The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

NCAA Week 1 Preview

Full schedule and links

Marquee Meet

[16] Missouri @ [10] Georgia
Friday7:00pm ET – SEC Network

It was kind of difficult to choose a marquee meet for this opening weekend (you know, that very important classification) because, among the SEC slate, we have the four traditional powers—Florida, LSU, Georgia, Alabama—each in separate dual meets they’ll be expected to win. Elsewhere, Utah and Oklahoma will be major favorites in their competitions, so it’s quite possible we could have six straightforward and predictable results. And yet, it’s the first meet of a truly bonkers year and there are many unanswered questions, like who’s out with COVID. Or, I mean, who’s injured, or which freshmen are for real and which ones aren’t. Many, many reasons not to be confident about what we’ll end up seeing this weekend. But anyway, I went with the one where I’m most interested in seeing who ends up in these lineups.

In 2021, Georgia’s highest priority will be actually figuring out bars, so I’ll be hyper-focused on how that six shapes up during the first meet. Theoretically, things should get better, but the team will need to see freshmen like Victoria Nguyen come through with competition-ready routines, and Marissa Oakley maintain her health long enough to lead that lineup. Another season of cobbling together a lineup of people who’d rather not be doing bars will lead to Georgia fighting to stay in the top half of the SEC once again. Also Victoria Nguyen. College debut. A thing. Interesting. Watch.

Georgia’s released tentative lineups include Nguyen on everything but beam (I have 16 questions) and include Emily Schild on both bars and beam. That’s a potential boon for Georgia as her injury history had made me, shall we say, skeptical that we would see her again. I notice a disturbing lack of Rachael Lukacs in the lineups below.

Missouri will be without Helen Hu this season, which forces a lineup reshuffle. During the showcase about a month ago, Missouri showed just three scored vaults. There are several obvious vaulters on the roster who were not part of that three and I assume will be vaulting now, a month later, but how Missouri fills out a vault and bars lineup of six will be worth following. Kyra Burns is a potentially significant freshman who did not compete at that showcase and would be expected to make it into both lineups normally. Do expect to see at least a couple events from Jena Swanson and Amaya Marshall.

The Rest of the Schedule

It’s a little bitty first weekend, with just six total meets as the rest of the teams are…I don’t know cowering place due to the End Times…so I’ll run through what I’m looking for at each one.

[12] Kentucky @ [8] Alabama
Friday – 8:00pm CT – ESPNU

Alabama’s bars – The late departure of Kylie Dickson from this season’s roster means that Alabama’s team-strongest bars squad from last year has now lost half its lineup from the final meet. The team will be leaning on Shania Adams there.

Mati Waligora – New-to-us Mati Waligora missed last season with injury but has featured in training footage this year and will need to translate that to competitive meet-ready routines. The departure of Dickson and season-ending injury to Ella Burgess mean that Alabama is a little more strapped for routines than it would otherwise have seemed, and Waligora could be an overlooked diamond for them in 2021.

Korth-less-ness – This meet will be our first glimpse of how Kentucky’s lineups react to not having that 9.9+ from Korth at the end of them. There’s room for Raena Worley to step into a position of greater responsibility. In terms of new athletes, watch out for Isabella Magnelli in particular, who had a handspring pike 1/2 in L10 and excelled on beam.

[1] Florida @ [14] Auburn
Friday – 7:00pm CT – SEC+

The #1 team – Florida received that hallowed position in the preseason poll, and so to some extent, Florida will be competing against Oklahoma this weekend as much as Auburn to see whether that status can be consolidated with an actual meet performance.

Gallentine’s Day? – Among Florida’s freshmen, I’ve focused mostly on Ellie Lazzari in previews because she has so very much potential to be a star, but for a team that has dropped Hundley AND Gowey AND Alexander, it would be nice to get multiple freshmen into lineups, and into lineups for Florida-type scores. So I’m curious to see what kind of influence former elite Gabbie Gallentine has on proceedings.

Auburn freshmen – Auburn boasts perhaps the most complete freshman class among the four lower-ranked SEC teams, at least on paper. But it looks like we’re not going to see a lot of them in the first meet. Olivia Hollingsworth is the name of the freshman group, but she’s slated for only vault in the first meet. I am eager to see what comes of the performances of Gabby McLaughlin, who has the potential to be a beam star and provide a useful bars routine.

[15] Arkansas @ [3] LSU
Friday – 7:30pm CT – SEC Network

Shchennikova the AAer? – We saw Alyona Shchennikova on bars and occasionally beam last season, but she showed a front 2/1 on floor at Gym 101 and has been training a 1.5 on vault with the aim of entering all four lineups this season. That vault in particular could be a critical boost.

Haleigh Bryant – That is all.

Vaultkansas – Arkansas ranked just 34th on vault last season and peaked at 49.100. A team with Shaffer, Elswick, and Hambrick really shouldn’t find vault to be that much of a weakness, so check in on whether things have progressed this year in a way that might inch Arkansas toward 197s. Freshman Jordan Olszewski has a nice Yfull that should help.

Best of Utah
[4] Utah, [17] BYU, [23] Southern Utah, Utah State
Saturday – 7:00pm MT – BYU TV

The Jaedyn Rucker of it all – The sophomore missed all of last season with injury but, before that, she was on track to be the team’s best freshman on vault and floor. Rucker should play a significant role this season.

The high 196ies – Last season, all three other Utah teams made leaps into the higher 196s, with Utah State peaking at 196.800, BYU peaking at 197.075, and Southern Utah peaking at 197.225. Is that, er, real? This year? And how does it play out when the routines are being directly compared to Utah’s?

Opting out – Utah State announced today that a big part of last season’s remarkable late-season run, sophomore Sofi Sullivan, has opted out of this season, along with teammate Tori Loomis. Can’t blame them.

[21] Arizona State @ [2] Oklahoma
Sunday – 2:00pm CT – FSN

Oklahoma’s 80 million freshmen – Do we see them? How many? On what events? Besides Audrey Davis on bars and beam, whom I expect to see, there are a bunch of “well, she could go and get a good score if needed” freshmen. But are they actually needed? Are they strong enough to bump out some returners? I have many questions and few answers.

Trautman out – The news that Olivia Trautman will miss the first half of the season disrupts a number of these Oklahoma lineups and means we’re definitely going to need to see more of those freshmen, especially the potential Y1.5ers.

Are we ready? – In Arizona State’s intrasquad on December 30, the team looked somewhat ready-ish and showed at least a six on every event—looking a bit deeper on bars and beam than on vault and floor. But, ASU also had some people downgrading like Gracie Reeves on vault and CLB on floor, along with some presumably useful freshman routines that did not appear at all. How much will things have progressed in 11 days for the first meet of the season?

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