The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

2023 Michigan Wolverines

MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

Super Seniors

Abby Heiskell

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • #2 returning score on UB (9.915), BB (9.905)

  • #5 returning score on FX (9.925), VT (9.920)

Natalie Wojcik

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • #1 returning score on BB (9.945), UB (9.945)

  • #3 returning score on VT (9.930)

  • #4 returning score on FX (9.935)

Seniors

Sierra Brooks

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • #1 returning score on VT (9.955)

  • #2 returning score on FX (9.955)

  • #3 returning score on UB (9.905), BB (9.900)

Nicoletta Koulos

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • Competed 1 UB (9.700), 1 FX (9.650) in 2022

Gabby Wilson

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • #1 returning score on FX (9.965)

  • #3 returning score on UB (9.905)

  • #4 returning score on VT (9.925), BB (9.890)

Juniors

Carly Bauman

UB
BB
FX

  • Missed 2022 season with Achilles injury

  • NQS of 9.894 on BB in 2021

Reyna Guggino

VT
BB
FX

  • #6 returning score on VT (9.910)

  • NQS of 9.825 on BB in 2022

  • Competed 6 FX in 2022, avg 9.746

Naomi Morrison

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • #2 returning score on VT (9.940)

  • #3 returning score on FX (9.940)

  • #5 returning score on BB (9.845)

  • #6 returning score on UB (9.860)

Jenna Mulligan

VT
FX

  • Competed 3 FXs (avg 9.833), 2 VTs (avg 9.788) in 2022

Sophomores


Ashley Lane

UB
BB
FX

  • Did not compete in first season

Abigael Vides


  • Did not compete in first season

Jacey Vore

VT
UB
BB

  • #5 returning score on UB (9.895)

  • NQS of 9.715 on BB

First Years

Lily Clapper

VT
UB
BB

  • Gym America

  • 8th AA, 2022 L10 Nationals

Farah Lipetz

UB
BB

  • Infiniti

  • 16th UB, 2021 L10 Nationals

Kaylen Morgan

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • Everest

  • 6th AA, 2021 American Classic

Paige Thaxton

VT
UB
FX

  • Michigan Academy

  • 1st UB, 2021 L10 Nationals

Ranking History
2022 – 8th
2021 – 1st
2020 – 5th
2019 – 5th
2018 – 13th
2017 – 10th
2016 – 11th
2015 – 7th
2014 – 10th
2013 – 7th
2012 – 13th

Where 2022 Finished…

It was always going to be a challenge to repeat 2021’s championship performance in 2022, but Michigan gave it a good run, starting out as the most prepared team and occupying the top spot in the rankings for the first two months of the season. Oklahoma and Florida caught and passed Michigan as we headed toward the meat of the season, but Michigan remained a top-4 team and championship-qualifying favorite going into nationals, where a bars and beam implosion dashed the team’s hopes and saddled Michigan with a fairly unrepresentative 8th-place finish.

In retaining nearly the entire roster from last season, Michigan will expect to improve on 8th in 2023 and return to the top-4 status that these athletes have regularly occupied for the last two years.

Gains and Losses

LOSTGAINED
Abby Brenner – VT, UB, FXKaylen Morgan
Lily Clapper
Farah Lipetz
Paige Thaxton

The New Ones

Michigan doesn’t have all that much replacement work to do in terms of lineups but does bring in four new athletes, each with their own significant prior accomplishments. Of note, we saw extremely little from this first-year class at Michigan’s preseason performance, just two routines in exhibition slots and nothing that you would put in a lineup right now. If Michigan doesn’t get a lot out of this class in 2023, that probably wouldn’t be dire since the returning lineups are already hearty, but it would be significant in assessing what Michigan might do in a post-Wojcik/Heiskell/Brooks/Wilson world.

Among Michigan’s new class, Kaylen Morgan‘s is the most recognizable name from her five years as an elite, up to and including the beginning of the 2022 elite calendar. Her most impressive event has always been bars, with an NCAA-ready skill set and handstands, so Michigan will primarily look to get that routine in the mix when fully healthy. Still, all four events should be options. We saw a Yurchenko full from Morgan at the exhibition that Michigan probably doesn’t need right now but exists.

Lily Clapper is the younger sister of Leah, which you’ll know every time you look at a Michigan meet this season and think, “I didn’t know Leah Clapper transferred to Michigan.” She finished 8th AA in her division at L10 Nationals this year, which speaks to her capability on all four. Bars may be her college-iest event—also the one routine we saw from her in the exhibition—but you wouldn’t be shocked if she pulled a Leah and suddenly became indispensable on beam as her career went on.

We didn’t see anything from the other two at the exhibition, but Paige Thaxton is a L10 national bars champion from 2021 in Senior B, who has also worked a Yurchenko 1.5 along with several huge tumbling options and would basically be among the top L10s in the country if you didn’t have to do leaps on beam. So she’s one to keep an eye on. Meanwhile, Farah Lipetz missed the 2022 L10 season but put up top-20 finishes at L10 Nationals in 2021 on bars and beam, her two strongest events.

Event By Event

VAULT

2022 Event Ranking: 1

Lineup locks: Sierra Brooks, Natalie Wojcik, Gabby Wilson, Naomi Morrison, Abby Heiskell
Lineup options: Reyna Guggino, Jenna Mulligan, Kaylen Morgan, Nicoletta Koulos, Paige Thaxton, Jacey Vore, Lily Clapper

Michigan’s All 1.5s All The Time vault lineup spent another season in the top ranking spot in 2022. The only loss from the gang is Abby Brenner (who vaulted three times last season but did not make Michigan’s final lineup), so at this point there’s every reason to expect the same six Yurchenko 1.5s that made Michigan’s vault lineup last season to do so again this season with Guggino, Wojcik, Wilson, Morrison, Heiskell, and Brooks. There are some other theoretical 1.5s on this team, like the one Jacey Vore had as a L10, but since we haven’t seen evidence of those, one would think the idea is to keep the lineup the same. 

