Following last night’s Red Rocks Preview, we understand a lot more about what Utah is planning to say for itself in 2017, so this seems an ideal time to preview lineups and expectations.
|UTAH ROSTER 2017|
2016 – 9th
2015 – 2nd
2014 – 7th
2013 – 9th
2012 – 5th
2011 – 5th
2010 – 6th
This slate of recent results seems fine enough, but aside from 2015’s dramatic second-place finish in the Marsden curtain call, Utah has missed Super Six three of the last four years. That’s a first for the program and one that is far from satisfying. Those 9th-place results in 2016 and 2013 are equal for Utah’s weakest finish in the NCAA era, and while that can be attributed to improvements from other teams as much as anything else, that’s cold comfort for a team like Utah. Utah doesn’t finish 9th.
The Utes have the roster in 2017 to restore how everyone felt a year ago after that 2nd place when THE GOLDEN AGE IS BACK AGAIN HURRAH. At least, Utah should expect to return to Super Six this year. That’s not saying it will be simple. Most top teams are adding routines of the same caliber (it’s the year after the Olympics), but among the teams in that turbid mixture called Borderline Super Six, Utah seems the most likely bet.
Returning options – Lewis (9.845), Rowe (9.835), Muhaw (9.800), Merrell (9.750), Lee (9.750)
Despite not having a ton going on among the squad of returning vaulters, Utah should expect to improve on vault in 2017 through a much heartier collection of 10.0 starts.
Let’s begin with Skinner and her DTY as she’ll be expected to lead the scoring. We’ll have to wait and see if her DTY is evaluated more like Gnat’s or Price’s—two vaults that seemed to be scored with different codes of points last year—but since she is performing a DTY, it’s reasonable to anticipate some benefit of the doubt, i.e. for her to be scored almost entirely on landing. (WHAT THAT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN.) As long as Skinner has the level of control she showed when landing the DTY in elite days, we can expect the vault to be worth it and the scores to be quite high. (Even with the bounce she showed at the RRP, there are meets where you know that would still get a 9.900.)
Makenna Merrell has stepped back up to her 1.5 from JO days, and while it still looks somewhat fragile, it also looks quite a bit more realistic and lineup-ready. Tessen did not show her own 1.5 at the RRP—and protested this by doing a poor full—but her 1.5 has looked worthwhile in training videos and should be an important part of the lineup. Compared to the one 10.0 start Utah showed all of last season, this is better.
Sabrina Schwab is also going for a 10.0 with the tucked 1.5, which is a smart way to get another 10.0 out there, but she’ll have to watch her tuck shape (both here and on her bars dismount) because it can get a little splayed. That’s the thing about tucked vaults and why I’m interested to see how the tucked 1.5 gets evaluated overall this year. Are the judges harsher on shape, or will it be just as much of a boon as the layout?
Right now, those look to be the key four, but Utah has a solid stable of options for the remaining spots. I’d like to see Reinstadtler get in there at some point, but she did not have a good RRP on any event and does not look ready for primetime yet (we learned about her limited training because of a stress fracture). Give her an incomplete? Of the fulls, Lewis‘s had the best dynamics at the RRP, Lee landed well in spite of having one inch of distance, and Baely Rowe was like, “I’m also here if you need me.” This group should be a little more 9.875 and a little less 9.825 than last season.
Top returners – Rowe (9.905), Schwab (9.875)
Returning options – Lewis (9.845), Lee (9.792)
Utah’s bars squad is not quite as full as vault appears— showing just 8 routines at RRP—though they made do with 7 in 2016, so whatever. Rowe and Schwab will lead the lineup. In particular, Schwab’s new routine is looking exceptionally clean and deduction-free, right up until that dismount. Tiffani Lewis will return with her solid mid-lineup work, and I was also very impressed by the precision of Tessen‘s leadoff set. That should be in the lineup, and she’ll be one of the gymnasts counted on to replace the lost 9.9s from Hughes and Lopez.
Now let’s talk about Skinner. As always, bars is sort of the question mark routine with her. She messed up her bail at the RRP, but I don’t care so much about that. (“It’s like a cough, where did it come from?”) I do wonder about the cast handstands, though. We’ll certainly see Skinner in the lineup, but in its current incarnation, her routine that could get handstand-and-dimed down to a score they…wouldn’t prefer? It is Skinner and bars, after all.
Ideally, Reinstadtler will be here as well. Bars is often her best event, but we’ll have to wait and see how it comes along in the next month compared to what we saw at the exhibition. Pre-RRP, I would have been saying, “SHE’LL DEFINITELY BE IN THE LINEUP” because that’s the level she has shown, so that’s what I’ll be falling back on.
