2016 Balance Beam Situation Preseason Poll (of me)

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

1. Florida
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. 

2. Alabama
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. 

3. Oklahoma
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.

4. LSU
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. 

5. Michigan
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. 

6. Utah
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. 

7. Georgia
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.  

9. Stanford
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?

10. Auburn
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.  

11. Illinois
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.

12. Nebraska
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.

14. Arkansas
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? 

15. Cal
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.  

16. Denver
17. Minnesota
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. 

18. Arizona
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.

19. Missouri
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. 

24. Kentucky
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?


Freshman Notes: UCLA, Auburn, and the Rest

One last batch of freshman notes here for all your perusing/fantasy gym needs. After this, we’ll still have the coaches poll to look forward to, which is released annually at half past whenever-they-damn-please. That should be some fun nonsense carrying on the grand middle school tradition of ranking people based on their reputations. But for now, there’s still the UCLA Medical Center/part-time gymnastics program to break down.

Worried. That’s where we’ll start. UCLA is coming off an 85%-dismal performance at Nationals last season and is now without Dr. Sam Peszek, PhD in bailing your asses out at every turn. The losses from last season don’t amount to all that many routines, but those were extremely valuable routines for both their scores and, more importantly, Peszek’s reliability and consistency. Dare I say, calm confidence. (Put a dollar in the “calm confidence” jar.)

Even though most UCLA fans will be waiting for next season when the Ross/Kocian wagon pulls up to the curb and expectations will be much higher, this year’s freshman class is exceptionally talented, though sadly also the usual amount of already-in-several-pieces-on-the-floor. We’ll start with Macy Toronjo, who is out with a shoulder injury. Because of course she is. That’s particularly disheartening news for the Bruins because she’s such an ideal NCAA gymnast, with strong basics, precision, and elite skill set across four events. Second-tier elites, the golden fleece of NCAA gym. She would have been relied on in the all-around, and certainly will be in the future. Even in JO, she showed both a DLO and full-in on floor, and nailed the crap out of them along with definitively not-awful dance elements that scored an a million. It would do the same in NCAA.

She brings the same comfort level on both acro and dance elements to beam and has a perfectly fine full on vault that she has done for actually ever. Bars can get iffy sometimes in the handstands and legs, but she performs a Ray and has strong amplitude in release elements that should absolutely become something real. Because so many of the other UCLA pieces are in the beautiful-fragile-inconsistent category, like a SYTYCD performance about broken marionettes to the tune of “Fix You,” she’ll need to be the constant, reliable one when she comes back.

So, with Toronjo currently on the sidelines, let’s focus on that paragon of sturdy physical well-being, Katelyn Ohashi. Remember 2.5 years ago when she was absolutely going to the Olympics? Times change, and injuries change. Ohashi is obviously a glorious gymnast, the most talented entering NCAA this year, but she’s a different gymnast now than she was as an elite. Her JO performances in 2015 were encouraging as to her new potential as an NCAA gymnast, but the main questions are how healthy she is and how healthy she’ll be able to stay for an NCAA career after being used up and broken in elite. Will her shoulders just get thrown on the pile with the rest of them?

The biggest takeaway from Ohashi’s more recent performances is that beam is back. She has maintained impressive difficulty and looks more confident without the burden of that layout full.

She’ll need to slot into the Peszek role in the famous Francis-Lee-Peszek triumvirate of beam wonderfulness, as that’s still UCLA’s greatest asset compared to other teams. She can absolutely be another walking 10. She also has the pike full-in back on floor, and while she downgraded to a full on vault, it’s a high and comfortable full. At some point, if they feel they can risk it, she could work the difficulty back up to something 10.0. Now, bars. There was a time last quad when Ohashi was a good bars worker and everyone died about her jaeger every minute of the year, before she was torn asunder in 2013 by introducing those E pirouetting elements she couldn’t do. She didn’t compete bars during the 2015 comeback, but let’s hope she can get her groove back eventually. 

Remember? REMEMBER????

Ohashi could have, should have, been a longtime elite star. Since that didn’t pan out, I’m really hoping she has enough left in the tank to be the NCAA star she can be.

CGA escapee Maddie Preston didn’t perform vault or floor in 2015 because of a leg injury no one saw coming, but her most important event for the team will still be vault. Vault was her strength throughout JO, and she consistently showed respectable height and more than respectable form on her yfull, enough to be a necessary option. With several other vaulters for UCLA having not panned out yet (implied Pua) or just vaulting sideways for some reason, they’ll need her. I could see Preston contributing elsewhere as well, depending on depth needs, particularly with the style and raw potential on beam to be molded into a UCLA beamer.

Nicki Shapiro. She still does gymnastics? It’s impossible to have any impression of how Shapiro might contribute to the team since she Amelia Earharted from gymnastics after 2012. She was an exceptionally good junior JO gymnast, with well-hit splits and secure acro in an altogether impressive beam routine, clean twisting elements on floor, and worthy pop on a yfull. She doesn’t have her sister’s bars routine by any means, with too many handstand and leg form problems, but had she continued on a healthy and not-lost-at-sea path, she would have been among the most sought-after recruits this year. As it is, it’s hard to expect anything other than continued lost-at-sea. Though I’m sure Val has Ariana Berlin fantasies of walking down some stairs hugging a clipboard and going, “Nicki Shapiro,” which turns her into a star. After she decides she really wants it. (We know now that’s exactly how it happened.)
There’s also Matteah Brow, and I’ve got nothing for you.

After moving to the big city full of big dreams last year and taking Broadway by storm, Auburn is now in the position of proving that wasn’t just a one-year thing. This position is made more challenging with the loss of essential contributions from Bri Guy and Megan Walker, and without the beam-coaching wizardry of Jenny Rowland. Like UCLA, the losses don’t amount to all that many routines (and Bri Guy was never the same after her ankle apocalypse), but those were some of the team’s most reliably countable routines. The good news is that Auburn brings in a small phalanx of freshmen this year. There are approximately 700 million of them.

