2014 Balance Beam Situation Preseason Ranking

The coaches’ poll for 2014 will soon be upon us, followed by one of my favorite gymnastics holidays, Making Fun of the Coaches’ Poll Day. In anticipation of this momentous occasion, I submit my own preseason ranking list.

Keep in mind that this is not a prediction of April results but an assessment of where teams stand at the current moment. As always, treat this list as brilliant and perfect. (Note: I rank only 15 teams instead of 25 because once we get into that 16-25 range, so little separates the teams that trying to rank them with respect to one another would be based entirely on reputation and nothing.) Let us commence.

Yes, Rhonda, you’re the winner. Being the defending champion affords Florida first claim to the top spot, and their argument is convincing, especially the Bridget Sloan and Kytra Hunter parts. Without Marissa King and Ashanee Dickerson, don’t expect the Gators to be quite as strong in 2014 as they were in 2013, but they don’t need to be in order to win. The Sloan, Hunter, Alaina Johnson, and Mackenzie Caquatto quartet remains the most formidable group of four gymnasts in the country, and
they will have a healthy enough dose of supporting routines to make 49.450s on each event seem like a far easier prospect than it has any right to be. 198s? Sure. 

It’s finally time to promote the Sooners from the #4 spot. The team that came two vault landings away from snatching the title from Florida last season has added an exceptionally talented freshman class to help assemble what I see as the strongest team in the program’s history. Oklahoma of 2014 should be able to improve on both its strengths and weaknesses, incorporating even more gracefully energetic work into bars and beam and injecting a bit more raw power into vault and floor to help make the amplitude goblins go away. They have the 9.9s. The question is, are there enough 9.950s to win a national championship?

Kim Jacob, Diandra Milliner, and Sarah DeMeo are poised to take over the starring roles that have long belonged to the Ashleys, Priess and Sledge. They have been groomed well for the part, and we can expect 9.9s to blossom all over the place for that trio on two to three events apiece. Now congratulate me for going two whole sentences discussing Alabama’s prospects for 2014 without mentioning bars. For Alabama to reign at the top, they can’t be the short handstand sisters and will likely need three consistently 9.9-caliber routines to avoid falling behind. This will not be a year where they can rest on vault and floor. Freshmen, you have your mission.

On paper, UCLA was right in the same pack as Oklahoma and Alabama going into this season in spite of the several thousand lost routines, but the continued injury saga of Peng Peng Lee has pushed the Bruins back a touch. They probably needed her routines to contend, and this now puts immense significance on the comeback of Sam Peszek. For UCLA to have any chance, she must be the queen of scoring, which of course she can be. There are a number of enticing routines on this team, as there always are, but they will have to prove they are more than a smattering of nice routines here and there. There’s a Zamarripa-shaped hole in the doors to Pauley, and someone needs to fill it.

5. LSU
If you’re in the market for a team to root for, you could do worse than LSU. The potential for this team is tremendous, coming off a historically strong year and retaining nearly all their routines (and adding a couple important ones). The judges lap up their power gymnastics, but while improvement was displayed on both bars and beam in 2013, the Tigers still need to take another step on those events to be nationally competitive and hope to meet or improve on last season’s 5th place finish. It can’t be a 49.300 one week and a 48.950 the next. We need to see consistency from week to week, and beam must become more than simply the Rheagan Courville show.

Utah was a decent beam rotation (49.250) away from knocking UCLA out of Super Six last year, but a decent beam rotation the Utes could not muster. Still, the fact that they’re not losing routines, only gaining, means there’s reason to believe they should improve their lot. Corrie Lothrop and Baely Rowe will act as a tourniquet on that beam rotation, and Kailah Delaney should provide the third strong vault to make that a more competitive event. It’s a smaller team this year, so there won’t be too much room for error and injury in these lineups, but it’s a team that looks on the road to improvement.

Speaking of roads to improvement, Michigan’s 2013 was a joyful resurgence, and enough of the core to that team has been retained to make a repeat of last year’s result seem entirely plausible. Led by Joanna Sampson, the floor and vault lineups should be world class and keep Michigan competitive with even against the very best teams. Two concerns: maintaining last season’s strength on bars without Martinez and Zurales to get those 9.9s, and everything about balance beam. Just everything about it.

