The Peszek and Nowak Effects

Far too fresh on the heels of Kayla Nowak’s harrowing, season-ending back injury comes the news that Sam Peszek has torn her Achilles tendon and will miss the 2013 season. We always start the preseason with such optimism for the season ahead, and then it gets chipped away with injuries like these.

Unfortunately for the Sooners, they are now accustomed to getting by without Kayla Nowak, having lost her to injury at the end of last season as well. Nowak is capable of being a solid AAer who goes over 9.800 on each event, but she will be particularly missed on bars and floor, where she would be a guarantee for the late lineup. On floor, Oklahoma has been fighting to prove that it is more than just a 9.850 team, and Nowak was a major part of that argument because her routine could regularly warrant a higher score. I have no doubt that Oklahoma can find the routines necessary, but the trend of injuries over the last couple of seasons has slowed the Sooners’ progress toward extracting themselves from that second tier of teams.

Speaking of a trend of injuries, UCLA. Sam Peszek makes the fourth member of this team to tear her Achilles in the last couple of seasons, following Zamarripa, Wong, and McDonald. Like Oklahoma, UCLA will not completely fall apart because of this loss, but it will be significant not just because Peszek is a high-scoring AAer but because she brings a solidity that none of the other stars of this team can manage at the moment. While the team will potentially lose .050-.075 in scoring potential on each event without Peszek, it is beam where the loss will be the most painful. Zamarripa and Larson at the end of this lineup don’t exactly inspire the confidence of 6 for 6 every week, and they are the strongest workers. Overall, expect to see a lot more of Syd Sawa than we otherwise would have.

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#8 LSU Preview

It’s been a few years since LSU was a legitimate upset threat in the SEC, and while the Tigers can’t claim to challenge Florida or Alabama this season, I would not be remotely surprised to see them finish third at SECs. They were close to that accomplishment last year, and they will be oodles better this season, bolstering their strengths and doing at least a little patching up on their weaknesses. From being a complete afterthought in 2011, this is a team on the rise once again.

Like Michigan, LSU is in the enviable position of not losing much. They will miss Ashley Lee’s vault and floor, but the new gymnasts will more than make up for it in terms of scoring potential.

Britney Ranzy is finally eligible to start competing again, and while it’s always a bit of a question mark as to what’s happening with her, we know she can hit vault and floor for 9.9s when in form. Canadian world team member in 2010 Jessica Savona missed significant time in 2011-2012 with injury, but she too is a standout on the power events who should be a late-lineup contributor. These two will support Courville and Hall to pack some serious tumbling talent into those lineups.

The perennial concern for LSU is how they will manage bars and beam, which are not nearly up to the level of vault and floor, but Randi Wyrick has the potential to be an important addition who can compete right away on those events (and on all the events, but UB and BB will be her most important routines for the team).

Vault:

Talent-wise, LSU is way better on vault than they have shown in the past year or so. This group should not be settling for low 49s. The increased depth on this event in 2013 should ensure that some of those random 9.700-9.750s that showed up too often last season won’t make the lineup.

Courville and Ranzy should camp out in the 5th and 6th positions and bring in frequent 9.9s. Savona showed a DTY as an elite, and while she shouldn’t do anything more than a full in NCAA, she has enough lift to make it a strong one. The early part of the lineup carries more uncertainty, but I do think that Hall, Jordan, and potentially Mathis should retain positions in the lineup if they can show that 9.875s are common (all of them have the ability). If necessary, Dickson, Morrison, and Lau are also sitting on potential 9.8s that give the team enough wiggle room to expect to go over 49.300 week in week out even if a few struggle with consistent landings.

Bars:

To be a legitimate threat, though, LSU must improve on bars. In 2012, this rotation had two routines and then four other people thrown in to make up the numbers. Courville and Morrison are very good, but they are usually 9.875 good, not 9.950 good. They are not strong enough on their own to help the team withstand a parade of 9.7s leading up to their routines. Jordan, Hall, and Lau are probably the best of the rest, but I wouldn’t be comfortable with any of the lineup positions after the best two.

Wyrick has a strong line and toe point which make her bars routine, even though it’s not perfect, prime for development into a 9.9 routine. They’ll certainly need it because the rest of the new gymnasts aren’t bars girls, and without at least three strong routines, this lineup will frequently languish under 49.