Should there be injuries, or questions about Guggino’s consistency, Michigan will have a couple other backups vaulters—Jenna Mulligan’s full is the only other vault that saw competition time last season—but any Yfulls are going to be Plan B.

BARS

2022 Event Ranking: 4

Lineup locks: Natalie Wojcik, Sierra Brooks, Abby Heiskell, Naomi Morrison
Lineup options: Gabby Wilson, Kaylen Morgan, Carly Bauman, Jacey Vore, Nicoletta Koulos, Paige Thaxton, Ashley Lane, Farah Lipetz, Lily Clapper

Michigan will have an interesting dynamic on bars this season because even though there’s not much replacement work absolutely needing to be done here (just the lost routine from Brenner), there are a number of different moving pieces and a variety of options that could end up being part of the best lineup.

No questions will be posed about the top three returning bars scores from Wojcik, Brooks, and Heiskell. You wouldn’t put together any lineup without them. Based on her history of 9.9s, you’d also want Gabby Wilson in this six, but she did not compete bars in the second half of last season and did not show a bars routine in the exhibition, so we’ll have to see what the health status is for that routine. While Naomi Morrison didn’t get quite the same scores on bars last season as the big hitters, she competed pretty much every week, only missed once, and would seem likely to return. Ideally, Michigan will also get a bars routine out of first-year Kaylen Morgan, who would definitely make the lineup based on any assumptions of what her college bars can look like based on elite.

You certainly wouldn’t sneeze at that six, but also contending for spots will be Jacey Vore, who competed most weeks last season and got several 9.9s in there, and Carly Bauman, who is returning from her Achilles injury to make a push for a lineup that she was in during the 2021 season. If it turns out that Wilson and Morgan aren’t available, or aren’t available right away, you’d look to Vore and Bauman as the most likely, useful lineup members.

And then there’s Nicoletta Koulos, who typically serves as an “I can do anything as needed for 9.8ish” option for Michigan—as well as the rest of this bars-heavy new class that really should make its mark on this event. If everyone is healthy, Michigan has some challenging decisions to make in trying to shuffle the pieces of Wilson, Morrison, Morgan, Vore, and Bauman into the last few lineup spots, and if some of the other first years start meet their bars potential, deciding the six could become a real challenge. Which also means there could be potential for a score upgrade.

BEAM

2022 Event Ranking: 11

Lineup locks: Natalie Wojcik, Sierra Brooks, Abby Heiskell, Gabby Wilson
Lineup options: Naomi Morrison, Carly Bauman, Jacey Vore, Reyna Guggino, Nicoletta Koulos, Kaylen Morgan, Lily Clapper, Ashley Lane, Farah Lipetz

Beam is the real puzzler for Michigan because even before the events of the national semifinal last season, it was the team’s lowest-ranked apparatus and most likely to get stuck in the 49.1s and 49.2s. When Oklahoma and Florida are like, “Do you want this 49.7? My tiara vault has too many tiaras in it,” a 49.2 isn’t going to be competitive enough. In 2023, Michigan will look for ways to upgrade the beam lineup, yet theoretically this isn’t lineup that should even need much of an upgrade. Wojcik, Heiskell, Brooks, Wilson, Morrison? On paper, it’s grand. But in practice it ranked 11th.    

In the 2021 season, Carly Bauman was a mainstay in this lineup and received a couple 9.9s, so she looks like the best opportunity for Michigan to ramp up its weekly meat-and-potatoes beam scores from last season. Vore also made the final lineup last season and could knock out one of the main five (or join them again) if she continues to be a little more toward the 9.9 side than the 9.8 side. Still, it seems Michigan’s main beam-improvement strategy may be just to…stay on for all six routines this time. Last season’s lineups were often marked by one fall that could be dropped but meant a couple other 9.825s had to count, and the score was lost. 

FLOOR

2022 Event Ranking: 1

Lineup locks: Gabby Wilson, Sierra Brooks, Naomi Morrison, Natalie Wojcik, Abby Heiskell
Lineup options: Nicoletta Koulos, Reyna Guggino, Carly Bauman, Paige Thaxton, Kaylen Morgan, Ashley Lane

Michigan will experience much less angst about floor than about beam. Thanks to the team’s novel “act like you’ve actually hit a floor routine before” January strategy, Michigan opened strongly on floor in 2022 and never looked back, and nearly the entire lineup returns. While the quintet of Wilson, Brooks, Morrison, Wojcik, and Heiskell are the easy picks on every event, on floor (like on vault) you put that in pen and have no further questions. Moving on.

Michigan will still need an answer for the sixth spot in this lineup for 2023, and several should present themselves. This could be Nicoletta Koulos’s time. She was really starting to come into her own for 9.9s at the end of the 2021 season before an injury curtailed her preparation and contribution in 2022. At Michigan’s December exhibition, she looked like she was back to being the best solution. Reyna Guggino hasn’t always shown the landing consistency to get into the lineup, but she’s typically good for a mid-9.8 on her hit days and could figure here. Similarly, Jenna Mulligan has competed three floor routines in her career, all for 9.8s. Probably not a counting score on this team, but definitely something you could put out there.

As for the semi-unknown new ones, considering her L10 routine that featured both a DLO and an open full-in in the same routine that wasn’t even under the elite code, it would be negligent not to consider Paige Thaxton for this lineup. 

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