Balance Beam Situation Preseason Ranking

The annual preseason coaches’ poll will be released in the days of soon, so in advance of that completely opposite-of-important event that I look forward to dissecting, I have compiled my own preseason ranking. Please take it as official, scientific, and unimpeachable.

I ranked only fifteen teams instead of twenty-five because of buuuuh, but also once we get into that Missouri, Illinois, Denver, Minnesota, Boise St. group of teams that are all poised to finish a distant third in various regionals, the difference between the teams is so minimal that there would be no legitimate reasoning behind ranking one ahead of another. They will be separated as the season progresses based on consistency and luck with injuries.

So, here we go.

1. Florida
The Gators are the most talented team in the country. I don’t see any valid argument against putting them at #1. With Sloan and B. Caquatto joining Hunter, King, Dickerson, Johnson, and M. Caquatto, this team will have 9.900s to spare and will be able to absorb whatever latest injury has befallen one of the Caquattuses. While the other top contenders will excel on vault and floor, look for Florida to be nearly unstoppable on bars with consistent 49.500+ rotations that won’t be matched even by the second tier of contenders.

2. Alabama
I flipped and flopped about Alabama and UCLA in the second and third positions, and I do think they are essentially interchangeable here, but I put Alabama ahead because the group as a whole is safer. We know what we’re going to get from each of the Alabama gymnasts, and that means a lot of 9.900s and very few falls. The loss of Stack-Eaton is a hit, especially on bars, but the team should be able to withstand it.

UCLA, as always, could be great this season, but I would have a lot more confidence in that proclamation with a healthy Peng Peng Lee and a fully contributing Mattie Larson (one who doesn’t get ranked below an injured Syd Sawa on floor reliability). I am concerned that this season will become about Zamarripa, Peszek, and their merry band of 9.850s, and if it does, there is little chance of a UCLA championship. There are a lot of supporting actresses on this team (the incoming class is full of them), but they need to start taking lead roles with 9.900s on multiple events. 

4. Oklahoma
The Sooners have proven that they are the heirs apparent to the mantle of best team never to win a championship, and I expect them to put up yet another season full of mid-197 scores. The 2013 team will be better on vault than the 2012 team was, which eliminates a major weakness, but we’ve yet to see if anyone can take on that Megan Ferguson responsibility. With the new freshmen and the injury returners, the Sooners should be able to repeat the successes of 2010 and 2011, but can they go any higher with this group of gymnasts? It may still take another season or two before this team can legitimately compete for a title.

5. Utah 
In ranking the teams after the top four, I’m taking the same approach that I took for the Alabama/UCLA decision, and Utah is the safest bet for a more successful season even if the ceiling may not be as high. The Utes have no major strengths or weaknesses, and I fully expect them to put up a whole bushel of 49.275-49.300 rotations. That can be enough to make Super Six again, but I do question whether Utah will be able to doing anything this season to make it different from 2010–2012. In Super Six last year, Alabama had twelve 9.9s and Utah had three. Where are those 9.9s going to come from? The vocal E-pass commitment on floor has not boosted the scores.

6. Stanford
Even with the losses of Brown and Pechanec, the potential of a Hong, Shaprio, and Vaculik scoring triumvirate is very appealing. Stanford would not have to search for 9.900s in the same way that Utah would, but can we really rely on those three? The history of injury/inconsistency is harrowing, but the judges are itching to give them big scores. A healthy Ivana Hong will get 39.700s. It could be great. It could be. 

7. Georgia
Feel free to treat my placement of Georgia at #7 as an atrocity. I’ll allow it. However, even if we put Worley and Tanella aside since I don’t envision any change from the previous seasons for them, the core of the rest of the team is talented enough to make Super Six. Davis, Jay, and Rogers can be scoring leaders, and if Persinger and Earls are cultivated well, they can aspire to more than just high fives for a mid-lineup 9.800 or two. The Gymdogs will hope this isn’t a repeat a Jay Clark’s first year, when a very talented team on paper totally imploded.

8. Nebraska
If it weren’t for beam. The Huskers lose multiple tenths on that event relative to the other top schools. This team had so little depth last year, but it didn’t end up being a problem until Schleppenbach went down and Buscaker had to be relied upon for beam. There are a bunch of new freshmen this year, but they are largely untested and unknown. DeZiel, Giblin, and Wong are solid in the AA and capable of leading a group to success, but like last year, they will need help to be a contending team.

