The Benching Conundrum

It’s March now. Spring is just around the corner. And you know what that means? It’s time to start talking about whether Shayla Worley should be pulled from lineups. It has become an annual tradition. You’ll miss it when she’s gone.

2012 was supposed to be Shayla’s Renaissance, but it hasn’t worked out because of performances like this:

Add that to a whole bunch of scores in the 9.7s, and the calls for her to be benched (at least on bars and floor) have intensified over the last few weeks. In particular, Shayla’s inability to perform a clean bars dismount has caught everyone’s attention.
[Tangent] A disturbing recent trend in NCAA gymnastics is former elites who cannot perform UB dismounts. This is an unfortunate side effect of the current elite code. These gymnasts on the elite track will learn a single D dismount (elite code) that they can land, usually with major deductions and poor technique which are accepted because it’s elite and cleanliness is not the major concern (see Shayla’s double front). Then, they get to NCAA where those same dismounts would be deduction factories and cannot be used. Now, these extremely talented elites are at a disadvantage because they have to start from scratch on the dismount and are suddenly well behind less talented JO gymnasts who were compelled to learn competent technique because of their code. [/Tangent]    
A situation like Shayla’s creates a difficult conundrum for a coach.

Do you bench Shayla because she hasn’t been hitting consistently, giving up on her potential score and accepting a 9.750 on bars and floor from a Sarah Persinger or Mariel Box? Or do you keep Shayla in the lineup hoping that she gains some competition confidence and figures out her routines?

Georgia is certainly not alone in having this dilemma. UCLA is going through the same thing given how many times Mattie Larson has had mistakes on floor. The judges will be itching to give her big scores if she actually hits her routine, but she has fallen or made major mistakes so many times. With Peszek and Gerber coming back into the floor lineup this week, there is the temptation to bench Mattie, even though her potential score is much higher than the score from someone like Gerber or Frattone.

In my mind, as a coach you have to take the riskier option. You have to put faith in a Shayla or a Mattie that they will hit when it matters because taking the other option does not reflect a championship attitude. The very top teams could all play it safe, make finals, and finish 4th-6th, but whichever team does end up winning the title will have all the best gymnasts hitting to potential at the same time. Benching a top performer because she has been missing is basically giving up on the best possible performance, maybe even giving up on a championship. Playing it safe may be the most prudent option, but it’s not the best option. If a team has the talent and potential but doesn’t show it, then what’s the point?

After working together for all these months, a coach must display the utmost confidence in both the team and the process. At this point in the season, sending the message that the coaching staff does not trust a major performer to hit undermines what the team has been working for all year, creating uncertainty and eroding confidence. Even if it all turns out to be a disaster, the coach must go down with the ship.


The Weekend Agenda (March 9th-11th)

Top 25 Schedule
Friday – 3/9/12
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – [5] Georgia @ [20] Michigan
7:30 ET / 4:30 PT – [16] Auburn @ Southeast Missouri
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – [9] LSU @ Iowa
8:30 ET / 5:30 PT – [14] Missouri @ [4] Alabama
9:00 ET / 6:00 PT – [6] Nebraska @ [7] Utah
9:00 ET / 6:00 PT – [11] Stanford @ [23] Arizona State
9:00 ET / 6:00 PT – Cal @ [15] Boise State
10:00 ET / 7:00 PT – San Jose State @ [24] Washington

Saturday – 3/10/12
1:00 ET / 10:00 PT – [13] Ohio State @ North Carolina
6:00 ET / 3:00 PT – [8] Arkansas @ West Virginia
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – Iowa State @ [18] Minnesota
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – [9] Oregon State @ [22] Denver

Sunday – 3/11/12
1:00 ET / 10:00 PT – [17] Arizona @ New Hampshire
1:00 ET / 10:00 PT – [19] Illinois @ Western Michigan
2:00 ET / 11:00 PT – George Washington, Ball State @ [25] Kentucky
2:30 ET / 11:30 PT – [21] NC State @ [5] Georgia
5:00 ET / 2:00 PT – [2] Oklahoma @ [3] UCLA
6:00 ET / 3:00 PT – [12] Penn State @ Pittsburgh

Just two more weeks left in the regular season, and UCLA, Georgia, and Stanford all finish their seasons this weekend. The most important meeting of the weekend is Oklahoma @ UCLA, and I will be live blogging that meet on Sunday. Both of those teams will probably be feeling pretty 198 about themselves going into that clash. UCLA will have Sam Peszek back in the all-around.

On Friday, Georgia visits Michigan, so we’ll obviously be watching the scores closely (Couch and Tanella, in particular). Remember the last time Georgia visited Michigan and they got all upset about the low scores? Ah, the good old days. [Applause for gymnastike’s easily accessible archives].