We’ll start with Taylor Krippner, and when she was a junior elite, if you didn’t refer to her as Taylor Krippendorf’s Tribe, then we have nothing in common. (Remember that movie? How was that even allowed?) She has solid-enough acro abilities to be conceivable as an option on several events, particularly beam where some important replacement routines will need to be found this season. Beam has not always been a strength for Krippner, but she won her division at JO Nationals this year with a 9.675, which is a big score for JO beam and speaks well for her ability to contribute. It’s worth noting that she moved to Simoneland for the 2015 season, and her scores improved noticeably, probably just out of general proximity to Simone. From what I’ve seen (pre-2015), there are some form issues across the board, particularly on bars where the legs and amplitude are a big struggle, but she has the skill set.

Apparently, Samantha Cerio‘s gymnastics is a national secret, but she’s allegedly going to be a bars and beam star and has shown lovely line and precision on both events. She’s another incoming JO champ in this class, having won bars this year with a 9.700. I look forward to seeing her declassified. This is certainly a class of spot players, but since it’s big, they should unite to be the equivalent of maybe 1.5-2 useful all-arounders. Emma Slappey‘s name is Emma Slappey, so she’s already my favorite member of the team. I expect to see her on vault and floor to complement Cerio. She has respectable power on vault (had a 1.5 back in the day, but the full seems more likely) and a high full-in and double tuck on floor that make her an attractive option there.

Emma Engler hasn’t seen much action since 2013, but she had a yfull that wasn’t bad at all and a conceivable beam routine that season. She’s another who should be pecking around a couple lineups from time to time but may also end up in the “helps our depth” category. The others are A’Miracal Phillips, who is evidently a miracle, and Telah Black, who I think is the Google translate version of Teja Belak. I don’t ultimately expect to see competition routines from Black, but Phillips has a pretty huge vault that could very well be a thing.

Let’s see. What other teams are there? Oregon State is under the pressure of replacing Chelsea Tang, as if anyone could ever. Mariana Colussi-Pelaez is completing the Colussi-Pelaez double for the team this year and should be a specialist contributor like her sister. Mary Jacobsen seems the most likely AA replacement, and did perform AA at their preseason showcase, with her Tsuk full on vault being particularly helpful because it starts out of a 10. For those teams who appear to be in the 11-15 ranking zone this year, the number of 10.0 SV vaults will be a huge factor in determining who sneaks through to nationals.

For Illinois, How I Didn’t Go To LSU: The Lizzy Leduc Story will be a fascinating Lifetime movie to watch this season. Her technique and basics should be a huge asset. She has the ability to become a star on a team that usually relies on unknown L10 gumption to challenge for a spot at nationals. With that junior elite basis, double-pike-style JO routines look very easy for her.

The big get of the year has to be West Virginia snatching up Kirah Koshinski. This floor routine should get some scores.

She’s a power specialist but should be a AAer for this team, with big scores on vault, beam, and floor. Bars are more of a struggle, but she has a usable DLO dismount and will be needed there as well.

Also keep an eye on Sarah Means for Boise State. BSU lost significant value from Kelsey Morris and has bled too many star routines over the last couple seasons, so they’ll need Means to stop the trend. She has an appealing balance of appropriate leg form on bars and beam and the power to throw a 1.5 on vault. Anyone else I’m missing? Kent State has Sarah Lippowitsch, who won beam in Senior D this year with a 9.700. The New Zealand elite Brittany Robertson is starting at Arizona this year, and Skyler Memmel gets the obligatory sister shoutout as she’ll be joining Central Michigan to try to make up for the million important routines they graduated after last season.

Freshman Notes: Oklahoma, Alabama, Michigan

More! Things! Freshmen go win yes!

This Sooner freshman class has a little more work to do than originally anticipated after Brenna decided she was starting to contract some confidence, and the only cure was elite. Dr. Martha had the prescription, alright. Now, Oklahoma is down 3 routines from Brewer, 3 from Dowell, 2 from Clark, and 1 from Sorensen, which is more than this tiny freshman class will be able to muster, meaning the team will be leaning fairly heavily on the 90%-missing Charity Jones and the “how’s that knee, again?” Maile Kanewa to act as reinforcements at some point to keep the lineups well stocked.

Aside from Brenna’s contributions on vault and floor, however, Oklahoma has lost value mostly on bars and beam, and this new class should be able to help out with that. It’s a very “pretty” group, so expect humanity to continue the trend of random and inadvertent weird Kathy Johnson moans, because Oklahoma. You know who you are. Nicole Lehrmann is most likely to be a major contributor, a former junior elite whose JO gymnastics has been clean as a PBS show. The toe point is a major standout quality, particularly on bars (that buttah bail), and she has the leg from and dance elements to put together a deduction-minimal beam routine.

On vault, she has shown an extended, precise full and the occasional 1.5, which could be something to watch given the rise of the 1.5 this year (although on vault Oklahoma is already replete with returners, more so than on the other events). Lehrmann doesn’t necessarily have the big power on floor—though she has performed a full-in with mixed results—but she’s a straddle element queen with clean D tumbling that could be useful. Also, this choreographic style is already KJ heaven.

Alex Marks is joining Oklahoma at the start of the competition season. She was an elite until relatively recently when she disappeared with implied injury, which put her on the JO-to-NCAA track until roster openings put her on the NCAA-right-now-immediately track. I mostly remember her as that one I’d never heard of at Classic (there’s always one) who suddenly did a back full on beam. Beam is an interesting one for Marks because it has often been her weakest score, but I really like her on it.

