Category Archives: Meet Preview

NCAA Week 6 Preview

Full schedule and links

Marquee meets

[18] Minnesota @ [16] Nebraska
Saturday, 5:00 CT, ESPNU

The weekend is packed with meets that carry bits and pieces of potential intrigue, fledgling sprouts of urgency as we put the first tentative toe into ranking-implications season, but few of the top-25 teams head into meets with truly uncertain outcomes. An exception: Minnesota’s visit to Nebraska.

Minnesota’s scores have skyrocketed the last two weeks into the high 196s, indicating that one of the favorite criminally underscored teams might not be so criminally underscored anymore—and that this roster has the score to upset a team like Nebraska. Minnesota’s number last weekend was a full point better than Nebraska’s, so while the knee-jerk assumption may be that Nebraska is the favorite simply because Nebraska, this one is not clear.

At the same time, Minnesota’s recent 196s were recorded in relatively minor meets that Minnesota should win, where Minnesota had the best routines on the floor and was free to create its own scoring ceiling. That won’t be the case against Nebraska. This meet, then, is a new proposition that presents both a test and an opportunity—a test of Minnesota’s actual competitiveness against a team that tends to make nationals, and an opportunity to show that competitiveness in front of many more eyes than usual. This is the “Hmm, who is this Lexy Ramler I keep hearing about?” meet.

For its part, Nebraska has managed one strong meet so far this season, the 197.250 home victory over Illinois, and will be looking to return home for a repeat of that score. If that happens, if the vaults are as excellent as they were against Michigan and everyone stays on the other apparatuses, Nebraska should get through this one with a victory and a very much needed score (considering there are four non-keeper numbers already on the slate). But we’ve also seen the dips, we’ve seen the falls and the 195s, and it wouldn’t take even a counting fall to lose to Minnesota here. A 9.6 on beam might be enough.

For sheer closeness, this one—along Stanford’s visit to Arizona State on Sunday as both teams try to prove they’re seriously, legitimately 196s for realsies this time—should be on your list.

[14] Cal @ [4] Utah
Saturday, 1:00 MT, Pac-12 Network

One of the very best meets of 2018 saw Cal score an unlikely upset over Utah by a margin of just .050 on the strength of a crowning Toni-Ann Williams 9.975 in the final floor routine. Continue reading NCAA Week 6 Preview


NCAA Week 5 Preview

Full schedule and links

Marquee Meets

[2] Florida @ [1] Oklahoma
Friday, 7:00 CT, Fox College Sports Pacific (real channel?)

Florida and Oklahoma—the most important meet of the season…until whatever’s next week. This is Oklahoma’s first true challenge of the now-teenage 2019 season, the first meet the Sooners enter where it’s a conceivable possibility that they might lose. Oklahoma is still the favorite, but we know Florida is capable of its own high 197 and did defeat Oklahoma in the 198-a-thon these two teams engaged in last year (albeit at home with Carol) (also, At Home with Carol is a YouTube series I need).

Based on what we’ve seen so far, this thing is most likely to hinge on vault. Though Oklahoma’s vault landings the last couple weeks have been a little more lunge-y than the team would hope moving forward, Oklahoma is capable of putting out 5-6 10.0 starts that will all score 9.850 and above right now, with the potential for a couple 9.950s. Meanwhile, vault has been Florida’s weakness through the first month of the season. A competitive number of 10.0 starts should be there for the Gators eventually, but a lack of control on the landings so far has Florida scoring in the 49.0s.

If that standard continues, Oklahoma will build up a four or five tenth lead exclusively because of vault, which would be very tough for Florida to make up on the other events. For its part, Florida will hope to get Nya Reed back in the lineup this week to lift that difficulty but will also have an interesting decision to make regarding Schoenherr, who has missed her 1.5 twice in three meets. Does Florida sub in one of its small army of Yfulls than can score a safe 9.800, or does it take the risk and continue going with Schoenherr? Of course, I say keep her in the lineup—Florida needs that vault to stay with a team like Oklahoma and will need that vault to be in form by the postseason—but if it seems like it’s going to be a fall…

If Florida can get 4-5 10.0 starts in there and step up those landings to keep vault within a tenth or two, the Gators will have a chance at the upset. That’s because Florida is one of the few teams capable of matching—or outscoring—Oklahoma on bars and beam. Both teams are going to be targeting 49.5s on those events and one lineup hasn’t looked clearly stronger than the other.