“Robbed” in unison. Excellent.
Later on Friday, we should all follow Alabama hosting Missouri and Utah hosting Nebraska. This is an important opportunity for Utah to make the argument that the last few weeks have been a aberration instead of an indication. They will certainly feel displeased that Nebraska is ranked ahead of them and will be looking to prove they are the better team. This could be an interesting preview of a clash between these two at Nationals because I don’t necessarily see both of these teams advancing to finals. I’d love to see them in the same prelim. My ideal prelims would have an SEC session and a Pac-12 session just to provide the best possible drama. [So,  Session 1) Oklahoma, UCLA, Nebraska, Utah, Oregon State, Stanford. Session 2) Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, LSU, Whoever gets the last spot]. Admit it, it would be fun. (And it’s kind of possible.)  

Monday Rankings

National Rankings for March 5, 2012

1. Florida – 197.330
2. Oklahoma – 197.310
3. UCLA – 197.085
4. Alabama – 196.925
5. Georgia – 196.915
6. Nebraska – 196.795
7. Utah – 196.555
8. Arkansas – 196.545
9. Oregon State – 196.405
9. LSU – 196.405
11. Stanford – 196.205
12. Penn State – 195.995
13. Ohio State – 195.940
14. Missouri – 195.790
15. Boise State – 195.750
16. Auburn – 195.735
17. Arizona – 195.525
18. Minnesota – 195.470
19. Illinois – 195.360
20. Michigan – 195.345
21. NC State – 195.335
22. Denver – 195.270
23. Arizona State – 195.145
24. Washington – 195.025
25. Kentucky – 194.930
Thoughts after the jump:
  • Home stretch time now. With the lead they have and the scores they are consistently producing, Florida and Oklahoma appear to have locked up the top two spots. Since Florida is on a bye this coming weekend, Oklahoma has an opportunity to take over the top spot (they’ll need a 197.325 @ UCLA to do it). Oklahoma started slowly against Alabama on Friday, but they came back on floor to win and solidify their position in terms of reputation and expectation going into the postseason. They have a chance to do it again this weekend, and they need to since they do not have the built-in national respect that the championship schools do.
  • UCLA is now in a precarious position since they have only one meet remaining in the regular season while the next few schools in the rankings all have two, meaning that Georgia and Alabama will like their chances to move up. Though UCLA may be relishing that late bye so that they can get people like Sam Peszek rested and healthy for the postseason. They really missed her 9.875 consistency in the AA last weekend.
  • I think our current top six is solid and unlikely to change before Regionals (especially given the way Utah has been scoring), so they should be our top 6 seeds. It will be fun to watch the posturing of the #3 seeds, which will be the biggest determining factor as to which Regionals are the most interesting. Ohio State has scored well a few times, and Auburn will be hosting, so they are the most important ones to watch. Wouldn’t you love an Alabama/LSU/Auburn Regional? It’s very possible.
  • Utah and Arkansas have been stuck at these same scores for weeks now. Stagnation is a huge red flag. Arkansas has lost Salsberg for the season, but they still have a chance to contend if they get Grable back on all the events. Unfortunately, it looks like a classic case of peaking too soon.

One Big Cup of America – Live Blog

The Olympic year is officially here. You will be able to note immediately the change in tone from our broadcasters, who will spend their time talking about legacy and honor and glory (even more than usual). Obviously, I live for it. Last night, Nastia was very diligent about mentioning that the college scholarship is the real, achievable goal for so many gymnasts. Starting today, that’s out the window. It’s the Olympics, or you’re a failure. There is no next year.

The broadcast will begin at 11:30 ET / 8:30 PT on Universal Sports (with the men’s competition), then will change to NBC at 1:00 ET / 10:00 PT, because nothing says “fan-friendly” like switching networks in the middle of a live broadcast. But I’m glad at least some of it is on NBC because Universal doesn’t broadcast in HD. What are we, Amish? Every Universal Sports broadcast looks like someone spilled coffee on a WNBA game.

For those without our gracious American networks, you can watch the broadcast HERE.

What you won’t be seeing today:
Gabby Douglas was the talk of podium training because of how much she has improved since last year. I love reading Blythe at the Examiner when she gets excited about things because she actually sounds like she’s about to spill over in the press area. Unfortunately, Douglas is just an exhibition competitor, so we will have to focus on the rest of the field. Hopefully we still get to see Douglas’s scores from somewhere, because they could get very high. 
Aly Raisman has also upgraded to what looked to be a pretty solid Amanar, and Jordyn Wieber was training a bunch of strange connections on beam that shouldn’t really ever get credit. Wieber had the weakest podium training of the three Americans but should still run away with the competition.
Oodles of chatter after the jump. 