Give the Oklahoma beam machine some time with that routine, and I’m there for it all day. Marks has some potential pop on vault (was training a DTY way, way back), though a few of the more recent showings have been hit-or-miss with height and landing position. Since returning to JO in 2015, she has performed a twisting-only floor routine, featuring a well-executed and usable front double full, but it will be worth keeping an eye on where the power quotient is now. Or will her NCAA career will be more of the “toe-pointing my ass off” bars and beam type?

The walkon joining the Sooners this year is Megan Thompson, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see much from her. She had some cleanish tumbling back in the day, but at this point she’s mostly a beamer. She does have a competitive skill repertoire there featuring a laudably non-terrible aerial to scale. They may hope to get her on the Sorensen track.

As usual, Alabama has several million freshmen in this year’s class somehow, many of whom should figure as spot contributors (1 and 2 events for the majority of them) and should give the Tide a net gain in depth despite the losses of Clark in the AA, Williams on 2 events, and Frost on floor.

The most prominent of the Alabama freshmen is Ariana Guerra, who was a Stars gymnast before becoming a Texas Dream, and who put together a pretty solid elite career with scores in the low 14s/56s before the injury tidal wave knocked her out for the next century. Guerra is mostly known as a power gymnast, though she did not perform vault at the Halloween intrasquad for presumably all-the-injuries reasons. Floor should be her most important contribution to the team, with a strong DLO, easy double pike, and dance elements that she can endure without much deduction. She’s such an Alabama floor worker.

Guerra should also be excellent at anger beam, which will be important in the absence of Kayla Williams. She’ll slam down that punch front and two-footed layout, though splits are a challenge for her and could limit her influence. They’ll have to be smart about that routine composition. Even though Guerra is not a natural bars type, she has really worked the toe point to make it a stronger event, along with a high Ray and secure DLO. The angles and leg separations can be an issue, but evolving into another Bama power-bars worker is probably her destiny.

It should be noted at this point that I’m getting ready to be into Abby Armbrecht’s beam routine. The potential is there. The train is in the station. The defining factor of the Duckworth era so far has been infusing more style into beam routines (big surprise), and this should be an excellent project.

She already has the splits, the leg form, and a sheep jump that isn’t very NCAA in that it’s an actual sheep jump and not this:

Nailed it. Armbrecht should also figure on other events, especially with the clean y1.5 she has shown in the past, her most important scoring asset throughout JO. On floor, her work is pretty but not that big, which is a hallmark of much of this freshman class. A number of them can do perfectly clean, nice, acceptable, yada yada yada floor routines, but they’re not big Bama routines and therefore may find it difficult to squeeze into the lineup when competing for spots with the returners. 

That’s true for Amanda Huang, who has some respectable twisting skills but wouldn’t necessarily be one of the six on floor when bigger options present themselves. Huang is going to be more the bars and beam type, with a comfortable piked jaeger and clean bail to build a routine around. Her bars routine still needs to be refined in the handstands and some details, but it’s a believable lineup option. The beam story is similar. She has the skill set and good enough leg form, but can be a bit close to the beam on a lot of elements with some stiffness to her performance, so there are areas to work through if she’s to get into lineups on a team this competitive.

Angelina Giancroce, of “wasn’t she supposed to go to Georgia?” fame, is another who earns her keep on form and style more than difficulty, with dance elements being her primary strength. She scored well on floor during her JO career with those fully-hit splits and clean twisting form, but like some of the others, she does not have difficulty to be a sure option. I’m more interested in beam because of her style, even though she can be quite tentative which could compromise her chances, and bars, even though bars was far from her best JO event. She got about a 1.100 every time but has toe point, respectable amplitude on her shoot to high bar, and an elegant DLO, so I’m putting a star and a question mark next to that routine (like you do) because there’s something there. 

Jenna Bresette is a former GAGE whom I have not seen anything from in a thousand years, but she’s another along with Guerra who could figure on floor. She had a high double arabian back in the day mixed with mostly solid leaps that should see her become an option. They’ll have to replace Clark and Frost in that floor lineup, and Guerra and Bresette will be in contention for those spots along with returners like Aja Sims. I haven’t seen Bresette vault in an entire lifetime (meaning five years which is too long ago to be relevant), but the coaches seem to be high on her yfull, so there’s that.

Who else are we missing? Just 1100 more people? There’s Avery Rickett, who’s also jumping in the clown car. She has a double pike and double tuck on floor and can give them a beam routine, but doesn’t have the amplitude and form to make lineups. 

Thankfully, Michigan has the common decency not to have a hundred kabillion freshmen this year, with just the two. That’s a polite, easy-to-keep-track-of amount of freshmen. But I do expect significant contribution from both of them, enough to make up for the 6 lost routines from Sugiyama and Parker without enduring much of a lull. This roster should be able to maintain the scoring pace from last season.

Olivia Karas was a star in JO, making a splash at both the Nastia Nastiaship Starring Nastia As Nastia and JO Nationals this year, and should continue the trend in college. She’s a good bet for three events, perhaps four. Definitely vault. Karas has a 1.5 that is monstrous in a good way, with a consistently strong landing. She’s a solid bet for late-lineup/anchor there.

We’ll also see her on floor, with that high double arabian (a little cowboy but not problematic—her double arabian is not a microaggression) and impressive amplitude in leaps that will help her be one of those gymnasts who doesn’t have to fake it. The acro on beam is secure, particularly the punch front, coupled with acceptably hit splits. She does dismount with only a gainer pike, but we’ll just have to get through that emotionally.

My one question with Karas is bars, which is clearly not her preferred event. It’s OK, with good form on a shap + pak combination, but the dismount might take her out of contention. In JO, it has been an unconnected underswing to front pike, which is such a Canadian-floor-specialist bars dismount that I can’t even deal with it, and valued at only a C. They’ll have to figure out something to do with that if she’s going to be a lineup gymnast. They’ve done it before.

