Gymnastics

The Top 12 Teams of the 2018 NCAA Women’s Gym Season

Before we get to the thoughts, perhaps my favorite line from a fluff piece ever (played as the opening before the semifinals): “It does not matter how great of an athlete you are, you cannot play gymnastics. And that’s where the brawn comes in.”

1. UCLA
The concern coming into Nationals was their vaulting. Obviously, you can give away a little elsewhere if you have bars and beam like that. I told my sister on Saturday just before the meet started I thought only two teams had a chance to win if Oklahoma had a hit meet: UCLA and LSU, but they’d have to be perfect. I didn’t expect to actually see it. UCLA got two perfect 10s from Peng in the only two events she competes–and they needed every bit of it.

Peng also had my favorite post-meet quote: “I’m so excited and I have no tears in my eyes because I think they’re partying on the inside.”

2. Oklahoma
Like I mentioned before, it was going to take perfection to beat them. OU was a little off at the beginning on beam–and I mean just slightly, but it didn’t seem like it was going to make the difference. Yet, it did by a mere 0.0375. I do wonder if the rotation order got them a bit by having to start on an apparatus that is a noted strength for them when scores tend to be tight early in a meet. However, it’s OU. The separation between their best and fourth best events isn’t as dramatic as it for other teams. This was just a great, and really closely contested meet.

3. Florida
The last rotation was so much fun (and a bit stressful) with the four main contenders competing at the same time. Florida put up a valiant effort on floor–the event that gave them the most difficulty this season–in that final rotation, but had lost a little too much on beam to make up the difference.

4. LSU
LSU had a very similar meet to Florida. Went lights out their last event, vault, like Florida did on floor, but had lost too much ground from their beam rotation. And when I say lost too much ground, I’m only referring to two tenths!

5. Utah
Not a bad effort in Super Six, but noticeably off the pace of the top four with a performance a little below their normal effort on floor and vault.

6. Nebraska
Happy to see them make the final after being so, so close last year. After the first two rotations during the first National semifinal, it was clear Nebraska held its own destiny in getting to the Super Six final. Every year it seems, they start a little slowly but by the end they’re right there. They were out of it from the start with a rough bars rotation in the final, but a great year.

Continue reading “The Top 12 Teams of the 2018 NCAA Women’s Gym Season”

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Gymnastics

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 little leniency with the beam connections, 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. 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.

Gymnastics

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.

6. UCLA
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.

Gymnastics

There’s A New Gym Coach at UGA…and It Feels Familiar

Last month, the University of Georgia gymnastics team had a…let’s call it a lackluster performance at Nationals, placing 12th or last of the teams that were competing.

Just days after, then-head coach Danna Durante released 3 gymnasts from the team. Odd because these 3 gymnasts included 2 walk-ons who didn’t compete at all this season and 1 who was out most of the year because of illness/injury.

Notice I said “then-head coach.” In the midst of observers trying to sort out the confusion from the dismissals, Danna and the whole coaching staff was let go, or “not retained” as the release was worded, leading basically everyone engaged with NCAA gym to go: “WTH UGA?”

Jump forward to today, a couple days after the biggest NCAA gym recruitment weekend aka J.O. Nationals, Georgia has hired a new head coach. “New” being the operative word. Who? Courtney Kupets Carter, a former gymnast for the team who is at the very least on the Mount Rushmore of UGA gymnasts all-time.

I remarked to someone last week when I first heard the rumor that I thought it’d be unlikely. After all, she’s only been coaching club gym for a short period of time. No high level club gym or NCAA coaching experience on the resume. It’s hard, and in my opinion a bit unfair, to ask someone to take on the highest level of job responsibility in most professions, not just coaching, without some apprenticeship. Even she remarked in the press conference, “It’s more than anything I [have] ever done…”

Furthermore, she’s no lower than the #3 SEC Network analyst for gymnastics behind the venerable Kathy Johnson-Clarke and Bart Conner. As Bomani Jones is apt tell you, TV is what you can call a “good a** job” — you don’t just give one up. Why take on the pressure cooker that is the UGA gymnastics head coaching position at this point in time?
Continue reading “There’s A New Gym Coach at UGA…and It Feels Familiar”

Gymnastics

2017 J.O. Nationals Highlights

The 2017 edition of J.O. (Level 10) Nationals for the women was held May 6-7 in Indianapolis.