There was a time when losing Worley and Tanella wouldn’t have seemed like a particularly big deal, but the improvements they made in 2013 now make their departures that much more significant. The big question surrounding Georgia this season is whether the team can find the gymnasts to make up for them out of a fairly untested freshman class. Brandie Jay and Brittany Rogers did their jobs in helping Georgia emerge from the depths and return to Super Six last year, but if Georgia is to repeat the result, these two will need to be even more effective this year as all-around stars banging out 9.9s each week.

Would you look at this team? Ivana Hong, Sami Shapiro, and Kristina Vaculik are being joined by Rachel Daum, Sophia Lee, and the McNairs. That’s an entirely disrespectful amount of talent that we should expect great things from, but this is Stanford. There will be eighteen injuries, or an avalanche, or the entire team will just disappear into a time vortex. Something will surely happen. Still, they should be brilliant (much better than 9th, really), and expect to see a lot of routines from these new ones who will help raise Stanford’s game in the power department and offset the Morgan and Dayton losses. 

The total meltdown from Regionals last year stings, but this team still boasts Emily Wong, Jessie DeZiel, and some of the best vaulting in the country. That can carry them a long way and pick them up out of some of the rather sizable holes left on the other events, particularly beam. As is always the case, this is not remotely a deep team, so immediate contribution from last year’s injured freshmen and new potential star Ashley Lambert is a must. 

It would be easy to dismiss Minnesota’s run to 8th place in 2013 as a sweet one-year story, but I see no reason that level of success shouldn’t continue at least as far as another Nationals showing. As a freshman, Lindsay Mable emerged last year as a star on a team that needed a star, and new Gedderts’ refugee Rachel Haines should provide an extra boost to some of the lineups that need it this season. 

The encouraging sign for Oregon State is that this freshman class is the strongest they have had in four years, boasting the likes of Maddie Gardiner and Kaytianna McMillan who can be significant scorers. They must be because after losing Mak and Vivian in 2012 and Stambaugh and Jones in 2013, the Beavers have a sudden dearth of stars. In fact, they are returning just one routine with an RQS over 9.865 from last season. Those scores will have to come from somewhere new.

Auburn is another team moving into a new identity as a legitimate second-tier contender (an identity that should maintain for several seasons), and the significant scoring potential brought by Bri Guy and Caitlin Atkinson, as well as a parade of new gymnasts capable of filling gaps, should help continue last year’s run and make mid-196s a realistic goal.  

Katherine Grable is a senior now, so if Arkansas is going to make any type of run, this is the year to do it. After this, those 9.950s go bye bye. The huge scores she can bring in make Arkansas interesting and potentially competitive, but to be more than interesting, the team needs a supporting player to play the role Grable played to Jaime Pisani during the 2012 run. The lack of a second big AA scorer, especially now without Borsellino and Lewis’s 9.875s on floor, will hurt the Razorbacks.

I was set on fourteen teams I would include (I think there’s a gap after 14 before the rest of the teams), but I’ll just throw perennially overlooked Denver out there for the 15th spot because why not? I always manage to forget this team exists, and then it will quietly show up as a third seed at a Regional. Most of the top performers are returning this year, and Moriah Martin and Nina McGee can provide potent scoring at the end of lineups to manufacture solid 196s.

A number of other teams are bustling around that #15 spot: Ohio State should manage a better year this year, adding occasional JO standout Tenille Funches; Illinois made Nationals last year, but looks to struggle without Weinstein in 2014; Ditto the struggling comment for Penn State without Musser and Merriam. Also, keep an eye out for the emerging sentimental favorite of the NCAA fandom, Cal. Cal is not a top 15 team yet, but a very talented group of incoming gymnasts should encourage significant improvement over last season, which was itself an improvement.


Uneven Bars and Vault Champions Showdowns

Courtney Kupets has overcome her second place finish in the floor champions showdown to put on a near-McCullough display of dominance in the beam showdown. Can she keep it up on bars?

I didn’t plan these polls out particularly well, so I’m including both bars and vault in the same post because after today will come time to start thinking about preseason rankings and the coaches poll and team previews and all of those delicious morsels.

