#3 Florida Preview

For the moment, let’s all pretend that we live in a fantasy land where Florida is actually the #3 team in the country. Things will be more interesting that way. Then we can talk about how this plucky upstart took the nation by storm instead of talking about how the obviously most talented team acted like itself and achieved the #1 ranking. Regardless of how the season finishes, because no one can ever predict what kind of horrors and wonders will take place in Super Six, I do expect the Gators to be ranked #1 for the majority of the season. They are too grand and talented not to be.

In direct contrast to Oklahoma, where success will be cobbled together from every member of the group pitching in a little bit, Florida is a team of stars. While we will likely see one or two routines from outside the galaxy, the Gators in 2013 will be a small, familiar cast of seven all-arounders, each of whom would be the one star on another team: Marissa King, Ashanee Dickerson, Alaina Johnson, Mackenzie Caquatto, Kytra Hunter, Bridget Sloan, and Bridgette Caquatto. Put any combination of six of those seven gymnasts on any event and a 49.500 would not be a surprise. That’s how good this team can be. A 198 (at least one) is attainable.

It’s important, however, not to anoint too early. There are cracks. Small cracks, but cracks nonetheless. Say crack again. Crack. More than a few of these gymnasts have been felled by beam inconsistency before. We need only think back to 2011. More worrisome, though, is injury. This is largely a fragile bunch of elites, and it will be vital that the likes of Randy Stageberg, Kiersten Wang, and Rachel Spicer are ready to compete at the drop of a fibula. If these stars align properly, though, anything less than greatness would be a disappointment.

Vault:

The Gators don’t have an event that can be considered anything near a weakness, but their success will be measured relative to their closest competitor, Alabama. If Alabama is getting regular 9.9s from every spot in the vault lineup as I expect, Florida needs to be able to match that (or come within a tenth that can be made up on bars). The opening 9.850s from Wang and Spicer that served the team well last postseason will make for comfortable backups but probably shouldn’t be used in an ideal lineup. The goal should be a 49.500.

King always gets underscored with some nonsense 9.850, but her Tsuk 1.5 is made from clouds and liberty and hope for a better future, so I’d love to see her remain in the 5th spot out of spite, sending a little message that her vault is worthy of a 9.9+ every time. Hunter will surely anchor again, and I would not be surprised to see a 10 or two for her this season.

Sloan gets tremendous amplitude on her Yurchenko vaults (one of the main factors that stoked those perennial Amanar rumors), so the full should be quite easy for her and should become a regularly stuck vault for big scores. Dickerson and Johnson likewise will frequently reach 9.9 if they vault the way that they have the past couple of years. The sixth vaulter could very easily be Wang or Spicer without causing much problem for the scores, but Caquatto the Elder has higher scoring potential and can be that sixth 9.9 score. If there is any kind of concern about her leg health, however, I’d prefer to see her saved for bars and beam. It’s not worth the risk.

Bars:

The single biggest weapon in Florida’s orange arsenal is this bars rotation. All of the other contending teams are going to struggle to put together six high scoring routines, while the Gators will be spoiled for choice. If the most recent intrasquad is any indication, M. Caquatto, Sloan, and Johnson are already performing at a 9.9 level. These three can make for the most formidable back-half trio that we have seen on this event in recent years, now featuring two-thirds of the US lineup from 2010 Worlds. 

It’s a bit surprising that, even with Gainesville scoring, we haven’t seen any 10s on bars over the past two seasons. With three potential nominees to bump up the scores now, a 10 becomes even more likely for the anchor, probably Johnson but potentially Sloan.

This is also the event where I see Caquatto the Younger having the most influence, and she should not be discounted from joining that 9.9 party. She is, however, still recovering from injury and so likely won’t be a factor right away.

For the remaining two spots, Florida has a whole slew of other positive-scoring routines in that 9.850-9.875 territory. King looked a little ragged in the intrasquad video, but she is a proven talent here who can be excellent and was clearly the third-strongest worker last season. I expect her in the lineup for most meets along with Hunter. It would be a little silly to keep the reigning AA champion out of the all-around, so Hunter should take that leadoff spot with a perfectly strong 9.850.