Beam:

Too many mistakes was the theme for LSU on beam in 2012. In most meets, the team was fighting against a fall or a 9.600 from the first half of the lineup without the strength to withstand it. Jordan and Courville are probably the best of the group, but there is no one exceptionally impressive who will always bring in those 9.9s. This will be a lineup that, on a good, consistent day, will be able to run the table with 9.850s to get an adequately positive score but will still be a nail-biter the whole way. 

Wyrick’s line, flexibility, and dance elements should, with a little bit of refinement, make her not only a high scorer but a stylistic standout from most of the rest of the lineup. Otherwise I expect the core group of Jordan, Courville, Dickson, Hall, and Lau/Garcia/Prunty to remain the same.

Floor:

Like vault, floor was so close to being great last season. It was a lineup of four strong routines that would be punched in the gut by having to count some 9.650s from the first two spots. I expect Hall, Courville, Jordan, and maybe Dickson/Mathis to return to the lineup and excel, and fortunately for LSU, Ranzy and Savona should be plugged into those remaining two spots to prevent LSU having to be okay with any low scores.

With this lineup, expect the Tigers to score consistently .200–.250 higher on floor than they did last season. When the 3rd or 4th up one year suddenly becomes the leadoff the next year, the chances for score escalation are huge. Now, we just need to get Lloimincia Hall to tone it down about 27% percent and return to the believably energetic category so that her routine can make floor finals.

Outlook:
LSU’s path to 197 this season will be about staying even on bars, getting a few 9.850s to go slightly + on beam, and then throwing together some 49.4s on vault and floor. The Tigers can absolutely improve on bars and beam from where they were last year, but this is still not a four-event team, which is still a concern and will keep them from challenging nationally. Nonetheless, this is easily the most potential we’ve seen from an LSU team since the Ashleigh Clare-Kearney/Susan Jackson show.

Last year, this team was overmatched by the 197s from so many other teams at Nationals, and while I would not predict a Super Six showing this year, I don’t think the team will be overmatched at Nationals.

#9 Oregon State Preview

I smell trouble in 9.9-land for Oregon State. At Regionals and Championships combined last season, Oregon State recorded five scores of 9.900 or greater (which is already too few), and four of those scores came from Leslie Mak and Olivia Vivian.

Without Mak and Vivian in 2013, the Beavers’ world will be thrust onto the shoulders of seniors Melanie Jones and Makayla Stambaugh. Both of them can compete the AA if required, as they were last season, but they are not all-around stars. Jones will lead on beam and floor, and Stambaugh will excel on bars and floor, but the other routines are going to be in the lower-9.8 territory. Jones and Stambaugh will both post a flurry of strong scores, but their contributions alone will not be enough to carry the weight of the team.

The safety nets for OSU may be the transfer of Hailey Gaspar and the return of Stephanie McGregor. Neither is going to light the world on fire with scores, but Gaspar in particular may be the only thing standing between the vault lineup and certain peril. These gymnasts will be particularly necessary because of the current recruiting situation. Not only are the Beavers not bringing in American or international elites, they are not getting the best L10 athletes either. Each of the five incoming gymnasts is a perfectly serviceable JO performer who can compete in NCAA, but there is no one who looks primed to take over any kind of scoring responsibility. Tanya needs to get those Canadian and Australian pipelines up and running again.

Vault:

Amplitude, distance, and dynamics. The Beavers are not a bad vaulting team, but when they compete against the powerful teams, their vaults look utterly flat by comparison. There is an awful lot of piking down. The team isn’t losing a ton of scoring potential on this event, but is it gaining that much?

Kelsi Blalock and Hailey Gaspar are the most 9.9-capable, and we can probably expect some 9.850s from Stambaugh and Brittany Harris, but this lineup is going to have difficulty breaking out of that 49.2 range. Jones and Chelsea Tang probably shouldn’t be competing under deeper circumstances, but they may be required to throw in their 9.775s. The former Texas Dreams/Metroplex gymnast Nicole Turner used to compete an Omelianchik, so that could be a helpful addition if she’s in the mix.

Bars:

Bars is the event where the losses of Mak and Vivian really aren’t fair. It’s similar in degree to the loss that Georgia has to absorb without Ding and Nuccio, but Oregon State doesn’t have Brandie Jay and Brittany Rogers coming in to soften the blow.