2013 NCAA Bars Champion – Alaina Johnson (I just wrote Alabama Johnson on the first try. Ugh, me.)

2012 NCAA Bars Champion – Kat Ding (routine begins at 17:30)

2011 NCAA Bars Champion – Kat Ding

2010 NCAA Bars Champion – Carly Janiga

2009 NCAA Bars Champion – Courtney Kupets

Vault may be a bit difficult to compare since the 2013 winners didn’t have to do two, but we’ll see what happens. I’m including just four years on this one because I can’t find video of Clare-Kearney from 2009.

2013 NCAA Vault Co-Champion – Rheagan Courville

2013 NCAA Vault Co-Champion – Diandra Milliner

2012 NCAA Vault Champion – Kytra Hunter (first vault begins at 42:40)

2011 NCAA Vault Champion – Marissa King

2010 NCAA Vault Champion – Vanessa Zamarripa

Balance Beam Champions Showdown

The floor workers have had their turn, and Brittani McCullough is pretty much crushing the competition with 44% of the vote to 22% for Kupets. Now, let’s allow the best beamers of the last five years to have their say.

Who is your champion of champions for beam?

2013 NCAA Beam Champion – Bridget Sloan

2012 NCAA Beam Champion – Geralen Stack-Eaton
(It should be embedded at the right time, but if it’s not there, Geralen’s routine begins at 1:01:27)

2011 NCAA Beam Champion – Sam Peszek

2010 NCAA Beam Champion – Susan Jackson

2009 NCAA Beam Champion – Courtney Kupets

Floor Exercise Champions Showdown

Floor exercise showdown.

Six NCAA champions enter.

One leaves.

You decide.

2013 NCAA Floor Champion – Joanna Sampson

2012 NCAA Floor Champion – Kat Ding

2011 NCAA Floor Champion – Geralen Stack-Eaton

2010 NCAA Floor Champion – Brittani McCullough

2009 NCAA Floor Co-Champion – Courtney Kupets

2009 NCAA Floor Co-Champion – Ashleigh Clare-Kearney

Who is your winner? Be sure to show your work in the comments.

The Balance Beam Situation for 2013

Given the name of this blog, I would be remiss if I did not perform my annual analysis of the balance beam situation from the past NCAA season. It’s a tradition now. (2012, 2011)

Rather than simply using the beam rankings to evaluate beam quality, I always find it quite telling to limit the sample specifically to beam routines performed in high-leverage situations, the must-hit routines. Because a score can be dropped, a single beam fall along the way is not a huge deal. Just drop the score and move on. The much bigger deal is the quality of the routines that come after the fall because now they have to count. There is no longer any margin. This could be an opportunity for lots of metaphors about falling off the horse and getting back on, but ugh. I’ll spare you. We don’t do that here.    

To assess the quality of the must-hit routines in 2013, I took the teams that qualified to championships (along with the two highly ranked schools that missed out, Nebraska and Oregon State) and averaged the scores of all beam routines performed at any point after a fall or fall-equivalent performance (a score of 9.500 or lower) to find out how the team fared in those situations.

Average score for must-hit beam routines – 2013
1. Oklahoma – 9.835
2. Alabama – 9.833
3. Michigan – 9.815
4. UCLA – 9.805
5. Nebraska – 9.800
6. Stanford – 9.797
7. LSU – 9.795
8. Oregon State – 9.782
9. Florida – 9.781
9. Minnesota – 9.781
11. Georgia – 9.766
12. Illinois – 9.729
13. Utah – 9.721
14. Arkansas – 9.708

That Oklahoma won is hardly a surprise. This will only serve to feed the Sooners’ credentials as a beam team, but there are some other interesting issues to pick out here.

Let’s begin with Florida’s low ranking because I think it’s the most significant. Florida finished the regular season tied with Oklahoma as the nation’s top beam team, but these numbers tell a different story. The Gators were not as strong on beam in 2013 as in 2012 overall (having to perform four times as many beam routines after falls in 2013 as in 2012), but they were still excellent when allowed a margin for mistakes. Performing after a low score in a must-hit routine, however, they struggled more. Florida recorded scores under 9.700 in 20% of their post-fall beam routines in 2013, compared to 7% for Alabama and 5% for both Oklahoma and UCLA. We all know how crucial this issue became once Super Six rolled around. It almost cost Florida a title.

