To the vote for week 8! I hear you guys about the repetitiveness of the same routines being here week after week and I agree (it’s fun to dive a little deeper), so the theme for this week is routines that haven’t been nominated yet this season. Continue reading Best Routine of Week 8 Poll→
Now comes the point in the year when we must attempt to wrench ourselves out of an NCAA mindset and pay attention to the elite world again. We’re little more than a month away from Classic now, so the Mad Max remake that masquerades as the US Olympic selection process is soon to reach its familiarly feverish levels. “Do we actually need a bars specialist?” he asks, sharpening an abandoned femur into a spear.
As a bridge between the two worlds, I periodically like to take the results of past US elite competitions and examine how the gymnasts ranked at that point compared to how they would eventually fare in NCAA a few years later. Who rises? Who falls? Who is like the mousy girl in the high school movie who takes off her glasses and suddenly turns beautiful in the NCAA code? Who was using elite difficulty to mask deficiencies that are exposed in college? As we know, success in elite and success in NCAA do not have a 1:1 relationship.
Today, I have taken the various AA and event results from the 2012 Visa Championships (Visa Championships…feels so long ago. Like the John Hancock US Championships, which were basically contemporaneous with John Hancock) and bolded the gymnasts who competed in NCAA at some point after this competition (so I didn’t include Anna Li since she’s a category all her own). A number of items jump out.
Fewer than half of the future NCAA gymnasts who competed AA at the 2012 championships continued to do AA in college (and only two or three of the eleven have been full-time AAers for multiple seasons), which helps illustrate the danger of assuming NCAA dominance for all elites. Those who continue at the same strength as all-arounders, your Sloans and Prices and Bakers, are the exception more than the rule. Instead, we have the usual random smattering of competition and success levels, ranging from barely-one-event status to best-in-the-country status. But what’s of most interest here is the reason they’re not competing AA in college.
We tend to assume that the biggest obstacle for elites transitioning to NCAA is health, that they all would be top-ranked gems if their bodies weren’t halfway to the glue factory by now after so many trips to Martha’s Texas Adventure. While that’s true in several cases, many are relatively healthy but simply not making all the lineups. Even someone who counts in the all-around category like Brianna Brown probably wouldn’t have done AA this year if Casanova had been available, and Brandie Jay spent three years not even getting close to Georgia’s beam lineup, not because of health but because of “Aaahh, beam!” In her 2015 season at Oklahoma, Dowell was in a similar position to Jay. Sometimes, in spite of an elite pedigree and strong rankings through the age of 18, gymnasts are just not top six on their NCAA teams, even on events that were elite strengths.
In breaking down some of the specific rankings, I’m not taking Sloan into account much because she wasn’t up to her full level during 2012, so this isn’t really reflective of her standing in the elite world the way 2008 and 2009 were. It’s not like Sloan was some middle-of-the-pack elite who suddenly bloomed in college.
Brandie Jay is one who leapfrogged many of her higher-ranked elite peers to become a bigger and more influential contributor in NCAA than she was in elite, finishing largely on par with the likes of Kennedy Baker, who was a higher scorer and more compelling contender during the end of the last quad. Jay is probably the best example here of someone whose dominant years were still ahead of her in 2012.
Finnegan is also an interesting case because if we were to judge her freshman year by the second-behind-Price standard that 2012 gave us, the 2016 season would be considered somewhat average and not the dominance and team-leading influence normally expected of an Olympic alternate. Yet, having gone through years of “does she do gymnastics?” in between, her three events of 9.850-9.900 and ability to leg-event at all this season are a somewhat unexpected and welcome revelation. A lot happens between elite and NCAA, and we don’t often maintain expectations for NCAA based on elite results, especially for certain types of gymnasts. I don’t think many would say Abby Milliet’s NCAA career has been disappointing so far, but she’s certainly not top-6 AA level. Even before Grace McLaughlin started at Florida, she was at “maybe a beam routine?” status, not AA-queen status.
A lot of this does come down to injury history/gymnastics style. We tend to maintain elite expectations for gymnasts with Raisman legs who look like they can hold up to four more years of gymnastics, but with the fragile-looking spinny twisties, we’re just happy to see a routine at some point, even if it’s an exhibition bars. We’re like, “Good for her! I can see knees! She still has them!”
It’s worth noting that there are no “whoops, I broke and then disappeared into witness protection without another word” gymnasts in this AA collection, which is encouraging. Everyone either made the Olympics and turned pro, did NCAA, or will do NCAA. The only one in the whole 2012 competition who doesn’t fit into those categories is Bross. There are usually more.
The final preview. We’re going on fumes now. Soon, I won’t have to use the word potential again for a whole year. Confetti. And also the meets will happen. That’s fine too, I guess. Michigan is already out of the gates, winning Cancun with a 196.975, led by Artz and Karas 9.9ing all over the place. That’ll do. Arkansas counted multiple falls. That won’t do.
