This slate of recent results seems fine enough, but aside from 2015’s dramatic second-place finish in the Marsden curtain call, Utah has missed Super Six three of the last four years. That’s a first for the program and one that is far from satisfying. Those 9th-place results in 2016 and 2013 are equal for Utah’s weakest finish in the NCAA era, and while that can be attributed to improvements from other teams as much as anything else, that’s cold comfort for a team like Utah. Utah doesn’t finish 9th.
The Utes have the roster in 2017 to restore how everyone felt a year ago after that 2nd place when THE GOLDEN AGE IS BACK AGAIN HURRAH. At least, Utah should expect to return to Super Six this year. That’s not saying it will be simple. Most top teams are adding routines of the same caliber (it’s the year after the Olympics), but among the teams in that turbid mixture called Borderline Super Six, Utah seems the most likely bet. Continue reading Utah 2017→
2016 Outlook The Utes couldn’t have hoped to do any better than they did at last season’s Marsden farewell celebration tour when the 49.5s suddenly poured straight out of the sky, but in the cold light of an onrushing 2016, things look very different. The holes in this roster are suddenly large and everywhere. Basically, Megan and Tom have to reconstruct half a team, and by necessity, returning gymnasts will be expected to compete events they weren’t making last season. That’s usually a recipe for regression, so don’t expect the same result as in 2015 (though no one really expected it in 2015 either).
The 2016 team we saw at the Red Rocks Preview does possess enough depth to put together competitive lineups, but without too, too many stars/stars-in-the-making, this looks like another season in which Utah will have to workmanlike-9.850 the other contending teams into submission to make it back to Super Six. That strategy has worked plenty of times before. The mission for Utah is to show more depth, constancy, and durability through whole lineups than Pac-12 peers UCLA and Stanford, who will have more 9.9s but may struggle to fill out the entire lineup with competitive scores.
Key Competitor One underclassman who did emerge as a new bright light amidst that Dabritz/Lothrop ticker-tape parade of a 2015 season was Kari Lee. Most significantly, she brought an elevated level of extension and refinement that had been missing from the beam lineup, but she also has an exceptionally clean and stickable full on vault, a 9.900 floor routine, and a sufficiently usable bars routine that may actually be needed this year. Suddenly this season, she has become the most impressive gymnast on the roster, and she’ll have to lead the charge in creating the big nest of new 9.9s Utah needs to succeed in 2016.
Vault was a tremendous strength for Utah last season, pushing the team right into the vicinity of a title with a whole host of 9.925s and controlled landings (that survived all the way to the championship instead of disappearing around February!). In 2016, however, there’s more reason to question Utah’s viability as a vault powerhouse because of the changes in roster and start value. Kailah Delaney is the one remaining member of the 9.950-a-trons, and while she will once again be an essential component of the lineup, her vault remains a full. That means she’ll be looking at something closer to 9.875-9.900s most weeks, useful scores but not dominant scores.
The member of Utah’s team who will benefit the most from the new vault values is Breanna Hughes. I remember when Hughes first arrived at Utah and I was all up in her 1.5 being a centerpiece of the vault lineup. That never happened even a little, but it has always been a solid vault and one that she stuck in the RRP. This is finally her year to become a vaulter. The coaches should put her difficulty 5th with Delaney 6th to push that Delaney score up as much as possible. Note that you’re going to get very sick of me complaining about vault lineup orders this season. MaKenna Merrell also had a 1.5 in JO, though she showed just a full in the preview, which makes sense because the full was only OK. I’m not sold on her difficulty or placement in the lineup as yet. She might get Hughesed for a while.
The rest of the lineup will be fulls, unless McNatt and her Omelianchik materialize. Kari Lee will certainly be back for 9.850-9.875s since her full is second-best to Delaney’s. Beyond that, a collective of 9.825-9.850 fulls will compete for the remaining three (or so) spots including Lewis, Partyka, Rowe, and Muhaw. It’s a solid contingent, but losing the Dabritz and Wilson vaults will most certainly be felt in the scores. I still like this lineup for an RQS around 49.350, but it doesn’t look like the 49.5s of recent days.
I should probably refrain from writing this section because reality has proven that I just don’t get it with Utah’s bars and the scoring. It eludes me. Right now, I look at the nine or ten options Utah has on bars this year, and they all look around 9.800-9.850 to me. Which means they’ll go 49.600 at nationals. But still, it seems inevitable that the Utes will experience a noticeable drop-off post-Dabritz because, you know, there’s not another auto-10 just hanging out on the roster. Given the lost routines, ending up a couple tenths lower than last year’s bars scores seems a realistic outlook.
