Armbrecht, Abby – Freshman
Bailey, Katie – Junior – VT, UB, BB, FX
Beers, Lauren – Senior – VT, UB, BB, FX
Brannan, Mackenzie – Sophomore – VT, UB, FX (possible BB)
Bresette, Jenna – Freshman
Giancroce, Angelina – Freshman
Guerra, Ari – Freshman
Guerrero, Nickie – Sophomore – BB (possible VT)
Huang, Amanda – Freshman
Jetter, Amanda – Junior – UB, FX
Loeb, Jennie – Sophomore – N/A
McNeer, Keely – Junior – VT, UB, BB
Rickett, Avery – Freshman
Sanders, Mary Lillian – Junior – N/A
Sims, Aja – Junior – UB, BB, FX
Sims, Carley – Senior – VT, FX (possible UB, BB)
Valentin, Mackenzie – Junior – VT, FX
Winston, Kiana – Sophomore – VT, UB, BB, FX
2015 – 4th
2014 – 4th
2013 – 3rd
2012 – 1st
2011 – 1st
2010 – 3rd
Alabama enters 2016 as an obvious Super Six pick and one of the top few contenders for the championship, a deep roster that should be able to improve on the quality of last year’s team. Among the first-tier teams, that’s a claim that really only Alabama can make this season, which is probably the best argument for potential glory at this point in the year. Alabama performed well in 2015, right on track with the quality we expect every year, yet was always one notch behind the very best schools. The biggest scores were just out of reach. Even though the losses of Clark and Williams put a dent in Alabama’s scoring potential, between the injury comebacks of Winston and Bailey and the large class of freshman contributors, Alabama has gained more scores than lost and should be a more convincing contender for the title this time around.
Kiana Winston. She’s the secret weapon this year and basically counts as a bonus freshman since she wasn’t able to come back fully last season. Winston was recruited to be an anchor-star for this team, so as the likes of Clark and Williams make way, it becomes more important for Winston to take up that mantle. To truly challenge Florida and Oklahoma (and not simply keep pace with last year’s performances), Alabama needs an extra injection of 9.9s across three or four events that wasn’t around last season, and Winston is the most likely to provide that. If she’s truly back and actually healthy for five consecutive minutes, she has both the power and execution to be a top all-arounder.
I’m interested to see how vault develops for Alabama this year. Because it’s Alabama and vault, the score needs to be a big deal, but the coaches have some decisions to make about difficulty. A number of people on the roster are capable of 1.5s, but Lauren Beers is coming off an offseason of surgeries and is a bit behind on vault and floor, while Mack Brannan, Nickie Guerrero, Ari Guerra, and Abby Armbrecht have all performed 1.5s in the recent past but lately have been working fulls. I’d expect to see 1.5s from at least a few of them this season, but in the case of someone like Brannan, she went down to the full last year because it was the better score. We’ll have to see if the 0.05 boost changes that or if the full is the still the more prudent vault. Regardless, there’s a sufficient mix of huge fulls and potential difficulty on the roster to see this as a 49.350-49.400 event again. The question is how consistently the 1.5s show up and if they help/are necessary.
In addition to these vaulters, Carley Sims and Keely McNeer both scored well enough for their fulls last season in early lineup positions and should be able to go into the 9.8s again this year. I’d certainly add Winston to that mix along with perhaps Bresette, giving the team a healthy crop of powerful, high-amplitude options. And then there’s someone like Kenzie Valentin, who was an important vaulter for Arizona but hasn’t been close to getting a look for Alabama. Does having a 10.0 vault help her stock? With the cloud of difficulty looming over everyone this year and Alabama’s added depth, it may be tougher this season for past vaulters like Katie Bailey to make it back. She’ll be one of the choices, but it’s a serious 11-12 competitor fight, which means the team should be able to pick the very best 9.850+ fulls to go along with the 1.5s that do emerge.
Given the abilities and career track record of the gymnasts on this deep roster, Alabama shouldn’t really have a problem on bars this year, but as with many of the other teams across the country, Alabama has been bleeding bars 9.9s and counting a few too many 9.8s over the last year or so. Those 49.275s at nationals last year were not competitive enough, leaving at least some room for further stuck-in-the-49.2s worries this season. How much will we be missing those big, nailed Sledge/Clark/Jacob DLOs, or will the talent deliver?
