It’s almost here! False start weekend is nearly upon us, with Michigan, Arkansas, and Iowa off on a Cancun vacation with a gymnastics meet in it (1/2, 7:15 ET/4:15 PT) and Central Michigan getting started on Sunday (1/3, 1:00 ET/10:00 PT). For the rest, there’s still time, but if you haven’t yet picked your fantasy gym team, pull your life together because the deadline is Sunday. I really need to work on my draft order. It’s a shambles.
Baker, Kennedy – Sophomore – VT, UB, BB, FX
Boren, Alicia – Freshman
Boyce, Claire – Junior – UB, BB, FX
Caquatto, Bridgey – Senior – VT, UB, FX
Cheney, Amanda – Freshman
Dagen, Lacy – Freshman
Dancose-Giambattisto, Bianca – Senior – UB (possible BB)
Ernst, Peyton – Freshman
Fassbender, Ericha – Sophomore – VT, UB, BB, FX
Frazier, Morgan – Senior – N/A
Hiller, Ashley – Freshman
McLaughlin, Grace – Sophomore – BB (possible UB, FX)
McMurtry, Alex – Sophomore – VT, UB, BB (possible FX?)
Sloan, Bridget – Senior – VT, UB, BB, FX
2015 – 1st
2014 – 1st
2013 – 1st
2012 – 2nd
2011 – 7th
2010 – 5th
Three consecutive championships and a predominately (though not entirely) intact roster pretty much tells the story for Florida, a team that should consider anything other than a fourth title an unacceptable result this season. The two serious questions about the Gators’ chances in 2016 concern their ability to replace Kytra Hunter’s scores and the new coaching staff/absence of Rhonda Power, but with a freshman class talented enough to bring its own respectable bag of 9.9s and what is basically an all-star team of the nation’s top assistant coaches now at the helm, neither of those would be particularly convincing excuses for not winning. That’s not to say Florida is guaranteed to continue on the same not-losing path, but at this point there’s no good reason to expect real regression.
Alicia Boren. It is essential this season that Florida find a person (or combination of people) to replicate what Kytra brought on vault and at least come close to replicating what she brought on floor, along with shoring up an occasionally too 9.850-9.875 beam lineup. With Ernst in the process of putting herself back together post-elite, that responsibility will primarily fall to Boren. She’s quite capable of being that gymnast, and her abilities on the power events should place her toward the end of both lineups right away. She is among the critical freshmen in the nation this year because without her replacing those lost scores, the Gators won’t have the comfortable collection of surplus 9.9s that has led them to success—even on just OK days—these past four years and will feel the pressure from Oklahoma and Alabama.
Florida started slowly on vault last season, to some extent by design, but was ultimately able to deliver a 49.450-49.500 lineup replete with enough 9.9s to rank consistently among the top few vaulting teams. That should continue this year led by four vaulters who all look like reliable 9.9 options. Sloan, Boren, and Baker each have a 1.5 to keep the Gators at a competitive SV level, the most appealing aspect of these 1.5s being that they’re not “possible, maybe, she has in the past” vaults like many I’ve discussed in these previews. They have them, and they’re good. McMurtry appears to be staying with the full, even though she could do more, which is a sensible choice because her full is among the few that can still go 9.900-9.950 this season. Expect more stuck yfulls to score 9.950 this year because it’s not THE TEN. The judges won’t be as guarded about giving a yfull a perfect score because a perfect 9.950 doesn’t stand out nearly as much as a 10.
Those four are locks and should keep this lineup on pace at 49.4 in spite of the SV decreases and loss of Hunter. Perhaps a half tenth to a tenth lower than last season, but not much more than that. The question is the remaining two spots, which were a bit of an issue last year and look entirely up for grabs right now, especially if Ernst doesn’t come along right away. With this roster, they’ll be able to produce perfectly fine 9.8s for any remaining spots, but the scoring onus will remain on the big four. Fassbender was borderline-lineup all last season and seems a fair bet to have a bigger role this year. As for Bridgey, she’s pretty much always in this lineup but has become progressively more troubling on vault as the seasons go by, getting taken out of the lineup for a while last year and ultimately falling in Super Six. Bridgey’s important scores are bars and floor, so if other compelling vault options present themselves, it may make sense just to take her off the event to avoid any issues. If the chance does arise, look for possible lineup upset bids from Hiller and Cheney who both performed quite respectable fulls in JO.
The bars lineup remains the most intact from last season, so we should have pretty much identical expectations to the scores Florida received in 2015. Bridget Sloan is the Bridget Sloan of this lineup, always getting at least 9.900, then in line for a 9.950-10.000 depending on whether she sticks and whether it’s one of her bail-legs days. Sloan is on a streak of 22 consecutive bars routines scoring at least 9.900 (and she was only as low as 9.900 four times in that span) and a streak of 37 consecutive bars routines scoring at least 9.875. She hasn’t scored lower than that since a fall on January 13th, 2013. So she’s OK at bars.