A lot of these routine options look pretty similar right now, so expect some mixing and matching with the ultimate lineup spots determined by stickability. The stalwarts should be Lopez, who has been a bars constant for a thousand years and has always scored well, and Baely Rowe, who was a reliable 9.850 all last season. Across the whole team, though, Rowe’s bars work looked the most improved at this year’s preview, with a better finishing position on her full turn, tidy legs on the bail, and a stuck DLO, so I could see her scoring higher this season. As for the new ones, I’m most looking forward to seeing Sabrina Schwab develop as a bars worker. She has the best line and toe point on the roster, so if they can put together competitive difficulty for her with a dismount she can stick, she’ll be a future bars star. In the present, she at least needs to be an integral early-mid lineup piece. The remaining merry band of 9.8s is large enough to allay any depth worries. Tiffani Lewis will be a thing. Her tkatchev is now a jaeger this year, which is a shame because I enjoyed her tkatchev the most on the team (Utah’s tkatchevs tend to look a little clunky and lack the counter-rotation the best ones have), but her routine should score about the same as last season. Breanna Hughes didn’t have a great year on bars in 2015 and often got stuck in the 9.7s, so she’ll have to fight for the leftover spots with the likes of Lee, Partyka, and Merrell. While bars does look like a perfectly fine 49.200-49.250 event, this is now a lineup without showcase routines, and that can be a recipe for getting stuck in the 9.825s.
Beam has been an issue to varying degrees for Utah for several centuries now, almost costing the Utes the season at regionals last year and, even on better days, often getting stuck in the 9.800 purgatory of meh. Among the underclassmen, however, Utah is going through a medium-level beam renaissance that should provoke greater expectations both for scores and elegance this season. Beam will still be abjectly terrifying in terms of consistency without Lothrop, but multiple members of the lineup have real 9.9 potential, even away from home.
The sophomores Lee and Stover will have to be the da Vincis of this renaissance. Lee’s fluidity and precision make her the best beamer on the team, and while Stover struggled with a case of the wobblies and got too many 9.7s early in the 2015 season, she can be just as strong and should emerge as a lineup leader this year. It has taken Baely Rowe a little while to become the beamer she was supposed to be when she started, so while she still has the occasional hilarious fall/wobble, hers is a more reliable score these days. Those three will be the core of the lineup and three best scores, but I like the freshmen Merrell and Schwab to join them to augment beam away from 49.150-49.200 and toward 49.300s. Both have the line and potentially not-awful splits to develop into constants. They did look extremely tentative and terrified about all of life’s ills in their performances at the RRP, but that happens. If they can work through it, they could even help make beam almost a strength for Utah. I said it.
For any remaining spots, just roll the dice and see who ends up the most consistent because it all looks a little too scary right now. Though I do need to give 100 self-aware bonus points to Breanna Hughes for picking beam music with the lyrics “I’m a little unsteady.” We know. We’re all in this together, Breanna.
Oops, the floor lineup’s gone. Where did it go? Floor was a huge event for Utah last season and a reliable 49.4+ most weeks, but every single person has left now including the auto-9.9s from Dabritz and Tutka. Don’t expect last year’s performance to carry over into this year. Floor will still go 49.4 sometimes because the best schools always do here and there, but it won’t consistently be the same strength without that pack of dominant floor performers and big bang-bang landings.
Continuing the theme, Lee becomes the de facto leader of this lineup as the best returning score on the roster. Her triple full is a consistent, if staggered, landing, and by not giving away much in the dance elements, she’s good for a 9.900 for any mostly controlled routine. I also expect Tiffani Lewis to emerge as a serious score on floor this season. She was a clean, early-lineup double pike last year, but she has since added a pretty solid full-in and seems to be on track toward becoming the new Tutka. I’d expect those two to lead, but Rowe will necessary again and Delaney has always been pecking around the vicinity of this lineup. She may finally get her chance with all these new spots opening up. Among the freshmen, Merrell will also see some time, and Schwab showed plenty of floor potential as a JO gymnast. If Lewis is to be new-Tutka, then it looks like Schwab is being made into new-Damianova, the one with the simpler “I’m being artistic” D-pass routine who can get scores through cleanliness.
As on the other events, there are a bunch of 9.8y looking options for any leftover spots, which is one of the reasons I still like the Utes to have a good season. They have retained a worthwhile and complete batch of usable options to fill out the lineups with room to spare. There’s Partyka, Hughes, yada yada yada. Stover has good twisting form. I actually thought Lopez looked the best of the rest in the RRP, which was surprising since she has made this lineup a grand total of never before. I’ll be rooting for that one. Love a senior making a lineup she never has before.