For Oklahoma, we’ll see if the occasion of Florida coming to town brings back Maggie Nichols on all four events. Nichols missed week 3 entirely and was limited to bars and beam in week 4 with a bruised heel, but she does seem to be inching her way back and it would be unsurprising to see Nichols on all the events tomorrow. As we learned from the meet she missed, Nichols’ presence is necessary for Oklahoma to reach its full 9.950iness on vault and to be six strong on floor. Continue reading NCAA Week 5 Preview

NCAA Week 4 Preview

Full schedule and links

Marquee Meets

[5] LSU @ [9] Alabama
Friday, 8:00pm CT, SEC Network

Boy howdy. (I apologize. Don’t know why I said that. It’ll never happen again. Goodbye.) This meet comes at a perfect moment in the schedule as both teams try to grapple with and suppress the slowly creeping question, “Are they…still as good?”

For Alabama, that question began in earnest last season—culminating in missing Super Six for the first time in 10 years—and continued into the early meets this year, the opening 194 followed by a loss to Denver. As such, the victory over Georgia last week will have been life-giving. It showed that a ranking in the 9-10 zone doesn’t have to be the new normal for Alabama and that there’s every reason to continue considering Alabama for the role of #3 team in the conference. At the same time, that’s still just #3 in the conference (and not “among the top 3” as it used to be) and the score wasn’t a 197 despite being a looser-scored affair, which means Alabama will have to turn the dial up another couple notches on Friday to challenge an LSU team that has every expectation of going well into the 197s and enters as a comfortable favorite despite back-to-back losses.

For LSU, the team faced some distinct questions of its own entering the season, coming off that “bad for LSU” 4th-place finish at nationals and losing Macadaeg and Hambrick without obvious replacements for those scores coming in. While potentially minor concerns, they have been heightened by the early-meet performances, LSU starting with its first sub-197 score in nearly three years, followed by a loss to Auburn with its lowest team total since a January 2016 meet in Vegas when everyone fell on every event (and then Macadaeg got 9.950 on floor and you were like, “What…is this place?”)

Now, I don’t put last weekend’s meet against Florida in the same category as the loss to Auburn. Barely losing to Florida in January is not that big of a deal—a tenth the other way and it would be all, “LSU IS BACK”—and the final score was the 6th-best total of the season. But, it was still out of the (recent) ordinary to see LSU drop that meet at home in the final rotation rather than rising to the 9.950s to run away with it on floor. (Speaking of which, that floor lineup will be even more fascinating to watch this week). We’re going to wonder whether this team has the same chops as years past until LSU starts winning meets with high 197s, which is still expected of this roster and expected of this next meet. LSU puts up a 197.7 and wins the meet by a half point…no one would be surprised, and these concerns would quickly dissipate into the memory bank of January nonsense.

Alabama honestly wouldn’t mind that same result either. Of course, they’ll want to win at home against a semi-wounded LSU team that doesn’t have that same sense of invincibility, but breaking 197 and keeping it close? That’s a victory and a good progress point that would similarly help suppress “are they…still as good?” questions. To get there, Alabama will also hope this one is evaluated a little more charitably than those first two home meets.

Metroplex Challenge
[1] Oklahoma, [7] Denver, [15] Missouri, [21] Arkansas
Saturday, 7:15pm CT, FloGymnastics

Welcome, Texas recruits! The annual Metroplex challenge has garnered an excellent field this year, assembling four teams all of which should be in the hunt for those top-16 spots this season. If…everything…is any indication, Oklahoma shouldn’t have much trouble running away with this one—Maggie Nichols Watch 2019 probably being the most discussion-worthy part of Oklahoma’s situation heading in. Still, Oklahoma did count a fall on floor last week, and I’ll be interested to see who has been disqualified from the lineup for all eternity and who still gets a chance this week. Continue reading NCAA Week 4 Preview

NCAA Week 3 Preview

Full schedule and links

Marquee Meets

[3] Florida @ [5] LSU
Friday, 8:00 CT, SEC Network

Oooooh boy. It’s a big one. Am I going to try to pick a winner? Of course not. That would be insane. It’s Florida and LSU. They’re both good, if you haven’t heard, and all outcomes are very believable, including the one where D-D transforms into a tiger and ascends to the spirit realm to become one of the Sages of Time after beam, and the meet is immediately canceled.