The popular pick seems to be to keep Dickerson out of the lineup for now, and I mostly support that since I have been quite hard on her routine in the past. Well, not so much her routine but the scoring of it. When it has the issues with toes, elbows, and handstands and yet gets a 9.950 (a 9.950), that undermines the legitimacy of the judging as well as the quality of the routines later in the lineup. I’m a 9.950, you’re a 9.950, everyone’s a 9.950! And yet, how can a team bench a proven 9.950 (however suspect) in favor of Hunter, who has never received even a 9.900? Will King be the odd woman out? Or Bridgette Caquatto? Someone has to be.

Beam:

Spoiled for choice is a bit of a theme for Florida this year, and it continues on beam where I see nine legitimate options, each of whom would be a difficult choice to argue against. There should be no question about putting King and Hunter in those final spots, and 9.900 will be the norm for both of them. Mackenzie Caquatto didn’t compete beam in 2012, but she was the best worker on the team in 2011 (with a high score of 9.975) and should easily return to the lineup to support the top two.

The rest of the group is a bit of a hodgepodge, and I think it would be a shame if Rhonda competes only six gymnasts the whole season again because we would be denied some excellent routines. However, the biggest competition hurdle standing between Florida and a title is the threat of counting a fall in Super Six, so while I would prefer the six biggest, most interesting routines, the Gators need to go for the six most consistent routines, even if it means leaving out a big name. That is the most likely reason for us to see routines from Stageberg or Spicer this season. 

Bridget Sloan should be the obvious choice for another high scorer at the end of this lineup, but I still need to be sold on her consistency. She is the queen of falling on the first day of a competition and then hitting on the second day, but there is no room for that in NCAA. Bridgette Caquatto is no rock here either. Johnson and Dickerson would probably join Sloan in my lineup, but it hasn’t always been a smooth journey for them on beam. They both had consistent 2012s, but if the horrors of the 2011 postseason come calling again, the 9.850 sisters, Stageberg and Spicer, might be better choices. I’d love to see the riskier lineup, but Rhonda likely wouldn’t. If all hit, though, the Dickerson, Johnson, M. Caquatto, Sloan, Hunter, King lineup can be 49.500 kinds of amazing.

Floor:  

I’m perhaps the least comfortable about Florida on floor. The tumbling prowess and talent level are not questions, but the Gators are probably still kicking themselves for some of those landings in the final rotation of Super Six. They also rather underperformed on floor in the semifinal round and at Regionals. Will the coaching staff try to course correct by training hard landings more often and earlier, and will that increase the injury risk and bring back the peaking conversation that was so famous before last season?

The reality is that, with the injury history of these elites, a Johnson, M. Caquatto, Dickerson, King, Sloan, Hunter lineup is a pipe dream. It would be amazing, but it’s unlikely and not necessarily ideal. In fact, it may be smarter to keep both Caquattuses off this event entirely if the health of the rest of the team allows it. They are much more valuable on bars and beam, and the likelihood of keeping them both healthy for multiple years while also having them regularly compete floor is low. While I’d keep Stageberg out of my beam lineup, she will be a nice leadoff on floor that can protect the rest of the team without losing much in scoring potential.

Outlook:
Last year, after Alabama opened the door with a sloppy bars rotation, the Gators should have walked through it to a title. They couldn’t capitalize. No matter, though. We all knew that they would be more talented in 2013 and would totally win a championship. Now, that time has arrived. If Florida is going to win a title, this is the year. After this season, the team will start bleeding dominant routines from King and Dickerson and start relying more on broken American elites. It will get harder.

The Gators are my pick to win the title this year, and I’m not alone. No matter how it plays out, though, it’s going to be fascinating watching them try to get there. Expectation is a dangerous thing. 

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#4 Oklahoma Preview

Every refrain about the Oklahoma Sooners after last season began with “If they had been healthy,” and so it was for previews of this season. If they stay healthy, they’re easily a Super Six team and probably the most likely to challenge the top three. Well, that’s all gone out the window already. Kayla Nowak is done for the season, and with her go at least three solid 9.850-9.875 routines.

