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?


Freshman Orientation: UCLA

I had been holding off on previewing the UCLA freshmen because there is still a degree of doubt as to what the Peng plan is. Peng Peng Lee is in the recovery phase from her summer ACL tear, and at this point it is unclear if UCLA will push to get her back by the end of the season on any event, or if this will simply be a redshirt year. It’s a crucial decision because, aside from being every NCAA fan’s favorite elite, Lee was going to be the integral part of Operation Enduring Canada. UCLA lost two stellar northerners in Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs and Aisha Gerber, and Lee seemed like the only freshman who could fill Gerber’s leotard on bars and beam, at least until Gerber Part Deux arrives in 2013-2014.

In addition to Gerber’s bars and beam, UCLA will need to find people to bring in the 9.9s that EHH was delivering on beam and floor and that Tauny Frattone was consistently posting on vault. (I’m less concerned about EHH’s vault and Frattone’s floor because those should be competently replaced by any number of gymnasts.) Lee would have been tasked with the major part of that assignment, but without her, the other freshmen tasked with keeping UCLA competitive with Alabama and Florida are Danusia Francis, Sophina DeJesus, and Asi Peko, each of whom will be expected to contribute multiple routines to the Zamarripa/Peszek/(Larson?) show in 2013.

Peng Peng Lee 

Even though she may not compete this year, let’s use this excuse to watch Lee’s routines. When fully healthy, she is an all-arounder for this team. Bars has been a standout event for her in the past, and it always seemed like she should be able to pull together something more than a 5.7 difficulty, but that won’t be a relevant issue in NCAA. A simply constructed routine that showcases her Bhardwaj and toe point (and not her toe-on technique) should be late-lineup worthy.

Beam, however, is my favorite event of hers. In the above video, her starting pose is more artistic than most people’s whole routines. She used to struggle with consistency, but as she’s gotten older, those issues have lessened. Her split positions are almost always excellent, and I look forward to seeing her compete regularly. She can sell beam choreography better than most. 

While vaulting only a Yurchenko full held her back as an elite in terms of difficulty, she is still a surprisingly good vaulter for a Commonwealth gymnast. Usually, there is something about recognizing the sovereignty of the queen that makes one’s shoulder angle terrible. Maybe it’s all that bowing. People don’t talk about her vault and floor work as much, but she can be just as successful in NCAA on those events. Floor, in particular, has great presentation and more than sufficient difficulty and should be just as successful for her as beam.

Of all the incoming freshmen this year on all the teams, I am most excited about Lee. So, of course, she’s injured.

Danusia Francis

Danusia Francis made multiple international teams for Great Britain based largely on her ability to stay on the beam, a skill few others in the country have mastered. For a team like UCLA that tends to go for the land-speed record for beam falls each January, that skill will be valuable, and I expect her to make that lineup in a “reliable 3rd up” kind of role. She also surely stood out to the UCLA coaching staff because of her performance quality on floor, and I anticipate a concerted attempt to get her into that lineup as well. She doesn’t show notable difficulty or consistency in tumbling, so working to get the landings pristine will be the paramount job for the preseason.

Vault and bars are not nearly as strong, and for a team that has a lot of 9.825-9.850s floating around on vault, I don’t expect to see Francis there. On bars, there are some OK individual skills, but everything is just too much of a struggle to consider it one of her events. She doesn’t have a top-level dismount and doesn’t get a lot of flight on releases.

Sophina DeJesus

Because she was an elite for several years, DeJesus shouldn’t be as foreign to me as many of the other incoming gymnasts around the country who competed only JO, but I realize that I don’t have many strong impressions about her beyond “hip hop dancer.” That seems to be the extent of her narrative, and I’m sure that dance background was UCLA catnip and that Val is thrilled to choreograph a routine for her and get her into the floor lineup.

On the other events, though, I have doubts. I haven’t seen a vault from her since she was a junior and performed a, frankly, quite Commonwealth Yurchenko full. Bars has always had some form breaks and beam some consistency issues. That isn’t to say she can’t make those events; she certainly can and has the difficulty, but I still wonder, will she be any more than just a dancer?

 Asi Peko

When she was a day old, Asi Peko was in that same junior conversation as Samantha Shapiro and Cassie Whitcomb. She had a Yurchenko double full and big difficulty with strong execution on floor. She’s a different gymnast now, so those accomplishments are largely irrelevant to her potential NCAA success.

Still, Peko had a very successful 2011 JO campaign and still has some of that elite flair. She shows a tuck full on floor with confident overall tumbling, so combine her floor skills with those of other incomers, and we could see a great fight for those six floor spots this year. Like most of the other incomers, though, bars is more of a question mark than the other events, and it won’t necessarily be a standout for her. Overall, I do see a fit and healthy Peko competing regularly on multiple events in the middle of the lineup in a similar role to what we have seen from Syd Sawa. 

Freshman Orientation: Oklahoma

It was a severely depleted Sooner team that limped to a still-respectable 196.925 at National Semifinals last year, missing out on Super Six for the first time in three years. Couple the graduations of Megan Ferguson, Sara Stone, and Candace Cindell with the returns of Kayla Nowak, Rebecca Clark, and Lauren Alexander and the introductions of Keeley Kmieciak, Haley Scaman, Maile’ana Kanewa, and Hunter Price, and I think we can expect the 2013 Sooners to be a completely different animal from the group we saw compete at the end of 2012. 

