Utah and Michigan are winning the fan relations battle so far this season by providing free live coverage of their intrasquads tonight.
While the increased parity in NCAA women’s gymnastics has been overstated in some quarters, everyone can agree that postseason results are certainly not the foregone conclusion they once were. The best evidence for this evolution is how exciting regionals day has become in recent years as we all switch from meet to meet, follow the scores, and watch for which top team will be the latest to miss out on championships. While Florida pulled through by the thinnest of margins after the tension of that Boise State beam rotation last year, Stanford was not so lucky and rode a truly dismal performance right out of contention.
I made the comment in an earlier post that the team had to count a fall and therefore missed out, but that doesn’t tell the whole tale. Stanford found themselves in a rather weak regional and could easily have pulled through even with the two falls on beam. However, in their regional performance, 13 of 24 scores fell below 9.8, and they had a grand total of one 9.9. Even if they hadn’t counted a fall, they still wouldn’t have broken 196.
Stanford got into an advantageous position in the rankings last season (#4 regionals seed, #2 for most of the season) largely on the strength of their 9.850 routines. While UCLA and Alabama were falling all over the place early on, Stanford kept scoring in the mid to high 196s to jump ahead of nearly everyone else and look like a contender. This was an illusion. They were very consistent, but they never had the big scoring routines to take them far, even if they had made championships.
A quick look at the returning gymnasts for 2012 bears this out. Stanford will have Ashley Morgan and Alyssa Brown on 3 events; Nicole Pechanec, Shona Morgan, and Nicole Dayton on a couple events; and potentially a routine from Jenny Peter. While this group is capable of popping up with a 9.9 here and there (with Ashley Morgan’s floor the biggest potential routine), each of them would be very pleased with that score in competition. That’s the difference between this group and a championship team. On a championship team, the 5th and 6th gymnasts expect 9.9s with the potential for 9.950. A 9.9 is regular. It’s not a peak performance. For Stanford in 2011, a 9.9 was a treat, not an expectation.
If Stanford is going to have those expected 9.9s in 2012, it will fall to the stellar freshman class to get it done. There’s not really a dud in this group. Kristen hit the jackpot. She just has to keep that jackpot out of the hospital.
The other incoming freshman, Annette Miele, competed elite for Parkettes in 2009 and 2010, which has given her the basic skill level and difficulty to be a necessary all-arounder for this team in 2012. She doesn’t have a standout event, but her abilities on bars will be required to fill those holes in the lineups. She also competes a solid enough Yurchenko 1.5 on vault to be usable.
There are no seniors on the team this year, so this group will have two years to find a way to win. It may just be that this is a building year until they can fill out the team next year and become more competitive and experienced. As it stands, they will be relying on scoring leadership from juniors Beilstein, Martinez, and Zurales.
Beilstein can certainly put up 9.900s on her two events, but does struggle some with consistency on floor. Zurales also brings in good enough numbers on two events (vault and beam in her case), but once again does not compete bars. Martinez can go in the all-around, and while she will anchor the team on bars, she proved during her freshman year that she is usually a contributor in the 9.8 range rather than the 9.9 range on the other events. They will need (very possible) improvements from her to be more of a scoring leader as a junior.
Still, the team is not completely lost. With this group, they should be able to muster the gymnasts to go 9.875+ in the 5th and 6th slots for most meets. The biggest challenge likely will be finding gymnasts who can go in those 3rd and 4th positions and not be satisfied with 9.775s. This team would probably be competitive enough in a 4 up, 3 count format, but their downfall will come from needing six strong routines on every event. We haven’t yet seen where those will come from.
One of the primary qualities that separates championship teams from good teams is the ability to not only master the balance beam but also limit the damage after mistakes. There will always be falls on the beam. While champions ensure that the fall is dropped, weaker teams get tentative (at best) or fall apart (at worst).
In 2011, the beam was even more of a problem than usual, and at championships Oklahoma appeared to be the only school for whom the beam was not the weakness. While Alabama mastered the event enough to win the title, the beam was still the most troublesome piece for them, and they did have to absorb the fall from Kayla Hoffman during Super Six.
In examining this issue, I took a look at the beam scores for the top ten teams (as decided by me and the 2012 preseason poll) for all gymnasts going up at any point after a fall or fall-equivalent performance, meaning a score of 9.500 or lower. The team rankings came out as follows:
Average Beam Score after a Fall – 2011
1. Utah – 9.807
2. Oklahoma – 9.792
3. Alabama – 9.770
4. Stanford – 9.753
5. Georgia – 9.742
6. Oregon State – 9.721
7. Michigan – 9.654
8. Florida – 9.648
9. UCLA – 9.633
10. Nebraska – 9.603
Based on my assumptions, seeing Oklahoma and Alabama near the top of the list was not a surprise, nor was seeing UCLA and Florida near the bottom of the list. Florida did not perform as many routines after falls as most of the other top teams, but the routines they did have were largely unsuccessful in the most crucial moments.