9. LSU
I’m unexpectedly high on LSU this year, and it has nothing to do with Jay Clark. On vault and floor last year, this team was just one or two routines away from being nationally competitive. Throw in Britney Ranzy, Jessica Savona, and Randii Wyrick (who, let’s recall, won Senior D last year), and LSU is basically an acceptable bars rotation away from contending for Super Six. Maybe Jay Clark will be more important than I thought.

10. Arkansas
Arkansas thrived in 2012 because of the Grable-Pisani pairing that could double-handedly turn a 49.100 into a 49.325. In 2013, Grable is the only proven 9.900 gymnast on the team. She is capable of leading Arkansas to mid-196s, but another Super Six showing looks like too much to ask this year.

11. Michigan
The 2013 Michigan team bears little resemblance to the 2012 group, and that’s a good thing. With Beilstein on her way back from injury and the addition of former elites Morgan Smith and Briley Casanova, I expect this team to consistently challenge toward the top 10 of the rankings instead of just hoping to get six routines out on each event even if they are terrifying.

12. Oregon State
The Beavers struggled to make Nationals last year, and they have lost Leslie Mak and Olivia Vivian. The freshmen and sophomores need to prove worthy of more than just 9.775-9.800 scores, otherwise it could be a very disappointing season.

13. Penn State
Last season, I thought Penn State was a better team than Ohio State but simply underperformed at regionals. With Musser and Merriam leaving after this year, this is the most competitive the team is going to be for several seasons. There’s no reason they can’t consistently go 49+ on every event and challenge for Nationals.

14. Ohio State
Last season, the Buckeyes won the lottery of which team of 9.850s would get the final spot for Nationals, and they could certainly do it again this year. All Ohio State routines have competitive composition, which makes OSU capable of getting those random big scores on a good day, which could send them to a nice regionals seeding again. 

15. Auburn
I’m throwing in Auburn as my #15 pick because this team has more standout gymnasts than the other teams at this talent level. Bri Guy (your name rhymes; let’s talk about that and how it makes me think of Fry Guys) is a scoring leader on multiple events, and former elite Caitlin Atkinson brings a nice Yurchenko 1.5 to the team. 


The Latest from Training Part 2: Revenge of the Training

Vault and beam

IDs: Shisler VT, Stageberg BB, Wang VT, M. Caquatto BB, Spicer VT, Johnson BB, Sloan VT, Dickerson BB, King VT, B. Caquatto BB, Hunter VT, Spicer BB, Lemezan VT

IDs: Sloan BB, Stageberg VT, Hunter BB, M. Caquatto VT, King BB, Johnson VT, Wang BB, Dickerson VT, Shisler BB

Bars and floor

IDs: Stageberg FX, Dancose-Giambattisto UB, Sloan FX, Dickerson UB, King FX, M. Caquatto UB, Hunter FX, Johnson UB, King UB, Wang FX, Hunter UB, Dickerson FX, Sloan UB, Shisler FX, Johnson FX


More here




The Latest from Training

Vanessa Zamarripa is planning to return to elite. We’ll see. Her gymnastics is so easy to root for, but she will have a tough road from now until next fall. I’m encouraged that she’s training for it now, but in 2010 she was not up to the level of competition on beam and floor. Three years and an Achilles tear won’t make it any easier to be competitive there. Specializing on vault and bars may be a prudent choice depending on her goals.

If she is serious about making a Worlds team, 2013 is her year because she could conceivably be selected solely for vault, especially if no one else is vaulting two viable vaults. Even to make the team as a vault specialist, though, she’s going to need to get the Cheng back (and make it consistent) and upgrade to a DTY to be worth taking. We haven’t seen more than a Yurchenko full from her in competition, so we can’t just assume a DTY. That vault program is not a given.
Gymnastike has this labeled as Zamarripa’s 2013 NCAA routine, but I assume this is a midway work-in-progress routine somewhere between NCAA and elite. It currently doesn’t have a turning element, but regardless of that it is needlessly complex for NCAA, with skills like the clear hip after the shaposh that take away from Zamarripa’s cleanliness, yet too simple to be competitive in elite.
Alyssa Pritchett is planning a double double on floor. Never trust a preseason upgrade (competition or it didn’t happen), but Pritchett’s old routine was always going to be in the 9.850 area when hit. Her tuck full was not perfect, so this could be a smart move if it materializes because the judges may decide to give her a difficulty hall pass, which could see her recording some 9.900s away from home.


