, but she doesn’t give away much in form and can go 9.900 at times too. With those four, LSU can be on track for 49.300, which is perfectly fine. Beyond them, however, the team will be relying on people who might prefer if the bars would just go crawl into a corner and die, like Savona and Gnat. Both contributed for 9.800s last year but have enough leg and angle issues to keep their scores below what a championship team should be getting. Hambrick is another choice (but she struggles with consistency), Kelley has a routine although it’s also not her event, and at some point Cannamela should develop into either a solid 1st/2nd routine or a safely usable reserve. Enough people exist to stay above water, but the question is how often this lineup will get stuck in the 9.825-9.850s/49.200s, especially early in the season if Finnegan and Priessman aren’t all that right away.


The loss of Courville and, especially, Jordan introduces a lot more terror and drama into the beam lineup this year. How many times did Jessie Jordan save everything in the 6th spot? LSU’s biggest mission on beam this year is finding a new queen bee who can hit even when everyone else is terrible. Theoretically the team still earns enough lovely points to make this event a huge asset, but can they survive the rotation or will they fall into a pit of lava a la nationals? 

This is why Gnat must develop into a rock as an upperclassman. She has a tendency to get a little 9.7y in important moments and was one of the falls at nationals, and that has to go. She must be the solid lineup savior in case any member of the triumvirate of perfect finds that she’s just feeling too beautiful to stay on the beam that day. Obviously, by triumvirate of perfection, I mean Finnegan, Macadaeg, and Hambrick. The style, the elegance, the Kathy Johnson moans! Hambrick and Macadaeg both had hitting problems last year, but they’re lovely, give away almost no built-in deductions, and must return to the lineup. Finnegan is still doing the triple wolf, because she just wants to hurt me, but I suppose I can allow it since hers is not horrible looking. Regardless, she’ll be the same woodland beam heiress she always has been and will get a 20 every week.

I’d definitely take Priessman for another spot and then conduct an American Gladiator-style joust between Ewing and Kelley for the remaining place. Those are seven serious options and huge potential scores. When Lexie Priessman is the 5th person I mention on an event, you know it’s good. If they can actually figure out hitting, they can score with any team and should be right up there with Oklahoma and UCLA.

Also a couple notes from the preseason showcase: 1) Jessica Savona looked good. Where did that beam routine come from? Even the splits were solid. She might cause an upset by knocking out Ewing or Kelley or an inconsistent member of the triumvirate. 2) Every switch side was super crooked. Fix, please.


It’s LSU and floor, so even though Hall, Courville, and Jordan are no more, don’t expect the team to fall off in any significant way in 2016. Sure, there may not be anyone getting Hall 10s, but in time, this roster should develop enough 9.900-9.950 options to remain among the strongest floors in the country. The freshmen can be just as good as the departing routines. For both Priessman and Kelley, floor is the obvious specialty. It was Priessman’s floor tumbling and secure landing of difficult acro that had her on many people’s Olympic forecast during her larval stage, and Kelley is just a concentrated rubber ball of DLO/Mary Lou energy. That extreme-facial-reactions LSU judge is going to fall into the sky about McKenna Kelley. When healthy (and Kelley is supposed to be back to full strength for the beginning of the season), these two late lineup powerhouses should rack up the 9.9s.

The other members of the 9.9 brigade will be Gnat and Savona. Early in Gnat’s career she struggled with tumbling pass consistency, but last year she was a weekly 9.9 (ending the season on a streak of nine consecutive floor scores of 9.900 or greater, which is pretty impressive). As for Savona, the majority of her floor routines are worthy of 9.900, though last season she was getting stuck with some 9.850s in the first spot. Promoted back out of that spot this year, she should score pretty close to Gnat. These four will keep LSU in the 49.4s. Ewing competed consistently last season, so count on her to return with her front 2/1 and acceptable twisting form, along with perhaps Hambrick or Wyrick. Both of them competed in the preview and are opening with E passes this season, making it pretty likely that LSU will have six E-pass floor routines this season. As for Sarah Finnegan, she got the requisite “she’s the artistic one” Jessie Jordan choreography this year, though there are sufficient floor options that the team will have the luxury of saving Finnegan for bars and beam depending on how bubble-wrapped she needs to be.

