#10 Michigan Preview

Take a good long look because you won’t be seeing these for a while.
Unfortunately for Michigan, when discussing their 2012 season, we’re talking more about what they’ve lost instead of what they have.  Most importantly, they’ve lost Kylee Botterman.  The team will miss her, and we as fans will miss her.  Though I will not miss the way the Michigan PA announcer said her name.  That will haunt my nightmares.
Trying to replace the national AA champion would be difficult enough, but the team has also lost Jordan Sexton, Sarah Curtis, and Trish Wilson, making a repeat of their 2011 Super Six performance seem like a near impossibility.  What’s more, now that former signee Morgan Steigerwalt has . . . had a change of plans and is now at Arizona State, the team is fielding only 11 gymnasts this season, with only 2 new freshmen trying to replace the 4 contributing graduates.  
Freshman Sachi Sugiyama performs an excellent Yurchenko 1.5 that should help boost the vault lineup.   She fully rotates the vault with confident landing, and the increased difficulty over the more common full should help elevate the score.  On floor, while she doesn’t have tremendous difficulty, she performs cleanly and can also contribute.  I’m not sold on her bars capabilities.  She has too many leg separations and missed handstands to be relied upon to score well.  This could be a problem for Michigan, as she is stronger on events where they already have at least a little more depth with gymnasts like Natalie Beilstein, Katie Zurales, and Reema Zakharia.  Where are the bar workers?  

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.

In all, the Wolverines have lost 13 routines from last year’s Super Six lineups, so even if these freshman were both to compete the all-around, the team would still have to rely on returning gymnasts to compete events where they did not make the lineups last year — a dangerous proposition especially if in involves letting Natalie Beilstein even look at the beam.  They will get Brittnee Martinez back on all events after competing only bars in 2011, so that will help beef up these lineups in some areas.  Even so, there are many questions on this team, especially on bars where Martinez and Shelby Gies are the only returners and on beam where losing Botterman’s consistency means that other performers will have to step up in ways they have not yet shown.

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.

Ooooh, the Beam

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.

Individual rankings after the jump.

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.

Coaches’ Poll

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)
6. Nebraska
7. Oregon State (1)
8. Stanford (1)
9. Georgia
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.

An Important PSA

Every year, millions of unsuspecting Americans are diagnosed with severe LFE: Lack of Facial Expression. LFE can strike anyone at any time, even those with no family history of a complete disconnect between their faces and their moods or actions.

For decades, LFE was considered an adult-onset illness, afflicting those so beaten down by the various disappointments of daily life that they lost the will to care. In the last several years, however, researchers working with gymnasts across the country have begun to identify unmistakable signs of LFE in children as young as five, children who display no noticeable response to stimuli such as positive feedback or the accomplishment of a goal. These juvenile cases of LFE tend to reach crisis around the age of sixteen or seventeen, at which point they become chronic and, some argue, irreversible. 

With more and more cases gaining national prominence every year, it is natural to wonder whether LFE can affect you or your loved ones. Unfortunately, there is no 100% reliable defense against LFE, but it pays to be aware of the signs so that they might be addressed immediately. Early symptoms include a total lack of awareness of music (sufferers often maintain complete blankness even when music is jaunty), an inability to understand the concept of beat, and a profound deadness in the eyes, as if there were no more joy left in the world. Because sufferers of LFE have no concept of emotional interpretation of music, when instructed to dance they will often simply flap their wrists up and down in a manner one scientist likened to “a T-Rex waving goodbye.” This excessive wrist flexion is a sign that the disease has advanced to a more extreme stage and that intervention is necessary.

While many people live for years with LFE, explaining away their illnesses with commonplace defenses such as “I just can’t be bothered,” “so what,” and “meh,” if untreated, the lack of expression can occasionally mutate into a permanent look of sour disappointment, a syndrome Dr. Valorie Kondos Field, lead researcher in Hitting Refresh Studies at the UCLA Institute of Calm Confidence, has termed “poopy face.” Dr. Kondos Field is one of the few experts in the country who believes that LFE, even when it has advanced to poopy face status, can be cured.

Dr. Kondos Field with patient

Many of Dr. Kondos Field’s patients suffer from LFE with severity as high as “Category 4” or “Second-Tier Elite” status. Treatment of these cases often must begin at a very primitive level. In the image to the right, taken from an intensive group treatment session, the doctor begins with mirror therapy, pointing out to patients that they possess items like teeth and eyes that may be used to communicate an attitude to others. In addition to mirror work, the UCLA Institute has also reported great strides from experiments with “stop looking like a hot mess” therapy and “Canadian exposure” therapy, both of which work by introducing the sufferer to her potential self and thereby raising expectations. If this treatment is started by the time the patient reaches late teens, Dr. Kondos Field insists that full a recovery can be made and that former sufferers might even one day become performers. Sadly, others are not so lucky.

The two cases above, captured in their natural habitats, are known as “Category 5” or “Irreversibly Elite.” Unfortunately, in cases this severe, sufferers begin to experience varying degrees of cognitive disorder and may actually refuse the recommended four-year stint in a therapy institution, convincing themselves that there is nothing wrong or that the problem will simply improve on its own. Experts say that this thinking is misguided or even dangerous, and by increasing national awareness of it, they hope to be able to eradicate Category 5 cases within the next ten to fifteen years. 

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama