|FLORIDA ROSTER 2017|
*NOTE: Ericha Fassbender has been deemed ineligible for 2017 and removed from Florida’s team. For the gossip about why, please see the entire internet.
2016 – 4th
2015 – 1st
2014 – 1st
2013 – 1st
2012 – 2nd
2011 – 7th
2010 – 5th
The last eight months have suddenly become an era of turnover and turmoil for Florida, with the graduation of a program-defining senior class, the transfer of Peyton Ernst, the injury to Alyssa Baumann, recruit departures from Bailie Key and Laurie Hernandez, and now the ineligibility of Ericha Fassbender. This team looks a lot different than it did last year, but also a lot different than we expected it to look this year. Much can change in the course of eight months.
This turmoil has stunted expectations for Florida in 2017, but looking past the ambiguous notion of public expectations, this remains a Super Six-quality roster that stands among the five most likely winners of the national title. A title is certainly not the presumptive result it has been in recent seasons, but it’s still squarely in the picture. Because of the dramatic turnover in the roster, however, much of that potential success will rest on how well the accomplished freshman class can hit the ground Sloaning and not only fill empty lineup spots but replace multiple missing 9.9s on multiple events.
Top returners – McMurtry (9.915), Baker (9.915), Boren (9.910), Slocum (9.875)
Returning options – Hiller (9.700), Cheney (9.675)
The core of Florida’s #2-ranked vault lineup returns this season in McMurtry, Baker, and Boren. They will lead the way again. Baker and Boren regularly hit at least high 9.8s for their 1.5s in 2016, and McMurtry is looking to step up to the DTY this season to give us four DTYs in NCAA, a vault that was an unheard-of novelty even two seasons ago. Even if she doesn’t end up competing the DTY, McMurtry’s full is the best in the country and regularly went 9.900 last season, outscoring most of the 10.0 starts.
The one question about this lineup is whether Florida can find someone to replace the regular 9.900 that Sloan scored last season in the 3rd position. That may not happen, but because they have a deeper slate of 10.0 starts this year, I like the Gators’ chances to increase the overall scoring potential of the first half of the lineup by stepping up the quality of the first two vaults, above what Caquatto and Fassbender were scoring last season.
For those first-half lineup spots, Rachel Slocum‘s handspring pike 1/2 scored very well for EMU last season and should have a place in Florida’s lineup, and Maegan Chant also brings a 10.0 start with a Kasamatsu. It’s unclear what Amelia Hundley will be vaulting (at the most recent intrasquad, it was a full), but she has shown the whole kitchen sink of Yurchenkos during her elite career and should at least be able to come up with a lineup-worthy full this season. Between four and six 10.0 starts is a reasonable expectation.
There will be plenty of fulls rounding out the depth chart, prominent among them being Lacy Dagen, who missed last season but is strong on the power events, and Rachel Gowey, who has a ton of ability on vault but is sensibly toning it down on the power events for college. Then, of course there’s a hearty collection of backups from Alexander, Hiller, and Cheney, but those backup-style vaults should not have to be used this season, which makes a change from last year.
I’m not too worried about Florida’s vaulting. The big three will ensure that the lineup scores well, and there’s enough scoring potential in the remaining group to think the Gators can keep pace with the best teams and stay among the 49.4-likely squads.
Top returners – McMurtry (9.940), Boren (9.860), Baker (9.860)
Returning options – McLaughlin (9.800)
Keeping bars at the same high level as last season is the greatest concern for Florida because of just how much the team has relied on those huge scores from Sloan, Caquatto, and BDG for so many seasons. This year, the team must discover and create multiple new 9.9s because the major returning routines from Boren and Baker have been only supporting-actress scores, and while McMurtry‘s bars routine is not as troublesome as the hard time she receives about it on the gymternet would suggest, it’s still a routine that has relied on score building and lineup placement to garner the scores it has. Will McMurtry get those same scores when she doesn’t have Caquatto and Sloan to build her up? That’s a question I’m very interested in seeing the answer to this year.
Most of all, Florida’s success on bars will be defined by Hundley and Gowey’s abilities to slide right into the Caquatto and Sloan spots and replicate those scores. It’s no small task, but they are capable. And because several members of this roster aren’t so much with the bars, it has to be those two. The remaining lineup spot may get a little 9.800, but there will be options from McLaughlin, Chant, and a returned Boyce, who has always been sort of borderline lineup on bars.