Emma McLean really came on strong this year in the JO ranks, and has many similar strengths to Karas. The main difference between the two is McLean’s lower difficulty, but she has shown a very high full on vault that I have to imagine could become a 1.5. Even if not, it should be an option. And while her floor difficulty has maxed out at a double pike, it’s a big double pike, and her height and cleanliness has brought in consistently impressive scores in the JO ranks.

I’m less sold on her beam (the legs are pretty floppy and the acro can be low) and bars, but the amplitude on bars was much better at JOs than at the Nastia, and her tkatchev already looks improved in preseason training videos. Because Michigan. They will still also have to come up with a dismount for her, though. But really, the team returns Brown, Sheppard, Artz, Williams, Casanova, and Christopherson from last season’s bars group, so that could also just be it. 

Freshman Notes: LSU, Georgia, Nebraska

On to the next set of hopeful young freshmen! We’ve got several volumes of Lexie Priessman injury history to get through, so let’s get going.


It won’t be an easy little stroll through the meadow for LSU this year. Every possible gymnast in the universe graduated after last season, so now it’s just Jay Clark and one grip sitting there writing poems about loneliness. The problem is actually not so much the number of lost routines (there’s still a solid core) as the value of those routines. Seven of the eight 5th-6th routines from last year are gone, which means a hefty little number of 9.9s will need to be sculpted from somewhere TBD that may or may not exist. The good news is that this year’s freshman class is wildly talented.

Let’s start by addressing Lexie Priessman. It’s hard to believe she’s just now starting college because even when she was a junior elite she already looked like she had just moved to New York to get a job in PR, while all the other girls were like, “I’m four.”

We all know what a healthy Lexie Priessman would be capable of, at least if we can remember back that far or if “healthy Lexie Priessman” is still a possible theoretical state of matter. She could be an absolute ridiculous star on vault and floor, and also everywhere because Lexie Priessman. I’m pretty interested to see what she ends up putting together on bars and beam (fingers crossed) because as an elite, her form could get pretty ragged on those events, becoming more pronounced as time went on. That seemed to be primarily a function of pushing the D-score via skills that weren’t actually great ideas for her, but we’ll have to see if an NCAA routine is indeed a much cleaner prospect. 

Of course, the only real question heading into Priessman’s NCAA career is what shape she’s in. And I don’t mean shape like fitness. I mean what actual geometric shape she is. Triangle? Rhombus? Pentagram? Having endured years of the emotional and physical turmoil of OCD Sunday School, we can never really be sure. The mystery deepens. Priessman has been in various states of extreme leg-disappearedness for the last, oh, 600 months, ever since MLT put that hex on her where every time she does a skill, her body breaks into a thousand pieces. Her level of MLT-breaks will be the deciding factor as to where she ends up on the huge-star/injury-retirement scale. Can she get back to full strength? At some point?

Keeping on the topic of relatively unknown quantities post-2012, remember how obsessed you were with Sarah Finnegan for 11 minutes? Well, she’s back. It’s really exciting. We hope. The trouble is that we haven’t seen any real gymnastics from her since the late 1950s. Is she healthy? Is she doing all the events? Is she a tatted-up truck driver now? We have no way of knowing. Finnegan was excellent all-around during her shooting-star elite career, though I have to think bars and beam will be her key events (especially post-Courville and Jordan, and post-that thing where she competed gymnastics). Both those lineups need 500ccs of undiluted Finnegan, stat. (That’s her doing a lovely DLO off bars in the training video above, right? I have a lot of ID problems…) In case you also need a refresher about Finnegan’s heavenly beam routine, this is important viewing, mostly because there’s some priceless Elfi and Tim at the beginning about her really unique wolf turn. It’s an excellent lesson in what it sounds like when Tim is 100% done with your life.

Finnegan and Priessman are intended as the replacement stars for our dearly departed favorites, but because of their injuries/lack of competition in the past eon, LSU will have to lean pretty heavily on the rest of this class to be sturdy workhorses and fill in many of these lineup gaps.

The very best thing about McKenna Lou Kelley entering NCAA is that we finally get to stop going, “Wait, are you even an elite? Then why are you at Marthaville every day?” Humanity must collectively and immediately stop trying to make MARY LOU’S DAUGHTER AHHHH happen, so it’s already better. 

McKenna Lou is a powermansion on floor. She has a totally casual DLO and will need to become a major force in replacing those lost late-lineup floor scores. Now we just need to teach her a seat drop. It’ll go fine. Also, sometimes Mary Lou has 18 pulmonary spasms of motherhood during her routine.

Kelley vaults a full, but it’s a pretty big full that should be something usable for the team in spite of the scoring downgrade. It can complement the returning 10.0 SV vaults from Gnat, Savona, and Ewing. Bars and beam are more of a question. She brings that same power to her acro skills on beam, but the dance elements can be a little underbaked, and on bars the current state of her leg form and handstands may hold her back in spite of her skill set.

The sleeper in this class is going to be Julianna Cannamela. She really stands out in the above training video (she’s the redhead), and not just because it’s easy to identify which one she is. But mostly. The individual skills she shows in that video look stronger than they did in the JO routines I’ve seen (especially that pretty good floor DLO and usable full on vault), and that’s always a good sign. Cannamela was consistently acceptable across four events as a JO gymnast, which is somewhat rare. She seems like the type who could give you a 9.850 on any event when called upon, which given the injury histories here, will be essential. 

There isn’t much extra baggage in this freshman class. It’s big, but all five gymnasts should be contributors. Kaitlyn Szafranski was among that gaggle of Parkettes who tried junior elite a million years ago, and the LSU coaches seem to be high on her bars potential. That’s understandable since she does have a serious Ray going on, but the routine isn’t all the way there. Her JO work exposes some form issues, especially with leg breaks and piking in the DLO, but I expect it to be one of those Jay Clark projects. It will especially necessary because LSU looks relatively devoid of true bars women this season, again having to rely on a few people who can do the event but don’t love it (the Gnats, the Savonas, etc…)


Thank you for the IDs, Emily!

