The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

2019 Preview – Alabama Crimson Tide

  • Competed VT, FX every week in 2018
  • RQS of 9.895 FX, 9.835 VT
  • Competed 12 BBs for 9.830 RQS
  • Competed 5 UBs in 2018, hitting 4-for-5
  • Peak UB score of 9.875
Ari Guerra
  • Made final VT, UB, FX lineups in 2018
  • #1 returning RQS on VT (9.860)
  • RQS of 9.860 FX, 9.850 UB
Wynter Childers
  • Made final 2018 lineups on UB, BB
  • Competed at least 3 times on each piece
  • RQS of 9.820 on UB, 9.660 on BB
  • Avg of 9.742 on VT, FX
Maddie Desch
  • Made final 2018 lineups on VT, FX
  • RQS of 9.805 on VT & FX, 9.765 on BB
  • Has possible 10.0-start Y1.5 on VT
Shea Mahoney
  • Made final 2018 lineups on VT, UB
  • #1 returning UB routine (9.885)
  • RQS of 9.835 on VT
  • Competed 5 FXs, hitting 4-for-5
Kylie Dickson
  • Competed weekly UB in 2018 for 9.840
  • Showed 4 VTs, peaking at 9.775
Lexi Graber
  • Competed AA in final 6 meets of 2018
  • #1 returning BB routine (9.895)
  • Has 10.0-start Y1.5 on VT
  • RQS of 9.870 on UB, 9.855 on VT
  • Avg of 9.825 on FX
Bailie Key
  • Competed 1 BB routine for 8.475 in 2018
  • We’ll take anything
Tia Kiaku
  • Tranfer from Ball State
  • Competed weekly FX for 9.875 RQS in 2018
  • Possible BB option
Alonza Klopfer
  • Competed 3 BBs and 2 FXs in 2018
  • Peak score of 9.825 BB, 9.800 FX
Asia DeWalt
  • AIM Athletics
  • 5th VT, 2018 JO Nationals
Emily Gaskins
  • CGA
  • US elite, 2013-2017
Jensie Givens
  • South Coast
  • 4th UB, 2018 SoCals
Griffin James
  • Gymstrada
  • 4th VT, 2017 JO Nationals
Shallon Olsen
  • Omega
  • 2nd VT – 2018 World Championships
  • All the 10.0-start VT options

2018 – 8th
– 6th
2016 – 3rd
2015 – 4th
2014 – 4th
2013 – 3rd
2012 – 1st
2011 – 1st
2010 – 3rd
2009 – 2nd

Alabama isn’t super happy with what’s been happening. The last two seasons have produced Alabama’s weakest finishes in a decade and rank 33rd and 34th on the list of Alabama’s results from 37 seasons of NCAA gymnastics. The dismissal of Bryan Raschilla immediately after nationals sent the message to all of us that the status quo isn’t going to be good enough anymore.

After all, Alabama’s 8th-place performance at nationals last year wasn’t the result of a random miss that can be chalked up as “just one of those things.” It didn’t include a fall, nor did it include a single counting score under 9.800. Alabama hit, still missed Super Six by four tenths, and (potentially more crushing to an Alabama fan) lost to Georgia.

That said, I’m quite comfortable ranking Alabama as at least a top-8 team again this year, and Alabama will enter the season as a favorite to advance to nationals. By the second half of 2018, Alabama was securely packed in that 6-7 ranking area, and while the team has lost two essential contributors in Winston and Guerrero (and all its 9.9 RQSs), it can look to Emily Gaskins and Shallon Olsen to make up a fair chunk of those scores and will present a team deep with 9.850s once again.

Still, top 8 is a pedestrian goal for Alabama. That should be a DUH. It might not be, but it should be. A more Alabama-level goal is making the team final, which now requires being in the top 4. Based on the level of competition this season, that’s a tough ask.

VAULT 2019
Lineup locks: Shallon Olsen, Lexi Graber, Ari Guerra
Lineup options: Abby Armbrecht, Shea Mahoney, Emily Gaskins, Maddie Desch, Wynter Childers, Kylie Dickson, Tia Kiaku, Asia DeWalt, Griffin James

Alabama will have three definite 10.0 starts in the vault lineup this year, certainly not the most we’ll see but still enough to stay competitive. It’s what Alabama showed most of last season, and I would expect 2019’s roster to keep pace with that level of vaulting.

Most importantly, Shallon Olsen has continued working her DTY in training and will be counted on to provide Alabama’s top vault score, filling the Nickie Guerrero role. Lexi Graber’s clean 1.5 proved an essential addition last season and will be just as important this year, and Ari Guerra’s Servente continues improving every time we see it and has made the transition from risky option to lineup leader.

In terms of possible 1.5s, Abby Armbrecht showed one at the Ghosts and Goblins, though I’d pick her for the lineup either way since she also has the strongest full of the remaining options. We know that Maddie Desch, who vaulted a full fairly often last season, can throw out a 1.5 as well when it gets to crunch time.