There is a perception that the Sooners are a bit like a hydra. Cut off a 9.850, and the team will be fine because three more will grow from nothing in its place. Ergo, Kayla Nowak’s scores are replaceable. Like many perceptions, this one is about 75% true. This coaching staff does have the commendable capability to create depth, not just routines but real depth, where it seemed none existed. Expect the team to go on as if no one missed a beat. At the same time, the losses to injury and graduation are starting to pile up without heirs making themselves apparent. A team does not need stars to be successful, but it does need more than lineups full of commendable replacements. It needs 9.9s. Oklahoma is returning just three RQSs of 9.875 or better, fewer than Utah, Stanford, Nebraska, LSU, Georgia, and Oregon State. The Sooners are a better team than that statistic indicates, but there is work to be done to show it.

A significant factor in building up those high-scoring routines will be the freshman class. Powerful Level 10 standouts Keeley Kmieciak and Haley Scaman lead the group, and both will be expected to contribute on at least vault and floor from the start. These two are capable of bringing that RQS total from three to seven on their own. As for the other freshmen, we have seen little from Maile’ana Kanewa recently and nothing at all from Hunter Price, so expect less of them. The return of Lauren Alexander will be more influential.

Vault:

If Oklahoma is to match the successes of 2010 and 2011, it will be earned largely through improvement on vault. While that makeshift postseason lineup didn’t do the team any favors, vault was the weakest event throughout 2012, often languishing in the 49.2s while bars and beam were in the 49.4s. On vault, anything less than a 49.350 becomes a disability when the best teams are in the 49.5s and 49.6s.

The Sooners will miss Sara Stone’s 9.9s, certainly, but the additions of Scaman and Kmieciak will more than make up for it, bringing both a quality and a level of difficulty that the team couldn’t always boast in the past. Both freshmen competed strong 1.5s in JO, and Scaman’s has been excellent in the preseason. Kmieciak has been training just a full instead of the 1.5, at least for now, but it will be worthy of the late lineup nonetheless. Expect the 4th, 5th, and 6th vaults to be Kmieciak, Olson, and Scaman, all capable of 9.9s.  

Taylor Spears and Madison Mooring will be good for 9.850s in the opening half of the lineup, and the Sooners will be pleased that they can now treat 9.850s as establishing scores for the big guns (as they should be) rather than desirable routines for the 5th position. There will be some degree of choice for the final vaulter, with Clark the most likely and Brewer another option.


Bars:

In a bit of a change, I’m much more concerned about Oklahoma’s bars than I am about vault, mostly because of the uncertainty of the lineup. There was always going to be a little Megan Ferguson-shaped hole under the low bar, but the losses of Nowak and reliable backups Sara Stone and Candace Cindell really smack the depth in the face to the point where I can’t even come up with six likely competitors. It’s Oklahoma, so they will hydra some 9.800s, but expect experimentation and growing pains in this rotation.

Brie Olson will be the anchor for 9.9s (but will need to cut out those mistakes and random 9.825s if she’s to have that responsibility), and Spears, Clark, and Brewer can all come in for something in the 9.850 territory. That’s a respectable group of four who will get the job done. It won’t be amazing, but it will get the team by. For the other two routines, who is there? The freshmen are unproven on bars, but will likely need to become proven soon.  

I have no idea as to the current status of Hayden Ward. She suffered a serious injury at Regionals last year and then disappeared into the ether. She hasn’t featured in any preseason videos, so it’s impossible to make a judgment about her. If she materializes, she will be a very helpful addition to the depth of this lineup.

Beam:

It’s a tough category, but I would probably rank beam as Megan Ferguson’s best event. Combine no Ferguson with the losses of Stone and Nowak and Oklahoma would seem to be in line for a disaster on this event in 2013, but I anticipate the 49.3s to flow just as readily this year as last year. There may be fewer 9.950s, but the Sooners will have enough routines that are capable of going as high as 9.900 on a good day.

Spears, Mooring, Olson, Clark, and maybe Brewer in a variety of orders should figure in most meets. Lauren Alexander was exceptional at the intrasquad, and if that’s going to be her norm, then she should absolutely be in the lineup. Also expect the unexpected here, like Lara Albright jumping in and getting a 12.950 or something. There are a lot of routines with very similar scoring potentials in that 9.875 area in this group, so one of the challenges here will be finding a lineup order that adequately takes advantage of score building to get certain gymnasts bumped up to those needed 9.925s. 