Georgia is in quite a different position from LSU, retaining the large majority of important routines from last season (so, Jay and Rogers). It’s mostly bars where the Gymdogs will need to restock, with Chelsea Davis gone and Kiera Brown having been…quietly removed. Beam could also use some new big scores after last year’s 9.825-a-thon (which is slightly worrying because this freshman class doesn’t particularly love life, and by life I mean dance elements, on beam.)

Expect Gracie Cherrey to be a significant part of the bars project with her big Ray and useful bail. She’ll need to turn those pieces into a realistic mid-late-lineup option to support what will obviously be constant and automatic 10.000s for Her Ladyship. The main concern I have right now for Cherrey’s bars routine is the crazy legs on the DLO. They’re a little EHH and could compromise her score depending on whether the judges choose to notice that or just give her the full Alaina Johnson treatment. What’s a leg separation? Cherrey is also working a full-in on floor, and has received solid scores for her double-back routines in JO. It will be interesting to watch that progress since Georgia had a somewhat icy relationship with E passes last season, pushing to get them into the routines around mid-season but not performing them cleanly enough to be worth it. Will they make a point of forcing those passes into routines earlier this season? Or just go for clean D elements?

One person who will be expected to bring the power and difficulty is Sydney Snead, the first Dr. Seuss character to join a D1 NCAA gymnastics program. She has a stellar 1.5 on vault, and if you put her along with the three returning 1.5s, Georgia is among the programs best positioned to take advantage of the new vault values. Snead also shows a piked full-in on floor that she has been performing regularly as a JO gymnast, which should be useful in stepping up the difficulty. While she’s primarily known as a vault and floor gymnast, her bars are actually pretty good. She has some toe point going on, at least, so I’m sold, even if there are breaks here and there. Originally, I had her in my head as a two-eventer, but I could envision more for her at some point.

Caroline Bradford is the late addition to round out the roster and the least likely of the three to make a splash, but as seen in the training video, she’s got some line on bars and that front on beam looks good. She was a solid finisher in JO back in the junior days, but then disappeared for a thousand centuries (presumably injuries) until this season, so we’ll have to see what she has been able to regain.

A cursory look at the Nebraska roster for this year reveals that it’s…um…tiny. That’s nothing new. This is Nebraska. But now that Kamerin Moore and Ariel Martin have disappeared into the sands of time with Implied Injury Retirement Syndrome, the Huskers return just five regularly competing gymnasts (and just three floor workers from last year), meaning that by mathematical necessity, this year’s six freshmen have some work to do. Even though I would normally characterize this year’s new class as supporting players/spot contributors with an emphasis on bars, they’ll have to do more than that and compete on some events we wouldn’t normally expect them to do. Also don’t be surprised if this becomes another one of those 6 competitor, everyone does the all-around, seasons.

Sienna Crouse seems the most likely to contribute significantly. On bars she has a big, giant, humongous gienger and laudable amplitude in all her release elements, even if there’s some form to be worked out. I’m looking forward to that routine. She also has a front double full on floor with generally clean twisting overall, making her the only Nebraska freshman (as far as I know) coming in with an E pass. Given the need for floor workers to fill out that lineup and help Lambert and Blanske, that’s a thing. Her full on vault is a little touch-and-go. Sometimes it can be pretty low, but this is also Nebraska and they make a lot vaults. 

The big vault in this class, however, comes from Megan Schweihofer. Her yfull is a Nebraska yfull and the girl can land it. She should figure in that lineup and hopefully on beam as well. She’s got something there, even if there’s a hint of leggishness going on. That full turn. I’d like to see her in that lineup. In the great search for floor routines, she has your normal double pike and double tuck, so that’s there if necessary.

Kami Shows is a case worth watching because I think she would have been a bigger deal coming in had she not torn her Achilles in 2014. It’s unclear what gymnast we’ll see at this point because while she used to have some solid height in her floor tumbling back in the day, she hasn’t done floor since 2013. In her comeback meets in 2015, she did only bars and beam. On bars, she has a shap and a pretty high tkatchev, so that will be a routine to keep tabs on. Catelyn Orel comes from GAGE, and I’m not really sure what we’re going to see from her. She never had the big JO career and didn’t compete in the major meets to give us a good scoring/ranking comparison, but she has your overall NCAA skill set: a pretty clean yhalf on vault, gienger and tkatchev on bars, double pike on floor, and some moments of general GAGEity in all of that, along with some form concerns like split positions on beam.  

The rest of the class comes from Gym-Max, with Kelli Chung and Megan Kuo jumping in late to try to round out the roster. Chung has some good Gym-Max toes on bars and nice splits and leg form on beam, but they shouldn’t be significant contributors.

In other news, am I being dense, or do we not get embed code for gymnastike videos anymore now that they decided gymnastike was an OK name, but just didn’t remind people of periods quite enough? 

Freshman Notes: Florida, Utah, Stanford

We’ve got a whole slew of new, optimistic faces ready to start their NCAA careers in a month and a half (lots of classes with 5 and 6 freshmen this year), so before they do that, let’s get to know the new meat and break down what they’ll bring to their teams—besides “such great enthusiasm and a beautiful competitive spirit,” thank you for your no help, coaches—and where they might contribute this year.


The defending champs have certainly lost significant routines from Kytra Hunter and the Wang/Spicer 9.850 Preservation Committee after last season, but this is Florida and that happens every year. This new class is probably the second-strongest freshman group in the nation (because cut to LSU going, “wanna fight?”) and will be expected to maintain a similar team-scoring pace while missing very few beats, aside from the hole in the ceiling left by Kytra’s floor 10s.