Vault and Bars



Cassidy McComb is keeping us updated on Georgia’s progress.


Fear the Beam 2012

The balance beam, she is a cruel mistress.

In 2011, I examined her cruelty by analyzing how teams fared when performing beam routines after a fall earlier in the rotation. The study yielded the following breakthrough: everything is horrible. Nearly every team had significant difficulty breaking 9.800 in those post-fall routines, often suffering a subsequent fall (or two). 

But what’s this? A ray of hope? For this past season, I analyzed the same data for the schools that qualified to Championships, averaging the scores for all routines performed on beam at any point after a fall or fall-equivalent performance (a score of 9.500 or lower), and found significantly stronger results across the country. In fact, beam was the lowest-scoring apparatus for a grand total of none of the teams during this year’s Super Six, and most teams put up respectable numbers over the course of the season.

Average beam score after a fall – 2012
1. Florida – 9.885
2. Alabama – 9.841
3. Oklahoma – 9.869
4. Utah – 9.814
5. Arkansas – 9.809
6. UCLA – 9.808
7. Ohio State – 9.780
8. Oregon State – 9.769
9. Georgia – 9.725
10. Nebraska – 9.722
11. Stanford – 9.700
12. LSU – 9.688

For comparison, last year’s leader, Utah, would have placed 7th in this year’s rankings. In fact, compared to last season, Georgia and Stanford are the only schools analyzed in both lists that regressed in their performances. Georgia actually did pretty well on beam through most of 2012, but the disaster from Championships brought the average down significantly. 

Florida managed a stellar 9.885 and did not record a post-fall beam score lower than 9.850 all year. Now, the Gators did perform only 5 routines after falls all year, so they did not have as many opportunities to ruin everything.

Number of beam routines after falls – 2012
1. Florida – 5
2. Oklahoma – 8
3. Stanford – 10
4. Georgia – 12
5. Alabama – 14
6. Utah – 20
7. Oregon State – 22
8. Arkansas – 25
9. UCLA – 26
10. LSU – 31
11. Ohio State – 32
12. Nebraska – 38

The difference in consistency is slightly amazing. Rare was the week that Nebraska or Ohio State was not fighting an early fall. Nebraska performed 78 beam routines as a team last year, and 38 (49%) of those routines took place after someone else had already fallen.

In theory, these first two lists should match up almost exactly because the best teams on beam will suffer the fewest falls and record the highest scores overall, but as we see that’s not always true. For instance, our regressed schools Stanford and Georgia performed relatively few routines after beam falls but fared rather poorly in those routines. Arkansas and UCLA, however, maintained relatively strong averages considering how many pressure-filled beam routines they were forced to perform.

Interestingly, our individual standouts did not always come from the strongest teams.
Usually, they were the select few who saved their teams from being unqualified disasters.

In creating these individual lists, I limited the numbers to those who performed at least 3 routines after falls because otherwise the sample size is just too small to make any kind of argument about quality.

Best average beam score after a fall – 2012 (minimum 3 routines)
1. Leslie Mak (Oregon State) – 9.900
2. Sam Peszek (UCLA) – 9.883
3. Katherine Grable (Arkansas) – 9.881
3. Vanessa Zamarripa (UCLA) – 9.881
5. Sarah Miller (Ohio State) – 9.875
6. Ashley Priess (Alabama) – 9.858
6. Geralen Stack-Eaton (Alabama) – 9.858
8. Kyndal Robarts (Utah) – 9.855
9. Cortni Beers (Utah) – 9.845
10. Jessie DeZiel (Nebraska) – 9.842
10. Jaime Pisani (Arkansas) – 9.842

Mak performed 5 routines after falls and scored 9.925 in 3 of them, including a vital Regionals performance where even a 9.800 would have seen the Beavers lose their Championships slot to Michigan. Interestingly, Priess and Stack-Eaton both performed 3 routines after falls, and each recorded a 9.925, a 9.875, and a 9.775 for the exact same average.