#6 UCLA Preview

Brow, Matteah – Freshman
Bynum, Sadiqua – Senior – VT, FX
Cipra, Angi – Junior – VT, FX (possible BB)
DeJesus, Sophina – Senior – UB, BB, FX
Dennis, Rechelle – Sophomore – possible backup UB
Francis, Danusia – Senior – UB, BB, FX (we all saw that full in Glasgow so no more pretending you can’t VT)
Gerber, Mikaela – Junior – BB, FX
Hall, Pua – Sophomore – FX (VT, please)
Honest, Janay – Sophomore – VT, UB, FX
Lee, Peng Peng – Junior – VT, UB, BB (FX, please)
Meraz, Sonya – Sophomore – VT, UB, BB, FX
Metcalf, Melissa – Sophomore – UB
Mossett, Hallie – Junior – UB, BB, FX
Ohashi, Katelyn – Freshman
Preston, Madison – Freshman
Savvidou, Stella – Freshman
Shapiro, Nicki – Freshman
Toronjo, Macy – Freshman – (out with should injury)

Recent History
2015 – 11th
2014 – 7th
2013 – 4th
2012 – 3rd
2011 – 2nd
2010 – 1st

2016 Outlook
UCLA has suffered a gradual descent ever since the grand Anna Li coronation of 2010, a descent that picked up a little speed in the last year or so. 11th. The future is certainly bright for the Bruins, as the Ross/Kocian/Ohashi sparkleplosion moves closer and closer to reality, but for the present, the mission is figuring out how to improve on last season’s unconvincing result, now without Sam Peszek to go up 6th and fix all the bad scores.

Even without Her Lady of 9.900s, this remains a talented roster that should be able to put together another cusp-of-Super-Six season. A successful result for UCLA would be built on using the back half of lineups to out-9.9 teams like Michigan, Georgia, and Utah, and given the capabilities of gymnasts like Ohashi, Lee, and Francis, that’s quite possible. If all three are healthy and competing all their events at the end of the year (because apparently we live in a world of make believe), this can still be an extremely impressive team even before Kyla saves everyone just by looking at us. What’s holding the Bruins back from being a favorite right now is the selection of viable supporting scores. Who else is there besides the big three? And can they legitimately bring enough 9.850-9.900 routines to make UCLA a full competitive team rather than just a couple appealing stars and the rest? Which brings me to…

Key Competitor(s)
Sophina DeJesus and Angi Cipra. Playtime is over. These two very talented upperclassmen have underachieved so far and must do more this year for the team to thrive. On their best events, and even some of their not-best events, DeJesus and Cipra need to be scoring near the same level as Francis and Lee to give the team a nationally competitive complement of scores. Without Peszek, there’s nowhere for them to hide anymore. They must step up to fill that void and become scoring leaders, not just accessory pieces who occasionally stumble upon a 9.900, because if they don’t who else will? DeJesus has always been capable of starring on beam and floor rather than just getting a 9.800 and a [scene missing]. Floor really should be her best event, and with that Sophina spitfire routine she has this year, the lineup needs her. Cipra is currently the strongest floor worker on the team, and the Bruins now depend on her too much to be able to tolerate those occasional falls and 9.7s from the last two seasons. She has to go 9.9+, and do it every time, along with serious contributions on vault and ideally beam (her beam talent is greater than her no-routines-ever career would suggest).

We can probably put Hallie Mossett in this category as well. This trio needs to have a “by your powers combined” Captain Planet moment to unite and create that final magnificent star gymnast the team needs in order to challenge the best schools.


I count enough vaulters to form an acceptable lineup, but the real worry is going to be difficulty. Most top teams have a few vaulters who did a 1.5 in JO/elite and might be able to bring it back, but the large majority of UCLA vaulters from last season appear maxed out at their current amount of yurchenko twisting. The Bruin vault approach may end up being to squeeze all possible tenths out of fulls rather than going for a bunch of 10.0 SVs. Or, is it vault-teaching time again? Who wants to learn an Omelianchik? The answer should be everybody because it’s the best.