It’s rare that one of the most anticipated freshmen in a season is a non-elite, but such was the level of Alicia Boren‘s annual dominance at JO nationals, winning her age group about a hundred years in a row. With most of the name-brand elites entering this season carrying Pulitzer-level injury histories, Boren looks to be among the more reliable bets for “impact freshman,” or whatever sportsball people say.

Vault and floor are a definite yes for Boren. She has a very comfortable 1.5 on vault, which is all the more valuable this season, and her floor tumbling is big, big, big. She anchored her JO floor routine with a full-in, which is a total “check me out, losers” move, and I love it. At this point, we should probably start a running tally of “SHE’S THE NEW KYTRA!!11” for the season, because it’s going to be all the time. We need a gymnastics-commentary swear jar for it. I hereby ban all further mentions.

Boren’s beam work will also have a definite place on the team, with her strong, secure acro elements and workable leaps. The main question mark as to her possible AA contribution will be bars since it’s the weaker event of her four. It’s not really a problem routine (she would compete bars for the majority of teams), but the releases are a little clunky and there’s some foot form. So, while she’s capable of putting up a usable bars routine, it will be more challenging to make the top 6 there. At the same time, her JO bars work is much stronger than McMurtry’s was, so there’s that. 9.950

Let’s move on to Peyton Ernst, the one you always think is a character from Make It Or Break It and then remember that she’s a real person. Ernst was an elite for a number of years, coming out of Texas (Bailie Key’s Broken) Dreams, and was legitimately in the conversation for an early-quad Worlds team before her case of Generalized Elite Injury Disorder set in. She has been a little witness protectiony ever since, so in some respects it will be a wait-and-see as to how much she’s able to recover those elite routines. But, with her previous elite skill set and well-rounded difficulty and quality across four events (DTY, shaposhi, DLO & double arabian on floor, strong dance elements), she would certainly contribute a big routine on any event in ideal health circumstances.

Ernst’s most important event will be beam (and that’s the one event we saw from her in the most recent training videos above). Remember when she showed up with that 6.3 elite beam routine and everyone went, “Is that a number?!?!?” We were so young then. Beam was the weakest event for the Gators last year (relative), and they haven’t really had that second sure beam 9.900 since Macko left (SHE’S THE NEW MACKO!!11…anyone? Anyone?). Ernst can be that with the right skill composition, of which she has many, many options.

Also of note, this isn’t much of a bars class (it’s the bad event for every newbie except Ernst), but the strong crop of returning bars routines means that won’t necessarily be a problem. Still, Ernst is the one who can make a real difference there.

Lacy Dagen looks to be another in that ever-growing line of strong Florida gymnasts who get  overshadowed by the bigger names but should still contend for a couple early lineup spots, depending on the general injury-scape for people like Ernst and the recovering Claire Boyce. There will be several open Wang/Spicer spots here and there, and everyone will basically have to arm-wrestle Ericha Fassbender to see who gets them. It could be a number of people. Dagen was a junior elite at the very end of the last quad and has a solid full on vault (along with about 10 other people on this roster) and showed a DLO on floor, and both of those will be assets for her.


Amanda Cheney and Ashley Hiller are the later additions to the team for this year, with Cheney excelling on beam (she also has a fine yfull and tumbling, but it’s mostly beam) with lovely line and presentation. As long as they get rid of her straddle 1/2 like yesterday, it could be a thing. Hiller was a vault standout as a JO gymnast, placing 2nd there in Senior D this year, as has some serious ups on her full.

The Utes have quite a job to do this year if they’re to come anywhere close to reenacting last year’s 2nd-place. 12 out of 24 routines will now need replacing after the departures of Dabritz, Lothrop, Wilson, and Tutka. It’s basically the whole floor lineup.

This new class does not have the same big gymnastics and accomplished resumes of that departing group and will not be expected to replicate the same quality. As much onus will be on the sophomores like Partyka and Stover to show more routines this year to make up the lost scores, but realistically the scoring potential will not be as high. In contrast to last year, when the team had enough routines and depth to bring the new ones along slowly, these freshmen will be thrown into the fire and relied upon to do more because of just how many lineup gaps there are now.

Makenna Merrell has risen the JO ranks in the last year or so, ultimately finishing 2nd in her age group at Nationals this year. She possesses that “are you a person or a line segment?” look that everybody seems to love, especially on beam where she has an almost Nastia-circa-2003 thing going on in her movement choices (if you squint…and get drunk?).

But Megan, we’re going to have a sit down with her about wrists, right? Good. But, Merrell is an interesting one because with that look, you’d expect her to be solely bars and beam queen. That is where I expect to see her biggest contribution—she should absolutely do beam because she has good extension through her loso series and the girl can hit a split—but she also has some unexpected difficulty on vault and floor, which have yielded the majority of her best scores in JO and account for her big recent AA results.

Merrell has a 1.5 on vault and a piked full-in on floor, which is higher difficulty than anyone else in this class, though I’m not quite sold yet. The 1.5 can sometimes be a little short and fragile and is the kind of vault that probably would have been downgraded to a full in previous seasons, but this year it will be viewed as an asset and they may work harder to make it a thing. Watch that space. She’s the definite possibility as an AAer in this class.

But most importantly, Merrell is from All-American gymnastics, and the biggest thing I learned is that her gym has a meet called “All American Hot & Ready,” which is absolutely unacceptable. Also, please do not google “all american hot and ready.”

Following much “which school are you going to?” and a prolonged multi-year case of the brokens, the Wogette Sabrina Schwab ended up at Utah once UCLA was like, “I don’t know her…” If she emerges as a big contributor, expect a lot of “we didn’t give up on her like certain other schools…” Or at least I hope so. Post-TV-meet shade is one of my favorite types of shade. I’m giving Megan a lot of assignments so far.