Remember that the men will begin before the women. Start list is here.

Rotation 1: Men on floor

We’re starting. The most famous knitting circle in gymnastics (Elfi!) has already mentioned the Olympics 163 times. This is going to be a long, hilarious day.

I will say this for the Germans, they know how to make gymnasts. Russia, take note. Your team always look like they just survived 15 weeks in the tundra taking an emotive acting workshop from Hilary Swank.

I feel a bit bad for Jon Horton every time I watch Danell Leyva. Jon has been around for so long, but everyone immediately likes Danell better after two seconds of international competition. Clean floor routine from Danell, gorgeous as always.

Daggett just mispronounced stoic. He said “stoyk.” All we can do is sigh. Elfi, Bart Connor, and KJC, please.

Fine routine from Orozco, not his best event. Messy on a couple of passes. Adorable little Jackson Payne from Canada has an unfortunately messy floor routine.

The national bird of Scotland, Daniel Purvis, is now up on floor. A few awkward landings, but mostly fine. Questions about an OOB . . . maybe. Al is right on top of it because it’s the rule he knows.

Tim is pretending that the Russians aren’t here because Mustafina lost last year, not because it’s a terrible time of year and they already are sending teams to Pac Rims, Euros, etc. Uh . . . sure, Tim. Whatever you say.

Awkward routine from Sejima with several mistakes, but an excellent clean line and strong tumbling from Kuksenkov. Al is harping on OOB again, like it even matters with this code. Mostly clean from Verniaiev on the tumbling, expect for one bad pass with an out of bounds.

Something insufferable happened with Retton. I can’t talk about it. They should have brought in some Soviets and asked them to tell the truth about the American team.

Rotation 2: Men on Horse

Some huge form breaks from Danell on horse. So disappointing, but he did VERY well not to fall off midway through. Will be a low score, though. (14.433 – I’m not familiar enough with the men’s code, but doesn’t that seem super high?)

Oh, America. Orozco falls. Remember when it seemed like this team had figured out the horse?

Anyone watching on USN who just saw the bladder sling commercial will never be the same.

Purvis has a pretty sizable form break, but for this competition so far that was a definite hit. Scores are going American Cup high, so it’s a good result.  Sejima has a lot of potential with his swing on horse but has to take a fall.

Elfi and Tim are being extremely irritating by not understanding what a bad time of year this is for a competition. They say that’s just an excuse. It isn’t. They are pretending this is a prestigious event to the rest of the world. It isn’t.

Nice routine from Kuksenkov with one major form break, similar to Purvis. Fall from Verniaiev – this has been a very poor horse competition for all. Not Nguyen’s best event, but he is competing better than anyone else today.

“Some people in the US call it a Roethlisberger.” They make it so hard to be a nice person. I blame them.

Purvis leads just over Kuksenkov after 2 rotations.

Rotation 3: Women on Vault, Men on Rings

A bit surprised that they are showing Brooks on rings. Hopefully that means we will see some Douglas as well. Extremely clean routine. Same from Orozco until the dismount, with a big squat and lunge back.

On vault, Rebecca Tunney starts, rocking excellent Becky Wing hair. I approve. Just a Yfull with a pike down – British vaulting. Al likes her ugly leotard because it has the flag in it. That narrative is really exhausting.

Pretty good from Victoria Moors – DTY with a little direction and low chest, but strong. Elfi compares her to Podkopaeva. (14.733)

Word is that Douglas nailed her Yurchenko 2.5, but we didn’t see it on the broadcast. Huge progress for her. Let’s watch her exhibition scores compared to Wieber’s totals.

Purvis hits rings very well, and Chelaru has the most horrifying legs on her block. I didn’t see anything after that. I blacked out. She wishes she could improve to Nabieva quality. Can we credit that as a straddled Yurchenko? Group 6?

Daggett: “Elena Mustafina.” Just to make sure we never forget what happens here.

Important that Iordache has a DTY. Not a great landing, but it can get better. She can go on 3 events (at least) for Romania in team finals. (14.866)

Great rings from Kuksenkov’s Eastern European haircut.

Wieber definitely has improved some little things about her Amanar. She’s getting closer to deserving to score as close to Maroney as she has been. Very small hop forward. (16.100 – so 9.600 on execution)

Andrea Joyce has Bela. They’re both talking over each other. Awesome. Don’t you think they should have Bela just anchor the broadcast? Andrea pretends that the US came into the last two Olympics as overwhelming favorites . . . OK . . .