It’s reasonable to expect a slump in bars scores in 2017, though the level of that slump will depend not only on how well Hundley and Gowey do but also on Baker, who needs to step into more of a scoring-leader role on bars. She’s far better at bars than leadoff-for-9.825 would suggest, though the dismount has been a burden in that regard.
Top returners – McMurtry (9.945), Boren (9.890), Baker (9.870)
Returning options – McLaughlin (9.775)
Remember when we thought Alyssa Baumann and Peyton Ernst would lead the beam lineup in 2017? Like I said, a lot can change. Some of it for the better. Who thought Alex McMurtry would go on an “I’m the best beamer starting just now” tour in 2016? No one. A continuation of her frequent 9.9s will be essential to keeping pace with last year’s beam results in the absence of the magic of Sloan, but McMurtry should have some reinforcements to soften the loss.
Claire Boyce had turned into a regular 9.9 on beam before injury, and getting her back to lineup-ready beam is the most important part of her comeback. Rachel Gowey has always been lovely, and while Amelia Hundley‘s beam tended on the sloppy and terrifying earlier in her elite career, she turned into a sturdy sailor later on. Hundley is made for NCAA, and beam is no exception to that. If those three come into the lineup to join McMurtry, Boren, and Baker, this is a serious six. There are a lot of serious beam lineups going on this year, so this one may not be top top-ranked, but it should get the job done. And that’s not counting Chant or Grace McLaughlin, whom I keep waiting on to have an NCAA breakout and remind us that she’s super-talented.
While not having Ernst or Fassbender makes for an unexpected drop in beam depth, based on what they showed last season, there’s no guarantee either would have made the lineup this season. Going without them is not as devastating a blow as it might seem. The blow is the loss of Sloan, which means some decrease in scoring potential but not necessarily a massive one, particularly if Boyce can return to 2015 level.
Top returners – Baker (9.940), Boren (9.905), McMurtry (9.900)
Returning options – McLaughlin (9.825), Hiller (9.725)
Obviously, the biggest question about Florida’s floor rotation this year is whether the much-maligned Caquatto Gambit will be continued in the absence of Caquatto. They’ll still have the team-best, top-scoring routine from Kennedy Baker to use in the fifth position to bump up the score for whoever goes sixth, and there should be no shortage of non-gigantic Boyce/Gowey routines that can do the same thing Caquatto did in the sixth spot.
Then again, we’ll see if there’s actually room for that kind of routine in the lineup this year given the increased options and power quotient. Hundley is going the DLO route and will surely be an important part of floor, Boren and her full-in will return to the lineup, and I quite like Maegan Chant here as well. She has the potential for a difficult, clean, and composed routine that I hope to see. Florida appears to be all about the DLO this year with Slocum and Dagen also bringing DLO mounts and presenting themselves as contenders. Of some concern is that this group of floor names contains a lot of if. If they come back healthy. If they translate elite success to NCAA. We have to work in the realm of potential in terms of Florida’s road to success this year, and that’s always a worry.
Ideally, the Gators will have McMurtry come the postseason, but with her chronically broken everything, she won’t do floor most of the year. She’ll be that last-minute, essential 9.900 again, but one that does take some pressure off the new, replacement routines to be postseason level. In 2016, Florida had to resort to some lower-quality routines in the first couple spots too many times, but an improved cauldron full of big routines in 2017 should mean that’s less of an issue. Gymnasts like McLaughlin and Hiller will return as backups but may not actually be needed too often should everything go to plan.
Teams don’t simply lose one of the best NCAA gymnasts ever in Bridget Sloan and just keep on trucking at the exact same level. There will be some valleys this season without what was almost an assumed 9.950 on a number of events. Bars probably won’t reach the same level this year, and quite a lot is being asked of Hundley in particular to become the new 9.9 on every event to replace the Sloan scores. It’s possible but far from a guarantee. She could be a very successful 9.875 across the board and still end up dropping half a tenth from last season’s scores per apparatus.
Keeping Florida warm will be the possibility for improvement in those early-lineup spots on vault and floor, routines that should be a little more 10.0-start-y on vault and a little more real-E-pass-y on floor. Florida is less likely to have to deal with an early 9.775-9.800 on those events, even if they’re still badly missing the Sloan score, so the idea of keeping pace with last season’s overall total is not completely out of the question.