Schwab is expected to be primarily bars and beam and contribute significantly there. It makes sense because she has definite WOGA bars, complete with lovely toe point and handstands and some slight WOGAtkatchev-itis to balance it out. Back in the day when she was doing junior elite, she also showed an enjoyable floor routine featuring a legit 3/1, so I’ll be hoping to see her on more than just bars and beam at some point over the years if she’s able to get back, but her bars is by far the most important routines this year as they try to restock that lineup post-Dabritz auto-10. They’ll need something serious from her.

Like many of her incoming peers, Shannon McNatt was a junior elite for a second in 2012. Of particular note is her Omelianchik on vault, which is the routine we’re most likely to see.


It’s a strong vault, she has been doing it for a while, and it’s still valued out of a 10, which shoots her up the vault list quite a few places. Having an Omelianchik is a much bigger asset now when the majority of gymnasts are coming in doing perfectly OK fulls that start from 9.950. I’m not sold on the other events yet, but she has the passes on floor.  

With the floor lineup so depleted, Utah will be looking for people to emerge with usable work there, even if they’re not the “ALL THE E PASSES” routines of a couple years ago. Erika Muhaw is one of those options. She’s another of the clean-high-double-pike brigade, but she also shows solid dance elements with her straddle work and could put together a routine that’s relatively free from deductions. It’s a similar story on beam. She’s a total Christine Still “efficient little gymNAST.”  

Stanford’s freshman class this year is sort of [scene missing], which is fitting because that whole program is like, “Shhhh, gymnastics is a secret.” Stanford gymnastics is like one of those pop-up restaurants that’s only open one Thursday every year and no one knows when it’s going to be or who’s doing it, and the only dish is a wicker chest of octopus foam. Who’s healthy enough to compete this year? We’ll find out in January! Let’s hope it’s more than 4 people this time.

Stanford’s great postseason last year was built on gorgeous bars and beam routines, so the loss of Shapiro and Vaculik is slightly troubling, mostly emotionally because how are we going to survive now? Just by watching Vaculik Gienger on youtube and then crying ourselves to sleep, like usual?  It’s not wholly troubling because the Ebee/Ivie dynamic duo should still be getting 9.9s, but it will be tough to keep the same pace since this new group doesn’t really excel on bars. That’s why Dare Maxwell will be important. She’s the one who could. In breaking news, she still does gymnastics and has great toe point along with a Ray, which should be able to be molded into something excellent by the Stanford bars machine if she stays healthy.

But as we know, this team is always in need of vault and floor routines so that they actually have 6 of them, which is where Taryn Fitzgerald comes in. She has a pretty solid full on vault (also has done a 1.5, but I’m thinking it should be a full) and a double arabian on floor at times, so that’s basically a golden ticket. Get in those lineups.


The biggest thing to know about Hailee Hoffman and Nicole Hoffman is that they’re not related, which is blowing my mind. I already have enough trouble with the McNairs, and at least they have the common decency to be twins. Nicole has solid, contained form in a relatively low-difficulty repertoire across most of the events. She could do a clean floor for them. As for Hailee, she has posted her best scores on vault and floor in JO, though I’ve seen very little from her.

NLI Week 2016-2017

Before we get ourselves fully entrenched in bracing for the inevitable disappointments that the 2016 NCAA season will bring, it’s time to take a moment to gaze with dewy-eyed optimism and childlike wonder at the possibilities resting on the post-Olympic horizon. Beginning today (Wednesday) and for the next week-ish, schools will reveal which gymnasts will join their teams for the 2017 season by confirming the completely informed and totally sensible verbal commitments those gymnasts made right before preschool graduation. You know, when you’re thinking about college. 

I’ll be updating this list with the various schools’ press releases as they announce their incoming gymnasts’ NLI signings. Now to review, NLI stands for Nine Long-term Injuries and is the document gymnasts sign to acknowledge that they are under no circumstances going to be healthy enough to compete four whole years of college gymnastics. But in real life, it stands for National Letter of Intent, and it signals an end to the recruiting process by confirming a gymnast’s commitment to attend the school in question. Once a gymnast signs an NLI, the choice of school is official, unlike the previously announced verbal commitments that can and do change.

The verbal commitment is kind of like when you run into a tiring acquaintance a party and they say, “We should do something sometime,” and you’re like, “Yeah, that would be great, we should” but barely mean it and can always back out when you think of a good excuse. But signing the NLI is like when that tiring acquaintance texts you to say, “You’re coming to dinner on Friday, right?” and you actually have to do it now because specific plans have been made. Just as a random example. 

So, let’s find out who has to go to dinner on Friday.

Maggie Nichols, Jade Degouveia, Brehanna Showers

Alex Marks also signs to come aboard immediately to round out “Operation No Brenna.”

“This signing class is literally giving me goosebumps.” We’re gonna need a bigger swag-o-meter.

MyKayla Skinner (previously signed), Missy Reinstadtler, Kim Tessen

Madison Copiak, Michaela Nelson, Maya Washington

Alyssa Baumann, Amelia Hundley, Rachel Gowey, Maegan Chant

This is the “your job is to replace Bridget Sloan, so no pressure” group, and it will be the strongest of the 2017 classes, along with UCLA’s. Just get the duct tape and staple gun ready.