Broadcast is now switching to NBC. They better show us Raisman’s vault, as she also received a 9.600 on execution to score level with Wieber.  I’m going to need to SEE that. They both have 16.100 after one event.

For the men, Kuksenkov leads Purvis slightly at the halfway point.

Rotation 4: Women on Bars, Men on Vault

The Trautwig is taking us through the champions to the tune of dramatic NBC music. Everyone is smiling except Nastia and Nadia. This is why they are the best champions.

Now that the NBC broadcast is starting, Tim has obliged by going into “That Right There” mode. Tim is also pretending that Komova can’t do a Y2.5 and doesn’t know what ironic means. He’s in rare form today.

They’re not showing us Aly’s vault. Are you kidding me?

Chelaru is extremely sloppy in the legs and so low on amplitude, flings out a DLO dismount with a big lunge. Underlining the need for Izbasa to get a bar routine together.

Iordache hits a strong bar set that will earn her spot on the Olympic team. A few missed handstands, a leg separation on the pak, and a late pirouette, but it’s so much better than her teammates.

Wieber’s bar routine has not changed from 2011, including the sluggish beginning and the questionable composition out of the shaposh. That being said, she did exceptionally well to hold on to her handstand. Still, it highlights how inconsistent this routine still is for her. That’s the risk of relying on awkward combinations to get the full difficulty score.

Wieber scores .500 higher than Iordache on execution. American Cup.

Fluff about John Orozco. Yay fluff! You’ll probably cry. Welcome to the Olympic year.

Aly Raisman onto bars, usual Aly form, big break on the tkatchev. As much as they’ve tried to improve her on bars, it’s just not her event  and it’s never going to happen. HA! She got a 8.433 on execution. This competition is so fun and insane.

Absolutely glorious form in the air for Leyva on vault, easy vault for him and it shows. Low landing from Orozco with a big step forward.

Moors goes over on a handstand, but I had her pegged as more of a Raisman type on bars – but she proved she has much better form than that. A shame about the mistake because she has some OK skills and quality.

Kuksenkov still leads Purvis by a touch in the mens, Wieber leads Raisman by .500 at the halfway point for the women.

Rotation 5: Women on beam, Men on PBars

Andrea is talking to Nastia, who clearly just saw that bar rotation and booked her tickets to London.

One of the treats of this competition, Iordache on beam. Really a lot to love in this routine, just a few wobbles on some acro and the double turn – and the triple full dismount was not up to her usual level. Still fun to watch.

Purvis has a bit of a struggle on Pbars on the men’s side.

Wieber goes up on beam. Holds on after a nervy layout stepout. Tries to do her weird back full, back handspring sandwich but shouldn’t get credit for either connection. She’s become more solid as the routine goes on. Hits the routine, but I have to admit that I actually agree with Tim (gasp!) that those connections are just begging for extra deductions. Still gets a 14.966.

Depending on how these judges feel about Aly’s legs (I assume they’ll feel pretty good about them, given that it’s American Cup), she could make up ground here. After two rotations, Gabby Douglas in exhibition had a lead on Wieber, but it didn’t count.

She was looking good, but had to touch the beam on her split full. Very unexpected mistake there. Hits the rest of her routine pretty well, but it was certainly not her best. Actually didn’t touch the beam on replay – good presence of mind to avoid doing that. Mihai is not happy with her performance. Neither am I. She can’t give away wobbles on acro because she gives away those tenths on dance.

Looks like Gabby Douglas will still have the unofficial lead going into the last rotation. Wieber will still have her .500 lead on Raisman going into floor, which is probably unmanageable without a mistake from Wieber. Iordache is within .900 of Raisman, but she too would need a mistake to move up.

I think Tim Daggett just referred to Madison Square Garden as the most famous building in the world. Don’t accuse the NBC team of hyperbole.  Rebecca Tunney is having a disaster on beam, and Nguyen had a sloppy performance on PBars.

Leyva has to cover a mistake and had a poor dismount. Not what he is capable of – disappointing for him – making it harder to move up during the last rotation. Very clean from Orozco, though. He should be pleased with the comeback on these later events.

Rotation 6: Women on Floor, Men on HBar

Where did this narrative about winning the American Cup = Winning the Olympic All-Around come from? I love when we just decide what history is to fit the story. Why weren’t there interviews with Olympic champions Elena Produnova, Kerri Strug, and Kim Zmeskal? Oh wait…

Tim Daggett has said “Gabby Davis” twice in the span of a minute.