This year, the age breakdown was those born February 17, 2001 and later competed as juniors; those born before that date competed as seniors. The gymnasts were split up into 12 age groups: 6 junior groups and 6 senior groups arranged A-F for each division, with A denoting the youngest gymnasts and F denoting the oldest.

Each division competes only with itself so you end up with 12 National Champions for each of the 5 individual events: AA = All-Around, VT = Vault, UB = Uneven Bars, BB = Balance Beam, FX = Floor Exercise.

The competing gymnasts also earn points towards team titles for their respective regions in each of the 12 divisions. The regions are:

Region 1 – Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah
Region 2 – Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington
Region 3 – Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming
Region 4 – Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin
Region 5 – Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio
Region 6 – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont
Region 7 – Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia
Region 8 – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee

The team winners from this year were:

Junior A: Region 1
Senior A: Region 1
Junior B: Region 3
Senior B: Region 1
Junior C: Region 5
Senior C: Region 7
Junior D: Region 1
Senior D: Region 1
Junior E: Region 3
Senior E: Region 3
Junior F: Region 5
Senior F: Region 4

For this year’s J.O. Nationals recap, I’ll start with 5 gymnasts I’m looking forward to seeing in collegiate competition starting in January 2018.

The first incoming freshman I’m looking forward to seeing is Lauren Navarro (Senior D; 2nd – AA, T-4th – VT, T-15th – UB, 1st – BB, T-2nd – FX). Not as heralded during her time as her time as an elite as others, she’ll be a nice addition to Stanford’s roster.
Continue reading “2017 J.O. Nationals Highlights”

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Final Thoughts: The Top 17 Teams of the 2017 Women’s NCAA Gym Season 

Preseason Prediction
Pre-Postseason Update

After 3.5 months, the teams that started as the top 6 in the rankings ended as the Super Six for 2017. But more than a half dozen teams deserve recognition for the freshly completed season. So here are some final thoughts on the teams that finished at the head of the field in women’s NCAA gymnastics this year.

1st – Oklahoma: It was a wire-to-wire season victory. The Sooners are basically a team of anchor performers. There’s no weakness in their lineup. As a result, the team won the championship in record fashion (198.3875 final score during the Super Six final).

2nd – LSU: Like OU, LSU was solid the whole season from the first meet with virtually no busted meets. They were the only team that realistically had a shot to dethrone OU, but wasn’t as sharp in the final as they were in their record-setting semifinal performance. (Having to compete two times in less than 24 hours during Nationals could’ve been a factor.)

3rd – Florida: It went under the radar somewhat, but it was a great season. Plus they don’t have any competition routines to replace for next season (Claire Boyce, who medically retired earlier in the season, was the only senior on the squad), so they have a good chance of improving their finish next season.

4th – UCLA: 4th was probably the ceiling for UCLA this year with the vault issues and run-ins with the inconsistency bug the team faced this year. They definitely have the bars and beam to challenge OU, the task now is to bring the other two events up to the same level.

5th – Utah: Did really well to manage their rash of injuries and display a respectable season-long performance that included a PAC-12 title.

6th – Alabama: In the last 25 years, the team has missed Super Six twice: 1997 and 2007. It was a distinct possibility that the pattern could continue in 2017. However, the team did make Super Six with one of its best meets of the season in semis. That’s the good news. The bad? The inconsistency that marked the team’s season caught up to them in finals.
Continue reading “Final Thoughts: The Top 17 Teams of the 2017 Women’s NCAA Gym Season “

Gymnastics

Some of My Favorite NCAA Leos of the 2017 Season 

I didn’t get around to a favorite leo post last year, so I’m bringing it back for 2017.

This is my favorite leo of the year. It was one Auburn debuted early in the season.

Note: I posted this before Nationals, so I didn’t get to see the debuts that happened there. I had to come back and add this one from Alabama to the list. It ties with Auburn’s leo above for my fave of 2017.

If you described the leo below to someone without them seeing it, they’d probably say the top and sleeves sound too busy. But it works. To be honest this leo, worn by Michigan, would’ve made a really good LSU leo for Mardi Gras.

Screenshot from Meet

Continue reading “Some of My Favorite NCAA Leos of the 2017 Season “