Stambaugh will anchor the event with her delightful routine, and Harris is always good for a 9.850, and then there’s, well, a lot of 9.8s from Jones, McGregor, Hannah Casey, and probably a couple of the freshmen, though they tend to be a bit more of a floor group. Still, this is the event where I see the most room for development for them. Routines can potentially be created, but once again, they won’t be able to become Mak and Vivian all of a sudden.

Beam:

The most memorable feature of Leslie Mak’s gymnastics career was how many times she saved this team on beam, most notably at Regionals last year when her 9.925 sent the Beavers to Championships. Without that routine, consistency becomes a much greater concern. I’m not as worried about the actual quality of the late-lineup routines (there should be enough 9.850s to be getting on with at least) as the tendency last season to shove people onto the beam who shouldn’t be there because of lack of depth. Stambaugh is a great gymnast, but she is not a beamer.

Some of the freshmen and sophomores must emerge and must show they can deliver 9.8s every week. They don’t have to be amazing, but they do have to stay on the beam. 

Floor:

Floor is the event where I am the least concerned about Oregon State’s chances. Jones and Stambaugh should be 5th and 6th in the lineup with their 9.9 routines, and they are desirable anchors. Jones turned a lot of heads in the floor final last year, and that should help her scoring potential. Judges will be more willing to go 9.950 now.

Gaspar, Blalock, and Harris can all compete their routines somewhere in the 9.8 territory. Nicole Turner has competed a double Arabian in the past, and Sarah Marquez can be very precise in her landings, so potentially look to see her here. Consistency will remain a concern here (though Vivian was probably the biggest concern on that front), but if they hit routines, this is the event that will most frequently go toward the 49.300s. 
 
Outlook:
Frankly, it’s a little gloomy. That is not to say that this team can’t 9.850 itself all the way to 197s. It absolutely can because with all the gymnasts coming in, there should be no shortage of routines. In fact, I don’t expect the ranking to be particularly low throughout the course of the season (something in the back end of the top 10 earned through frequent 196.500s).

The biggest problem is that this team is emerging as almost a stereotypical Regionals upset. Their success during the season will come from 9.850ing opponents to death, so unlike some of the teams that can count a fall at Regionals and rest on the strength of other 9.9s in order to stay ahead of a #15 seed for the second spot, Oregon State won’t be able to count a fall at Regionals and stay ahead of a 3rd seed. Combine that with serious questions about the beam lineup, and let’s just say it wouldn’t be a surprise.

#10 Michigan Preview

Michigan’s 2012 season was the reason analgesic phrases like “rebuilding year” were invented. The team was so depleted that it often struggled to scrape together six routines worthy of competition on each event. It’s a credit to the Wolverines that they were able to get as close to Nationals as they did, falling just .125 behind Oregon State for the second spot out of the Auburn Regional. Looking at the rosters for those two teams this year, I would expect the results to flip in a rematch (January 4th).

The Wolverines lose no seniors from last year and gain Natalie Beilstein returning from injury as well as freshmen Morgan Smith, Briley Casanova, Austin Sheppard, and Lindsay Williams. That group of five is capable of bringing in probably ten 9.800+ routines that the team did without last season. The relief of having a backup of a 9.800 instead of a backup of crossed fingers and a cloud of smoke will help the team gain a rhythm much earlier.  

That is not to say that this season will be a smooth ride or that Michigan is necessarily a shoo-in for a Nationals spot. There are too many holes that need to be filled by new, untested, or inconsistent gymnasts to be confident that the old Michigan will be back. The beam rotation in particular needs to be gutted and recast. What is certain is that the team will have the luxury of numbers that it did not have last year. Now, those numbers have to become routines. 

Vault:

Vault should be a strong event for the Wolverines. At the recent exhibition, it was certainly the closest to being ready. Joanna Sampson, Sachi Sugiyama, and Katie Zurales led the team last year with regular ventures up to 9.875-9.900, and I expect the same from them this season. The bonuses should be the return of Beilstein, who is also good for a 9.900, and the introduction of Smith, who had a nice DTY as an elite and should be a scoring leader in NCAA.

Those five are enough to put together a nationally competitive vault rotation that can outscore several of the teams ranked above them. There is potential for value in the sixth spot as well from Casanova, who had a Y1.5 as an elite but should do the full in NCAA, Sheppard, who looked strong in the exhibition, Reema Zakharia, who has a solid handspring pike 1/2, and Stephanie Colbert, who was reliable for 9.775-9.800 last year. If healthy and in form, expect 49.300 to be the norm with potential to go higher.