But before that happens, there are several compelling and unusual dynamics going on in this one worth picking apart—vault and floor chief among them. Typically the go-to events and safely gigantic scores for powerhouse teams, vault and floor are providing the bigger struggles and more pressing question marks at this early juncture. They’re basically the beam of this meet, and the team that’s better able to say, “we’ve got those events figured out now” will win. (He says, right before the meet is obviously decided based on beam.)

And then there are the stakes. It’s only January, but coming directly on the heels of a loss to Auburn, LSU will be especially prickly about even entertaining the possibility of losing to Florida as well.

So let’s call this LSU’s “over my dead body” meet, which presumably means the team will want to pull out its very best lineups. The question: what does that mean at this point, especially with regard to that still-turbid floor squad? Kelley’s ankle problem from last week is not too serious, but is pushing back quickly for a January meet worth it? Same goes for if LSU is willing to go full Priessman already. Desiderio fell in week 1 and did not do floor in week 2. Ferrer looked like she needed more time in her week 2 debut. That’s a lot to work out in a floor lineup that can’t be just 9.850y-rudis against a team like Florida. You have to think LSU needs to be the better floor team to win this thing. As for Florida, the floor lineup scored well for the most part in its opener, though with 80 million options, I wouldn’t classify that lineup as looking anywhere near settled either. I want to see some different options, but that can be a tricky prospect.

In many ways, LSU and Florida mirrored each other in their first-meet performances, putting up three solid events but struggling to open the competition on vault with some very January (December?) Y1.5s that took the score under 49. LSU stuck to its lineup in the second meet and got hits from Harrold and Edwards—they’ll still want more than low 9.8s from those vaults, but it was progress—and Florida will be faced with exactly the same challenge this week.

The Gators absolutely need 1.5s like Schoenherr’s, but after the landings last week, will going safe be the chief priority to avoid giving the meet away, or is the priority a trial by fire to ensure preparedness for when the meets actually matter? You know my answer. (Always fire.)

[17] Alabama @ [10] Georgia
Friday, 7:30 ET, SEC Network

It may not have the “this will decide the best team in the country” oomph this dual brought with it back in the day, but this year’s Alabama/Georgia clash has its own, different level of deliciousness as both teams battle not to get caught by the pack. Auburn and Missouri outscored both of them last week (as did BYU, Boise State, and Denver), and Alabama and Georgia’s presumptive top-tier status has come under attack early on.

Alabama made progress by breaking the 196 mark last week but will still be glad to leave behind the scoring of those two home quad meets, going out onto the road for a competition no one expects to be conservatively judged. It’s only week 3, so nothing matters yet in the scores, but Alabama has just three home meets remaining and no big, juicy scores to lean on yet. That puts a little more pressure on getting those big, juicy scores out of road meets as we go.

In particular, Alabama needs to hit a quick-rhythm beam rotation that actually gets out of the 9.7s. This team should not be scoring 9.7s on beam at any point in the rotation, and beam has no business being a weakness compared to Georgia. Georgia is probably the better bars team, the vaulting is very similar, and Georgia has home floor, so if we’re pinpointing events where Alabama needs to establish superiority, beam is essential.

Georgia hasn’t won its dual meet against Alabama since 2013, and for the first time in a loooonnng time, Georgia has a solid argument for entering this meet as the favorite. That said, we still need to determine which Georgia is the real Georgia. The season started out well in that opener, then got reee-ough in the second meet, meaning this competition provides a sort of “best 2 out of 3, which one is actually you?” opportunity.

I’m very willing to chalk up the counting bars fall from last week as a fluke—it’s like a cough, where did it come from?—because someone like Snead probably isn’t going to fall again on bars all season (and with Megan Roberts expected to come in this week, the lineup gets a boost), but beam and floor do still seem very ragged and very January. “I got a 9.6 because I’m still figuring things out” isn’t going to fly against Alabama.