The most high-profile challenge for Oklahoma this season will be finding a way to withstand the loss of Ferguson’s three 9.9+ routines. In typical Oklahoma fashion, I expect that to be a team effort. I don’t see one single member of this 2013 group suddenly emerging as a multiple-9.9 machine. Different stars on different events will likely help this team 9.875 most opponents to death.

While the hole left by Ferguson will be notable, I’m more interested in how this group of freshmen will contribute on Ferguson’s nonevent, vault. Vault saw the most serious depletion last year (poor Haley Sorensen was put in the position of having to contribute even though no one could have expected more than a 9.700 from her). Still, no gymnasts recorded 9.9s at Regionals or National Semifinals, so even a healthy team would have been unlikely to contend with the 49.600 sisters. In addition, they have lost their best vaulter in Sara Stone, so the Sooners will need the biggest contribution from the freshmen there, and it appears they will get it.

Keeley Kmieciak was the strongest vaulter in JO last year and recorded the only 9.900 at JO Nationals with her stuck Yurchenko 1.5. Haley Scaman also has a very strong Y1.5 than can verge on excellent. Look for these two to help lift Oklahoma out of that gully of Yurchenko halves they have been sitting in recently.

In fact, every one of these freshmen stands out on vault and floor, which seems to indicate a concerted effort by K.J. Kindler to address the areas where she was falling behind the teams that can potentially put up six 9.900s. Kmieciak won floor in her division at JO Nationals as well and shows a nice tuck full, but more importantly she has confident landings and a comfortable performance persona that should serve her well in NCAA.


Scaman shows a double layout on floor and has strong amplitude overall. She had a bit of an episode on beam at JOs, but she can present well there at times and could make the lineup.


Kanewa, as mentioned, is also a vault and floor specialist who has shown a strong pike full for several seasons now (particularly good posture on landing) and has a workable 9.800-ish Yurchenko full. Based on her JO quality, I wouldn’t expect her to contribute on bars or beam, but Oklahoma always surprises by having unexpected gymnasts emerge on unexpected events. Observe:

Kanewa Bars – February 2012

Kanewa Bars – two weeks ago

The improvement fairy came to visit.

The fourth freshman, Hunter Price, has strengths, but I have trouble seeing her contributing. She shows a nice handspring front pike on vault, but it’s still just a handspring front pike. She would have to upgrade. Similarly, floor can be OK, but I’m not sold on the difficulty or the landings.

Overall, I’m encouraged by vault, but watch the progression of this group on bars because there will need to be continued development to make that a competitive event. We’re not made of Brie Olsons. 

Freshman Orientation: Alabama

The two-time defending champions are not the vogue pick to win a third-straight title this year. That has a little bit to do with a lack of positive reputation among vocal fans, many of whom are based in the greater Athens area, and many coaches. Tellingly, the coaches never select Alabama as preseason #1 even though it is almost procedure for Georgia and UCLA to be awarded preseason #1 after they win titles. It’s a reputation that does not extend to judges, though, hence the titles.

Much of the lack of favoritism this year, though, can be attributed to a loss of talent. Last year, the team didn’t feel the graduation of Kayla Hoffman particularly dramatically because Ashley Priess came back. It was mostly a wash. This year, they will feel the lack of Geralen Stack-Eaton. I foresee a season where we hear a lot of “If only Geralen were in that lineup” when the team needs a crucial 9.950 that doesn’t come.

The incoming freshmen, Lauren Beers and Carley Sims, cannot alone be expected to fill those 9.900s on every event. That wouldn’t be a fair or realistic expectation. The upperclassmen will have to be a little more 9.900 and a little less 9.850 across multiple events, but I’ll get to that more in December when I preview the teams as a whole. For now, let’s look at where we can expect the freshmen to contribute.

Lauren Beers



Lauren Beers has enough talent to compete in the all-around this season if needed, though I don’t anticipate that happening too often. She has the usual Bama strengths, vault and floor, featuring a Yurchenko 1.5 that she competed as an elite and improved in JO and a high double layout on floor. If she’s consistently landing the Y1.5, that should help get her into a very deep vault lineup.

She has the skill set on beam but is definitely not a beamer. My impression of her on that event will forever be tainted by a disastrous performance from elite Nationals when she fell on a stoop-through mount and only barely broke 10 (10.600 with a 5.200 execution). That kind of performance stays with you. On bars, she can compete and likely can score in that 9.800-9.850 territory that we’ve been seeing from Kim Jacob, Sarah Demeo, and Kaitlyn Clark. In fact, her overall style is very similar to Kaitlyn Clark’s, and I see them having similar careers.

Carley Sims
I know much less about Carley Sims, but based on her recruiting video, she was born for Bama. Vault is very nice (she outscored Beers there at JO Nationals this year), and floor could come along. Bars is just sort of fine, but I don’t expect to see her on beam at all. When there are wobbles in the recruiting video, it’s usually not a good sign.

I made the same comment last year (so it doesn’t necessarily hold weight because they won the title), but I have concerns about this team on bars. Priess and the occasional Sledge are the only names I anticipate sporting 9.900s next to them this season. They’ll need those 49.600s on vault.