The options returning from last year’s lineup are predominately early lineup/backup vaults, with Cipra capable of a relatively solid-scoring full as long as the landing works out, Meraz and Honest both bringing perfectly OK 9.750-9.800 fulls, Bynum occasionally scoring well for her y1/2 (but also occasionally landing short and getting a 9.7), and Peng vaulting a very beautiful full when she’s able. Peng’s vault is gorgeous, but because of her injury history of “all of them, all the time,” it’s not the kind of vault a lineup can rely on. This returning group looks extremely 49.1 right now, so the new ones are going to have to bring it. At least a little. A little bringing. I’ve been wary about expecting too much from Ohashi on vault and floor just because the high priestess must be protected at all costs, but this lineup needs her. She must vault, as must Preston. Vault was usually Preston’s best event in JO, with a high and very clean full, so if she has sufficiently recovered from her 2015 bout with Mary Lee Leg, she’ll be an integral piece.

Let’s also take a moment to address the Pua Hall situation. Hall was a vault recruit, intended to shore up this lineup in the wake of the “we’re forcing Niki Tom to vault because there’s literally nothing else to do” years. Hall was very strong in JO and has an all-important 1.5 but vaulted a grand total of never last season. That has to change this year. This vaulting squad is too thin to have a 1.5 twiddling her thumbs. If Hall/Preston/Ohashi are actually able to boost the depth, they’ll be looking closer to the 49.250-49.300 territory than the dreaded 49.1s.


Welp, Peng already has a thumb injury, so let’s just cancel bars. The preseason thumb injury strikes a major blow to this lineup because how much bars training is Peng going to be able to do? And when? The team really relies on her here not just to be the best routine but to get those 9.950s to cancel out some early 9.800s. When available, she makes bars an asset event for the Bruins.

DeJesus is critical, even more so when Peng can’t be leaned on. Sophina needs to recover on bars this year and have another 2014 season (9.915 RQS), not a 2015 season (9.845 RQS). The form break on the gienger and the knee-eating dismount landing can hurt her scores, so it’s all the more important that she stick to try to trick everyone into forgetting that those are things. It happens. The other vital returning routine comes from Danusia. It’s a simpler bars routine, with just the double pike dismount, but she has developed into a precise and deduction-free bars worker, getting multiple 9.900s in the leadoff spot last season. The only change that needs to happen with Danusia’s bars is taking a page out of the Rhonda playbook and putting her in the 6th spot to really squeeze out those scores. Her routine is clean enough to take advantage of that. Mossett will also return with a mid-lineup-type routine, much improved post-stalder though still occasionally susceptible to inconsistency of form and getting a weird 9.6.

Ohashi went teetotal on bars for a while after shaking off elite, but she eventually returned to training and will need to use that gorgeous jaeger to be another Peng. As on all the events, her capability is astronomical, so it’s just a matter of where she is physically at this point. There’s a dearth of guaranteed 9.9s on bars, so Ohashi will need to be one. Melissa Metcalf was out last season, but she’s supposed to be a legitimate bars worker and will be called upon for real scores this year as well. If they can actually get this exact group together, it’s a 49.300 team, but we may see the same struggles in figuring out the early lineup positions as last season, when UCLA finished 11th on bars. Other options will come from Meraz and Honest, both of whom were needed last year and will likely see time this year, but again those are 9.750-9.800 routines that would ideally be backups rather than counters.


Beam is the most exciting event for UCLA by several fathoms. Even without Peszek, this is an impressive and beautiful group (if slightly more nerve-wracking, yikes) that should remain one of the top two or three beam lineups in the country. This is where UCLA can earn those big 49.4s and develop a buffer over the teams that are really happy to get a 49.1. The only problem is that it’s beam and will also sometimes be a 48.2 because of beam reasons. Still, rapidly excited clapping for the Francis, Peng, Ohashi trio.

