2018 Pre-Postseason NCAA Women’s Gym Super Six Prediction (and other thoughts)

Not much has changed in the way of favorites as the NCAA women’s gymnastics season enters the postseason. Here’s how the top teams are shaping up for the last postseason before the new format goes into effect. (To read my thoughts from before the season started, click here.)

1. Oklahoma (Preseason #1)
When you set the regular season scoring record and your “off” meets net a high 197, you are the undisputed title favorite.

2. LSU (Preseason #3)
LSU is certainly a strong possibility too, but they’ve had more moments this season of little breaks throughout the meet that add up than OU. However, with the way this sports year has gone this far—the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl for the first time and a #16 seed knocking off a #1 seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament for the first time—I can’t shake the possibility of it finally being time for LSU to win a National Championship.

3. UCLA (Preseason #6)
Vault will be key. UCLA tends to give up some ground to the top two on vault. If UCLA can keep vault (and to a lesser extent, floor) close, their bars and beam can make up a little gap.

4. Utah (Preseason #5)
If you don’t consider LSU as a dark horse pick for the title, Utah is a good choice. In fact, I’ve had this gut feeling all season that if it all comes together at the right time and they get a favorable rotation order, i.e. not on beam in the first couple of rotations, they’ll be right in it as well.

5. Florida (Preseason #2)
Maybe a year away. I mentioned their big freshman class coming in and, while very talented, that inexperience has shown consistently throughout the season. Kennedy Baker suffering a torn Achilles didn’t help either.😪

6. ???
Usually Super Six is a given for Alabama (Preseason #4)—and it certainly can still happen. However, this team hasn’t shown the maximum score potential this year the top five have, and is very vulnerable to getting knocked out by a number of teams if those other teams have a solid day on the right day (watch them prove me wrong). I get the feeling this Super Six spot may come down to the draw and which teams are in which semifinal. Not to mention if there are any surprises from Regionals.

Further Down the Ranking:
Do you remember that Arizona State finished 41st last season? The turnaround of the last couple of seasons took a MAJOR leap forward this year, recording their most wins since 2006. As the season heads to conference championship weekend, Arizona State currently holds a position as a seeded team for Regionals in 17th.

The way Georgia‘s season started, it looked like it could be a disaster. Already with a thin roster, they could’ve let the first meet injury to Gigi Marino, which in addition to the preseason injury list left them hardly able to put up enough gymnasts on each event for a full score, tank their season. But adversity does one of two things to a team: it either tears them apart or it galvanizes them. It did the latter for UGA, which going into conference championship weekend is a respectable 18th.

Also, shout out to George Washington (#19), particularly their senior class of Brooke Bray, Camille Drouin-Allaire, Sara Mermelstein, Elizabeth Pfelier, Madeline Seibold, Jillian Winstanley, and Alexandra Zois.  They made this a team you had to keep an eye on for the last four years.


Good Mood Music: Rhapsody in Blue and Moonlight Sonata

As a former violinist and very short time cellist, I have a long standing and still strong love of classical music. One of my favorite pieces is Rhapsody in Blue. The combination of instruments is uplifting and, at 16-and-a-half minutes, is long enough for you to lose yourself in it for a bit.

Most people know this Gershwin work without being able to identify it by name, most famously because of an United Airlines ad campaign that featured it in the 1990s. The part of the song the campaign pulls from primarily is around 11 minutes in, give or take.

The ending of this piece is magnificent. It’s all good, but the final minute is all but perfect.

Bonus: Moonlight Sonata
This is another piece I’m not sure can be played and I not lose myself in it, especially the first movement of the its three–the beginning 6 minutes approximately.


Langston Hughes and the American Dream

In the 1920s, a revolution began that would change the face of American culture: the Harlem Renaissance.

The spark of the Harlem Renaissance can be traced to the writings of W.E.B. DuBois. DuBois questioned how Black people in the U.S. could create an identity for themselves that encompassed their African ancestry while under the blanket of societal practices that sought to strip them of such an identity.

The result was a mass exploration by Black Americans in several diverse fields across the country. The revolution earned the nickname “Harlem Renaissance” because the New York City borough seemed to be the epicenter.

One of the most famous writers associated with the Harlem Renaissance was poet and novelist Langston Hughes. Hughes’ ability to convey the feelings a lot of Black Americans felt made him one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. His work is still often quoted to this day.

The American Dream is a theme Hughes often visited in his work. Hughes expressed hope for its fruition, but more often expressed the reality of the time: that freedom, justice, equality and fairness didn’t exist for all of the types of people in the United States.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

— from Let America Be America Again (1938)

A Hughes work commonly quoted is Let America Be America Again. In the poem, he espouses on the principles America was founded upon–as stated in documents such as the Declaration of Independence–while pointing out the principles are more working theory than fact.

One thing I respect about Hughes’ work is that despite being in the midst of the struggle for civil rights, he doesn’t limit the inconsistencies of the American Dream in practice to just Black people. His writings include references to poor Whites, Indians, immigrants, and all the other who, as literary critic James Presley once stated, “share the dream that has not been.”

It’s amazing that themes so prevalent 80 years ago are still at the forefront today.

Gymnastics, Music

Good Mood Music: In the Mood

Another genre of music I enjoy: big band or swing.

The genre was at its peak in the 1940s, although it had a resurgence in the late 1990s into the early 2000s. Big band music is typified by four sections of instruments: saxophones, trumpets, trombones, and a rhythm section that consists of a guitar, piano, double bass and drums.

One of the most recognizable pieces of big band music is “In the Mood.” The most popular version of this song was done by Glenn Miller and Orchestra in 1939, but it was actually a cover of the original done by Edgar Hayes and Orchestra the year prior.