Floor:

The group of tested competitors on floor includes a bunch of 9.850s who will occasionally make a 9.900 of things, namely Olson, Albright, Brewer, and Spears. While Mooring doesn’t often compete floor, I can see her being added to the group quite easily and performing to the same level. The tumbling isn’t going to compete with the most powerful schools, so those 9.900s will have to be won through absolute precision in landings.

That bunch alone would probably account for a solid 49.200-49.300 on most days, but I am more enthusiastic about this lineup than I normally would be about that kind of scoring because of the tumbling abilities of the freshmen, who should help here nearly as much as they will on vault. I expect to see a lot of Kmieciak and Scaman, both of whom show appropriate difficulty, large amplitude, and confident landings that can score exceptionally well.

Outlook:
The injuries and graduations of the last couple of years are blows but not decisive ones. This is still a 197 team, but the degree of national competitiveness is now even more dependent on the freshmen, Scaman and Kmieciak, showing at least 9.875s on two events and potentially more. I have no doubt in this group’s ability to put together a whole season of high 196s, but without proven stars (though Brie Olson needs to be one) and without the stalwart Kayla Nowak, this season will be a major test of Oklahoma’s hydra capabilities. To be a team that can show as many as three 9.9s on an event the way the Sooners could manage occasionally with that Vise/Kelley/Ferguson triple play, new routines will have to grow.

I have enough confidence in the coaching staff and the gymnasts themselves that I’m comfortable predicting Oklahoma into Super Six. I can’t put together a realistic argument for six other teams being more likely to make it than Oklahoma. There is going to be some great gymnastics on this team, and if there is enough stability in the bars lineup and more than just a single 9.900 on each event, the Sooners can finish very close to their preseason ranking.

#5 Utah Preview

Before the Red Rocks Preview, I didn’t realize just how young Utah’s team is this year. While it seems like every coach every season says, “We have such a young team this year,” Utah is looking at a bunch of lineups made up of Corrie Lothrop and underclassmen, which is not necessarily a problem but could be a recipe for some early-season falls. These lineups won’t be full of obvious choices. They will have to be molded. 

While McAllister, Robarts, and Beers weren’t usually full of 9.9s, they brought in a bunch of reliable routines in the 9.850 range that will need to be replaced somehow. Usually, finding a 9.850 from somewhere isn’t a problem for a team like Utah, but the Utes have an uncharacteristic lack of depth right now where they are merely eight deep on events where they are usually ten or eleven.

A large factor in that lack of choice is the injury problem. Kailah Delaney and Taylor Allex will be out until midseason, which creates a scenario where some new people will have to come in on events that they probably wouldn’t otherwise compete. We’ll probably see a bit more of Tory Wilson and some of Lia Del Priore as well, at least early in the season. 

Lothrop and Georgia Dabritz will have to lead the team with late-lineup routines on every event that are 9.875 at minimum and probably more like 9.900. At Regionals and Nationals last season, Lothrop and Dabritz recorded four scores in the 9.9s out of twenty-one routines. For this team to be successful in 2013, that 9.9 rate is going to need to be closer to 50%. The freshmen are a bit difficult to evaluate because neither Allex nor Breanna Hughes is fully healthy. Ideally, Hughes could be a contributor on any event and Allex could go on vault and floor. Haley Lange is probably closest to competing on beam.

Vault:

Vault will be the biggest work in progress until the returns of Delaney and Allex. Delaney has the best Yurchenko full on the team, and she will likely need to anchor for 9.925s when she gets back into the lineup.

Until then, in a trend we will see on many events, Dabritz is going to have to take on more scoring responsibility than she did last year and be more than just a fine third up. She began to hit her stride on vault at the end of last season to record the 9.9s that we all know she’s worth, and that will have to be the case from the very start this year. Expect Wilson to vault every week as well. She’s sort of the Noel Couch of this lineup. She’s not going to win any contests for dynamics or grace, but the girl can stick a vault like no one’s business. I was also pleased to see the improvement in Lothrop’s Omelianchik at the RRP, and that will be a useful mid-lineup vault for high 9.8s.