The surprisingly high rankings for Michigan and Nebraska also warrant discussion. Both teams were actually pretty strong in terms of avoiding counting falls, with Nebraska counting just one all season and Michigan counting none (a feat which largely accounts for both teams’ rankings here), but that does not provide a complete picture. Both teams had a problem with 9.6s and low 9.7s, but routines coming after 9.6s are not included here because they don’t reflect falls. Several non-fall low scores on beam served to usher Nebraska out at Regionals, and Michigan’s epic struggle of a 48.775 on beam in national semifinals included no scores of 9.500 or less (and therefore had no effect on these fall-based statistics), but the rotation was still a horror film full of 9.6s and 9.7s. 

Success on beam can also be subject to the sheer number of routines being performed after falls.

Number of must-hit beam routines – 2013
1. Stanford – 9
2. Alabama – 15
3. Michigan – 17
3. Utah – 17
5. UCLA – 19
6. Florida – 20
6. Arkansas – 20
8. Oklahoma – 21
8. Minnesota – 21
10. Illinois – 23
11. Nebraska – 26
12. Oregon State – 27
13. LSU – 33
14. Georgia – 34

Interestingly, these two lists don’t match up particularly well. Oklahoma actually had to perform quite a few high-leverage routines, which makes the team’s strong average that much more impressive.

Stanford performed the fewest beam routines after falls by a pretty wide margin, much of which is the result of lineup organization. The Cardinal certainly faced issues with beam consistency in 2013 but had five pretty solid members of the rotation throughout the year. They put the sixth question-mark routine last in the order at most meets, so that even if there was a fall, no one performed after that fall. There’s something to be said for that strategy of putting the least certain routine last. The fewer times you put yourself in a position to compete after a beam fall, the fewer falls you will have. The risk, of course, is losing out on the potential for that big end-of-rotation score.

Now, let’s address the individuals. I eliminated anyone who performed under three routines after falls because that’s not enough routines to be significant.

Best individual average for must-hit beam routines – 2013 (minimum 3 routines)
1. Taylor Spears (Oklahoma) – 9.882
2. Kim Jacob (Alabama) – 9.880
3. Rheagan Courville (LSU) – 9.878
4. Ashanee Dickerson (Florida) – 9.856
5. Emily Wong (Nebraska) – 9.854
6. Danusia Francis (UCLA) – 9.850
7. Katie Zurales (Michigan) – 9.845
7. Madison Mooring (Oklahoma) – 9.845
9. Vanessa Zamarripa (UCLA) – 9.842
9. Katherine Grable (Arkansas) – 9.842

Taylor Spears wins the award for being the best at performing after a fall, recording a score of 9.9+ in over half her efforts. Kim Jacob and Rheagan Courville came in right behind her, and Jacob should certainly be the heir to Ashley Priess at the back of that beam lineup. I’m most surprised by Dickerson’s appearance here because she has not always been great in this situation and had the fall in Super Six (the first fall of the two, so she wasn’t performing after a fall), but she was a 9.850 machine competing after falls throughout the season.

I usually do a worst list as well, but this year there were only a handful of people who performed at least three routines after falls and recorded an average under 9.700. Most of the weaker people were in the 9.725-9.750 range, which is not that bad. Plus, a couple of people who would have made the list were a bit misleading, like Marissa King. She had an average of 9.683 because her post-fall beam scores were 9.925, 9.900, and 9.225, so that average is not really representative of quality. It’s just one fall.

This year’s Ironwoman Team Savior Award goes to Rheagan Courville in a landslide because she performed nine routines after falls and fell on none of them, posting four scores in the 9.9s and nothing below a 9.825. She had to perform after a fall in the majority of meets and was a rock. Where would LSU have been without her?

There are a few other notables for the ironwoman award who performed many must-hit routines without recording any scores under 9.750: Taylor Spears (Oklahoma), 7 routines; Danusia Francis (UCLA), 7 routines; Emily Wong (Nebraska), 7 routines; Sydnie Dillard (Arkansas), 6 routines; Chelsea Tang (Oregon State), 6 routines; Alina Weinstein (Illinois), 6 routines; and Vanessa Zamarripa (UCLA), 6 routines.

So there we have it. What stands out to you about these lists?