NBC has decided to mention that Douglas is, in fact, winning this competition. I hope it keeps up. That would be a fun story and would complicate the Olympic picture in an exciting way.

Unfortunately we’re only seeing floor for Douglas, which is my least favorite of her events. Out of bounds with a stumble on the mount and again in the corner. Love the rebound into some of these dance elements – that’s how you do it. Take note, others. Not a great routine, but will certainly be enough to stay ahead of Wieber. All of the sudden, this is a big moment in the Olympic process.

OK, why did that ad have Bross saying, “It’s the little things that matter” when they showed her tearing her ACL? That’s not a little thing. “It’s the torn ACLs that matter.”

Strong bar routine from Orozco with a pretty low dismount. Good handstands and difficulty, though.

Nice to see that Tunney recovered on floor with a solid 14.166. We’re getting our first look at Georgia Simpson – very low landings on all this tumbling. Not her strong event. But it’s followed by a pretty strong bar routine from Verniaiev.

We’re missing Iordache’s floor so we can talk about Danell’s tooth. Purvis is seriously missing these handstands. A fine meet for him overall, but it probably won’t win the title as things look now.

Wieber about to go on floor (Gabby is really practicing her game face – she’s learning so fast), good double double but short on the triple full, fine routine overall for her but she will be disappointed in the second pass. (15.133)

Really nice bar routine from Leyva. A couple slight moments of sloppiness and a hop on the landing, but a great way to finish. (15.933)

Raisman – I respect the difficulty of the mount, but I don’t love the leg separation on the layout. I preferred last year’s mount. Just a little off – minor deductions – on her final two passes, so it’s a strong meet overall for Aly, but not her best performance on any of the events that we saw. We’ve have to look for vault later.

Kuksenkov is very clean on bars with a few missed handstands, but the NBC trio is unfortunately dismissive of it because he is not American. (15.200)

Too many errors in Nguyen’s routine – Tim Daggett is not trying to conceal his glee.

Raisman finished just behind Wieber – a testament to her quality on three events that she can challenge Wieber with her unfortunate bar routine – but Gabby Douglas records the highest score. This will be fun to talk about later because for me, Gabby Douglas is our American Cup champion. This performance does bode well for the US team this year, but bars is still a major concern. Martha should not be counting on Wieber to be reliable enough to go in TF.

Leyva is our champion for the men, just edging out Kuksenkov because of HBar.

1. Leyva – 90.664
2. Kuksenkov – 90.498
3. Nguyen – 89.925
4. Purvis – 89.766
5. Orozco – 89.331
6. Verniaiev – 88.132
7. Payne – 84.198
8. Sejima – 79.632

1. Wieber – 61.032
2. Raisman – 60.832
3. Iordache – 59.332
4. Moors – 56.365
5. Chelaru – 56.100
6. Hill – 55.599
7. Simpson – 54.566
8. Tunney – 52.132

Bushel of Friday Scores – UCLA, UGA, Bama, OU, Nastia Cup

Lots to care about in the gymnastics world this weekend. Today, we’ve got some great NCAA matchups between top teams and an important look at future competitors:

7:30 ET / 4:30 PT – [3] UCLA @ [4] Georgia
7:30 ET / 4:30 PT – Nastia Liukin Cup
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – [5] Alabama @ [2] Oklahoma
9:00 ET / 6:00 PT – [9] Oregon State @ [7] Utah

First things first, UCLA @ UGA. Lineups tell us that Shayla is back on three events this week, Moffatt will be going on beam, and Box will be going on floor (no Nuccio on floor). Hit routines from this group will be paramount to complement our expected hits from the likes of Ding and Couch. We’ve also been given the UCLA lineups, but they always change, so it’s barely relevant. Of note is that Sam Peszek is still limited to just beam and that Kaelie Baer will remain in the lineup on vault and beam (change – no longer on beam). So basically it’s the same lineup as last weekend.

Follow along (preferably schizophrenically) with all the competing action after the jump from 7:30 ET / 4:30 PT

Things should get underway at the Nastia Cup within the next 10 minutes, and UCLA/Georgia should begin shortly after that. Can you believe it’s already the second to last weekend of the regular season for both of these teams? This season has FLOWN by.

On the snowboarding that’s on USN right before the Nastia Cup, there is someone named Stale.

At the Nastia Cup, we’ve seen a pretty nice Y2/1 from Charity Jones, a future Oklahoma gymnast. Well done, K.J.  And in our nightly “Please Feel Old” alert, Tyus Edney’s daughter is competing here.

Some changes in the UCLA lineup: Peszek is in on bars for De La Torre (odd), and Courtney is in for Baer on beam (good change).