Both Allex and Hughes can be strong vaulters when healthy, and there will be the usual slew of 9.800s that can fill in until the team is 100%. Lopez and Del Priore, for instance, are perfectly acceptable vaulters who can go when necessary but won’t be ideal in a later-season lineup. I think we’ll see a few 49.1s in the beginning while the lineup is figuring itself out, but I expect 49.300+ as we progress.

Bars:

Bars is more troubling than vault because even last year, though it wasn’t always the weakest event, it had the lowest ceiling. There were never going to be many 9.9s, and now the anchor is gone. Dabritz will absolutely have anchor the rotation this season. She has a Comaneci and good form, and there’s no reason she shouldn’t be 9.9s every week. I’d certainly like to see her later in the lineup than Lothrop because Dabritz’s scoring potential is greater. Lothrop is a workmanlike 9.850-9.875, but her lack of amplitude on flight elements will keep her from being the big-scoring anchor.

Breanna Hughes is going to be a major addition here. She didn’t dismount at the RRP because she still wasn’t completely healthy, but she has some of the best form on the team and will be called upon to be more than just a 9.850. Speaking of 9.850, that’s probably going to be Hailee Hansen’s ceiling (at least on the road) because while she has nice qualities, the leg separations are going to knock her down. Beyond these four, I’m concerned. Kassandra Lopez can be a leadoff 9.800 again, but it’s going to be a struggle to put together six high scoring routines. Damianova maybe? Lofgren? We’re already at the bottom of the barrel. Dabritz, Lothrop, and Hughes need to be excellent because the rest of the lineup is going to take a hit.

Beam:

Half the beam lineup has graduated, and it’s going to show. Even last year the beam group was nerve-racking enough that Lothrop had to be the leadoff and Lopez the anchor, which conceded some score building and any opportunity to squeeze a 9.900 or two out of the lineup. Though she lacks lift in her elements, Lothrop is the top beamer on this team and needs to go sixth.

Expect Lofgren and Lopez to stay in the lineup as well, but after that there will be opportunities for whoever can prove the ability to hit. Dabritz is too talented to be out of this lineup, and I expect her to be given multiple chances to be an all-arounder. I’m not giving out awards for her dance elements, but it’s becoming clearer and clearer that her overall skill level and refinement can be a savior for Utah this year. The consistency still has to come. Of the freshmen, Haley Lange was a surprise from the RRP and can figure on this event along with potentially Hughes.

Floor:

Even without two of the better workers from last season, McAllister and Robarts, this event still looks to be among the healthier for Utah. Lothrop and Dabritz should be strong in those final two positions, and there are several sophomores with the tumbling prowess to figure in the lineup the way that Tutka did last season (and probably again this season). I would also anticipate seeing Damianova as well as a couple of the freshmen (with Allex the most likely).

Unlike bars and beam, Utah should not have a problem finding six floor routines that can go 9.850 and can probably keep pace with what the team did last year for 49.300+. Last year’s postseason proved that the judges really aren’t concerned with difficulty as long as the routine starts from a 10, so I don’t believe that the E-passes narrative will change any specific scoring for the Utes, though I do commend their trying to establish an identity as the team of difficulty. Now that just needs to translate to the other events. You can’t be the team of difficulty if you’re dismounting beam with gainer fulls.

Outlook:
There are going to be some squeaks and groans early in the season (meaning 195s). Those bars and beam lineups are nowhere near solidly defined yet, and it’s going to take some time to create routines and see who can hit them. As we progress, I envision a lot of meets in the mid-high 196s where vault and floor are 49.300s and then bars and beam are hovering around 49.000.

We’re accustomed to uncertainty with some of the teams, but this is less usual territory for Utah. They really will have to experiment to see what works in terms of lineups. The Utah reputation helps because I’m inclined to give them the benefit of consistency. I can’t see Utah showing up to Nationals with a beam rotation that can’t hit. They may very well be hitting for 9.825s that will send them out before Saturday, but they’re going to be able to hit.

Step one will be getting the entire team healthy, but once that happens, pay specific attention the first two routines on bars and beam. If those are solid and reliable (again, even if just 9.825s) this will probably be the same Utah season we’ve seen for the past three years, but if they are settling for questionable hits or 9.775s, 2013 could be a problem.   