Freshman Meet and Greet: Alabama

I’ve been putting off doing the Alabama freshmen for a while because there are eleventy million of them, but here we go.

Alabama lost a fairly significant group after 2013 in Priess, Sledge, Gutierrez, and Alexin, both in terms of lineup contribution and fan favorite routines. Ashley Sledge and Marissa Gutierrez were my favorite Bammers, so there are places in my shrine to be won if these freshmen are up to the task. We’ll see. Side question for Alabama fans: If you’re a UCLA athlete, you’re a Bruin. If you’re a Florida athlete, you’re a Gator. What is the approved singular noun term for an Alabama athlete? A Bammer? A Tide? A Crimson? Guidance is appreciated.

Because of these exiting routines, 2014 seemed like it would be a down year for the Tide, especially since the original signing group was comprised of just Amanda Jetter and Katie Bailey, who alone would not be able to make up for the lost scores. But then Sarah went to work, and now this freshmen class is a monster.

Still, because such significant scores are gone, these freshmen will need to be contributors from the beginning, particularly on bars. Half of the bars lineup is gone, and the returning gymnasts have had a tendency to suffer from handstand-itis, so bars is my primary area of focus for these freshmen. This is a big group that certainly has the potential to contribute on every event, but it also seems that Alabama could come up with nationally competitive vault and floor lineups solely using returning gymnasts if necessary.

We can see bits and pieces from some of the freshman routines already in the video from Ghosts and Goblins

Amanda Jetter
We’ll start with Jetter, not just because she was well-known as an elite but because she is among those who could be a significant piece of the UB solution. As an elite, she was always associated with Cassie Whitcomb because they emerged at the same time and boast the same strengths, so I have a vague impression that her NCAA career will follow the same path solely by association, but that’s not really fair. All will depend on how much she suffers from CGA back or CGA legs or any of the other eponymous Cincinnati injuries. 

Vault – 2012 Nationals

Bars – 2012 Nationals

Beam – 2011 Classic

Floor – 2012 Nationals

Bars was always Jetter’s standout event as an elite, primarily because the US is so desperate for bars workers that anyone who can do a stalder is suddenly the next coming of Chow, but it put her much closer to major international assignments than she would have been otherwise. She has the difficulty and enough of the overall Mary Lee-ness to her work to convince me that this could be another strong Cincinnati bars routine in NCAA.

Floor is probably her second most believable event, given her double arabian and strong twisting skills. There is going to be major competition for those floor spots, however, especially since five of the six Super Six routines from last year are returning. Jetter is not the only member of this freshman class competing for that lineup, either, and I’m still holding out hope that we will see Kayla Williams there at some point as well. When you compete a 3/1 side pass as an elite, you don’t get to go your whole NCAA career without competing floor. You just don’t. 

Those two events are my primary considerations as to where Jetter fits into the team, even though she is perfectly capable on the others as well. On beam, for instance, she has strong acrobatic skills and competed an arabian in elite, but I develop an anxiety disorder just thinking about watching one of her beam routines. It’s not even about those big acro skills because she was always quite strong on them. It’s the simpler dance elements. Remember that L turn and that damn popa, and Mary Lee going, “You looked like an idiot!” at that one meet? That’s the only thing in my head when I think of Jetter’s beam. Yes, USAGym archives. Thank you forever. “That popa is out!”

Aja-Monet Sims
The integral part of Sarah Patterson’s work to beef up this freshman class was getting Aja-Monet Sims to arrive a year early. Sims burst into the gymnastics consciousness a couple years ago when she debuted an original bars skill, a weiler comaneci, and over the last year or so, she has become one of the top-placing JO gymnasts, finishing 2nd at the Nastia “I can’t believe you think I like attention” Cup and 7th in Senior B this year (only after a low bars score). She won’t be joining the team until December, so keep in mind that unlike her classmates, the coaching staff will not have those months of preseason to make adjustments to her routines.