2016 Outlook OK, Sooners. The coaches have spoken, and it’s your turn to win this year. The coaches poll is binding. Weirdly, Oklahoma underperformed at Super Six last year, something we’re not accustomed to seeing from this team when not ravaged by injury, though I wouldn’t really use that as an indicator for how things will go this season. As has been the case every year since the breakthrough in 2010, Oklahoma ranks among the top couple favorites for the title, and given the team’s penchant for starting quickly, Oklahoma is the best bet to spend the lion’s share of the regular season at #1. The difference between being an easy Super Six bet (a given) and a title favorite this year, however, will lay in the team’s ability to manage its sudden Dowellessness and overcome the depletion of the bars lineup, something Oklahoma has proven quite adept at in the past.
Winning this season will be more challenging than it has been in the past couple years because the Sooners have suffered a net routine loss from that 2015 third-place result, putting them in a position of now having to do more with less. Success in 2016 will be borne from developing existing routines into 9.9s they haven’t been so far.
Key Competitor Which brings me to Charity Jones. Jones came to Oklahoma at the tail end of those years when we were still sort of concerned about whether the team had enough power to wake the judges up out of their 9.850 comas (we were so young then). She was supposed to be a huge part of a power renaissance but has been perpetually MIA since then, competing just a bars routine or vault here and there at the very end of seasons. Now without Dowell, with Kanewa still on the comeback trail, and with a class of newbies more likely to make a mark on bars and beam, the team will be exceptionally reliant on someone like Jones to fill out the power-event lineups with competitive scores that keep the Sooners on the 49.5-everywhere track that has made them perennial title contenders.
Brenna Dowell’s 1.5+ vault repertoire would have been an asset this season, so it’s natural to expect some dip in the scores without her. Still, Oklahoma retains enough important vaults that this should still be a top-5 vaulting team. (How many teams have I declared top-5 vaulting teams this year? Is it more than 5? I’M THE BEST.) Haley Scaman remains the star. She downgraded from the 1.5 for the scores a couple years ago, but she spent a whole season getting 9.875s for that 1.5 and can upgrade back to it no problem. It’s worth it for her to go for the 1.5, but we’ll have to see how well she scores for it compared to the 9.900-9.925s she could still get for a full this season. The landing must be there to make the 1.5 valuable. Ah, the strategy of it all. Regardless, it will be the important score in this lineup, along with Ali Jackson, who performed her 1.5 all last season and comfortably scored into the 9.9s for it.
The remaining places look to be filled by fulls, unless the new values finally get Hunter Price into the lineup for her handspring pike 1/2. She’s been borderline-lineup her whole career, so perhaps this will boost her into the group. Or perhaps not. The roster boasts more than enough options for fulls, so we’ll just have to see who is the stickiest and amplitudiest, who can get into the high 9.8s and challenge for 9.9s instead of staying stuck at 9.800. Ideally, you’d have Kanewa on vault because her full is the best of the rest. Healthy Kanewa would be a lock for the lineup, and I’d definitely take Jones for her power (she did a DTY back in the JO days) and Capps for the way she opens out of that full. The team will also have fulls from Kmieciak, Marks, Lehrmann and Lovan that could all realistically go, so depth isn’t an issue. The only issue would be getting stuck with too many vaults in the middish, lowish 9.8s (as many teams will because of the lowered values). Scaman and Jackson sticking for 9.950 is critical.
We don’t usually expect events to look sparse for Oklahoma, but this one does. Relatively. Because otherwise critical contributors like Capps and Lovan won’t be used on bars, there aren’t as many options. In fact, the Sooners return just four people who competed even a single bars routines last year. The rest are “well, I guess she could,” which will make the bars rotation in the opening meet against LSU the one to watch. Obviously, much depends upon Wofford. She is the most refined and impressive bars worker on the team and has developed into a pretty reliable 9.900-9.950. Without the luxury of a Dowell or Spears to help her out, she’s going to have to get at least 9.900 pretty much every week.
Scaman and Kmieciak will both also return to the lineup, and because of Oklahoma, they’re precise enough to hit 9.900 here and there. Though they’re also more susceptible to a 9.825. Bars has been a 49.500-level strength for a while now, which means everyone gets a 9.900, so to keep Oklahoma within sight of that lofty goal, Lehrmann and Marks need to become not just options but reliably significant scores. Both do have the skill set and surplus toe point to become exceptional bars workers and fit right into this lineup. Mark just joined the team recently, so we’ll see how long it takes to develop that routine, but bars was Lehrmann’s best event in JO, so look for her to get serious. The other returner is Ali Jackson, who can definitely be used and did score a couple 9.8s last year, though the toes and release amplitude aren’t quite at the level of a usual Oklahoma bars routine. Perhaps her stellar tuck full dismount will still get her in there. She’s definitely a possibility, as is Jones who competed bars for 9.8s in the past, though I’m rooting for Hemry to finally get a spot. She doesn’t have much difficulty and wouldn’t be a BAM 9.9, but she possesses beautiful qualities and has been patiently waiting in the corner for 9.9s to go away for years now to get her shot. It’s reasonable to expect a touch of score loss from last season without Dowell, Clark, and Brewer since people who couldn’t crack the lineup in 2015 now have to perform, but this roster still has more than enough oomph to make bars competitive as long as the freshmen do their parts. This is also Oklahoma, so Nicole Turner will suddenly start doing bars and get a 10.