Those three bring serious difficulty, excellent form on both acro and dance, and standout signature skills. All will be in line for 9.9+ for their best work, or sometimes not even their best work. Figuring out the other three spots, however, will be an interesting little road. There’s serious competition for those roles, enough so that the Bruins should eventually be able to settle on a consistent six that also boasts the scoring potential to get into 49.4+ range. This roster has enough beamers that there’s really no excuse for an inconsistent lineup once the season really gets going and the January “exploring depth” 194s are done. Sophina seems the most likely to take one of the remaining spots since she has proven the ability to get 9.9s, even if she sometimes gives away tenths she shouldn’t be giving away. My preference for the other two spots would be the freshmen Preston and Shapiro, both of whom showed beam series in the season preview and have great style on this event, though I still also want to see Cipra get a real shot at making the lineup. Meraz carved out a spot for herself last year because of her extremely solid work. It’s not going to be a huge-scoring routine, but it’s one of the more reliable options if consistency becomes a worry. She can Raisman out a 9.800 for them any time. There’s also Gerber and Mossett, who have competed beam at times and can both be lovely if extremely tentative and heart-attacky.

See? Options. At least 10 that the team could live with. At this point, I kind of wish UCLA could put up 8 beamers and 4 bars workers.


We were given a partial glimpse of this year’s UCLA floor routines already, and while it’s not the full group and is missing some of the essential routines we’ll see this year, there’s a lot to like. The issue for the last couple of years has been that the team’s best dancers, like Sophina, don’t make the floor lineup (so we’ll have to wait and see how that plays out), but for the most part these routines are sporty, energetic, and acrobatic, which I enjoy as a style. Overall, there’s too much miming and mugging for the audience for my taste—which is not usually a feature of UCLA floor routines—but it’s hard to judge that until we see them for realsies. Cipra’s routine has some of my favorite choreography in the group, but the mugging is overpowering in this one. That ringtone is also what I use for an alarm, so her routine automatically makes me feel equally furious and panicked, which I don’t think is what they’re going for. But really, who wants to be reminded of having to talk on the phone when watching gymnastics? Nightmare-themed routine. Of course, we all know the ultimate floor verdict won’t be about choreography. It will be about landings. So they get an incomplete for the moment.

Cipra needs to be the star of the floor group this year. She’s capable of getting huge scores but has often been held back by trying to add the full-in and struggling with the landing. It’s more important for her to have a routine she feels comfortable landing than it is for her to have an E pass. If she’s able to do the full-in, then great, but if not, just keep it down to a double pike and Syd Sawa her in the anchor spot. Sawa got a 10 doing that. Bynum will also be essential here. She has proven the ability to get 9.9s on floor, but she also has a tendency to throw in a short landing and can get hit for not-super-180 dance elements. Hers is not going to be a major score every single time. Danusia should also score exceptionally well and often awesome-flexibilities her way to 9.9s, though the chest-position monster can be an obstacle when she does the whip to double back. That will be something to watch.

The other three spots are open to be won. Ohashi and Sophina showed choreography in the preview, so if the tumbling is actually there and not terrifying, both should be a go for the lineup. Should. Any spots not already filled will need to be taken by the supporting cast of Honest, Mossett, Gerber, and Meraz, all of whom can dance around the 9.800-9.850 area. We also saw Pua Hall at the end of last season, going out of bounds on a seriously misguided double arabian, but she’ll be in the mix as well. It’s a potentially inconsistent group, but if the leaders like Cipra and Bynum can cut out the random 9.700-9.825s, floor should score pretty competitively, especially at home, if lacking the difficulty of other top teams. 

Edited to add that I definitely forgot Stella Savvidou was a person, but she’s now with the team as well. Depth! Depth?

#7 Michigan Preview

Artz, Nicole – Junior – VT, UB, BB, FX
Brown, Brianna – Sophomore – VT, UB, BB, FX
Casanova, Briley – Senior – VT, UB, BB, FX
Chiarelli, Talia – Junior – VT, BB, FX
Christopherson, Nichelle – Sophomore – UB
Gordon, Ilana – Sophomore – N/A
Karas, Olivia – Freshman
Marinez, Lauren – Sophomore – UB, BB
McLean, Emma – Freshman
McPeak, India – Sophomore – (backup VT, BB, FX)
Sheppard, Austin – Senior – VT, UB (possible FX)
Williams, Lindsay – Senior – UB, BB, FX