The big surprise to me was Utah’s placement at the top of the list. Out of 33 beam routines after falls, they had a grand total of zero subsequent falls. They are the only team of the bunch that did not have to count a beam fall at some point during the season, which is pretty remarkable. Utah will want to bottle that quality for 2012 but also add an ability to break out of the 9.775-9.825 range in which nearly all of those scores fell.
Another interesting note: Stanford had the fewest routines after beam falls in 2011 (8), but it was having to count a fall on beam that took them out of regionals.
We can also take a look at the numbers for individuals (minimum 3 routines):
Best Average Beam Score after a Fall – 2011
1. Megan Ferguson – Oklahoma – 9.879
2. Geralen Stack-Eaton – Alabama – 9.875
3. Leslie Mak – Oregon State – 9.870
4. Natasha Kelley – Oklahoma – 9.863
5. Kylee Botterman – Michigan – 9.856
6. Kim Jacob – Alabama – 9.850
7. Sarah DeMeo – Alabama – 9.836
8. Mackenzie Caquatto – Florida – 9.819
9. Cortni Beers – Utah – 9.818
10. Hillary Mauro – Georgia – 9.814
Here we see the Oklahoma and Alabama success through the numbers. The 5 and 6 gymnasts for both of those teams were unshakable in 2011. Also, a special MVP award for Kylee Botterman who went up 9 times after falls last season and hit every routine.
Worst Average Beam Score after a Fall – 2011
1. Brittany Skinner – Nebraska – 9.450
2. Tauny Frattone – UCLA – 9.456
3. Ashanee Dickerson – Florida – 9.485
4. Jamie Schleppenbach – Nebraska – 9.500
5. Joanna Sampson – Michigan – 9.542
6. Emily Wong – Nebraska – 9.581
7. Brittani McCullough – UCLA – 9.585
8. Maria Scaffidi – Nebraska – 9.610
9. Kayla Hoffman – Alabama – 9.620
10. Christa Tanella – Georgia – 9.633
Poor Nebraska. And UCLA will hope that Zamarripa and Larson can solidify that lineup in 2012.
Both Brittany Skinner and Ashanee Dickerson were the victims of scores in the 8.4s, which brought down their averages significantly.
The 2012 edition of the Preseason Coaches’ Poll has been released, and while we can usually file this under bushel of nonsense, this season’s poll actually provides an interesting discussion point with UCLA topping the list.
2012 Coaches’ Poll
1. UCLA (8 first-place votes)
2. Alabama (17)
3. Florida (8)
4. Oklahoma (2)
5. Utah (1)
7. Oregon State (1)
8. Stanford (1)
10. Michigan (2)
Full rankings can be found at Troester.
Nearly every year, this poll is simply a meaningless exercise where the coaches crown the previous year’s champion as the preseason #1. The only exceptions to this rule tend to happen either when the defending champion has lost a bunch of prominent seniors or when there is another team that is clearly and inarguably superior. Interestingly enough, that exact situation occurred the last time Alabama won the title, when UCLA were named the 2003 preseason #1. That was also the last time the defending champion was not voted preseason #1. That 2003 decision was completely understandable given the team UCLA had that year. This year is much less clear.
It should be noted that the coaches do appear to have attempted to follow protocol by throwing Alabama 17 first-place votes, and UCLA did only end up first by a matter of points. Still, following tradition, Alabama should have won this easily. Remember that Georgia was named the 2010 preseason #1 the season after they lost Yoculan, Kupets, Tolnay, etc. If ever there was a time to question the defending champion, it was then. (But they are also Georgia, and that
meant means something).
The way this poll played out appears to indicate that UCLA was near the top of most every coach’s rankings, earning them a bunch of points even with only 8 first-place votes. Alabama, on the other hand, must have by ranked lower by certain coaches. How badly to you want to see every coach’s list? I know that goes against the purpose of the poll, but come on. It would be so great.
The controversy at the top notwithstanding, the first 3 schools are the ones who should be there, and Oklahoma is a very deserving #4. I’m a bit surprised that Nebraska is up at 6th, having lost some important athletes (namely Erin Davis), but DeZiel is a big get for them, so we’ll see. Stanford got one first-place vote again, but I’m more concerned for the two votes for a Kylee Botterman-less Michigan. Coaches, we need to talk.