Tess McCracken, Kristen Politz, Mikayla Waddell

Kirsten Peterman, Alecia Farina

Maddie Desch, Wynter Childers, Shea Mahoney

Karen Howell, Lindsay Dwyer, Rae Balthazor

Lucy Jones, Megan Tripp

Courtney McGregor, Isabella Amado, McKinley Pavicic

Hannah Swoish, Hunter Vincent

Polina Shchennikova, Lexi Funk, Maddy Osman, Maggie O’Hara

Cassidy Keelen, Rachael Mastrangelo

Heather Swanson, Courtney Cowles, Christina Berg

Kaylee Cole

Alexis Beucler, Melissa Brooker (for 2016-2017)
Paris Phillips, Alexa Phillips (for 2015-2016)

Ally Hoyer

Grace Glenn, Anna Glenn

Hmmm, that sure is two people instead of the class of 1700 million we were promised, but there are some previously signed gymnasts along with some spring signings that will round things out. Allegedly.

Sabrina Vega, Jordyn Pederson, Rachel Dickson

The big question was when the ghost of Sabrina Vega would officially be able to begin, and now it looks like she’ll finally start in the 2017 season. I’m just glad she got on the NCAA wagon at last.

I thought Jordyn Pederson signed last year and just deferred, but whatever. She’s coming. 

Samantha Ogden, Maddie Karr, Courtney Loper

Kassidy Cumber, Julia Merwin (walkon)

Alyssa Johnson, Rachel Ley, Aspen Tucker 

SOUTHERN UTAHRelease 1, Release 2, Release 3
Madison McBride, Megan McBride, Autumn Jorgensen, Becky Rozsa

Laura Burns, Emily White, Riley Walsh, Molly Russ

Rebecca Taylor, Kristen Quaglia (scholarship)
Ivy Lu, Casey Betts, Ryan Stach (walkon)

Amanda Arnold, Hollie Minichiello, Emili Dobronics

Megan Dennis, Courteney Taylor

Isis Lowery, Brianna McCant

Ruby Harrold, Kennedi Edney, Ashlyn Kirby

Alaina Kwan, Erynne Allen, Katrina Coca

Event Finals, Please Pack Your 9.9s and Go

RIP, NCAA event finals. We’ll always have complaining about how long you take amid a vague hangover.  

During the great yfull purge of 2015, the NCAA League of Chief In-Charge Women also revealed that they were planning to decapitate the event finals in the town square at some time to be determined, and it turns out that time is immediately.

It is now confirmed that instead of the usual three-day competition, the 2016 NCAA championship will consist of the normal semifinals on Friday, the normal Super Six on Saturday, and then nothing on Sunday, eliminating a specific day devoted to events. (This is a slight improvement on the previously proposed Friday-rest-Sunday schedule, as advocated by the boring police from Lametown.) In another development, both the Friday and Saturday competitions will be televised live on ESPNU, a coup that the sport has been fighting for dating back to the days when TVs were a thing that people watched.

Getting live television is still a big deal in exposure for the sport (we’ve seen the very encouraging recent ratings from the Pac-12 and SEC Nets that helped propel this move and have brought more people into following the sport), especially for family viewing and people who still watch programs—but pronounced progrums—on the TV box, though it’s increasingly less important for later-teenage, early-twenties whippersnappers who Liketweet on their iDroids and aren’t particularly likely to watch the competition live on TV, and who make up a valuable demo for gymnastics that isn’t catered to quite enough, but that’s an issue for another day.

Well actually, it’s an issue for today because there is a real chunk of people, mostly younger and therefore still valuable as human beings, who will be excluded from watching the championship since ESPNU broadcasts fall behind a subscription wall. People who don’t have ESPNU or a WatchESPN login from their cable/sat package likely won’t be able to watch (unless a special allowance is made), which is a long-term issue for a sport that needs every set of eyeballs it can get on its main event to stay afloat and specifically needs to cater to people in that borderline age of “I’m not doing gymnastics anymore and I might start drifting away from it toward other interests if my attention span isn’t constantly reminded of it” to turn them into lifelong fans. Getting a live TV deal is still good news, but it’s not exclusively good news in the present incarnation. 

Personally, I’d probably choose to watch on the app anyway, just like the last few years, because that’s convenient for blogging and because someone might make a weird face at some point that I’ll need to screencap and never forget ever. But that’s just me.

Let’s also talk about some other problems. (Autobiography title, called it.) The move is being constructed as “we had to get rid of event finals for the TV deal” which is a problem because…um, hi? That makes no sense. Having competition on Sunday has no bearing on whether ESPN shows the team final on TV on Saturday or not. So, you don’t want to show an extra day of competition on Sunday? Then don’t show it. Throw it on ESPN3 like always and use the TV broadcast to focus on the team and pretend event finals don’t exist. NBC has been doing that with Worlds for years. This explanation is illogical.

Now, the other thing I’m struggling with is that I’ve always mostly hated NCAA event finals. They’re long, a complete afterthought to Super Six that no one thinks about until the morning of, and extremely arbitrary in determining qualifiers and awarding titles. The one or two fun upgrades that get thrown out there each year don’t really make up for that. I should be celebrating since they’re basically my arch-nemesis, but it feels hollow. Primarily because it means there’s less gymnastics, which is a disheartening continuation of gymnastics’ tendency to try to solve problems by shrinking itself down to seem more palatable. Whether its going down to fewer routines/all scores counting like in the elite or men’s NCAA TF, or going down to fewer team competitors for the 2020 Olympics. It always feels like it’s surreptitiously trying to dwindle away.

Also, we need to talk about how event champions are going to be determined now. Because it seems like it’s going to be a problem. The issue with awarding event titles based on scores from the semifinal day, like in the AA, is that every event will have 5-6 people tied on 9.950 in first place. And if they’re all co-champions, I’m going to riot. The Worlds bars final is not a role model. Is there going to be some sort of permutation based on season performance + semifinal performance? Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a permutation as much as the next spreadsheet-happy dorkburger, and that would result in more deserving champions, but it wouldn’t exactly adhere to the mission statement of making things straightforward and easy for all fans to follow.

Well, with all that said, it’s a brave new world. Let’s get ready for it.

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama