Welp, I polled myself. That’s right, it’s time for the annual Balance Beam Situation preseason poll, a glorious tradition conducted by the esteemed committee of me wherein I, much like the Hollywood Foreign Press, take a deep, discerning look at all the fantastic work being done in our field and then just pick the most famous people. Because why should the coaches get all the fun of scribbling out whatever based on advanced analytic systems like “probably” and “I’m friends with her.” I can do that too.
In my poll last season, I went 5 for 6 on the eventual Super Six teams (I had LSU instead of Auburn, which I think is pretty understandable), so let’s see if I can collect all 6 this year. I can’t. Without further ado…
2016 Preseason Nonsense Rankings
Sadly, I’ve been forced to retire the Rhonda Faehn I’M THE WINNER picture from its annual place atop this post. We need a Jenny Rowland I’M THE WINNER picture now.
Not quite the same. She’ll need to win something first. And then double fist pump about it while releasing the pent-up anxiety of several civilizations. Give it a minute. And by a minute, I mean exactly four months. Despite the coaching change, the three-time defending champions are the overwhelmingly logical pick for this spot because, you know, three-time defending champions. Also, they have one of the strongest new classes this year. And Bridget Sloan. So der.
TWIST. I know. Oklahoma has carved out a nice little niche as solid #2 behind Florida these last couple years, so it’s time to switch things up. Sorry Sooners, gymnastics fans are a fickle bunch. Alabama found itself regularly a hair behind the biggest teams last season, but I like the multitude of routine options the freshman class brings this year along with the expected increased contribution from sophomores like Kiana Winston. Right now, the Tide looks like the best bet among the top teams to improve on last year’s scores.
Not to say that Oklahoma is in a weak position this year by any means. The Sooners remain one of the clear title favorites and should spend the whole season in the 1-2-3 ranking group, especially considering what strong starters they are and how much Chayse Capps and Haley Scaman will be happening all over the place. Their issue right now is having lost more high-level routines than they’re bringing in, putting a bit more pressure on previous non-competers to make lineups they weren’t making last year. At the same time, developing 9.875-9.900 routines from seeming nowhere is what this coaching staff has built its reputation on. They’ll have to prove again this season why they’re fandom favorites.
I’m somewhat wary about keeping the Tigers in the top four simply because they’ve lost so, so, so much quality and will be relying on an oft-injured group of talents to make up for those routines. On the other hand, this freshman class is too irresistible for me to temper expectations in any way. If we’re going by potential, which is what a preseason ranking must do, then LSU is right up there with the favorites. Expect a slow start, though. Don’t be surprised if LSU is low (relatively) early in the season.
Yep. You’re seeing it. Michigan performed exceptionally solid gymnastics throughout the season last year, and a large chunk of the core is returning, with Olivia Karas expected to slide into that Sachi Sugiyama position and keep everyone on the same track. Don’t be distracted by that horrible exhibition performance from last weekend. It means zero. There is quite a bit of unsteadiness and uncertainty around many of the top teams this year (we will see some magnificent implosions), so steady-as-she-goes-Michigan is going to be a very effective strategy this time around. The number of potential 10.0 SV vaults Michigan brings will also be an asset.
The Utes are in the same boat as LSU this year, though without the same name-brand potential in the new freshmen. They’ve lost so many essential scores that it’s difficult to envision a repeat of last year’s Marsden Farewell result. Nonetheless, I have more than confidence in Utah’s ability to develop enough 9.850s to fill out lineups comfortably and be a steady bet to return to Super Six. Though the old “where are the 9.9s?” question will loom large, especially early in the season. This year will need to be a Kari Lee party.
At this point, the teams I’m placing in the 7-10 group seem pretty interchangeable. While writing this list, I’ve had each of them in each of the spots at various times, and it needs to stop. I’m going with Georgia in 7th right now because the Gymdogs do retain the lion’s share of important routines from last year in the form of Rogers and Jay. I’m no less worried about beam and floor than any other year, but this group should be able to build on last season’s performances. Other teams have more to prove.
Is this ranking flattering UCLA a little bit? I worry that it is, but the lure of the potential hurricane of beautiful 9.9s coming from Peng, Ohashi, and Francis should be enough to keep the team above water this year, even if the options then get a little sparse and 9.7y too early on the depth chart, as we learned at nationals last year. Still, there are too many possible 9.850s among the others on this roster (the Cipras, the Sophinas, the Merazes) to tolerate a subpar season. As long as everyone doesn’t just collapse into a pile of bones. Always possible.
Stanford and UCLA may end up being slight twinsies this year, as Stanford will be relying on the Hong, Price, Rice group to carry the team through much like UCLA will be relying on its big three. We’ll have some glorious 9.9s from both teams, but I have Stanford lower right now (in spite of the impressive result from last season), because I’m more concerned about having the depth to put together full lineups. Meaning, this will be a normal Stanford season. Don’t expect a particularly strong regular-season ranking, but they could always pull it out in the postseason once again. The main concern is that so much of last season’s late-year success was built on bars and beam, so how will they survive without Vaculik, Shapiro, and Wing?