What else?

  • In general thoughts, I am gravely concerned about the potential state of the floor judging this weekend. Gretchen, stop trying to make viral 10 happen. It’s not going to happen. Judges, remember, your job is to make everyone unhappy. And it is a noble pursuit.

  • Arkansas vs. Kentucky provides the first meet of Friday’s three-meet SEC slate, and it too is worth your time. Neither team has gone 196 in the first two weeks, which has seen them fall a hair off the conference pace, so both will be eager to accomplish that 196 in this one. There’s so much similarity among the challenging teams in the SEC that this meet should help sift out where some of these schools actually stand in that hierarchy. Because right now, it’s Florida and LSU and then who even knows?

  • Similar is true for Auburn and Missouri, meeting on Saturday. Auburn owns the big result among those challenging teams with 196.700 in beating LSU, but it will be incumbent upon Auburn this week to prove that wasn’t just the function of a charitable home environment or an outlier great day.

  • Blue Michigan hosts Green Michigan on Friday, a meet more compelling for “school rivalry things” or whatever than the gymnastics result, but it’s also Michigan’s Sensory Friendly meet, which I love that they do. What if Rhonda was just there in the front row like, “Hello…”

  • Georgia will have a two-meet weekend, following up the Alabama meet with its traditional MLK Monday competition, hosting Iowa State. This may provide an interesting glimpse into depth options (i.e., whether they exist) should Georgia decided to rest some people for the second meet. At the same time, with the intense postseason schedule now demanding multi-meet weekends at both regionals and nationals, I could also see teams making a point of putting out the same lineups throughout a two-meet weekend to have the athletes feel what it’s like to go twice back-to-back. Iowa, the kind of team that may also need to prepare for that play-in meet, competed twice last weekend with very similar lineups.

  • UCLA competes Monday against Arizona State, and presumably it’s goodbye to any rest weeks for Katelyn Ohashi for the remainder of the season now that she’s the show. (Sincerest apologies, of course Miss Val is always the show, but now that Ohashi is the other show.) How that floor routine gets evaluated this week will be fascinating. Is she still eligible for deductions, or are we just like nah?

  • The Pac-12 schedule also starts in earnest this weekend with Utah visiting Oregon State on Saturday. I’m very interested to see Oregon State’s full slate of routines because we saw some encouragingly competitive glimpses in the first meet (i.e., Isis Lowery as a legit three-eventer) but also some super low scores on routines we didn’t see. Hopefully this meet will answer the question, what was going on with that?

  • Cal and Stanford complete the action on Monday night with their rivalry showdown. Unfortunately, it’s looking like Stanford Bars Terror is going to be a thing for another season if the first two meets are an indication, part of what makes Cal the favorite heading into this one. Of note, however, Stanford is currently ranked better than Cal on beam and floor.

NCAA Week 2 Preview

Full Schedule and Links

Marquee Meets

[6] Michigan, Denver, Bowling Green @ [18] Alabama
Friday, 7:30 CT, SEC+

This quad meet may not be the first to jump out based on current rankings—with Alabama struggling in week 1 and Denver not competing—but we have three teams that should end up among the 16 qualifiers to Regional Finals gathering in this one meet, a meet that’s suddenly filled with pounds of significance (as much as a week 2 meet can be significant) following Alabama’s opening clunker.

Alabama recorded a poor score in its first meet, and while we can chalk some of that up to a tougher judging eye that turned what would typically be a mid-195 into a 194.750, a mid-195 is still not remotely the level of this team. If Alabama doesn’t jump up into the 196s this week, it will find itself not only losing a home meet but consigned to a poor average and a ranking outside the top 10 for weeks to come, desperately waiting for RQS to kick in.

Over the last few years, we have seen Michigan and Alabama emerge as evenly matched foes, meeting in the 6-7 regional each of the last two seasons. If Alabama recovers from its first meet to deliver a performance at the normal level, we should enjoy Michigan and Alabama pushing each other to the final routine in a thoroughly tight meet with only little bits of advantage here and there. Because Michigan got up to 196 last week, the alarm bells didn’t ring, though Michigan will still be eager to improve on that performance and erase the memory of its own issues on beam that semi-soured proceedings from the start. All eyes on beam here.