Bars:

After the Botterman/Sexton/Wilson triumvirate graduated, there was always going to be a hole on bars. Well, more of a crater last season. Brittnee Martinez is a help, but she is better than the 9.845 RQS she recorded last year and needs to score regularly higher than that to be valuable in the late lineup.

Other than Martinez, there are multiple 9.800-9.850 routines that should see action: Zurales, Sugiyama, Shelby Gies, and potentially Annette Miele. All, however, have breaks that will keep them from scoring much higher than that. Joanna Sampson can go if necessary, but mostly the team needs to find some new 9.9s. Williams competed in the exhibition, but I’m not sold. Smith and Casanova have both been fine on bars in the past, but there is necessary cleaning to be done to make those the late-lineup routines they need to be.

Beam:

Oh, beam. I fear for Michigan on beam. So many times last season people who shouldn’t have been beaming were shoved into a beam position, which resulted in a bevy of errors from the likes of Miele and Sugiyama. Get them out of there. Katie Zurales can stay, and Gies, Sampson, and Martinez should, in theory, be usable for their experience. In practice, however, both Sampson and Martinez fell in the exhibition. This is terrifying already.

Morgan Smith seems to be the type who can solidly hit her acro. Her elite beam never stood out to me as anything special, but solid is exactly what this team needs. Casanova can certainly put together an NCAA set, but that consistency is a worry. Work to be done here. Work to be done.

Floor:

Floor is the other event where the return of Beilstein and her usual 9.900 will be the team’s everything. I’m a little concerned about her composition because she’s not performing the heathen double Arabian that took her Achilles away (at least not yet) and instead is opting for twisting skills that are not as strong. We’ll see.

Zakharia should be there with a double front that is not that scary, and I quite enjoy Sampson’s DLO as well. Sugiyama and Colbert can be early-lineup 9.800s, and Zurales maybe (maybe) can also get to the lineup. I’ve always thought Gies would be nice on floor, but I question the consistency. Like bars, I expect Smith and Casanova to see a lot of time here, but I’m not ready to proclaim them the savior 9.9s that the team needs until we, you know, actually see something from them.

Outlook:
Even though a lot about Michigan remains to be judged, particularly because we have not seen even one element of NCAA gymnastics from either Smith or Casanova, I believe that this team should be en route to Nationals at the end of the season. Compared to the teams I expect Michigan to be competing with (Arkansas, Oregon State, and the like), this team has more potential 9.9s than either. 

My biggest concern for the Wolverines right now is that beam will remain so questionable that they will end up counting falls that make them seem less talented than they are or that make them miss Nationals. This isn’t a team like UCLA that can count two falls a week and still be #6. They will need to squeeze every tenth out of each apparatus. If all goes to plan, the #10 preseason ranking might even be a bit soft as an estimate, but everything needs to go to plan first.

Intrasquad Explosion

A hearty batch of intrasquads and fake intrasquads (UCLA) took place over the weekend. Here’s the roundup. 

UCLA hosted its annual Meet the Floor Routines event. Disappointingly, there were no costumes this year. What’s the point of you, then? Also, Val is verging on copyright infringement by establishing a ranking system for the quality of people’s eyes, which I patented in 2007. You’ll be hearing from my lawyers.

The ones to watch so far are Danusia Francis, Sophina DeJesus, and Mattie Larson, so no surprises.

Mattie’s routine needs more time and refinement, but she moves so well that there is always potential. I’m not blown away, but I’m pleased. I love the beginning of Danusia’s routine and the grabbing of the hair. Sophina’s is exactly what we would expect (and I appreciate the change of pace in the second half, otherwise it would have been too much/too one-note), but can she tumble to match?

Also watch for Danusia’s free cartwheel in side position at the end of this beam video.

Utah competed in the Red Rocks Preview, and I was struck by a lack of depth compared to previous years. Taylor Allex and Kailah Delaney will be out until midseason, which will hurt on vault, but usually Utah has multiple 9.750s to spare that they trot out at this event. They can put together lineups, certainly, but some rotations will be grasping for tenths.  Bars is going to be rough, where even a couple of the stronger routines have issues (Lothrop: amplitude, Hansen: legs).

Lothrop’s Omelianchik has improved from what we saw last year, and Hughes should be a definite on bars once she is in full health with a dismount. Floor is very far along and will probably be competitively 49.325 this year.