The remaining options come from Lee, who has continued to improve on bars but isn’t necessarily the OMG 9.9 she can be on the other events, and Merrell, who gets marks for showing a
but may have a few too many loose back and floppy leg moments to end up in the top six.
Should everyone who needs to do so get into form, it’s a good group, though keeping pace with last year’s scores will be a greater challenge. They really need Tessen and Reinstadtler to be the 9.9s that Lopez and Hughes became.
Top returners – Stover (9.900), Rowe (9.880), Lee (9.825)
Returning options – Merrell (9.550)
Oh, beam. Beam beam beam. Utah does not return many options from last year’s depository of beam routines, but we’re all sort of fine with it because of the trauma of nationals. Beam didn’t become a true disaster until nationals, but throughout the season Utah put together a beam lineup of six 9.8 scores just once, at that home regional. That’s what’s called a sign.
Stover and Rowe brought the team’s best-scoring and typically most reliable beam routines last year, and Lee probably remains the team’s actual best beamer if her 9.9s from 2015 are anything to go by. We should feel safe with that trio, or as safe as you can feel on beam. Stover and Lee minimize deductions and Rowe is the sturdy foundation, Karolyi-legs on her series notwithstanding.
We’ll see Skinner here, and her routine at RRP looked a useful option (it’s amazing how much less scary a beam routine can look when you’re not just chucking every skill imaginable). I don’t understand the presence of the L turn at all, which was the weakest part of her routine, but otherwise it works and should be a very countable score. Beam was the best of Reinstadtler‘s events at the RRP (her strong split elements did not go unnoticed), but I want to make particular mention of Makenna Merrell because she looked so much more confident on beam than she did at any point last season. In other news, I’m still mostly terrified of Schwab‘s beam routine. Lovely but…errrrrrrr.
The scoring potential is there. If Stover, Rowe, and Lee deliver what they’re capable of and they find three others to deliver hits, Utah should be competitive on beam this year. It may not be a top-5 national event, but it would do the job. The determining factor will be getting reliability out of the supporting routines, which Utah did not have last year. Even when they endured with hits, the middle of the lineup was always a nail-biter.
Top returners – Schwab (9.910), Lewis (9.900)
Returning options – Merrell (9.850), Rowe (9.848), Stover (9.575), Lee (9.392)
Utah does have a bit of work to do to replace the lost scores from Hughes and Partyka on floor because, even though it’s just two routines, those were two rather high-scoring routines. Of course, the primary prong of that replacement mission will be Skinner and her double double, full-in set. Team Jimanda was already practicing “MOST DIFFICULT GYMNASTICS EVER IN MY LIFE HISTORY” quotes. Weird: Skinner has retained her elite music and choreography. You know, that memorable art. She arrived in October after the tour, so maybe she just missed the choreography portion of the preseason? And they were like, “Too bad. No makeups. Another year of bad-dream-a-carnival-barker-had-after-eating-too-many-funnel-cakes for you!”
Beyond Skinner, Schwab is performing a zombie-bride themed routine this year (I think. She’s definitely dead at the beginning and then starts dancing, so…), and the intent will be that she complements Skinner at the end of the lineup, Skinner being all big-big-big and Schwab being all clean-clean-clean. Tiffani Lewis will certainly be back with her full-in, and Merrell has returned to the piked full-in, which looked fine and should help her secure a lineup spot she had most of last season. She did fall on her 2.5+front tuck at the RRP, which sort of soured the renaissance party she was having with all these new routines and confidence.
We didn’t see either Lee or Tessen on floor at the RRP, but ideally they will be in the lineup. I was uncertain about Tessen’s DLO in JO, but it has looked usable so far in preseason, and even though Lee was a mess on floor in her three routines last season, we’ll chalk that up to Achilles precursors and just think about all those 9.9s she got in 2015.
As on vault, Rowe will be hanging around with a solid 9.8 option as needed, as will the transfer Macey Roberts. We did also see a quite respectable DLO from Muhaw, though her other passes were rougher so she’d probably have knock some others out of the way to make it into a lineup.
In spite of a veritable routine exodus after last season in which Utah lost half of its postseason routines, the Utes are not hurting for sets this season. This is a roster that should be able to fill out lineups with 9.8s rather comfortably on three events and the usual amount of terrifyingly on beam. But 9.8s nonetheless.
Vault was just OK at the Red Rocks Preview, but the potential is there for improvement over last season’s scores, which could be a vital development from 2016 when the Pac-12 as a whole was really chugging along behind the SEC on vault. Utah’s Super Six hopes this year appear to rest on the ability to restock the bars lineup with scores greater than 9.825-9.850 (though Utah always seems to be able to pull out heretofore unseen bars and floor 9.9s) and find a few more beam routines that are not fall risks to the same degree that had to be put up last season.