Utah and Michigan are winning the fan relations battle so far this season by providing free live coverage of their intrasquads tonight.
#8 Stanford Preview
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.
#9 Georgia Preview
#10 Michigan Preview
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.