Jetter was supposed to be the next bars leader, but issues in landing that terrifying double front have rendered her more a supporting 9.850 than a scoring star, which means the duty falls to Kiana Winston this year to elevate the lineup. She has 9.9s in her, and with the official Bars Queen scepter still sitting unclaimed on its plush red pillow, the opportunity to begin her dynasty is there for the taking. Other occasional 9.9s will come from Katie Bailey and her famous full-out and Lauren Beers, who has suddenly become a bars worker late in her career and can power her way through a solid routine, though leg breaks and steps on her own double front can bring the score down. When those four have their dismounts clicking, this lineup will be strong and won’t have an excuse for going under the 49.3 plateau, but I am concerned about stepping to 9.825s.
The biggest factor making me bullish about Alabama’s chance this year is the fight for lineup spots on every event, and bars is no exception. Aja Sims has been a constant in this lineup for two seasons, but it’s one of those inexplicable routines that makes me feel like I’m taking crazy pills because her form is all over the place and then she gets a 9.875 for some reason. McNeer and Brannan are quite precise and alternated that leadoff spot last year for 9.850s, and both could comfortably jump into any remaining lineup spots themselves. This freshman class is not really a bars group, but bars has been the strength for Amanda Huang in her JO career, and Ari Guerra absolutely has the potential to put together Sarah DeMeo-style Alabama power routine at some point. While any of these nine could go, the biggest thing is finding a couple weekly 9.9s to get out of the medium scores. I nominate Winston and Bailey.
Talk about a fight for places. Just as a dearth of truly impressive bars routines is a theme in NCAA this year, the potential for an exceptional beam lineup carries through most of the top teams this year. This is not a season in which we should tolerate watching a lot of 9.825 blah beam. The talent is better than that. For Alabama, while the scores and consistency weren’t always so much with the great 2015, that beam lineup was the most pleasantly watchable Alabama beam team in quite a while, and the options have only increased this year, which should help extract the fallsies and wobblies, leaving only the goods. Whichever six are ultimately chosen, everyone in Alabama’s beam lineup will have the potential to go 9.9, and we can reasonably expect 49.400 for hit meets.
This will, however, be a very challenging lineup to make. The star of the group is Aja Sims. None of the form crazies from bars carry over to her beam routine, where she shows exceptional splits and big difficulty that can go 9.950 multiple times per season. Keeping it going, Katie Bailey and Keely McNeer are both fluid in their work with a terminal case of the pretties. At various times, they have been held down to 9.850 by performing in the opening spot, but in wobble-free routines, they’re capable of more. Beers and Guerrero both made the lineup last season and perform with the more dominant, break-the-beam style we associate with Alabama, as does Ari Guerra, who would seem like an easy bet to join the lineup if there weren’t so many choices. For instance, Winston, who has seriously developed her splits, toe point, and form in the years following her elite career. Hers can be an important beam score, though I’m really rooting for Armbrecht’s smooth and elegant beam work to make the lineup as well. And that isn’t counting Huang, who is supposed to be a bars and beam specialist, and Giancroce, who has some memorable style. Jeepers. Too many talented options this year to end up with a lineup that goes 48.950/49.200 at nationals. There will be no need to keep using an inconsistent routine.
Alabama had a couple strong floor routines in last year’s lineup, which consistently scored well, but the departure of a couple wow routines from the previous season was pretty apparent as the Tide always came in a tenth or so behind the big 49.5ers. While very good (4th in the country, so it’s hard to complain), it wasn’t quite the dominant event Alabama’s floor is known for being. This year will probably be similar-to-slightly better, 49.350s and 49.4s, though expectations might elevate depending on how much Winston and Guerra are able to contribute. Guerra is a floor powerhouse with a huge DLO, and while Winston’s leg-injury history is cause for some restraint, she too has a DLO along with that same all-element proficiency from beam. If they join Beers and Carley Sims every week, this lineup starts to become much more competitive with the likes of LSU/Florida/Oklahoma for the best-in-the-country crown. It will be the DLO sisters this year, as Sims and Beers can both be expected to go 9.900 again for their “THIS DLO” themed routines.
For the remaining spots, Bailey, Brannan, Jetter, and occasionally Aja Sims have all proven the ability to go at least 9.850-9.875 every time and should see opportunities, with Brannan and Jetter usually the most likely to hit the 9.900 mark. Those eight provide enough options that the rest of the double-pike-a-thon roster will probably just act as backups, though Bresette did have a big double arabian back in the day, and while Valentin hasn’t done much on floor for Alabama, she does have a double front, so that’s always worth a mention. The key to success is probably Guerra since her specialty is floor, so if she emerges as a star, the state of the lineup will be strong.