Michigan 2017

Not to be outdone, Michigan conducted its own preseason exhibition last weekend—an actual exhibition meet against an actual opponent in EMU. It was, in many ways, a less-representative showing than the previews we’ve seen from Utah or LSU because two rather important gymnasts were missing in Karas and Zaziski (neither for what appear to be serious or long-term reasons), but it did still provide us with a solid-enough sense of how Michigan shapes up for 2017.

Nicole Artz
  • AA star, team-best routines on UB, BB, FX
  • Also provides early-mid lineup VT
  • 2016 RQS: FX – 9.955, BB – 9.910, UB – 9.900, VT – 9.815
Talia Chiarelli
  • Critical team scores on VT, BB, FX
  • Does not compete UB because Brestyan’s
  • 2016 RQS: FX – 9.910, VT – 9.890, BB – 9.870
Brianna Brown
  • Starring UB and critical BB in first two seasons
  • Contributes early-lineup VT, FX as needed, which is pretty much always
  • 2016 RQS: UB – 9.890, FX – 9.850, BB – 9.845, VT – 9.775
Lauren Marinez
  • Staple of BB lineup in sophomore season
  • 2016 RQS: BB – 9.850
Paige Zaziski
  • Transfer from Arkansas
  • Competed VT, UB, FX each meet in 2016, competed AA each meet in 2015
  • 2016 RQS: UB – 9.875, VT – 9.840, BB – 9.840
Olivia Karas
  • Competed AA in every meet as a freshman
  • 2016 RQS: VT – 9.940, FX – 9.935, BB – 9.875, UB – 9.850
Emma McLean
  • Weekly leadoff VT and occasional FX in 2016
  • 2016 RQS: FX – 9.815, VT – 9.790
Lexi Funk
  • IGI
  • 2016 JO Nationals BB 8th, FX 9th
  • 2015 JO Nationals UB 5th, BB 5th
Maggie O’Hara
  • Southeastern
  • 2016 JO Nationals UB 2nd, BB 8th
Maddy Osman
  • Orlando Metro
  • 2016 JO Nationals 5th AA, 2nd FX
Sam Roy
  • Hunts MI
  • 2016 Region 5, FX 5th
Polina Shchennikova
  • TIGAR/5280
  • 2013 Junior Nationals AA 8th, UB 3rd

Recent History
2016 – 13th
2015 – 7th
2014 – 10th
2013 – 7th
2012 – 13th
2011 – 6th
2010 – 10th

Michigan drew the beam short straw again last year, missing nationals after an implosion at what otherwise would have been a pleasure cruise of a regional. Ultimately, the 2016 Wolverines equaled the result of that wildly depleted 2012 side (when it was a miracle they finished as high as 13th), a placement unbecoming of a team that could have made Super Six.

Based on the roster and the number of essential routines returning from last year in Artz, Chiarelli, Karas, and Brown, there’s every reason to expect 2017 to go quite similarly to 2016 (except, they’ll hope, without the ending part). The slate of most likely competition routines is quite similar, though a critical difference may be an increased supply of options as more routines have come into the team than were lost. That should allow Michigan better opportunities to rest major contributors or drop inconsistent routines. 

Top returners – Karas (9.940), Chiarelli (9.890), Zaziski (9.840)
Returning options – Artz (9.815), McLean (9.790), Brown (9.775)

At minimum, Michigan will have two 10.0 vaults from Karas and Chiarelli leading the way again this season. (We’ll just ignore Chiarelli falling on hers at the exhibition). While that doesn’t match the five and six options several of the very top teams are showing this preseason and could see Michigan drop ground in the Super Six hunt, it also means vault shouldn’t be a problem piece. Emma McLean is training a 1.5 that she did not show at the exhibition, which would boost the team SV even closer to the top contenders. With 9.900s from a 1.5 or two and 9.850s from the rest, vault should stay competitive.

Even if McLean doesn’t vault the 1.5, her full was the best of the bunch at the exhibition, and she should see an increased role in carrying the scoring in 2017 (I actually thought she got low-balled in the leadoff spot pretty regularly last season).

There will be options for the remaining fulls, several more than last season. Zaziski‘s has always been quite good, Osman is the most powerful and leg-eventy of the freshman squad and showed solid dynamics at the exhibition, and Artz has been a staple of the vault lineup, even if it’s her clear weak event. Those three should be able to peck around the necessary 9.850s often enough.

Wonder of wonders, we also saw Shchennikova vault a full at the exhibition. A leg event! I never thought I’d see the day. It was just OK (pretty low), and I have a definite “ahh, don’t risk it!” feeling about the concept of Polina and vaulting. It’s not where she’s needed. Lexi Funk also has a fine full that can be used, and I haven’t even mentioned Brown yet, who vaulted most of the last two seasons. Hers is a little 9.750, and the increased depth should allow Michigan not to have to use that kind of vault this year.

Top returners – Artz (9.900), Brown (9.890), Zaziski (9.875), Karas (9.850)

Karas emerging as a gymnast who can do an actual bars routine was a welcome development for Michigan last season. Her routine, supporting the team-best sets from Artz and Brown, gave Michigan a solid base for a well-ranked bars rotation and can do the same this year. The problem is, they’ve lost the entire rest of the lineup—returning only three gymnasts who have ever competed bars for Michigan—and will have to find a number of new routines to make this a real event.