Worst average beam score after a fall – 2012 (minimum 3 routines)
1. Kaleigh Dickson (LSU) – 9.500
2. Brittany Skinner (Nebraska) – 9.555
3. Jamie Schleppenbach (Nebraska) – 9.588
4. Sarah Persinger (Georgia) – 9.512
5. Brittany Harris (Oregon State) – 9.613
6. Lloimincia Hall (LSU) – 9.663
7. Mary Beth Lofgren (Utah) – 9.675
8. Colleen Dean (Ohio State) – 9.696
9. Rheagan Courville (LSU) – 9.709
10. Lora Evenstad (Nebraska) – 9.738

Oh, Nebraska and LSU. Brittany Skinner won this ignominious title last year with a score more a tenth lower, so progress has been made. Overall, far fewer people were put up in high-leverage situations who were not comfortable in them. Courville and Evenstad made this list, but those averages aren’t even particularly worrisome.

Finally, special commendation for 4 mental giants whose teams subjected them to terror on a weekly basis. Each of these gymnasts performed 9 beam routines after falls during the season and did not fall once.

Team savior award – 2012
9 routines, 0 falls:
Sam Peszek (UCLA) – 9.883
Katherine Grable (Arkansas) – 9.881
Sarah Miller (Ohio State) – 9.875
Jessie DeZiel (Nebraska) – 9.842

NLI Week

Starting Wednesday, we will begin to receive the official announcements of gymnasts signing their National Letters of Intent for the 2013-2014 season. The signing period lasts until November 21st.

Most of this information is already available because of verbal commitments (and the list can be seen here), but there are always a few talking points once the press releases come out. This will also give us an opportunity to assess the strengths and weaknesses in each team’s recruiting classes moving beyond this season.

I will compile the release links for the major teams here as the week progresses. 

Alabama – Release
Amanda Jetter and Katie Bailey

Florida – Release
Claire Boyce, Silvia Colussi-Pelaez, and Morgan Frazier

UCLA Release
Hallie Mossett and Angela Cipra

Oklahoma – Release
McKenzie Wofford, Charity Jones, Kara Lovan, Chayse Capps, and Reagan Hemry

Georgia – Release
Ashlyn Broussard, Kiera Brown, Rachel Schick, and Morgan Reynolds

Baely Rowe

Sophia Lee, Rachel Daum, and Carinne Gale

Samantha Nelson, Paris Ryder, and Amanda Wellick

Oregon State  Release
Megan Jimenez, Kana Kobayashi, Kaytianna McMillian, and Taylor Ricci

LSU – Release
Ashleigh Gnat and Shonacee Oliva.

Ohio State – Release 
Tenille Funches, Anna Hill, and Jaine’ Van Putten

Michigan – Release
Talia Chiarelli

Illinois – Release
Mary Jane Horth, Erin Buchanan, and Sarah Lyons

Missouri – Release
Alyson Heimsath, Lark Pokladnik, and Sasha Sander

Auburn Release
Mary Jane Rott and Kullen Hlawek

Megan DeLallo, Alexandra Yavalis, Stephanie Stowe, Kaitlyn Duranczyk, and Jessica Nesis

Ranking the 2012 Floor Final

Continuing the mission to pick the real winner of things, it’s time to look at the 2012 NCAA Floor Final, a.k.a. the vacation home of our very best friend, controversy.

Unlike the vault 10s, in this case we do have an actual winner. Kat Ding won the title with a 9.950 over the 9.9375s for Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs and Geralen Stack-Eaton. There were . . . a lot of opinions about this result the first time around, so it will be interesting to see how things have developed now that we’ve had months to reflect.

The top 5 finishers are included below. Watch the routines and rank how you think they should have finished. I did not include the 9.900 routines from Zamarripa, Dickerson, and DeZiel because, while they were solid performances, none would be mistaken for a potential winner. The real shame is that Jaime Pisani probably should have been our floor champ, but she didn’t have a strong performance in the final.  

(Where would we be without NastiaFan101 uploading all these individual routines?)