Florida held the Orange and Blue Intrasquad, which we know because there is all this graffiti everywhere that is upsetting my delicate sensibilities. The Gators look good.

Vault is just a few landings away from being ready, which is not necessarily a December concern. The amplitude of gymnasts like Johnson, Hunter, and Sloan is supreme, and Marissa King’s vault is still my heaven. 

On bars, King looked sloppy and Dickerson had her usual deductions, but Macko, Sloan, and Johnson are all looking excellent. One deduction here or there (and Sloan needs to work out the leg separation on the bail), but if they were to perform those exact routines on January 4th at home against Ball State, they would gets 9.9s. Sloan did fall on beam (what is it, day one of Nationals?), but she is about a month of refinement away from being a top AAer. It is difficult to evaluate the floor routines until we see them in their complete forms, but everything looks better than on track. 

Not to be outdone, Oklahoma held an intrasquad without a fancy name. Anyone else already excited for Oklahoma/Georgia on the first weekend? I’m interested to see how the vault and floor lineups work out for Oklahoma, especially vault. Scaman will be a boost, but who are going to be those first few routines that have to score minimum 9.875s? There’s no room for a 9.800 at the beginning of the lineup anymore. With Scaman and Kmieciak, I appreciate that Oklahoma has recruited for its weaknesses, which we don’t see enough teams able to do. Good awareness.

Michigan hosted an exhibition with Michigan State. I love that the scoring for Michigan at a preseason exo is still stricter than most other places. Vault looks good. Don’t count this team out. Nothing from Morgan Smith?

#11 Georgia Preview

The Georgia Bulldogs will begin the 2013 season ranked at a historic low of #11, but of all the teams, Georgia has the most potential to rise above its station given the depth of talent. Even though the Jay Clark tenure will be remembered as a disaster, the team was improving and the much-needed new blood had begun to liven up the lineups. Let’s all remember that, crazy scoring aside, Georgia was a few more experienced beam workers away from making Super Six in 2012.

There is, however, much work to be done to put the team in a similar or stronger position. The graduations of Kat Ding and Gina Nuccio are significant not only because Ding and Nuccio were excellent gymnastics but because they were the last links to the Suzanne era. Those two performed with a sureness and an attitude (and a stickability) that none of the rest of the team can match.

All eyes will be on Danna Durante to see if she can produce more Dings and Nuccios and fewer of the sturdy, but uninspiring, 9.850 types that marked Clark’s leadership of the team. She needs to make a point of cultivating risk over safety to get out of these doldrums. I don’t expect some magical change in the upperclassmen (and the risk of a new coach is that the team dynamic changes for the worse, a la 2010), but I do believe that the right coaching still might squeeze some quality out of the potential (be it squandered or yet unfulfilled) that litters this team roster. Is Durante the one to do that? It remains to be seen.

Vault:

All the best vaulting teams have an anchor that can score 9.950 regardless of the charity of the judging panel. Georgia will need to find that person this year in the absence of Kat Ding, but I don’t anticipate a major struggle to do so as there are several valid nominees.

Lindsay Cheek should return to the end of the lineup and consistently knock on the door of 9.9s, and while Cat Hires probably isn’t an anchor, she can be a strong 9.875 like she was last year. Brandie Jay is training a workable Y1.5 with some bent legs that can be 9.900 with some refinement, and we will probably see big amplitude and/or difficulty from Brittany Rogers as well. Expect those four to occupy the 3-6 spots and consistently keep the team somewhere in the +.300 territory.  

For the other two spots, there are options. I have been pleasantly surprised by Chelsea Davis’s vaulting, and she is a perfect stick-worthy leadoff. Sarah Persinger and Kaylan Earls have the potential to be better than the 9.800s they showed last year, but they are more likely to act as comforting backups rather than lineup competitors. Noel Couch will almost certainly be in the lineup and has been training a 1.5, but I’d prefer to see her go back to the full, which at least was a stick. The 1.5 won’t be doing her any form or landing favors. It will be a tough ask to compete with Florida and Alabama on vault, but Georgia won’t be losing too much ground on this event. 

Bars:

For several years now, we’ve been looking at Georgia on bars and fearing what the team would do after losing Ding and Nuccio. Without those two auto-9.9s, Georgia will take a hit, especially early in the season, but this team is not a sudden lost cause on bars and could return at least to somewhere near previous levels by the end of the season.