What makes this one truly interesting, however, is the Denver factor. Basic expectations will be that Denver takes a “no shame in that” 3rd place in its season debut, but nothing about that first weekend will cause Denver to shake with fear. For a Denver team that broke the 196.5 barrier 9 times last season, those Michigan and Alabama performances will have looked very beatable.

Essential for Denver in that victory quest will be complete performances on vault and floor from a lineup that was a little bare on those events last season and has lost Nikole Addison. Karr and Brown will need a a couple new supporting scores if Denver is to keep up with teams of the level of Michigan and Alabama. We nerds are also waiting with bated breath to see Alexis Vasquez in NCAA.

Bowling Green will enter this one with minimal result expectations. The scoring ceiling isn’t there to challenge the numbers put up by the other three teams—and how we muddle through life now without Laura Mitchell is still TBD—but Jovannah East should put up a few scores that are in line the best from the other lineups. BG is competing against its own expectations and capability here, and scoring 195 would count as a huge victory.

[5] Georgia @ [1] Oklahoma
Friday, 7:00 CT, FSN

The big-name, big-ranking showdown of the weekend belongs to Georgia and Oklahoma, though if Oklahoma’s performance and score in the first week are any indication, the result shouldn’t leave much room for surprise. While both teams will consider the first meet a successful one, Oklahoma’s score was nearly 3 falls better than Georgia’s, so Oklahoma will enter this one as the clear favorite. If it’s a blowout, just put mics on Suzanne and KJ and we’ll be fine.

For Georgia, the first task here will be seeing if it’s possible to match/improve on that 196.600 in a road context. Last season, Georgia didn’t really have a problem getting into the higher 196s at home, but the road scores lagged. It took until March for Georgia to prove that it was more than a 196.1 team without the benefit of being at Stegeman, and progress in 2019 will be built on getting real road scores earlier in the process.

In that first meet, we all know Georgia got away with one on beam to score over 49, so the lineup will be eager to put up a more composed performance there. Improvement on floor will also be a focus. Georgia should have the depth to play around with options on floor this year—even with Roberts still out—but the preliminary lineup there is intact from last week, so that’s interesting.

What else?

  • Florida opens its season by hosting Missouri on Friday. The college debut of Trinity Thomas will bring eyes, but also look for how freshmen Savannah Schoenherr, Sydney Johnson-Scharpf, Nya Reed, and Leah Clapper might (or might not) be integrated into the lineups on what is still quite a deep team.
  • UCLA, Cal, UC Davis, and Michigan State will compete in Anaheim on Saturday alongside the California Grand Invitational, one of those gigantic JO meets. Despite the strong score, UCLA did have three falls in its opening meet with some characteristically unsettled lineups. It’s never a surprise to see UCLA shuffle things around significantly from meet to meet, so I expect to see some changes in most of the lineups for this one. Plenty of spots to be earned. Cal will look to resolve the issues that brought last week’s beam scores into the 9.7s, since the performance as a whole was on track for a 196 for most of the meet. Getting that 196 will be the aim here, something that didn’t happen until mid-February last season.
  • LSU travels to Auburn with both teams looking to erase the one very big problem that took away a usable score last weekend— LSU missing on vault and Auburn falling apart on floor. Beyond that for LSU, those “errr…how’s that going to go?” lineup additions on bars and beam did their jobs in the first meet, but they’ll need to prove that’s an every-meet thing, especially since we didn’t see Bailey Ferrer in the first competition and she’ll be pushing for spots in multiple lineups in time.
  • Washington opens its season by traveling to Nebraska for what should be a tight competition on Saturday evening. Washington will need to develop some new lineup stars this season, and while typically that leads us to look at the freshmen, keep an eye on sophomore Geneva Thompson, who missed last season with injury but was expected to break into those vault and floor lineups.
  • The highlight of Sunday’s schedule is an Illinois quad meet with Oregon State, Kentucky, and Lindenwood coming to town. We’ll get our first look at Oregon State as the Beavs try to establish their position in a Pac-12 landscape that is suddenly very unsettled beyond the top couple teams. Is Oregon State in the top four or the bottom four now? Also keep tabs on an Illinois team that really struggled in its first meet for a 192 marked by some key absences. Was that a first-meet blip or the real story for Illinois this year?

