December 18, 2014

#9 Nebraska Preview

Recent History
Nebraska scored the upset of the championship last season, using a 9.900-athon on beam to zoom past both UCLA and Utah and qualify to Super Six. Several counting errors in the final saw the Huskers fall well behind the top teams, but making it there was the victory. It was Nebraska's first Super Six showing since 2011, when senior Erin Davis led them safely through the error-ridden catastrophe that was the second semifinal. Since a rough patch in the late 2000s, culminating in missing out on their home championships, Nebraska has qualified for championships four of the last five years, though the memory of that three-event regional meltdown in 2013 still lingers.

2015 Outlook
Nebraska came into championships as the #9 team last year, but in spite of making Super Six, they appear to have made no progress in the eyes of the coaches, remaining right at #9 in this year's preseason poll. It makes sense. It's hard to expect a Super Six surprise two years in a row when so many similar-quality teams are improving over last year. I also have Nebraska at #9, but I don't feel good about it, especially because in spite of losing Emily Wong, there's a very good chance that they too will be better in 2015 than in 2014.

Jessie DeZiel and Hollie Blanske look to be the AA backbone of the team among the returning competitors (if you're looking for a good fantasy gym AA option that not everyone is picking, I'd recommend Blankse), and a good deal of last year's solid supporting cast of 9.850s is either returning or coming back from injury as well. That will give Nebraska more depth than we usually expect and should end up providing a larger margin for new injuries than teams like Stanford, Michigan, and UCLA will have, which could be decisive. The Huskers are one of the more mysterious teams because they don't get a lot of meet exposure and don't produce a lot of preseason media (a big reason why it's always kind of a surprise when they're good), but they're an easy bet to return to championships this year. And if freshmen Grace Williams and Kamerin Moore are able to use their combined powers to replace those Wong scores, Super Six is reasonable and would come as less of a surprise than last year.  

Vault


Returning lineup — Jessie DeZiel (9.935 RQS), Hollie Blanske (9.885), Ariel Martin (9.865), Desire' Stephens (9.850), Jennie Laeng (no RQS)

Nebraska can vault. We know that. Their blocks are consistently among the best in the country, and we regularly see Nebraska gymnasts that seemingly have no business in a vault lineup ultimately developing into integral high-scoring vaulters. That's why even though last postseason was a roaring success for Nebraska, those vault scores in the 49.2s were a letdown. I expected them to be a couple tenths better than that, especially coming off a 2013 season that ended in disappointment but also ended with some back-to-back-to-back insane 9.950 vaults, many from gymnasts who returned in 2014. 

Vault is one of the events where Nebraska should have a surplus of 9.825-9.850s this year, with likely early-mid lineup options from Martin, Laeng, Stephens, and possibly Ashley Lambert (who missed the end of last season but is, I believe, indestructible). The freshmen Williams and Moore both bring solid, respectable, regular yurchenko fulls that I expect to develop at Nebraska, Danielle Breen has a clean enough yhalf, and DeZiel and Blanske should return to the deeper lineup spots. DeZiel is the one vital competition who can definitely be relied upon for those essential 9.950s to keep pace with the big guns. Nine vaulters and a bunch of 9.850s may not sound like a big deal, but coming off multiple seasons where Nebraska has been able to put up only five vaulters in multiple meets, it is.


December 15, 2014

#10 Stanford Preview

Recent History
Stanford's recent results have been very much a mixed bag, the mixed-est of mixed bags. Since those very strong teams of 2007 and 2008 (the Tabitha Yim, Liz Tricase, Carly Janiga years), each year the Cardinal either finish a surprising and admirable 4th that few predicted (2010, 2012) or disappoint, missing Nationals entirely in 2011, suffering the Ivana Hong injury and limping to a semifinal 194 in 2013, or recording last year's fine but tepid semifinal 196.600 (with 49.025s on vault and floor) that whiffed at a legitimate opportunity to take advantage of an off day from LSU.

2015 Outlook
As of now, this year's team appears closer to 4th place than a whiff, and they're under-ranked at #10. The roster will be emboldened by Ivana Hong's return after a long injury layoff and the introduction of Elizabeth Price, who is still one of the top all-arounders in the world and is the most impressive freshman in this year's national incoming class. They're the boost this team needs, and with many of the routines from last season returning, the amount of Hong and Price contribution will largely dictate how much Stanford can improve on that 9th-place finish from last year.