The Glenn Miller version got a big boost when it was featured in the movie Sun Valley Serenade in 1941, a movie I profiled a musical scene from last year.

I first heard the song as a part of Kim Zmeskal’s floor routine in the early 1990s. (Side note: I just happened to publish this blog entry on her birthday.)

It’s actually one of two big band songs that make up her music. The other is “Sing, Sing, Sing,” originally done by Louis Prima and the New Orleans Gang. The two songs, as well as many others, are commonly heard together because of a compilation medley done by Larry Elgart in the early 1980s called Hooked On Swing.


Please Stop Lowballing Freelance Writers

Among a group a freelance writers, or those of us who write for a living, the conversation about people lowballing for writing services comes up from time to time. Here’s an example of one of the more egregious job ads I’ve come across recently:


Where do you start with this? (Other than the typo in the first sentence.)

First, $16.50 or $18 is good for a hourly rate, not project-based work. This is a project that could legitimately be given a quote for more than 3x what this company offered. Here’s how it breaks down.

The company wants two 500-word content pieces per week. A good freelance (or per project) writer should be charging no less than $0.10 per word, which means each piece in this instance is valued at least $50 — and this company is hinting towards wanting someone with some experience by asking for applicants to “have past work for us to see, please.” Frankly, those with more experience and/or specialized knowledge will (and should) be charging more.

Plus, crafting a good piece of content isn’t as straightforward as simply writing about the topic. You have to give consideration to the keywords potential website visitors may use when they search, and weave them into the piece in a natural way to rank as high as possible on Google or any of the other search engines out there.

But that’s not all. This company also specifies that there is a second item it wants for each deliverable, or content piece: a two-sentence meta description. A meta description is the short blurb you often see on Google, Facebook or elsewhere that appears under the featured image of a link. Typical meta descriptions are about 150-160 characters.

Usually, freelancers don’t just include a meta description along with the content piece so it might cost extra depending on the freelancer’s policy.

Job ads like the one above illustrate how the general marketplace doesn’t have a grasp on the value of writing services. Imagine how you’d feel if you saw an ad for a job you know costs at least $55 per piece and it’s only offering $16.50 per piece ($18 if you do well on the first 3 assignments!). A little disheartened, right? Unfortunately, it’s a common feeling in the world of freelance writing.


2018 Women’s NCAA Gym Preseason Thoughts

The 2018 season starts Friday! Thus, it’s time for some preseason musings. Doing this a little bit differently this year. I’m going to give a quick thought about each of the top 10 in the preseason coaches’ poll.

dqxazkfv4aa6huc1. Oklahoma
No surprise here. Like I said with Florida a few years ago, you’re the champ until someone dethrones you, especially after multiple consecutive titles.

2. Florida
Speaking of Florida, if there were a team to break the credo stated above it would be to put Florida #1 in this year’s preseason poll. While Oklahoma lost a few key routines from last season and reloaded nicely, Florida lost no competition routines from last season and brought in a powerhouse freshman class.

3. LSU
I really thought last year was one of the best shots they had to win the title. This year, the challenge is to replace the all but automatic high scores on 3 events from Ashleigh Gnat and the consistent contribution from McKenna Kelley, who went down with an Achilles tear in preseason training.

4. Alabama
Surprisingly enough, the poll is a little more bullish on Alabama than I am coming into this season. The team was an enigma last year, not its typical consistent self. If the injury issues are settled and they can find a couple more 10.0 start value vaults, Bama won’t have a problem challenging again.

5. Utah
Utah has a really nice group of gymnasts, but it’s not a big secret that the X-factor for them is Mykayla Skinner. I don’t believe it’s unfair to think that how she fares will dictate if their season is competitive at Nationals good or contending for the title good.

With all the star power present, it could be surprising to see UCLA ranked this far down, but I see the reasoning. UCLA is kind of Alabama West (or, if you prefer, Alabama is kind of UCLA South). Both have some recurring issues with injuries and lack the number of 10.0 start value vaults they have when compared to other teams they are expected to compete with for the title.

7. Michigan
Heartbreaking is the only way to describe the last two seasons for Michigan. The biggest question here is: who’s going to step up and produce the consistently high scores they came to depend on Nicole Artz and Talia Chiarelli for?

8. Denver
The little team that could. Denver set a lot of individual meet records last year and set the school record for highest final ranking (9th). Now to see if last season was a flash-in-the-pan performance. Likely not, but the competition to get Nationals is going to be fiercer than ever this season.

9. Nebraska
Not really flashy, but seemingly always knocking on the door at the end of the season.

10. Kentucky
Much like Florida, Kentucky didn’t lose any of its competition routines from last season. This team is Nationals-worthy, but got caught up in a very competitive regional and narrowly missed out in 2017.

Notes on a couple others:
The most notable team missing from the top 10? Georgia (#16). A disaster of a Nationals last year was the latest development in a frustrating few seasons for Georgia  — a development that lead to a cleaning of the coaching house and the return of a couple of familiar faces. You can only hope the 12th place showing in 2017 was the storied program’s rock bottom moment, and they’ll be moving up from here. They will have to contend with the fact every single member of its 4-member freshman class is carrying a significant injury into the season. However, 3 of the 4 are expected to return at some point during the season.

Stanford (#18) should make a big jump up from last year. A class of 7 freshman — led by Kyla Bryant, Rachael Flam and Lauren Navarro — is expected to help immensely in keeping Stanford away from ranking in the mid-30s like it did for most of 2017. Stanford, like Georgia, is also in for a culture change from a familiar face to the program. Tabitha Yim, a former Stanford gymnast, took over as head coach late in the summer after a stint as head coach at Arizona.