Injury and roster news

  • Emma Engler, who had Auburn’s #1 bars routine in the 2017 season but did not compete in 2018, has been removed from Auburn’s roster.
  • Giulianna Pino hasn’t been with the UCLA team in a competitive capacity for a while, but she has officially been removed from the roster now. She’s still with the team on the sidelines looking all stylish.
  • We saw some mid-meet injuries last week, including Skyler Sheppard from Auburn having to stop her floor routine after two passes, Mary Korlin-Downs from Minnesota receiving a 0.000 on beam, and Felicia Hano from UCLA suffering an ankle sprain.

NCAA Week 1 Preview

Full Schedule and Links

Marquee Meets

[11] Nebraska @ [1] UCLA
Friday, 6:00 PT, ESPN2

The first “live on real television” meet of the season pits two of last year’s Super Six teams against one another with Nebraska paying a visit to defending champion UCLA.

For UCLA, the judgment monocles will be fixed to this performance, not only because a championship inherently brings more eyes and an expectation of setting the standard the following season, but because UCLA is still trying to get itself out from under a sticky reputation for starting the season poorly.

The reputation is earned. More often than not in the last decade, UCLA has started the season with a missed meet. The last time the Bruins won the title (2010), they began the following year with a sluggish, fall-laden 195.300 in a loss to Utah. Even in 2018, UCLA started the season counting a fall on vault in its very first rotation.

Based on the impressive level of progress shown in December’s Meet the Bruins exhibition, particularly on vault and floor, there’s no reason to expect a missed meet from UCLA out of the gate other than history, but the hits still have to come. Oklahoma and LSU, two programs that have tended to score 197 in recent season openers, will be quite eager to start faster again this year and say, “OK, all that UCLA blah blah blah is over, back to us now.”

A hit start will be especially important for UCLA because Nebraska hardly presents pushover first-meet competition. Finishing the 2018 season in 6th place, and then being ranked 11th in the preseason poll for some reason, Nebraska will be looking to open the first meet of the post-Kendig era with continuity by saying, “Hi, we’re better than you think we are—again.”

Nebraska, however, also has a reputation for starting the season slowly—going sub-196 in each of its last four openers—a result that wouldn’t make a dent if repeated on Friday. Still, we know that Nebraska can be a very 196 team, so UCLA certainly won’t feel the luxury to count a fall and still win this one despite being the clear favorite.

Telling in Nebraska’s quest to challenge will be the very first rotation on bars, a question-mark event for the roster right now. With injuries to Roby and Orel, Nebraska will leo-up only three available gymnasts who have competed bars before in Houchin, Crouse, and Schweihofer, so there will be some serious pressure on multiple new routines to get through (and get through with real scores) in their debuts.

While the headline freshmen debuts will belong to Marz Frazier and Norah Flatley for UCLA, the performances from Abby Johnston and Sarah Hargrove for Nebraska will be equally significant in determining the course of their team’s season.

Like UCLA, Nebraska will be hoping to pour on the 10.0 starts on vault this year with some new 1.5s that have made cameos in training, so a major story to track will be how many of those vaults for both teams actually make it into the lineup with usable landings now that things are real. While it’s early, that will present a helpful benchmark for how competitive these teams might be on vault moving forward.

[8] Cal @ [4] LSU
Friday, 7:00pm CT, SECN+ 

LSU enters its season opener at home in a similar position to UCLA: the clear favorite but without the luxury of having a bad meet and still winning—not against a team as strong as Cal.

For the Tigers, after finishing 4th last season and being ranked 4th in the preseason poll, they’ll be looking to block back any subtly creeping “Is LSU going to be as good this season…?” questions with a big early score.

Because we saw LSU perform in a preseason exhibition, we mostly know what to expect from these lineups. Still, particular interest will be paid to the newly arrived (and therefore still fairly mysterious) Bailey Ferrer since we didn’t see her in that exhibition. Ferrer will be an essential cog on multiple pieces, her strengths vault and floor, but perhaps most essentially in shoring up a bars lineup that doesn’t enjoy a surplus of options this year—especially if the team has to be cautious with Priessman’s Crest Whitestrip of a shoulder.