#6 Stanford Preview

Of all the teams, Stanford was the most difficult to rank in my preseason ranking because this team opens the door for so much fluctuation in quality. For the first two months of last season, they were a catastrophe, and not just a “they’ll find their way once they figure out a beam lineup and start working sticks” kind of catastrophe, either. A 194 kind of catastrophe. No one can claim with any confidence that they won’t at least begin 2013 the exact same way.

Yet, it ultimately didn’t take as much as it seemed like it would to dredge them out of 194 land. Getting Alyssa Brown into the lineup on all her events and putting Ivana Hong in the all-around abruptly made this a Super Six team. I have some concern about roster turnover because I don’t see anywhere near the same kind of 9.9 potential in the freshmen that we saw from Brown and Nicole Pechanec. That’s normal because they’re new, but it won’t help the team compete in the short term.

Stanford’s best road to another 4th-place finish doesn’t travel anywhere near a fantasy land where the new ones are getting multiple 9.9s. Having Samantha Shapiro in the all-around and Kristina Vaculik competing as her most consistent self is going to be Stanford’s route of highest potential. Hong, Shapiro, and Vaculik are talented enough to account for potentially seven or eight 9.900 scores on a good day, which is exactly what a championship-caliber team is looking for from its stars. However, this group is not exactly a paragon of health and consistency. Vaculik had a forgettable freshman year, and last year Shapiro never got in on all her events while Hong barely got in under the wire. 

As for the freshmen, Taylor Rice is the most interesting of the group because she is a Cassie clone, first of all, and can be lineup-ready on a couple of events, especially floor. She seems dogged both mentally and physically, which could come to the rescue of this team of fragility. Melissa Chuang is one of those solid JOs who can get a 9.800 on any event you ask of her, but expect to see the most of her on vault and beam. Maggie Teets and Jenna Frowein were the later signings, and I anticipate seeing less of them.

Vault:

Nowhere was Stanford more enigmatic last year than on vault. This lineup worried me from the start, and early in the season, they were quite poor, not just in terms of landings that could be cleaned up but in terms of amplitude, body position, and overall quality. Yet, they eventually recorded the second-best score on vault in Super Six, including three vaults over 9.900. Now, a little bit of that was the judging at Nationals that is still near-unspeakable to this day, but the improvement cannot be denied.

Looking at the vaulting group for this year, I have the exact same concerns as I did last preseason. The bright spots are Hong, who got her classy Yurchenko full together by the postseason, and Nicole Dayton, whose Yurchenko half always has the potential to be 9.900. Beyond that, it’s not an accomplished group. Pauline Hanset has landing position problems that hurt her score, and I’ve never been sold on Ashley Morgan’s Yhalf. Vaculik needs to be back and capable of sitting in that 4th slot, and Chuang’s solid Yfull needs to be lineupable (word? word.) immediately. Rice’s full is fine but not amazing, though it may need to be used.

Once again, I see this as a 49.250 rotation, but if Kristen can magic them to another 49.500, then more power to her.

Bars:

Here’s something important to know about Stanford on bars: of the returning gymnasts, Ashley Morgan had the highest RQS last year. The team is really into the narrative about how much she has improved on bars, but she has improved to a 9.850, not an 11.

In the real world, this lineup will be reliant on Hong, Shapiro, and Vaculik. I was pleased to see that Shapiro’s handstands that were so strong as a junior elite made a comeback last year. She can be an anchor here, and if Vaculik hits, she’s stellar. With Hong, how many years have we said, “if only” about her bars? The Stanford coaching staff has largely fixed the DLO; now it’s time to do the same to the Tkatchev or it needs to go.

There’s a little bit of potential in the freshmen here, but they all need development. I like Rice, but I think she needs a dismount. Teets has a Shaposh and a DLO but needs cleaning. The amount we see them will depend on how the likes of Wing and the Morgans fare in those early positions. I don’t see anyone but the top three in the realm of regular 9.9s, but that can be enough.

Beam:

Beam has the chance to be a real strength where so many other teams are going to struggle, but the operative word is chance. Hong is a Worlds medalist on this event, and Shapiro can be absolutely beautiful here. Both need to be not only making the lineup but making it in the 5th and 6th positions. I would love to say Vaculik should be in this lineup too, but this is the event where I am the least confident with her. Shona Morgan can be excellent, and Amanda Spinner has been a real find who earns those 9.900s every week.

