Utah continues to be the most fan friendly program in collegiate gymnastics. Given the numerous training videos and free live streams of their meets provided by the Marsdens and Utah Athletics, the general fan is usually more familiar with Utah gymnastics than with most of the other programs in the country. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it cultivates a dedicated and knowledgeable fan base, not just in Utah but all over the country. It’s a curse because we know the deal. We know that, on December 9th, Utah is going to look like the most prepared team in the country. We’ve been here before. If we didn’t know anything, we would look at the routines from the Red Rocks Preview and say, “Wow, there are a lot of 9.750-9.800 routines. If they can clean up and refine, they will be great this year.” Because we do know something, we understand that even though some landings and body positions will improve in the coming months, the overall gymnastics we see now is the same as we’ll see in April.
That being said, this level will still probably be good enough to place in the top 6. The comparison between Utah and Romania is not a new one, but it is apt. They’ve perfected the science of being fine. They will go to championships, they will be one of the most consistent teams, they will capitalize on others’ mistakes, and they will reach their highest achievable place. Back in the day, that highest achievable place was a championship. Then, it became more like top 3. Now, it’s a 5th or 6th place finish. Going better than that is probably beyond the talent level of this team.
The biggest reason Utah will get that far is that, unlike some of the teams ranked below them, they have numbers on each event. While they won’t necessarily want all of these numbers competing, they have that sought after 10-12 routines on each event from which to choose. An injury to any one of their gymnasts won’t put them out of contention. The downside of that statement is that all of their gymnasts are replaceable. They don’t have that star who is going to lead them on the score sheet.
Stephanie McAllister was their top all-arounder last season, but she is a 39.300 gymnast, not a 39.600 gymnast. The consistency is there, but the crisp execution on four events isn’t. Of the other returners, we can expect a bunch of 9.825s from Corrie Lothrop and Nansy Damianova on 3-4 events and from Cortni Beers on 2 events (though not if that wackadoo form on bars during RRP keeps up).
The return of Kyndal Robarts will be the biggest boost to this team, particularly on vault where she performs very well. She is different from McAllister (who is solid but unamazing across the board) in that she has some really compelling qualities but some definite weaknesses that keep her from staking claim to the title of big scorer. Looking at the floor routine in the above video, we see that the leaps in particular just aren’t happening right now.
A good sign for Utah is that they have a big class of 5 freshmen coming in. I’m a firm believer that it always helps to have new blood in lineups because we don’t have memories and expectations of these gymnasts’ performance qualities. They don’t have the same association with the previous year’s results. Of this group, Tory Wilson has been getting some attention for floor because of her double layout, but I don’t expect to see too much from her or Becky Tutka this year. Kassandra Lopez was a notable L10 and competed at Nastia’s Pink Leotard Jamboree a couple times, and she will likely fit into that Lothrop/Damianova category. Good, solid, professional, fine.
Georgia Dabritz is the biggest name of the incoming group because she competed a few times at Visa Championships. She should compete often and score well on vault and bars. Even though she had a less notable elite career than Lothrop, I see more potential in her as an NCAA gymnast.
Even though Dabritz is the most talented of the group, the new gymnast I’m most interested in is Kailah Delaney. While things aren’t perfect (you will find yourself saying, “Legs!” on beam in the above video), I like her vault and her presence. She has the potential to break out of the Utah mold a little bit if allowed the chance to compete regularly. I’ll be rooting for her.
Because of this incoming group, expect Utah to be better than they were last year. They have a couple new 9.9 routines from Robarts and Dabritz that they didn’t have access to in 2011 when they were a very 196.400 team all year long. Expect this year’s team to be more 196.750, which I anticipate will be about the cutoff after semifinals. And because they’re Utah, let’s bet on them to make it.