Kat Ding – 9.950

Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs – 9.9375

Geralen Stack-Eaton – 9.9375

Melanie Jones – 9.925

Kytra Hunter – 9.9250

My ranking and thoughts:

1. Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs
2. Melanie Jones
3. Geralen Stack-Eaton
4. Kytra Hunter
5. Kat Ding

Let’s begin with Kat Ding. She’s a gem, but this is the least impressive routine of the five. Perhaps the judges just felt bad that she has been stuck on such a stinker team for the past few seasons and wanted to give her two titles. As KJC points out, the dance elements are not quite there. The front leg is well below horizontal on the switch ring, and she has a bent leg on the wolf full. There’s also some leg separation in the twisting elements. She does get bonus points from me for the layout stepout on the dismount, which is to die for.

If we’re going to keep NCAA from turning into elite, then we have to place serious importance on choreography, and that is the primary reason for EHH outpacing the rest of the group. You can argue against the difficulty of her double tuck mount, but her tumbling was right on and the artistry is the best of the group. She manages not only to have interesting movements but to portray a cohesive, fluid character. Everything fits together, and she doesn’t fall out of the persona of the routine when she’s not specifically focused on the choreography, as so many do. She has laser eyes.

I was also pleasantly surprised by Melanie Jones in this final. Her form is strong across all the elements. I also live for a simple dive roll, and hers is placed and performed excellently. Like Stack-Eaton, she is using a very dramatic piece, but she pulls it off just a little bit better. People often want to use big music for their floor routines, but that is a challenge because you have to live up to that music continuously for a minute and a half. I wish Alabama had recut Stack-Eaton’s music and recomposed her routine. She ends up standing in the corner during some of the most sweeping parts of the piece, and it feels incongruous.

As for Kytra Hunter, her tumbling is crazy excellent, as we all knew it would be, but her performance is still just a little Hill’s and a little pose-y. You can see the moment when she remembered to smile. She could very well deserve this title in her junior and senior years, but right now it’s a tumbling show with a little bit of standing on her head in the middle. She needs to become a floor performer.

Ranking the Vault 10s

In 2012, we saw five 10s awarded on vault.

There are two types of gymnastics fans: Those who say, “Great for them! They’re all winners!” and those who say, “But who is the actual winner?”

I think it’s time to pick an actual winner. The videos of the five vaults are provided below. Let’s all watch and rank, and we’ll come up with a winner among the 10s.

Feel free to move beyond the scoring system and embrace the inherent subjectivity by using any and all criteria you think is appropriate: body shape, landing position, block, amplitude, distance, difficulty, artistic interpretation, hairstyle selection, ability to convey a theme through movement, leotard quality, coach reaction, etc. Use it all.

Geralen Stack Eaton – January 13, 2012

Vanessa Zamarripa – January 15, 2012

Diandra Milliner – February 3, 2012

Tauny Frattone – March 11, 2012

Vanessa Zamarripa – April 21, 2012

My ranking and thoughts:

1. Frattone
2. Zamarripa January
3. Zamarripa Super Six
4. Stack-Eaton
5. Milliner

It may just be the relaxation of retrospection, but I’m feeling a lot more forgiving toward these vaults than I was at the time. I’m not going to debate any awarding of 10s, so it basically comes down to a matter of taste.

I’ve decided to be a little controversial here and put Frattone’s vault first. I didn’t feel this way when it happened, and I can grant vehement disagreement through discussion of leg separation and difficulty, but it is by far the most satisfyingly stuck vault of the group. Part of that is the nature of this vault. You’re not going to be as hunched over and afraid as you are on a Yurchenko full, but she has the best presence and posture on landing. I’m such a sucker for that.

Compare that to Stack-Eaton, who is at a little bit of a 45 degree angle when she sticks. (Incidentally, her Super Six vault was far stronger and would have contended for the top of the list had it received a 10). For Zamarripa, she bounces out of that January stick pretty quickly, and I doubt whether she could have held it. In the Super Six vault, she’s a victim of replay. In that reverse angle, we can see her rocking on one foot to try to hold onto the vault, which takes away from the stick. I put both the Zamarripa vaults ahead of the Stack-Eaton vault, though, largely based on overall appreciation of form.

The Milliner vault goes last for me because it has the clearest issue. She bends those knees pretty obviously even in real time, so while she gets bonus points for difficulty, it’s still the least impressive 10 to me. One of the tings that helps Frattone’s vault in my estimation is that she almost always bends her legs a little on that vault but didn’t this time.

What do you think? Am I crazy? What is your ranking?