With Wing, Chuang, Rice, and maybe (maybe) Ashley Morgan, this rotation can be regularly over 49.300, but it epitomizes how much of an unknown Stanford will be this year. Look at this group. It could so easily turn to flames.
 
Floor:

This is the event where I get to stop punishing Ashley Morgan for how irritating I find her father and appreciate her talent. She is the 9.9 star here (second pass issues aside). Other than Morgan, I have concerns. There is no questioning the possibility of greatness from Hong and Shapiro, but their fragility makes it less likely that they will both be intact and hitting at the same time on floor. Someone is always going to be injured or falling.

There are plenty of 9.800-9.850s from the likes of Hanset, Dayton, Wing, and Shona Morgan, but they are less likely to be major scorers. Mostly what I’m looking forward to seeing is what Taylor Rice is up to here. Her floor routines have been a ridiculous hoot, and she certainly commits. She’s the only freshman I see competing on floor, so Stanford will need to make sure her level of investment in the tumbling matches her level of investment in the dance. Otherwise, this is another 49.250.

Outlook:
I want to predict this team going to Super Six. I want to. I do believe that if everything turns out as it should, they will be there, but there are too many things that have to go counterintuitively right to have any confidence in that. Hong and Shapiro staying healthy for a whole season and competing the all-around most weeks? Why don’t you just ask the gumdrop princess to decree it from her cloud of peppermint?

If there is an injury to one of the major contributors, or even one of the consistent 9.850ers, I don’t think the team will be able to survive it they way the teams ranked ahead of them would be (or will have to be). I’m penciling them into the Super Six for now, but I would have the same level of surprise to their making Super Six as I would to their missing Nationals. It’s a fragile balance beam they’re walking in 2013 that may very well mimic the trajectory from last year.  

 

#7 Nebraska Preview

Last January I made the comment that Nebraska’s ability to survive on what was essentially a team of six gymnasts was both impressive and unsustainable. In practice, the Huskers managed to sustain relative equilibrium in that position much longer than I expected, right up until a postseason injury to Jamie Schleppenbach pulled down the veil and exposed the lack of depth. The Huskers ultimately finished short of another Super Six berth, landing fifth in their Semifinal.

Only Lora Evenstad has graduated from the gang of six that sustained Nebraska though 2012. Expect the big four of Jessie DeZiel, Janelle Giblin, Emily Wong, and Schleppenbach to once again feature in the all-around and lead the scoring with three strong numbers on each event. A Super Six team, however, cannot survive on just four gymnasts, and it is difficult to see Nebraska replicating even the eighth-place finish from last year without developing 5th and 6th routines on each event and cultivating usable backups that are not simply throwaway 9.800s.

Fortunately for the Huskers, their depth will increase in 2013 with four new gymnasts coming in compared to the loss of just one. I expect Hollie Blanske, Ariel Martin, and Jordyn Beck all to see at least some competition time this season to give the team a solid base of eight gymnasts from which to choose. It’s not an ideal level of depth, but it is an improvement. These new gymnasts will not necessarily have to be stars because there will be enough 9.9 potential at the back of the lineups, but as Nebraska knows well, every 9.7 erases a 9.9. The freshmen need to prove capable of popping up on multiple events and delivering the kind of 9.850s that depth is made of to be useful in competition.

Vault:

This event is by far the healthiest for Nebraska. While they are probably just a tad short of what the big three teams will bring in, DeZiel, Schleppenbach, Wong, and Giblin are all excellent here and should keep the scores quite high. The lowest RQS for any of them last year was 9.885, which will put the team in the fortunate position of finding even multiple 9.875s disappointing.

In 2012, those four dictated the scoring because Evenstad and Brittany Skinner (and occasionally Jennifer Lauer) were very 9.800. At Championships, Wong and Schleppenbach both vaulted poorly, which killed the rotation. This year, there should be a little bit more backup with Ariel Martin, who is dominant on the power events and has a very clean Yfull, and Hollie Blanske, who has competed a Yurchenko 1.5 in the past. By the postseason, this should be a legitimate 49.450-49.500 rotation.