As usual, don't be surprised by some January and February 195s, especially as Price comes back from whatever foot-adjacent issue she has been dealing with, but in the end, Super Six is a realistic expectation for this roster. Anything less than that would be a disappointing finish. That's especially true because several significant gymnasts, namely Kristina Vaculik, are in their final year of eligibility. It's going to be harder in 2016 than it will be 2015. This is the year, at least until those other they're-going-to-Stanford-but-no-one's-saying-it elites arrive.

Vault


Returning lineup — Nicolette McNair (9.910 RQS), Rachel Daum (9.870), Kristina Vaculik (9.870), Taylor Rice (9.835), Danielle McNair (9.830), Melissa Chuang (9.825)

Stanford managed to put together a fairly competitive vault lineup last season, finishing 9th in the nation with an RQS of 49.325. They did, however, falter in the postseason with way too many 9.800s and 9.825s. One or two of those scores is OK this year, but it can't be the entire lineup if they expect to make those Super Six dreams come true. The good news is that all six postseason vaults from last year are returning, so there's no reason to expect regression and every reason to expect improvement. No, that's not the good news. The actual good news is Elizabeth Price. Because obviously.

Last year, Stanford's biggest problem on vault was the lack that one stellar routine, the 9.950 that can erase some wonky landings early in the lineup. They recorded zero 9.950s on vault all year, so there was rarely a margin for any bouncy landings. Price can be that stellar vaulter when healthy, and she and Nicolette McNair should be a competitive top duo for 9.9s. If the rest of the team can cobble together at least three more consistently 9.850 vaults, they should have a solid baseline from which to work toward 49.350s. That will keep them competitive enough so that they can shine on bars and beam. It's not going to be the biggest, baddest vault lineup from top to bottom, but it doesn't need to be a weakness this year. The rest of the returning vaulters should fight it out for the remaining spots, with Daum and Vaculik seeming the most likely given their performances last year, and Danielle McNair bringing the difficulty with her y1.5 for 9.825.

We all know Ivana Hong has an excellent yfull that can score a 9.900 as well, but in a career with two ACL tears suffered on vault, I wouldn't count on anything . . . Just give us a lovely bars and beam, and we have no right to ask for anything more.

December 13, 2014

2015 Preseason Coaches Poll and Commentary

Once again, the NCAA coaches have made their selections in the year's preseason poll because "But mom, all the other sports get to do it!" That also means it's my turn to take the poll way more seriously than is intended or healthy.

-The coaches aren't really going through and dissecting all the other teams and what routines they'll be putting up this year, so selections are usually based on last year's results, reputation, friendship, and how much gin is within reaching distance. (Unfortunately, the coaches weren't that drunk this year. It sort of makes sense. Sort of.)

-I'm with them on the top 3, as I think pretty much everyone would be. I too would place Florida just ahead of Oklahoma because, even though Florida has lost a few more significant scores than Oklahoma, they're also bringing in a stronger freshman class. Still, there's very, very little between the teams as it stands now—it's basically a dead heat until we see competition routines—so it's interesting that more than twice as many coaches gave Florida a first-place vote than Oklahoma. Oklahoma gets less exposure than Florida and isn't in a gymnastics power conference, and in spite of winning the co-title last season, is still fighting that reputation battle to some extent.

December 10, 2014

The Latest from Training (and Talking)

In verbal news, earlier this week Jazmyn Foberg and Laurie Hernandez of MG Elite both verbaled to Florida, because so is everyone. They're not set to start competing for Florida until 2019 (which is like 2230 as far as I'm concerned), and so much can happen between now and then, but it's worth noting that the Florida elite pipeline is just getting stronger.

Oklahoma
       

Michigan held a scored exhibition last weekend. Gymnastike has a whole mess of videos if you're into that kind of thing. 
There's no need to pay attention to the actual scores because it's the beginning of December, but having just 7 people making the top 6 right now reinforces the importance of those few top-level AAers like Sugiyama and Artz and how much the team will be relying on Brianna Brown right away. Her bars routine still needs some cleaning up but stands out as one with major scoring potential because of her release amplitude. Also note that they were missing Lauren Marinez with injury and Austin Sheppard with continued recovery (?).        