Vault – 2013 Nastia

Bars – 2013 Chicago Style

Beam – 2013 JO Nationals

Floor – 2013 Nastia

Beam should be one of her most important events, and even though my main focus for the class is  bars, keep in mind that someone will also need to make up for the loss of Priess on beam. Sims scored into the 9.7s frequently in JO and boasts an acrobatic security that is very attractive for an NCAA lineup, along with hit splits and a strong double back dismount. She has potential on vault and floor as well with big power, even though she hasn’t always shown the most difficulty on floor. Still, expect her to be in the mix. On bars, while she hasn’t competed her original skill much lately, she still has a very nice regular comaneci that could make for a standout routine, but she has been plagued by overall wonky legs, especially on the bail, that will bring her scores way down if not refined. It’s not always as problematic as in the video above, but it could be a concern. 

Dominique Pegg
Bama is also getting in on the Canadians this year, with Dominique Pegg joining as another of Sarah’s later adds. We’ve known for a while that Pegg would be coming to Alabama, but it always seemed up in the air when it would happen. Well, the time is now. Pegg had a nice little elite career for herself, culminating in her making the 2012 Olympic team, finishing 17th in the AA final, and competing vault, beam, and, floor in Team Final. She could figure on all those events.

Vault – 2012 Canadian Nationals

Bars – 2012 Canadian Trials

Floor – 2011 Worlds

Surprise, surprise, floor has always been her strongest, so the rich get richer. She ended up missing the floor final in London by just a couple tenths, has a strong DLO, and seems to commit to maintaining personality and expressiveness in her routines, even if the above routine has a little Kupetsishness to it (Are you playing the guitar?). It’ll be interesting to see what they do with her choreographically because she has the potential to bring a different look or style to the floor brigade if they’re open to it. Or, they could just give her some weird techno. Whatever. 

In the intrasquad video, we didn’t see anything from her except pieces on bars. Those pieces looked  solid, as they always did when she was an elite, but her major obstacle toward getting high bars scores was giving away tons of tiny deductions throughout for leg form and short handstands, so we’ll have to watch that.

Katie Bailey
Floor – 2013 JO Nationals

Bailey is probably the type who sits in the land of borderline contention on most events and would be a significant contributor on a lesser team. Floor is a strength, with a double arabian that makes her look like Diandra Milliner 2 and a little front 2/1 dismount. You know, no big deal. In the Ghosts and Goblins video, she shows a pretty clean Y1/2 that’s a little under with a step back. It’s not a bad vault, but do we really see Alabama going with a Y1/2 in the vault lineup right now? It would have to be great and stuck every time. Alabama also seems encouraged by her bars work, and her tuck full dismount is gigantor. 

Mary Lillian Sanders is also a person, and the G&G video features the first gymnastics I’ve ever seen from her. She has the competitive skills but nothing that looks to me like it will be in the lineups. She’ll probably spend the majority of her time on the team getting the “She provides great depth” kiss of death.

I’ve saved Keely McNeer for last because she’s the big wildcard for me. She’s another whom it’s impossible to judge because we haven’t seen anything from her in so long, but even more so because I definitely thought she was retired for good. But, she had the elite skills at one point, so the potential is there. I’ve included her floor routine from 2010 just as a taste.

Floor – 2010 Nationals

I always felt a little bad for Keely, as I think most gym fans did, because she was Chow’s only elite in the wake of Shawn Johnson mania, so she was always accosted with “YOU’RE GOING TO BE THE NEXT SHAWN JOHNSON, RIGHT???” which is so unfair. Um, no. Go away.

The Latest from Training

It’s training videos time.

My confession is that I’m not always as interested in preseason team training videos as I’m supposed to be, given my NCAA dedication. Unless you’re Danusia Francis performing a fab beam dismount, it’s usually just a lot of doing a layout stepout to a Justin Bieber song. It’s hard to glean a ton from that.

Still, the videos are beginning to come fast and furious now, so let’s see what we can see.


Most of this is the usual. The people looking good are the ones we would expect to look good. Macko on beam and Kytra on floor are the most fiery so far. Colussi-Pelaez (last on beam, after Kytra on floor) looks better than she did at Worlds, and I’m pleased to see both her and Boyce working DLOs on bars. Their lack of dismount difficulty was my biggest hesitation about their bars work.


Chelsea Davis’s new bars dismount? Reason? We kind of get a glimpse of Kiera Brown’s excellent tkatchev in this video as well.

UTAH – Bars

A bunch of videos on the youtube page, but here’s Taylor Spears looking Taylor Spears on bars.