I say it won’t happen right away because the scoring onus will be on new ones, and it may take some time for them to adjust. Davis showed last season that she is ready to take on that Ding responsibility (and even posted a higher RQS than Nuccio), but she has to become more consistent. The random 9.800-9.850s won’t cut it. Rogers should be a sturdy highish score, and Jay is retaining her Shushunova, which should help keep her scores up because the judges love a showpiece element, even one as perennially awkward as the Shushunova.

With Shayla on bars, where do we even begin? On the one hand, she was occasionally overpraised on bars as an elite where her routine was basically a Tkatchev rolodex + filler that fit the code well. On the other hand, she is way more talented than a consistent 9.800 and is a tolerable dismount away from 9.900-9.950. Unfortunately, she is retaining her whipped DLO, so don’t expect those 9.9s much. 

In the intrasquad, Cheek looke pretty strong on bars, and I’d love to see her and Persinger fill out the lineup. No one has quite yet recovered from Jay Clark’s decision to put Tanella in for Persinger at Championships. 8.600.
 
Beam: 

Let’s just forget what happened on beam last April because Georgia was a good beam team for most of the season and that nerve-burger of a performance was not reflective of talent. This lineup, however, could be in a severe state of flux. I still think Persinger and Earls are good choices in the mid-9.8 range, but they are far from lineup locks.

Really, the only certainty in this lineup is Shayla because, even for all her inconsistency, the team needs her potential 9.900-9.950. She is the best beamer on the team and has fewer areas for mistakes now with the gainer full dismount. Noel Couch is still a reliable leadoff, but we’ll have to watch how the rest of the team reacts to competing beam. I don’t know what Durante’s lineup style is, but I’d love to see some early-season experimentation, even it if means falls, rather than sticking to one group. I feel more comfortable about Jay and Rogers on vault and bars, but they both have elite skills sets and could gain consistency with a stripped-down NCAA routine. Davis’s routine composition has been impeded by her back problems, making it harder for her to be consistent, but we should see routines from her when she returns to full health. I’m not sure what is happening with Unick right now because we haven’t seen her, but I do like her on beam.

I expect more counting falls than we saw last year, but through that process there is a very good chance that six reliable workers will eventually emerge to form a comfortable lineup. All the possibilities will need to be explored.

Floor:

There should not be a shortage of options on floor, but how many of those options are desirable? I’m sure Durante will work to get Shayla in the lineup, but that body probably won’t be able to handle too much tumbling at this point. There are similar constant-injury concerns with Chelsea Davis, and Christa Tanella is more of a “she can go against NC State while the others rest” type. Rogers and Jay should be in the lineup, but cleanliness and landing position are concerns.        

Noel Couch is not a floor anchor. She received high scores last year, enough to record RQS over 9.900, but her form is not ideal for that position. She should be third up, but is there anyone else who has proven 9.900 capabilities? The Star Wars routine for 2013 is potentially even more gimmicky than the Jaws routine. Familiar music is not usually desirable on floor because it says, “Look at this music!” instead of “Look at this routine!” If she mimes a lightsaber, I’m out.

This event won’t make fans nervous in the way that beam might, but I can see 9.850 becoming the expectation throughout the lineup to the point where the team finds it difficult to get out of that 49.200-49.250 area.

Outlook:
For the level of talent on the team, Georgia is under-ranked, which primarily reflects the uncertainty about what Durante can do to turn around the Clark descent. Going solely on the quality of gymnasts, there is little between Georgia and a school like Utah, even though the ranking difference is large. 

Making Super Six is going to be a challenge, but if this group is cultivated properly, I see no reason why they couldn’t. The determining factor will be whether Durante is content with some of the  9.800s that she already has from upperclassmen or whether she can bring some of the underclassmen into the realm of 9.9s that their potential suggests. Right now, I would put Georgia at a close 4th in a National Semifinal. Combine a new coach with a group of untested or injury-prone gymnasts, and it’s difficult to have certainty, but becoming the 5th or 6th best team in the country is attainable.

#12 Arkansas Preview

In the preseason poll, coaches usually are not too sensitive to individual changes in team rosters, but they certainly have taken Jaime Pisani’s departure into account this year, dropping Arkansas all the way down to #12 after a Super Six performance in 2012. This is the lowest ranking for a team that made Super Six the previous season since Iowa State was ranked #13 in the 2007 preseason poll. It is, however, warranted.