Illinois
 

December 6, 2014

Returning Scores for 2015

Yesterday, the Oklahoma Sooners got all intrasquady and have posted a few videos to faceplace. At the very least, it appears we will have to change Chayse Capps Love Fest 2014 to Chayse Capps Love Fest 2015. Also Haley Scaman is getting really familiar with the floor this year.

In other news, while we wait for the coaches to release their annual and extremely meaningful poll so that we can spend a week making fun of it, I decided to check out how the top teams stack up based only on the scores they're returning from their postseason lineups last season. Because why not. 

For each of the top 10 teams last season, I inserted the RQSs of the returning gymnasts back into the lineups on each event, then replaced all the lost scores from now-departed seniors with 9.800, dropping the lowest score as we always do. I chose 9.800 because for teams of the highest level, it is the baseline replacement-level score. They all should be able to come up with at least 9.800s from backups. It's a fine, regular, middle-of-the-road score.

Ranking the teams like this is a way of seeing how much scoring value each team has lost since last year. We can always say that one team lost 10 routines while another lost only 4, but that doesn't necessarily reflect the value of those individual routines. If a team is losing a bunch of routines, but they're mostly 9.825s, it's probably not that hard to replace those scores. If a team is losing a few routines, but they're 9.950s, that's going to be much harder. Inserting 9.800 in place of those scores illuminates how much scoring value the freshmen, injury returners, and backups from last season will have to contribute for the team to return to (or improve on) last year's level, not just how many lineup spots they'll have to fill.

For gymnasts without an RQS, or one that was not appropriately representative, I used the season average for hit routines, which best mimics what RQS is intended to tell us.

1. LSU – 197.725
Vault - 49.475 [2]
Bars - 49.320 [5]
Beam - 49.375 [1]
Floor - 49.555 [1]

2. OKLAHOMA - 197.650
Vault - 49.530 [1]
Bars - 49.353 [3]
Beam - 49.329 [2]
Floor - 49.438 [3]

3. FLORIDA - 197.600
Vault - 49.390 [4]
Bars - 49.360 [2]
Beam - 49.325 [3]
Floor - 49.525 [2]

-A clear top three emerges in LSU, Oklahoma, and Florida, which is not surprising. Along with Alabama, they were the top teams last season, and Alabama lost a big bag of essential routines.

-Of these three, Florida is taking the biggest knock this year without Caquatto and Johnson, but the Gators will balance that out by having the year's most impressive freshman class. It does means that among these teams, Florida needs to get the most out of its freshmen and returning backups, whereas LSU is returning its entire floor lineup from Super Six last year, so further contribution there would just be a bonus.

-LSU is retaining the most value of any team, but that bars ranking (5th of these 10 teams) reflects the dire lack of Sarie Morrison. The other low(ish) team ranking in this group is Florida's vault, with the 4th-best returning vault contingent, but they do look to be stronger there is season than last season with Kennedy Baker and Alex McMurtry coming in.

-Oklahoma is already returning the best vault scores, and now they're adding Brenna Dowell and Ali Jackson. So there's that. Interestingly, without Taylor Spears, Oklahoma drops below LSU on beam for its returning scores, but make no mistake, the Sooners won't be throwing up some measly replacement-level 9.800 in that lineup.

December 2, 2014

December Intrasquad Explosion

It's December, time for many teams to unveil their routines at various preseason showcases and intrasquads and fan events. A few teams went early this year (Nebraska, Oregon State, and Auburn among them), but most of the intrasquads will be happening over the next week or two.

Auburn provided a short highlight video of Jeff Graba telling us about their glorified practice. I'm excited about Auburn this year. They disappointed at Regionals last season, but they're my underdog pick for 2015. I wouldn't be surprised by a top 10 ranking.



Also, Oregon State has taken to calling its team the "Gym Beavers," and it's not OK.

Here's the schedule of upcoming events. Utah always streams the Red Rocks Preview, and Michigan's exhibition will be streamed on BTN2Go if you have access.

Time listed are local because they're basically of no use to you unless you plan on attending, in which case I'm assuming you're in the local time zone. If any of you decide to attend any of these, comments about your impressions are welcome.