NC: clean beam routine for Lauren Ramirez, and coach Amanda Borden is bubbling over. And a nice DLO and clean overall tumbling from Casanova on floor. Michigan probably wishes they could just get her on a plane right now.

It’s a good event rotation for both UCLA and Georgia. Georgia should be able to build on UCLA’s bars, and UCLA should be able to build on Georgia’s vault.

NC: clean bar routine from Grace Williams with a few missed handstands and little else you can take. McMurtry with very powerful tumbling on floor and should score well save for an OOB.

Georgia will a good start on vault, sticks from Davis and Couch. EHH apparently had some dismount trouble on bars for 9.750. Noel Couch gets a 9.900, which should inform our perceptions of the scoring tonight.

Georgia will be dropping Earls’s score on vault. Larson gets a 9.825 on bars. These are OK scores for UCLA, but not what they would hope for. They’re going to want 9.875s+ from the rest of the lineup. And Peszek delivers with a 9.900 – so much for bars being the hardest event to get back with her wrist.

NC: Haven’t seen Beth Rybacki in a while . . . a fall for her gymnast Charlie Owens. After one rotation, Charity Jones leads after her excellent Yurchenko double full.

Huge score for Georgia, 49.450 on vault, led by 9.950 from Kat Ding. UCLA gets a 49.300, so they will trail, but that’s not a bad score for them. They would love to see anything over about a 197.2, so that puts them right on pace. This next rotation should show us some real strength for both teams. Keep an eye on what Shayla does. It will inform the whole meet for Georgia mentally.

For UCLA on vault, it will be important for Frattone and Zamarripa to figure out their landings, neither were great last weekend.

NC: Solid Y1.5s from Casanova to start the second rotation.

Baer starts UCLA on vault with a 9.800, about what we’ve come to expect from her. I still think there’s more potential in MDLT’s vault, but whatever. And EHH goes lower with 9.775, not a good start for UCLA on their best event.

Shayla’s bar dismount. It is its own character this season. 9.725.  It doesn’t matter because Chelsea Davis goes 9.950 to match Frattone’s score 4th up on vault. She’s really starting to prove that bars is her best event. She’s setting up the scores for Kat. Let’s see if it happens this week.

Another 9.900 for Zamarripa. She really needs to figure out that stick so she can go 10 again. Unfortunately, Kat Ding also misses performing at her best level with a 9.850. There was a chance for the big guns there, and they didn’t really convert.

After 2: Georgia 98.825, UCLA 98.750
UCLA will need EHH in particular to step up her quality on her better events.

NC: Alex McMurtry, an excellent vaulter, scores 9.900 which will not be beat. She’ll have to convert on her weaker events to get/retain this lead, though. Nice potential from Nia Dennis on beam, just a little shaky. Good skill set and line.

Rotation 3: Georgia on beam, UCLA on bars

So Noel Couch’s scores go, so go the charitability of the meet. Noel goes 9.900 on beam as the leadoff.

Over in Oklahoma, Alabama is on near 198 pace and is well ahead of the hosts. This kind of score will help them gain on UCLA and Georgia, even with the big scoring we’re seeing here.

Georgia is going huge on the scores on beam, and UCLA is underperforming on floor. Frattone goes 9.725, which is not very considerate of her.

More trouble for UCLA. Mattie struggles on floor. Judging issue on this routine. 9.475. OOB and a composition question. You’ll never get to do a DLO if you keep up that kind of performance. Now UCLA will have to count Frattone’s low score.

No pressure for Shayla in this routine, as Georgia already has a massive beam score. And she hits. First score up to her potential in a while. Georgia will have a big lead going into the last event.

NC: Leader McMurtry just went on bars and had terrifying legs. I don’t except that lead to stay.

UCLA manages to salvage a 49.200 on floor, so not terrible, but it does put pressure on the beam rotation. Georgia leads 148.300–147.950.

NC: More pretty powerful gymnastics from Nia Dennis on floor. Watch out for this one. Nice DLO from Lauren Beers on floor as well.

Rotation 4: UCLA on beam, Georgia on floor

Floor: Shayla out, Nuccio in

Gerber starts with her usual solidity – 9.850 (9.900 from one judge). Will be interesting to see how Courtney does in her return to the beam lineup for the first time since the season opener. Just a 9.675. They’ll need to drop it.

Georgia continuing the scoring trend on floor. The way things are going, UCLA, Georgia, and Alabama could be very close in RQS come Monday. Zamarripa with a fall, and UCLA is just . . . off. We can look forward to a sighing, dismissive press conference this week.

NC: Some nice bars difficulty from Shchennikova.