Recent History
2015 – 7th
2014 – 10th
2013 – 7th
2012 – 13th
2011 – 6th
2010 – 10th

2016 Outlook
It’s time for Michigan to make it back to Super Six. I’m putting it out there. It’s been too long. The Wolverines got very close last season, much closer than I expected they would, and this year’s team is at least equivalent to that team if not slightly stronger (perhaps a bit better on beam and a bit weaker on bars to even out?). They have the AA leaders along with the 9.9 specialist contributors to make a run at it, as long as they don’t have another repeat of the viral meningitis breakdown that thwarted their exhibition meet this month. Develop some kind of advanced quarantine training facility, and this is a Super Six team. No question. The serious worry is the size of the team, as we learned from the exhibition. Michigan does have six strong options on every event—what at this point look like more complete lineups than the likes of Stanford and UCLA—but the well of backups is far from replete. They will be perpetually on the cusp of destruction should a vital injury befall them.

Key Competitor
Olivia Karas. Because the Wolverines have a relatively small contingent of contributors, they will once again be reliant on that same group of top AAers and three-eventers to provide the large majority of 9.9s. The significant change to the roster from last season is the loss of Sachi Sugiyama, and success in 2016 will largely hinge on Karas’s ability to fill the Sugiyama role in each lineup and be a major scoring leader on at least three events. She was a star in JO and is very capable of being a star in NCAA, but unlike many freshmen she will not be given the leeway to start slowly or hide behind that flimsy “acclimating to college” excuse for underperforming. The team needs her to be great from week one.


Michigan’s best asset on vault this year will be 10.0 start values. The team was fine (though not fantastic) on vault last season, but over the summer and fall, they have worked to develop a nearly complete lineup of viable, difficult vaults with full SVs. In many ways, Michigan will be the test case for whether it really is advisable to throw out new, more difficult vaults in an effort to get that couple-tenth advantage. It will be fun to compare Michigan’s results pushing the 10.0 vaults to some of the teams that opt to play it safer and maintain a predominately yfull lineup. Which strategy works better? Are teams rewarded for playing up the difficulty now, or will execution deductions on potentially less comfortable vaults negate any SV advantage, rendering fulls the better choice? If you’re a respectable dork, you’re really excited to find out the answer to these questions. 

Karas has been vaulting a high and impressive 1.5 for a while now, and Chiarelli is very capable of bumping up the difficulty on her vault without enduring much of an execution knock because of obvious Brestyan’s reasons. I’d expect those two to lead the scoring, along with Sheppard when she is able to return from yet another leg injury. Sheppard is also capable of pushing the difficulty, but leg injuries, comebacks, and all that. Just get her into the lineup doing whatever. Casanova has always been pecking around the edge of the vault lineup, but stepping back up to a 1.5 herself should tip the balance in her favor and get her into that six. She (mostly) stuck her 1.5 in the exhibition, so that’s an encouraging sign.

But that’s not all! Perhaps most interestingly, Artz has learned a front handspring, handspring front pike vault that also starts from a 10 and should be a delight to watch progress this season. This is the one that makes me a little nervous, but I don’t care because I love that vault so much. Even if Sheppard stays with the full, it’s a fantastic full that will still be one of the best scores on the team, and these five should give Michigan a healthy start toward a great vault total. It’s a potentially risky strategy by going for so many challenging landings in one lineup, but it’s also an exciting one. In the final spot, I like Emma McLean since she showed a pretty powerful full in JO, but Brianna Brown did well last season with 9.800-9.850 vaults, so she’ll be another realistic option, especially until Sheppard is ready. There aren’t many choices after that, which is somewhat unnerving, but if they can get through this year using a combination of those seven without having to eat a low score from a backup, this can be a true 49.3-49.4 lineup. 