Sloan’s #2 is Bridgey, who isn’t quite as likely to score 9.9+ because she’s somewhat less consistent on the landing, but she still reaches 9.900 pretty regularly. With those two hitting, Florida’s bars shouldn’t be scoring under 49.400 and can believably go 49.5s. For my money, this is the best bars lineup in the country. (Really going out on a limb there.) The interesting one to watch will be McMurtry, who has commenced Operation Haters To The Left in response to that time she scored a surrealist fantasy of a 9.950 in Super Six and we all got lost in a sandstorm about it. She’s suddenly pulling out a high, well-executed Ray that exists now and could help complete her two-year transformation from “a little Brestyan’s-y” to bars star. With the Ray and her dismount, there’s no reason to think McMurtry won’t continue getting 9.9s this year, especially if Jenny maintains Rhonda’s lineup strategy, but we’ll get to that more on floor.
In the opening acts of the lineup, Jam Buddhist is also good for 9.900 occasionally and at least 9.850 pretty much every time. KBakes (stop trying to make KBakes happen) also emerged as a constant last year, though she has more potential on bars than the 9.800-9.850 scores she was getting. I’m hoping she can step up
2 the streets to the 9.9s this season. Ideally, Ernst will join them to be yet another 9.9 possibility since bars and beam should be her events, but if not, there are plenty of other 9.800+ choices. This is Boren’s weaker event, but she’s not bad at it; it would be nice to see Grace McLaughlin make a lineup at some point; and Fassbender and Boyce (barring injury) have been reliable backups on bars as late.
Florida scored well on beam last year, because Florida scored well on everything last year, but it was the team’s least memorable event and most likely to suffer from a case of the blahs/phew-we-didn’t-count-a-falls. A lot of that came from not having Sloan for a chunk of the year. She was wildly vital to the lineup and will remain so this season. With few other auto-9.9s, because beam, it’s that much more important for Sloan to go, “side aerial, double full, I’m the winner!” and collect her 9.925. For this to become a standout event and score with the impressive lineups the other top teams will be trotting out, however, Florida needs another consistently huge score, so let’s turn our attention to Peyton Ernst. She’s a beamer, always has been, and this is her critical event. It’s also the only event we’ve seen her on in the training videos, so everything works out. If Sloan is going to have a partner in beam crime in 2016, it will be Ernst.
Ernst will be particularly important as Claire Boyce tries to return from a hip injury. Boyce has been a find on beam for Florida and has scored some critical 9.9s over the last couple years, so while she works to come back, others have to pick it up. Let’s hope Kennedy Baker gets it together because she should be one of the top members of this lineup. She’s Kennedy Baker. She lost her spot in the middle of last season after falling several kajillion times on her wolf turn. So…just take out the wolf turn and then everyone’s a winner, right? Right. Boren is a solid powerhouse on beam, and another who sees a double back dismount as a walk in the park, so pencil her in along with McMurtry. McMurtry occasionally had a case of the nervies on beam last season, but more often she was in the very usable 9.850-9.875 ballpark. Those six would be an impressive lineup, but there are also backups/occasional competitors/consistency stopgaps in the likes of Fassbender, McLaughlin, and ideally Cheney who is quite nice on beam and should put together a routine with few deductions. I’m also still holding out for a hero in BDG, but the wobblies and the fallsies always seem to keep her out of the lineup.
It’s a good beam team, with the potential to be a great beam team if health, consistency, and the Jenny Rowland beam magic all do their part, but this is one event where Florida doesn’t look to be in the top, you know, one in the country. Keep an eye on this early in the year because if Florida is nailing beam for 49.4s and 49.5s, it’s going to be a long season for everyone else.
While Kytra Hunter was an all-around champion, it’s not a debate as to which of her events will be the most missed. It’s floor. That DLO, forever in our hearts. Florida can expect a bit of a dip from the “oops, we got a 49.600” floor rotations of last season without Kytra’s ability to cough and get a 9.975, though the back of the floor lineup remains quite healthy. Kennedy Baker’s piked double arabian actually doubles as a flu vaccine, and then Bridget Sloan. You know. They’re both almost as likely to score 9.950 as Hunter and will push Florida’s floor right toward the top of the heap once again. Boren has an excellent full-in herself and will fit right into the Sloan/Baker club with her fair share of 9.9s. Those three can take on any other floor trio in the country, so there’s really no need to worry. I know you were extremely worried.
Now, let’s get to the Bridgey conundrum. The most interesting part of Florida’s first meet against TWU will be finding out whether the new staff will indeed continue Rhonda’s much-criticized and much-effective decision to put Bridgey in the anchor spot, getting her a money bin full of 9.950s in spite of being not as good at floor as certain other people. Yes, it ends the floor rotation on a bit of a low, but making Bridgey the floor anchor and making McMurtry the bars anchor won Florida three championships, so it seems like kind of a no-brainer. But you never know. Plenty of other coaches haven’t caught on to this strategy in spite of, um, hi. So it’s something to watch. Those Bridgey 9.950s certainly help the team total, and she certainly wouldn’t be getting so many of them in the third spot.
What do we do about the other two spots, though? I’m not really sure. As long as these other floor routines are 9.850, everything will be fine because of the scoring strength of the main four. Florida is not in need of another star, but with Claire Boyce’s injury status, there are some Wang/Spicer spots open to be won. Fassbender seems like a pick since she’s the new Wang/Spicer (always 5th-7th on the depth chart on any event, ready to fill in), but there may be an experimentation fight to fill the lineup out. This roster has enough solid double pike routines that it won’t be a problem, but those solid routines still need to be found and cultivated into 9.850s.