UCLA would need a 9.850 from Peszek to hit 197. They desperately need a big hit from her.

Georgia won’t be able to hit that 198 mark, but we can probably expect a big home score from Couch, meaning they’ll go very high indeed.

Peszek saves UCLA a little on beam, so they end up with a 196.975. It would have helped their confidence to hit that 197 mark, but after all that lackluster, it’s their highest road score of the season, and they will go up .060 in RQS, which will keep them ahead of Georgia, but the gap is closing. Alabam looks on pace for a similar score to Georgia, but their RQS will zoom up as a result.

FINAL: Georgia 197.700, UCLA 196.975

In other news, Alabama ended up blowing their lead after Oklahoma came back on beam and floor. Oklahoma beats Alabama 197.300–197.150, but both excellent scores.

After two events, neither Utah nor Oregon State are standing out. Utah leads 98.300–97.750.

In a final at the Nastia Cup, Charity Jones is our surprise winner, followed by McMurtry and Shchennikova in second and Grace Williams in 4th. McMurtry likely would have won if not for some serious form issues on bars.

American Cup Preview

This Saturday’s American Cup is a ridiculous little competition, largely because of the vast disparity between its perceived importance and its actual importance. Under normal human circumstances, an eight-competitor meet with a weak field where a certain winner is all but guaranteed would receive little more than a whisper of attention. But because it’s an Olympic year, because the meet is in the US, because it’s gymnastics on TV and we’ll take what we can get, and because the NBC team pulls out gems like “The Most Important Annual International Meet on American Soil” (because that’s such a tough category), we get unnaturally interested.

So, as a proud lemming to the unnatural interest in this ridiculous competition (and being a ridiculous person myself, we actually make a good match), I present my completely informed and professional preview of the women who will be competing this weekend.

Jordyn Wieber will almost certainly win this competition and has, more importantly, already been named to the Olympic team. You may have missed the announcement because it never happened, but it’s nonetheless true. There will be a lot of talk in the coming months about how every spot is up for grabs. This is a lie. She’s on the team barring injury. 
Wieber is the perfect gymnast for this code because of her consistency and broad skill set. But because we know she’ll be part of the team, our attention turns from her strengths to the areas she needs to improve, so the big event to watch this weekend will be bars. Through savvy routine construction, John Geddert has tricked people into thinking that Wieber doesn’t have a weakness, but she does and it’s bars. Despite her high difficulty, she does not perform with a natural rhythm or cohesive line, and therefore needs those difficulty tenths to bump up her score. The presence of a disappointing trend in women’s gymnastics, the Weiler kip, adds a general “Ode to Molasses” theme to her routine. We’ve been promised a reconstructed routine with improved details in 2012, and I hope to see just that because she is a likely bars worker for team finals. 
Aly Raisman is the second American competitor, and I have a definite soft spot in my cold gymnastics heart for our sturdy little Massachusetts Romanian. She’s becoming more comfortable in interviews and is refreshingly self-aware regarding her weaknesses. She would be the first to tell you that artistry, flexibility, and bars are not up to the expected level. That’s certainly true, but because she knows it, I can look past it. She’s not out there pretending she’s an awesome dancer.

Raisman is clearly a Martha favorite (we all remember the “Here’s my BEAMER! Next beamer!” heard round the world from 2010), and her unflappable solidity on beam and difficulty on floor should put her in prime position heading into the summer. That being said, I still have reservations about her spot on the team because she is just so easy to overlook. She’s like the Lady Edith of Team USA. She really needs to go drive a tractor and help at the convalescent hospital so she can stand out. Debuting a competent version of her long-suffering Amanar would go a long way toward helping her chances.

But speaking of which, why have I not done a Downton Abbey/Elite Gymnastics conversion before? Nastia is Lady Mary, obviously. Martha is the Dowager Countess. Bruno Grandi and Nellie Kim are Thomas and O’Brien. Is Kim Zmeskal Anna? She would totally help Nastia carry the body of her dead Turkish lover back to his own bedroom, if you know what I mean.

Moving on, after the jump I’ll look at the international competitors who have been kind enough to offer to play the roles of the Washington Generals on Saturday.

Kelli Hill is Carson.

OK, now I’m really done.

Romania’s Larisa Iordache looks most likely to challenge the American duo, largely because of her confident skill set in the all-around and her stellar work on beam. Vault is not as much of a strength, so she will have trouble keeping pace with the leaders who will rack up big numbers there. Most importantly for the Romanians, though, is Iordache’s ability to perform a bar routine, which makes her a near lock for the Olympic team.