Alabama is not short of fulls, so it’s really a quest to find the very best ones that can score early 9.850s to get the team to that 49.4 marker. Right now I’d put Emily Gaskins and Shea Mahoney up there with Armbrecht as the most likely to get into the lineup.

BARS 2019
Lineup locks: Lexi Graber, Shea Mahoney, Kylie Dickson
Lineup options: Ari Guerra, Emily Gaskins, Jensie Givens, Wynter Childers, Abby Armbrecht, Bailie Key, Angelina Giancroce, Griffin James, Asia DeWalt,

Alabama is in a very different position on bars from the other teams I’ve previewed recently, teams that have a small, clear group of bars routines from which forming a prospective lineup is pretty obvious. Alabama has about a billion bars routines at a very similar level, not short of possible options but still under pressure to determine if there are enough 9.9s, and which ones they are, to assemble another year of 49.4 bars.

Most of the routines return from last season’s lineup, so this project should be possible. Graber proved a reliably high score last season with the capability for 9.9s, and Mahoney is typically good for at least 9.850, both of whom should return to the six. We haven’t seen Kylie Dickson in preseason because of injury, but if she’s healthy, she’ll be there again this season. Ari Guerra was a constant for 9.850 last season in the leadoff position, so even though her routine isn’t going to get those huge 9.9s, I’d expect her to be called upon again.

The trouble is going to be the departure of Kiana Winston’s 9.9+ without an obvious replacement. Many people could fill in, but we don’t yet know if any of them can get that kind of score. I do expect to see a bars routine from Emily Gaskins and am eager to see secret weapon Jensie Givens get a shot. Her handstands were the among the least deductiony at G&G.

With the likes of Childers, James, Giancroce, Armbrecht, and DeWalt, Alabama has a bunch of other 9.750-9.800s to work with, but who can make the leap to a lineup-ready score most consistently? One of the recent issues for Alabama has been the tendency for scholarship athletes to end up as borderline-lineup/depth options rather than wow-scores. If some of the new people can be not-just-depth-options on bars, that would be great.

BEAM 2019
Lineup locks: Lexi Graber, Emily Gaskins
Lineup options: Maddie Desch, Abby Armbrecht, Wynter Childers, Jensie Givens, Angelina Giancroce, Bailie Key, Tia Kiaku, Shea Mahoney, Shallon Olsen, Alonza Klopfer

I have a couple concerns. Those concerns are called No Winston and No Guerrero. Those two quite obviously led the beam lineup last year, and two new people must present weekly 9.9s this year to avoid regression. It’s a fairly urgent situation. The encouraging part is that beam has been the hallmark of Duckworth-era Alabama, and this team has proven the capability to manufacture new beam routines when needed in the past.

When I look at the roster to see who Alabama would most want in the lineup with the best chance to replace those two scores, I see Emily Gaskins and Bailie Key. Gaskins should make it into this beam lineup. With her high, extended layout stepout, she’s ready. And I know. After last year we can’t aggressively anticipate Bailie Key for events, but she did hit a full, excellent beam routine at G&G. And Alabama really does need her routine this year.

If those two are able to come through, then you have Graber, Armbrecht, and Desch to shore up the meat of the lineup, and options like Childers, Givens, Kiaku, and Giancroce to fill out any remaining spots. It’s good, it’s solid, it’s 9.850y. But Alabama is going to have a problem if new end-of-lineup 9.9s aren’t found.

FLOOR 2019
Lineup locks: Lexi Graber, Shallon Olsen, Emily Gaskins, Abby Armbrecht
Lineup options: Maddie Desch, Ari Guerra, Tia Kiaku, Wynter Childers, Griffin James, Bailie Key

Winston and Guerrero were as influential in the floor lineup last season as they were in the beam lineup, though on floor it seems a little clearer who will be counted on to make up for their absences. Gaskins has maintained her exceptional DLO for college, and Shallon Olsen obviously has the tumbling to deliver a big routine. I expect to see both of them in positions of honor in the floor lineup.

Alabama’s only issue on floor in recent seasons has come when everyone gets stuck in the 9.850s and the team ends up with a fine-not-great 49.275, which is why Gaskins and Olsen’s routines can’t just be normal-good. Alabama needs them to be scoring leaders. Also in Project 9.900, don’t forget about Abby Armbrecht, who reached that mark frequently last season before she went to the leadoff position, where it was harder to get that kind of score. She has Alabama’s highest returning floor number and, along with Graber, should be able to deliver a solid share of scores over 9.850 from the returners as well. Looking at this floor lineup, it has no business not being great.

Alabama may very well round out the rest of the lineup with those who competed last year, Desch and Guerra. Right now, that looks like the highest-scoring group, but there are other contenders in Team 9.850. I haven’t mentioned much of transfer Tia Kiaku or freshman Griffin James, but both are in that category and could get into this lineup, floor looking like the most believable area of contribution for both athletes.

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