That depletion was evident at the exhibition, with bars looking the sloppiest of the four pieces. The lineup was, however, missing a number of critical gymnasts and shouldn’t be viewed as particularly reflective of what Michigan will do on bars this year. In addition to Karas, Zaziski was absent, and her Arkansas-best bars routine should slide in to beef up Michigan’s collection of 9.850+ scores. Also missing was Shchennikova. We all want to see her on bars since it’s her best event, but given that the most recent entry in her injury canon was labrum surgery, it’s a hope more than a guarantee.

We saw just two of these five routines at the exhibition, and having, say, four of them would make Michigan’s bars much more of an acceptably 49.3 event.

In rounding out the collection of options, I was disappointed not to see Maggie O’Hara in the exhibition because she has some chops, but we did see an improved McLean in a somewhat simple routine, yet one that featured an aggressive approach to handstands. Lexi Funk also has tremendous talent on bars but still looks quite raggedy, so they’ll have to work to rein that in and sculpt it into the useful score it can be. Rounding out the exhibition group were Osman, who showed a fine, mid-level routine, and Lauren Marinez, who apparently does more than beam now, though her routine was rather archy and all-over-the-place and looks like a backup.

Michigan has the basis for a strong bars score with a sufficient number of options, though true success will depend on creating those last couple routines to fill out the lineup—and making them look more 9.850 (and less 9.700) than they did at the exhibition.

Top returners – Artz (9.910), Karas (9.875), Chiarelli (9.870), Martinez (9.850), Brown (9.845), Zaziski (9.840)

I’m sure it’s the ultimate kiss of death again this year, but beam is my favorite event for this Michigan roster and the piece on which the Wolverines have the most high-level options and realistically competitive scores. On bars, there’s still work to be done to create the six routines; on beam, they already exist. And then some. So…guaranteed entire lineup of 9.175s at regionals this year.

Michigan drops just one beam routine from last year (Williams) and could easily slot Paige Zaziski into that role and keep on trucking. As long as there’s a little bit more consistency. Marinez had the most appealing beam work across last year’s entire lineup yet was way too much of a fall risk. This year, there’s enough competition for spots that pretty won’t be good enough. Pretty has to hit every week. That goes for Karas as well, whose end-of-year consistency was apparently compromised by foot issues. In that regard, more options this year should allow Michigan to be more conservative with its use of a gymnast like Karas and rest major contributors without heart attack.

As for the stalwarts, Chiarelli has become such a beamer these days, Artz has the highest scoring potential and best record of the bunch, and Brown‘s split-element dream is among the more reliable routines. That six could very well be the group, but it won’t be because of freshmen.

Shchennikova is obviously a treasure, and beam seems the most likely event for her to compete in a non-brokenly fashion. We need to see Shchennikova on beam. Lexi Funk looked magnificent at the exhibition: completely solid with no major execution breaks. In my notes, I put a “yes” and a check mark next to her name on beam, so case closed. Both should threaten the more established members of the lineup to ensure that the most reliable six can be used while still retaining the potential for a big score. The talent and scores are there. The only question for Michigan’s beam this year is whether they hit in the moment.

Top returners – Artz (9.955), Karas (9.935), Chiarelli (9.910)
Returning options – Brown (9.850), McLean (9.815)

Floor turned out to be quite a strong event for Michigan last season, almost entirely the result of frequent 9.9s from Karas, Chiarelli, and Artz at the back of the lineup. All three of those 9.9s return this season, which is an encouraging prospect for continued success. Michigan will still need to sift through the rest to find three others to complete the lineup, but because so much of the scoring work and progress toward 49.4s is done by the big three, the remaining three really just have to be 9.850ish to keep Michigan in good shape.

Brown has continued to score pretty well on floor the last couple seasons, proving her ability to record exactly those necessary 9.850s in spite of not having a wow routine. Just like on vault, McLean is making a better case for herself this season (her high chest position on a double pike at the exhibition did not go unnoticed), and Osman is the E-pass gymnast among the freshmen who could jump into this lineup as well.

Michigan does not have as many options on floor as on some of the other events, largely because this freshman class is not really a floor group and Zaziski did not compete floor last season (though she did get some usable 9.8s in her freshman year). Funk and Marinez look to function as the team’s depth and showed routines at the exhibition (Funk with a fall, Marinez with short landings), though both do look more like backup routines to this point.

Michigan will be able to come up with the necessary six and will earn some of the team’s top individual scores on floor, but filling out the entire lineup along with sufficient backups may be more of a task, putting more pressure on the team should an injury occur.

Overall, the Wolverines appear to be in pretty good shape, one that reinforces the 7th-place preseason ranking they were given by both the coaches (doesn’t count) and me (does count). Once again, this is going to be a very edge-of-Super-Six team with a legitimate shot at finally making it back instead of being the heartbreak team (which is beginning to verge on perennial status with all these 7th- and 13th-place finishes).

Michigan looks deeper on a few events and, in particular, shows potential to improve on last year’s performances on vault and beam. Cleaning up the early-lineup options on bars enough to be competitive will be a project, as will keeping the necessary floor workers healthy enough so that they can always go without forcing the team to dip into the 9.7s. If those projects are completed, Michigan will be in the hunt again.