I admit that 10th is harsh on Auburn after the success of last season, but without the integral, consistent contributions of Guy and Walker this time around, they’ll have to prove that they are a team capable of restocking and being a perennial contender instead of a one-season wonder. Auburn won’t have as many 9.9 possibilities as the likes of UCLA and Stanford, so they’ll have to beat those teams on early-lineup routines with more consistent scores. Auburn has been talking a lot about depth in preseason videos, and while the team has a lot of numbers and a large roster this year, we still have to see whether numbers translate to true depth. It’s not depth unless it can get a 9.800.
This has the feel of a very Illinois season. As many top teams wait for major post-2016 recruits and may experience some regression from last season’s performances, Illinois returns nearly all of the significant scores from last season and adds the possible wildcard of the year in Leduc. Much like Michigan, I can certainly see Illinois steadily rolling right through to nationals this time around. O’Connor, Kato, Buchanan, Horth, Leduc? Illinois is going to be good this season. Watch that space.
Nebraska lost a couple important AAers after last season in DeZiel and Stephens, and the latest injury retirements have put a lot of pressure on a small roster to replicate the scores that kept the Huskers in the top 10 last season. They still have Blanske, Lambert, and Grace Williams (who was a little 9.850y last season but has the talent to be much more than that as a college gymnast and needs to emerge as a star), but may find themselves really struggling for depth in these lineups as we go along.
13. Oregon State
Oregon State has never fully been able to replace the 9.9s that turned this squad into one of the top teams a few years ago, and with the loss of Chelsea Tang along with the yet-another-injury that Kaytianna McMillan is still working to come back from, these lineups are going to feel the pressure. On the other had, Gardiner, Perez, and Aufiero should be able to come up with enough 9.875-9.900s to keep the Beavs squarely in the nationals hunt all year long.
Arkansas has developed yet another of its patented 1-2 punches, now with Wellick and Zaziski filling the roles originated on Broadway by the famous Pisani and Grable double act, but is the rest of the roster up to the task of making this a competitive team?
I know we’ve all been trying to make Cal happen for a while now, but this is an exciting time for the program. I expect the Toni-Ann Williams star to continue shooting skyward, and pairing that with Double Howe and the return of all of last year’s 9.8+ routines leaves room for nothing but optimism as to this program’s trajectory. Nationals will still be too much to ask this time around, but it shouldn’t be all that far off.
We’re now entering final years of the Lindsay Mable show and the Nina McGee show, so prepare your “Evita Person has died”-style black veils of mourning right now because we’ll never be the same after this. Neither will these teams. They both need a big season to take advantage of their stars while they have the chance.
I’m excited to see what Tabitha Yim does with this program, but until we see what that is, Arizona remains in its constant and traditional 18th place.
Is it time for the re-rise of Missouri? This program fell into a patch of quicksand a couple years ago but has just started to work its way out, and with a really strong young core of freshmen and sophomores led by the emerging standouts Miller and Schugel, I like the idea of Missouri returning to relatively solidity this season.
20. Southern Utah
Don’t sleep on Southern Utah. Don’t do it. I told you. You may not have noticed, but Southern Utah finished 16th last year after totally owning regionals. This is a legitimately solid 9.825-9.850 team, and if they can get Memory Shettles back this year (one of the breakout names, I mean performers, from 2014), all the better. The loss of Jamie Armijo is a problem though. Just for everyone. In life.
21. Penn State
Penn State will be without Welsh and Sanabria Robles now, the two AAers who have kept the team afloat during the periodic roster culls that it goes through, so we may see a dip this year. But with Tsang and Sibson contributing solid scores and Kiera Brown bringing a couple high-level events, they should stay close to a competitive level.
22. Boise State
Boise State is in the unenviable position of trying to come back and compete this year without Kelsey Morris or really any beam workers at all, but there’s reason to be cautiously interested in both freshmen, Sarah Means and Shanni Remme, who could inject some new life into the team.
23. West Virginia
West Virginia hasn’t made the top 25 in several years now, but I’m expecting a better season this time around. They shouldn’t really be wallowing in the 30s and have more believable contributors on the roster than some of the other teams competing for these ranking spots.
I’m slightly worried about this team post-Shannon Mitchell (she was just one year off from taking advantage of the vault rules that would have helped her), but Sydney Waltz is going to develop into a real AA standout, and we can hope that 98% of the roster won’t suffer season-ending injuries this time around. But you never know.
25. George Washington
Because you’ve got to throw in a wildcard at #25. And wouldn’t that be so damn fun?