The Sooners experience a similar level of routine loss on beam without Clark, Brewer, and Sorensen, but there are so many more 9.850+ options spilling out of the reserves bench that it seems foolish to be in any way concerned about Oklahoma and beam. Oklahoma’s identity is beam, and I could go into trying to explain why with aesthetic arguments, but the actual reason is that it’s just better. It’s better than the other teams. Oklahoma had a 49.530 RQS last year, which is insane for beam and can’t ever be the expectation, but this team is capable of challenging somewhere near that mark and continuing to star during a season of impressive beam potential all across the country.
Obviously, Chayse Capps’ beam routine is more important than anything you’ve ever done in your life, and now that she’s not doing the mid-routine poop squat anymore, I’m 100% on board. She’ll step one centimeter and get an automatic 9.9+, and Kara Lovan’s pristine legs have never heard of a deduction before, so she’ll get her share of 9.9s as well. Kmieciak has been the leadoff for forever and usually gets a 9.850 in that spot, though her routine is just as capable as most of the others of scoring 9.9. Everyone else in this lineup is going to be a new kid on the block, but there are plenty of kids. It’s like a sister-wife cult ranch of beamers, except not creepy. Now, the most beautiful and highest potential routine of the remaining crop comes from Wofford, but since I have given up expecting her to have the consistency to make this lineup, I’ll turn my attention instead to the freshmen. Lehrmann stood out in her JO career for giving away very little in built-in deductions, so I would be surprised if she doesn’t become a stalwart in this lineup. I’m also slightly obsessed with Alex Marks’ style and potential on beam, so keep an eye on her to become one of those sudden Oklahoma beamers. Then there’s Natalie Brown, who has lovely work, and Jones and Jackson who could get in, but let’s talk about Haley Scaman.
Scaman is in a knock-down, drag-out fight with Brandie Jay to see who can be the biggest three-event star who suddenly figures out beam in her senior year to become one of the nation’s top AAers. For Scaman, like Jay, it’s not an ability issue but a consistency issue, so we’ll see if she pulls it together. The team would be better for it because she has an extra level of splits and 9.9-potential (for a non-wobbleburger) than the other backups, but it hasn’t happened so far.
The reveal of the Oklahoma floor routines is now an anticipated event on par with the reveal of the UCLA floor routines, so I’ll take a moment to point out my feelings. Obviously, everyone will be losing their bacon about Chayse Capps, not just for the engaging choreography but also for the endurance feat it will be to commit to this routine and all the tumbling at the end of a competition. But I have to say I think I’m on the Ali Jackson train this year. Love it. Of course, they’re not all going to be hits (Jones’ routine is fairly dorky and the dreaded knocking-on-the-door mime has made a comeback in Lovan’s routine), but—and not to get overly Valorie on everyone—there’s enough thematic intent and commitment in the routines that I have an opinion about all of them, and that’s what makes routines like Oklahoma’s and UCLA’s memorable and worth discussing. (Blah, blah, blah, not exclusively, other schools, blah blah blah, before the letter bombs start.)
But let’s be clear, this lineup is the Haley Scaman show. She’ll contend for 10s and regularly go 9.950 again this season. The other sure bets for the lineup include Lovan, who has perfected the “I’m mounting with a rudi and still outscoring you, how’s your E pass?” routine, and Capps and Jackson. Both Capps and Jackson are capable of 9.9s but have at times struggled with landing control and received scores unbefitting their regal statuses. Capps is in the middle of an epic will-they-won’t-they with her mercurial DLO (Capps/DLO are like the Ross and Rachel of NCAA gym), and Jackson’s landings fell apart last postseason for 9.7 after 9.7 after 9.7. It was on floor that Oklahoma gave away the title last year with poor landings in spite of going 49.5s all season long, so keep an eye on how those critical passes develop.
Floor, among all the events, is also where a resurgent Jones will prove the most valuable this season, especially while sans Kanewa. Most of the other lineup options look to be in the pretty/low difficulty/twisty club (Brown, maybe Lehrmann and Marks), making Jones stand out even more with her very comfortable full-in. Hers has always been a potentially significant routine for the team, and in the absence of Dowell, she needs to jump into that role.