The curiosity cat will also have its back arched about a new-look beam lineup, without Hambrick and Macadaeg but with the same expectations for 9.9-itude. Can the freshly formed center of the lineup keep up with LSU’s beaming of last few seasons?

You know Cal is moving up in the world of NCAA gym with the team eschewing participation in the traditional NorCal Classic this year (which typically takes place in the land that time forgot), and instead traveling to LSU to open the season with a high-profile clash against a national title contender.

Just how “moving up in the world” Cal is this season will rest significantly on much-sought freshmen Milan Clausi and Maya Bordas. Both won their divisions at JO Nationals in 2017, so expectations are high—but so is the level of mystery as we wait to see how freshmen integrate themselves into teams on the first weekend. With vital freshmen, not to mention the uncertain status of Toni-Ann Williams who missed the elite season with an elbow injury, Cal has a number of questions to answer in this first meet.

What else?

Continue reading NCAA Week 1 Preview

US Classic Preview – Juniors

We’re less than a week away from the end of our long national nightmare. The GK US Classic has finally appeared on the horizon and is slowly chugging its way toward us to usher a glorious month of nonstop meets (real, actual meets with rules and standards!) back into our lives. And none too soon.

So let’s begin Celebration Week with a preview of the hors d’oeuvres. I mean junior session.

The highlight of any domestic junior competition is, of course, the wildly different heights and skill levels that populate the field. There’s nothing more entertaining than when Amelia Hundley is still somehow a junior in 2013 despite being age 37, and she’s introduced next to an actual 3-year-old who’s like, “I have a kip!” And they’re just in the same meet for some reason, and you go, “Is this a dream?” Yeah. Junior Classic.

This year, none of the juniors are being promoted to compete with the seniors (last year Malabuyo, O’Keefe, Dunne, Lee, and Kenlin competed in the later session with the big girls). I prefer this way. We have age group delineations in place, so let’s follow those rules and not confuse things. If you’re a senior, you’re a senior. If you’re a junior, you’re a junior—even if you can score better than most of the seniors.

Let’s discuss those gymnasts first, the ones in contention to win the juniors and who would make the senior national team if old enough.

The Favorites

We have a pretty amorphous and open junior field in the US this year because so many of the very best juniors aged out of the system after 2017, like Malabuyo, Perea, O’Keefe, Kenlin, and Dunne. A bit of a power vacuum was left in their absence, but in the last few months, we’ve seen a solid four rise up to establish themselves as the new junior cabal, and they’ll be expected to fight it out for the title here.

Coming in with the highest scoring potential of the entire bunch is Sunisa Lee. With the D-score advantage that Lee possesses—performing 6+ difficulty on bars and beam—her performance typically dictates how these junior competitions play out. If she hits those big routines, the others will not have the difficulty to catch her, even if they perform perfectly.

Hitting, however, is the big question. Lee can be susceptible to a fall that allows the lower-D competition to pass her, and mistakes on both bars and beam at Pac Rims took her down to 4th in the all-around standings.

That could be where someone like Kayla DiCello comes in. Her D scores alone will likely see her give up more than a point to Lee (maybe closer to 1.5 depending on how things play out), but going 4-for-4 at American Classic allowed DiCello to dominate the field with a 55.400, a score not too far off the pace of what Lee should earn for a hit meet. DiCello showed precise work and execution upon her elite debut last season, and in the past year she has upped her D scores from the 5.0 territory to the 5.3-5.5 territory, which allows her to stay right with the top scorers.

Life changes quickly in the junior ranks. Last year at Junior Classic, DiCello placed 24th, ahead of Jordan Bowers in 32nd, and now they’re two of the most convincing favorites for the title in 2018.

Bowers won the all-around at both Pac Rims and Pan Ams this year (outscoring DiCello and Lee at Pac Rims, and outscoring Leanne Wong and Tori Tatum at Pan Ams) which speaks to her solidity and equal strength across the four events. Bowers does not rely on any one or two apparatus scores to pick up her all-around total, which means she is better able to absorb any mistakes that might crop up because she can make up those tenths on any of the other three events. Continue reading US Classic Preview – Juniors