Bars:

Without Evenstad, the bars rotation is all about Giblin. She’s a dream here, and Wong and DeZiel are both certainly 9.875 capable, but there is much less room for error. On this event, the dynamic end-of-lineup routines are there, but the depth must improve to make up for the lack of Lora Evenstad and the average routines that look to populate the beginning of the lineup.

I expect Schleppenbach and probably Skinner to make the lineup again, but those routines are not going to be priceless. Blanske is solid here and comes i in with better form than most of the other freshmen around the country. This event could be a little rough on some days, but Giblin, Wong, and DeZiel will help keep it over 49.

Beam:

Speaking of rough, Nebraska on beam. It’s been a struggle these last few years, a cavalcade of falls and 9.7s that continue to make a 49.000 seem like a blessing. There is not a ton of great happening in this rotation. Wong is by far the best one, and her ability to get a 9.9 makes her potentially the strongest all-arounder on the team, which was borne out at the Big 10 Championships. We all also remember the time that DeZiel showed a wobbleburger of a US team how beam is done at Pan Ams, and I’m sure she will show Nebraska how it’s done a few times in 2013 as well.

After that, tumbleweeds. Giblin, Schleppenbach, and Skinner all can do beam routines in the same way that I can shoot a basketball. It doesn’t mean I should. Jennifer Lauer seemed like a reliable 9.800 at the end of last season, so she may be somewhat helpful here, but mostly keep an eye on Jordyn Beck. Beam is my favorite event of hers. She has more precision than the other freshmen and can contribute here.

Floor:

Floor is the other event where the loss of Evenstad will be a real blow, but I like the routines from DeZiel, Wong, and Giblin enough to feel secure in the lack of real catastrophe. They’ll be good for 9.850-9.900s to keep the rotation safely positive.  

There should be options for the remaining spots. In addition to Schleppenbach and Skinner, Ariel Martin has a DLO (the second salto is a little piked, but the power is there), and Blanske competes a tuck full and a 2.5, so there will be some usable options among the new ones as well. Expect some good 49.300s here but nothing that sets anyone on fire.

Outlook:
Even though the team lost a major contributor, the freshmen should be able to combine to make up for the loss of tenths. The increased depth will help avoid problems should anyone go down, but I’m skeptical as to whether the Huskers can improve on the overall quality of last season’s team. Nonetheless, it’s still going to be a 197-capable group. They should have no trouble making Nationals and on a good day can make Super Six. The eternal beam concerns make it less likely that the good day will happen when it needs to, but it is well within the realm of possibility.

Watch the top four. If they are consistently getting those 39.550s and higher in the AA, this team will be successful and can carry that through to Nationals. If, however, they are throwing in wonky beam performances and 9.825s too often this season, then Nebraska won’t be able to make it up with other gymnasts and will wallow in the mid 196s. 

Vault Finals

The full minutes from this summer’s committee report are available here, but I wanted to solicit some thoughts on the most interesting recommendation.

b. Vault Finals.
(1) Recommendation. That student-athletes qualifying for the event finals on vault be required to perform one vault with the score determined by averaging all six scores rather than performing two different vaults and the average of the averages of each vault calculated as the final score.

(2) Effective Date. September 1, 2012.

(3) Rationale. Requiring student-athletes to perform a different second vault that they do not train for nor compete the entire year creates an environment that is unsafe for the competitors, lengthens the competition and confuses the general gymnastics fan.

(4) Impact on Budget. None.

(5) Student-Athlete Impact. Positive since the vast majority of student-athletes train one vault all season. This change may potentially lessen the possibility of injuries

What are your thoughts?

To me, this is a better solution than what we have now, but it still is not ideal. The gymnasts who are competent with two different vaults should be able to show that. We need a way to separate those gymnasts from the others so that people with only one vault are not qualifying to finals.

Also included is the new language about floor vocals:
“Vocals will be permitted without deduction when voice is used as an instrument without words. Music with whistles/animal sounds also is permitted. Absence of music or music with speech will receive a 1.00 deduction taken by the chief judge.”
Phew. Good thing whistles and animal sounds are allowed.

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.