For our purposes, it will be crucial to keep track of how Al Trautwig says her name. Take a drink every time he mispronounces it (What? It’s after noon . . . in some places), and take two drinks if someone makes a Jordache jeans reference.

Iordache’s teammate, Diana Chelaru, has made her place as a consistent all-arounder who excels on floor and can be used if necessary on vault and bars, though the form issues are quite evident. Because of the retirement of Progras, I give Chelaru a fairly solid shot at taking that 5th spot on the Romanian team, but she’s no lock because she doesn’t scream her necessity on any event.  Some upgrades from her 2011 routines would be welcome. She at least needs to prove that she is irreplaceable on vault and floor.
Another standout on the floor is new senior Victoria Moors, who is filling in after the depressing withdrawal of Nadine Jarosch’s glasses. Moors made her name on this apparatus at the test event, finishing second behind Ferrari in event finals. This routine and a DTY make her invaluable to the Canadian team, but she is not competitive enough on the other two events to challenge the all-arounders at this competition.
Great Britain’s Rebecca Tunney stood out on bars at the test event because of her competitive start value (though, as you can see in the above video, there are many form issues in that routine). She could be a welcome presence on the British Olympic team as a third bar worker to complement Tweddle and Downie and to ensure that Whelan doesn’t have to go in team finals. However, she is not as competitive on the other events, and I’m rooting for future Bruin Danusia Francis to get one of the remaining spots on the team.
In her return from injury, Australia’s Georgia Simpson did not make much of a mark on the scoring table at the test event, but upgrades should be expected, and you do get a sense that really everyone is in contention to be one of the lucky pale backup dancers to feature on The Lauren Mitchell Show, debuting this July.
Lisa Katharina Hill featured for Germany at World Championships, largely filling the #5 routine spot on each apparatus, though she does bring good difficulty on bars. That routine could get her onto the Olympic team, but like Tunney, she lags behind most internationally competitive gymnasts on the other events.
As for the men’s competition, Danell Leyva will be competing. That is all you need to know. Everybody wins.


The Weekend Agenda (March 2nd-4th)

I had not intended to spend much time on elite gymnastics, but lately I’ve found myself coming down with a low-level case of . . . dare I say it . . . Olympic fever. To channel this fever, I’m going to try live blogging this weekend’s American Cup. I won’t be doing detailed quick hit commentary because there are likely several thousand other, mostly official, people doing that. My commentary will be focused more on providing exhausted observations and Daggett-induced apoplectic ramblings. It should be a good time. Use it as an opportunity to feel better about the NCAA scoring system.

My main focus, though, will remain NCAA gymnastics through the end of the collegiate season, and we have a lively showdown weekend ahead of us, highlighted by UCLA @ Georgia on Friday. UCLA is performing with an unseemly amount of confidence all of the sudden, and Georgia will be trying to solve a problem like Shayla and finally get a win over a top team. Expect high scores.

At the same time as the Georgia/UCLA meet (thanks, scheduling) will be the annual Nastia Liukin “I swear I’m not an elite” Pink Leotard Sleepover. This has become a fun opportunity for us to see our future NCAA gymnasts and make prognostications about how they will fare in a few years. Also at essentially the same time, Alabama will be visiting Oklahoma in an attempt to prove they are the better team and gain a much-needed high road score. Watch how Oklahoma compares to Alabama on vault and floor. If they can stay with Alabama, it will go a long way in proving how much they belong.

Top 25 (and other events) Schedule:
Friday – 3/2/12
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – [23] Michigan, North Carolina, Centenary @ [11] Penn State
7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – Kent State @ [14] Ohio State
7:30 ET / 4:30 PT – [3] UCLA @ [4] Georgia
7:30 ET / 4:30 PT – Nastia Liukin Cup
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – [5] Alabama @ [2] Oklahoma
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – [18] Minnesota @ [8] Arkansas
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – [20] NC State @ [10] LSU
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – Southern Utah @ [15] Auburn
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – Kentucky @ [21] Illinois
9:00 ET / 6:00 PT – [9] Oregon State @ [7] Utah
9:00 ET / 6:00 PT – Utah State @ [16] Boise State
10:00 ET / 7:00 PT – [17] Arizona, SJ State, Alaska @ UC Davis
10:00 ET / 7:00 PT – [22] Arizona State @ [25] Washington

Saturday – 3/3/12
11:30 ET / 8:30 PT – AT&T American Cup
8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – [13] Missouri, [24] West Virginia, W. Michigan @ [19] Denver

Sunday – 3/4/12
3:00 ET / 12:00 PT – [1] Florida @ [6] Nebraska
5:00 ET / 2:00 PT – [17] Arizona, California @ [12] Stanford