I have a few more questions about the condition of things on bars this season. This is still a good bars team and probably a top-8 bars team, but they’ll miss Sachi Sugiyama the most on this event because there isn’t an obvious replacement waiting to take over for a 9.875-9.900. While there are enough options to round out a comfortable lineup, it’s not necessarily a strength for many of them and 9.9s may be at a premium. Brown will be essential once again as the gymnast most likely to get those 9.9s with her superior amplitude and precision through handstands. She’s the true bars specialist on this team, who provides the added bonus of being solid in the AA. Artz should also pop into the 9.9s from time to time, but the rest of the options look more likely to be 9.825-style contributors. Because of the two leaders, it’s a lineup that still should be able get 49.300, if finding it a bit more difficult to get those 49.4s from last season without a final high-scoring piece. 

I’m interested to see Lauren Marinez come into the lineup here, but more interested in her beam so we’ll get to her in a second. Casanova and Williams have also been stalwarts in this lineup for 9.800-9.850, so I’d also pick them to return; Sheppard has grown into a bars worker with humongous amplitude, though form breaks and a slightly terrifying dismount will always keep her out of the biggest scores; and Christopherson competed a couple times last season for 9.8s. The coaching staff will be able to play with pieces and see if they can induce another Beilstein/Sheppard transformation from someone. As for the freshmen, both can and will contribute bars routines this year, though it’s not the preferred event for either. Karas has added a DLO dismount to make her composition more competitive, but there still are form breaks throughout the routine. Aside from the locks, Brown and Artz, it feels like an any-of-the-above selection right now. All of these options can probably score similarly, but one of them needs to turn into a new 9.9 this year to make this an asset event.


Beam hasn’t always been a lovely ride for Michigan, and by that I mean you already died of a heart attack about three years ago. But lately Michigan has suddenly been like, “Guess who’s the most consistent beam team in the NCAA, because it’s us. So eat that.” The Wolverines didn’t score below 49 on beam at any time last year, which is insane and cause for optimism in 2016 as all of the most significant contributors return, along with some exciting new prospects. In the past, a lack of consistently huge scores has kept the lineup closer to 49.2s than Oklahoma/UCLA-style 49.5s (which totally acceptable because it’s beam and you’d take a 49.2 any day), but the additions of Karas and Marinez should boost expectations. Karas is a secure beam worker with excellent amplitude on her acro elements, and Marinez has always been completely lovely on beam. If Marinez has the confidence and consistency, she should be a majorly impressive beamer for 9.9s.

Those two will join Artz, Brown, and Chiarelli, who were the solid core of the lineup last season and all popped into the 9.9s at one time or another. Artz is the beam leader and most likely 9.9, with the added bonus that she didn’t fall once last season, and Chiarelli has done so well to become a beamer in NCAA after being distinctly not one in elite. That’s a pretty impressive foundation that will be able to compete with most other teams. For the final spot, both Casanova and Williams will be options as both were vital (and consistent) for 9.825-9.850 last year. The lineup could be any of these seven depending on who’s able to hit, and the team should feel comfortable with any of them competing. Michigan was 6th on beam last year (2nd by beam average), and I see no reason why that can’t at least continue if not improve this year if Karas and Marinez deliver the way I think they can.


Sugiyama and Parker were both essential to the floor lineup last season with occasional 9.9s (more than occasional for Sugiyama), so Michigan has some work to do to maintain the same level on floor. I expect the two freshmen to pop right into those open slots, leaving the rest of the lineup intact. The good news is that both freshmen excel on floor. Karas has impressive power in a double arabian and tumbles quite comfortably, and McLean has very high and clean D-level tumbling that should be able to minimize deductions if not necessarily stand out as a wow routine.

Certainly, expect Artz and Chiarelli return to their spots at the end of the lineup. Artz is one of the consistently best-scoring floor workers with perhaps the least floppity-legged-low-chest piked full-in across all of NCAA. She led the floor rankings for a good chunk of last season. Chiarelli has just been throwing out E passes like candy all preseason because that’s what you do when you’re Talia Chiarelli, and both should continue their 9.9ing ways in 2016. The remaining two spots will be down to Brown, Casanova, and Williams, all of whom are more likely to go 9.8 than 9.9 but can give the lineup perfectly acceptable opening routines. With potential 9.9s from Artz, Chiarelli, and Karas and supporting 9.8+ scores from McLean, Brown, and Casanova/Williams, this lineup should be able to reach into the 49.4s again this year.