While Arkansas had, in many respects, the best season in the school history last year, recording program-best totals and ascending to #1 for a short period, the Razorbacks fell off toward the end of the season and needed a Georgia implosion to qualify to Super Six. Without Pisani’s scoring leadership, it will be difficult for the team to put itself in the same position this year, relying on Katherine Grable as the only proven 9.900 gymnast on the team.

Fortunately for Arkansas, important AAer Jordan Salsberg will be returning from her knee injury. However, she’s still wearing a brace in intrasquad videos, so it remains to be seen how much she will be able to contribute right now and on which events. In the unfortunate department, Scarlett Williams is out for the season, which puts more pressure on the vault and beam lineups with only eleven possible gymnasts, some of whom should not be allowed near the events. Let’s take a look at the team’s prospects event by event.

Vault:

The showpiece of this lineup will be Katherine Grable’s excellent round-off 1/2 on, pike 1/2, which is occasionally underscored compared to Yurchenko fulls of similar quality but should still manage enough 9.9+ scores to keep Arkansas above water here.

Beyond Grable, I have concerns about depth. Expect Jordan Salsberg, Amy Borsellino, and Kelci Lewis to return to the lineup with vaults somewhere in the 9.800-9.850 territory. Bailee Zumwalde will probably also go here, but her ventures above 9.800 will be rarer. Stephani Canizaro can be used in a pinch, but the team would prefer not to. Of the new crop, Heather Elswick shows a nice Yfull with good distance, and Erin Freier has upgraded to a layout Yfull from a tuck in the past year or so, so they could both see action with Elswick the more likely to do so. Still, it’s just eight options for six spots, some of which are not ideal choices.

There’s enough talent at the end of the lineup that a good day can still be 49.350, but I expect more 49.1s than 49.3s. 

Bars:

Concern should abound here because bars is Grable’s weakest piece, and as goes Grable, so goes Arkansas. Without Howdeshell and Pisani, Grable will still have to lead the team here, but her routine has not been the solid 9.900 it has been on other events. This season she will be attempting to add a Comaneci, an upgrade I commend that could help bump her into the scoring territory expected of an anchor.

The supporting cast should be able to bring in relevant scores that will keep the team above 49. Shelby Salmon has a solid routine with a nice DLO dismount, Amy Borsellino has an enjoyable Tkatchev, and Salsberg and Canizaro will contribute as well. Problematically, this lineup has the potential to get stuck in 9.800 land because of handstanditis. Erin Freier could come in here; she has a lovely line and sufficient difficulty, but hers is still a work-in-progress routine.

Beam:

Though the scores didn’t always reflect it, I thought this was Arkansas’s weakest event in 2012. Grable and Pisani were excellent, which gave the impression of quality, but the rest of the lineup was afflicted by lack of amplitude, sloppiness, sluggishness and sometimes all of the above.

The return of Salsberg will help, and Borsellino and Salmon will probably compete here again (though 9.850 should really be the absolute ceiling for those routines), but otherwise this event needs the most turnover and could use an infusion of freshmen. Erin Freier’s work makes me a little nervous, but her height gives her a elegant impression with strong form and presence that needs to be sculpted into a lineup-ready routine. Sydnie Dillard has better positions and dance elements than much of the current group, so I’d like to see her make this event as well. 

Floor:

Floor was the downfall several times for Arkansas last season, and this is where Pisani will be missed the most. Grable will be a consistent 9.900, and Borsellino and Lewis have strong double arabians and can be the supporting 9.8s. I expect Zumwalde to lead off again, but the rest are nail biters. Canizaro was too frequently below 9.800 last year, and Salsberg’s quality coming off that knee injury is still a question (though she did tumble in the last intrasquad). There is talent here, but is there enough of it?

Elswick doesn’t have a ton of difficulty on floor, but she is a proficient tumbler who could be useful early in the lineup. WOGA gymnast Lily Hardin is also a little spark plug who has the difficulty and form to compete here (and perhaps on beam).

Outlook:
Overall, I think Arkansas is ranked appropriately. If I were to pick the twelve teams qualifying to Nationals this year, the Razorbacks would be in the group right now, but I would have them as a fifth or sixth finisher in a Semifinal and would not have them among the Super Six contenders, even if a favorite is counting a mistake. It is less likely that they will score in the 197s this season or pull off some of those SEC upsets we’ve come to expect (at least without help) until someone emerges to be to Katherine Grable what she was to Jaime Pisani.