Friday, December 5th
6:00 CT - Oklahoma Intrasquad
7:00 ET - Central Michigan Intrasquad
7:00 MT - Southern Utah Red vs. White Intrasquad

Saturday, December 6th
11:00 CT - Iowa Black and Gold Intrasquad
2:00 ET - Kent State @ Pittsburgh Exhibition

Sunday, December 7th
2:00 ET - Eastern Michigan @ Michigan Exhibition
2:00 CT - Illinois Orange and Blue Meet

Thursday, December 11th
Florida Intrasquad

Friday, December 12th
7:00 ET - Penn State Blue and White Showcase
7:00 ET - Maryland Red vs. Black Intrasquad
7:00 MT - Utah Red Rocks Preview

Saturday, December 13th 
4:00 ET - New Hampshire Meet the Team
6:00 MT - Denver Crimson vs. Gold Intrasquad

Sunday, December 14th
2:00 ET - Georgia Sneak Peek
1:30 PT - San Jose State @ Stanford Exhibition

Monday, December 15th
7:00 PT - Washington Purple and Gold Meet

Wednesday, December 17th
7:00 CT - LSU Gymnastics 101

Saturday, January 3rd (January 3rd?)
4:00 CT - Minnesota Intrasquad


Rounding out some training videos, Utah can always be counted on for a youtube presence, and now we have a few AA performances from recent training.

Corrie Lothrop


Baely Rowe


Georgia Dabritz


I could see Georgia Dabritz pulling a Kat Ding and suddenly becoming a beamer her senior year (especially because this is the year where they probably need her there the least), but the most interesting things here are that the Comaneci is in on bars (for now - they're such teases), and the pike full-in has been scrapped for a double arabian on floor. I'm in favor of both these developments.

November 29, 2014

Leeeeeeeeeettle Roza Galieva

Back in the magical year of 1996, when the world was a simpler place and vests, Rachel hair, “Seasons of Love,” and those tiny 15-year-old-girl backpacks that cinched at the top freely roamed the countryside, NBC produced a vital contribution to the canon of American documentary film detailing the trials and tribulations of one Rozalia Galieva. You may have heard.

It gets better every time. So, in a super relevant and timely exercise 18 years in the making, we need to break it down together as a family.  


We begin with the sun fading next to an onion dome. This is definitely not symbolism. No one here is using the subtlety of an anvil to imply that Russia is nothing more than a feeble husk of a former empire pathetically clinging to the last vile, shriveled wisps of long-faded power or anything. Who would do that?

Not Roza Galieva. She is a perfect sparrow made of angels, an innocent victim of an EVIL system, and now all the children of the world must gather around to learn the lessons of the epic, moving tale of the time “this happened to Roza Galieva.”


By “this,” do you mean having her hair smelled in the middle of flexibility training? That does sound traumatic. Of course, we all know that hair smelling is an intrinsic part of any respectable Eastern bloc training regimen. It’s why they’re so artistic. American gymnasts do the rope climb. Russian gymnasts cultivate their scalp scent. But no, something even worse than hair smelling happened to Roza Galieva.

At this point, Tesh informs us that now Roza is a withered old crone of 19, which is basically 40, which is like 90. By 19, a gymnast is more likely to be eaten by a shark than win an Olympic gold medal.

Speaking of being eaten by a shark, the 1992 Unified Team leotard.


But Roza Galieva wasn't always a washed up 19-year-old hag. Back in ancient times when she was a fresh-faced young sprite with an acceptable age like 15, she was full of dreams and innocence. That was before she was personally victimized by Tatiana Gutsu. Tesh drops his voice 16 octaves to introduce Gutsu because she’s Ursula the Sea Witch now or something. He was speaking normally and then leaned into a drainpipe to say, "Tatiana Gutsu." If you go into a bathroom and shout "Tatiana Gutsu" three times, her face will appear in the mirror. Maybe that's what Roza just saw.


Hey Roza, you’re doing such a great job. Quick note: For the next take, could you try curling up into a fetal position and staring into the middle distance while picturing the genocide of millions? That’s really the tone we’re going for with this piece. Thanks so much, sweetie! Because why be emotional when you can be THE EMOTIONEST.