Because of their surprisingly weak performance in the national semifinals last year, it’s easy to forget that Oregon State was the in-form team and a popular dark horse pick heading into the postseason last year. They performed tremendously at the Pac-10 Championships, exhibiting well-polished gymnastics with confident landings to beat a Bruin team that was just starting to peak. But it was that very confidence that deserted them during national semifinals. The gymnastics got tense, and uncharacteristically weak meets from Britney Ranzy and Olivia Vivian put them just behind Utah and well behind their potential.
It would seem, then, that Oregon State should be a top 5 favorite in 2012 as long as they avoid a collapse during championships, but the off-season transfer of Britney Ranzy to LSU has dramatically changed the complexion of the team. For the most part, Oregon State recruits and cultivates gymnasts with elegant line and clean gymnastics who excel on bars and beam but who lack the dynamics on the power events. Ranzy filled a major hole on this team by bringing that raw power and scoring potential to vault and floor. She was sticking that Yurchenko full and scoring 9.9 almost every week. Her two events were the biggest improvement between Oregon State 2010, a team that barely snuck through regionals on a tiebreak over a collapsed Georgia, and Oregon State 2011, the #3 regionals seed. Without her (or the graduated Becky Colvin) the prospects on vault in particular look unfortunate. They’ve had to lead off vault with 9.6s in the past, and we hope it doesn’t happen again.
Not to completely shortchange Oregon State, though, they do still have a number of impressive, high-scoring routines that should help them be competitive, namely on the uneven bars. Leaders Olivia Vivian, Leslie Mak, and Makayla Stambaugh all bring crisp execution and confident swing to the event, giving the team a strong chance to retain the title of best bars team in the country. They will need to put up 49.4s by the end of the season to help make up for vault.
Beam is a bit of a mixed bag for the Beavers, but less because of form and more because of depth and consistency. Stambaugh is very strong on bars and floor and useful on vault, but her lack of consistency on beam makes her a less compelling choice. Even when she hits, it’s a nervy nail biter, yet she had to be in the lineup last year. Even so, it’s difficult to classify beam as a weakness for Oregon State when they have Leslie Mak anchoring. Mak is among the very best beamers in the country and likely would have defeated Sam Peszek at event finals last year had she hit. She makes it easy to ignore the fact that she has only a gainer full dismount and is fully deserving of 9.9s.
Mak, Stambaugh, and Vivian will be the backbone of the team in 2012, each competing on at least three events with Kelsi Blalock, Brittany Harris, and Stephanie McGregor filling in some other holes early in lineups and getting 9.800-9.850. This isn’t quite enough to contend, and the team will have to find 2 vaults and preferably 2 floor routines from somewhere. After the transfers of Ranzy and Leilani Alferos (to Cal), they brought in a bunch of new gymnasts to help fill out the team. The freshman class totals 6 in all, but it’s hard to imagine any of them completely satisfying what the team needs. The original NLI signers, Chelsea Tang and Cerise Witherby, would be expected to have the most impact as both have been successful at the JO level. They will have the skill set for NCAA (unlike some of the walkons who have clean gymnastics but just can’t compete with difficulty) and can certainly make lineups for the team, though it would be hard to proclaim them future scoring leaders.
Tanya Chaplin has shown an ability in the past to get excellent gymnastics out of unheralded gymnasts, and she will need that this year to prevent Oregon State from being a one-event wonder that has trouble contending with the better teams in the power department. It will be interesting to watch for her January lineups to see who she is trying out and who is rising to the challenge.