Saturday, August 15, 2009

Gym Countdown: #17 Auburn

2008-09 Recap

The season started promisingly enough. Auburn was able to top two future super six teams, LSU and Arkansas during the regular season. They also lost by very narrow margins to both Florida and Alabama (who Auburn has not defeated in the last thirty years). The Tigers (or Plainsmen?, or War Eagles?) saw great senior leadership and scores from their two seasoned all arounders A.J. Mills and Lindsay Puckett. The team was ranked as high as fourth in the country and was looking forward to nationals as of the middle of the season.
The end of the season and the post-season did not pan out for Auburn. They were crushed in their second meeting of the season with rival Bama and were upset by Ohio St in two of their last three regular season meets. They then finished a disappointing fifth at the SEC Championships in Nashville going into the NCAA West regional. At their regional the Tigers finished fourth which was WAY below my expectations for this team. They joined Kentucky as the only SEC teams not attending nationals and Mills and Puckett were unable to qualify as individuals either. A disappointing end to a promising start of the season.

2009-10 Outlook

This ranking might be WAY too high or WAY too low for Auburn. It is hard to know what to expect from this team this season. The Tigers do have two returning seniors but neither of them (Krissy Voss and Carmen Nelms) competed all around last year and were generally two event specialists. There is a lot of young talent on this team and they will be expected to step up this year and make an impact. At least two positions on each event should be up for grabs.
I'm going to look out for sophomore Allyson Sandusky this season who impressed me with her steady hand on beam last year as well as contributing on bars and vault. She seems to be the type of consistent and disciplined gymnast that Auburn usually relies upon. With six freshmen and seven sophomores on this team Auburn needs the underclassmen to perform in a big way. If they can look for Auburn to make a move in the SEC and improve upon their fifth place finish at the conference championship. If they can't this team could take a giant step back. Here's hoping that doesn't happen. Their recruits look strong but you can never really tell how they will react to the new college setting.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Questions UGA needs to answer.

1) What will the post Suzanne / Kupets era be like? It's hard to overstate the importance of these two people to the Gym Dogs program. Will UGA go into an era of relative mediocrity like UCLA did (from which they seem ready to emerge), or will they simply reload instead of rebuild? My bet is it's going to be somewhere in the middle. I don't foresee as many 10s this year, but I'm betting they'll still be a lot of fun to watch.

2) Will UGA win 6 national titles in a row? In a word, no. They'll certainly be in the hunt, but the Gym Dogs excel when they have a superstar to rally around. They won't have that this year. They'll have some great athletes, but not that all-arounder who can post a huge score every time around.

3) Will Shayla Worley be a great collegiate gymnast? This one is tricky. You can never predict how an athlete is going to make the transition from club to collegiate, but I have a good feeling about Shayla. I see her in a McCool sort of a role. She'll be great on a few events, but injuries may keep us from seeing how good she can be.

4) Will UGA's freshman class from last year step up? A lot depends on how Trani, Ding, Nuccio and Box perform in their sophomore years. If they can all step it up and stay relatively healthy, it could be a phenomenal year for UGA. Combined with the incoming freshman from this year, it could be like getting an influx of great talent all at once, instead of staggered over two years. At the least, they should be able to provide quality depth. I'm excited to see what Tanella is capable of.

5) How will the Clark duo perform? There's a lot of pressure on the husband and wife team to sustain UGA's level of success. I think they'll be fine. I'll miss Suzanne's dynamic style, but I'm looking forward to seeing the team reflect their new head coaches' personalities.


Favorite Apparatus: Vault

Someone was asking recently what my favorite event in college gymnastics is. My answer? All of them! They really all offer very different views and skills and each one highlights different gymnasts in my mind. So I thought I would go through each apparatus in order of a home meet rotation and talk about my favorite routines from last year as well as the ones I look forward to seeing this year.

Last Year's Favorites
Obviously a discussion of last season's best vaulters has to begin and end with the NCAA Vault champ Ashleigh Clare Kearney. So much power and so much height. I'll miss seeing her on all events (as I am sure LSU will) but especially here and floor.
As I mentioned in the previous blog post, Denver is going to have a huge hole to fill with Jessica Lopez out of the line up and perhaps no where more so than here. She made event finals on this event at NCAA's and it looks like she will continue to be a strong vaulter back at the elite level. As with all great vaulters Lopez's ability to get height and distance off the horse distinguished her from the rest of the pack but the stuck landings on top of that were what made her special.
Kristina Baskett of Utah was another vaulter that I consistently enjoyed seeing especially because she regularly stuck a harder 1 1/2 vault with great velocity and height.
Below I have put the video of the vault that sticks most in my mind from the 2008-09 season. It may not be the hardest or even the best vault that happened last year but in my mind it was a defining moment.

Most Anticipated 2009-10 Vaults

Let me start this section by saying I hope Greg Marsden moves Daria Bijak back in the vault line-up for Utah. There was a lot of discussion last year over why Bijak was not scoring higher on her vault and while I think she occasionally had form problems in the air, I think if she stuck that very difficult vault she generally deserved a higher score than she received. I think leading off the Utes vault line-up was probably the main culprit in the lower scores for Bijak. That having been said I look forward to seeing her on this event again. She does a unique and difficult vault and she is a joy to watch on all the other events as well.
UCLA's Vanessa Zamarripa was a pleasant surprise to me on this apparatus last year scoring a couple of perfect 10's in the regular season. This season she won't catch me (or anyone else for that matter) off guard when she puts up huge scores on this event.
Now that ACK is gone, when I think of power vaulters in the SEC Alabama's Morgan Dennis is the first name that comes to mind. I thought it was really a shame that she didn't make event finals on this event last year and I expect her to rectify that situation in 2010. The power and distance she gets on this event is really like no one else.

Did I miss your favorites? Who would you add?


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Gym Countdown: #18 Denver

2008-09 Season Recap

Denver's season
was really highlighted by the exceptional performance of senior Jessica Lopez. Not only was she the team's leader and top scorer but she was also amongst the top all arounders in the country.
The team had a couple of great wins early in the season versus Nebraska and Minnesota. They also built on their scores throughout the season and were really consistent by the end. In fact to close out the season their team score was the same (195.6) for their last three meets. Unfortunately the 195.6 at regionals meant they finished in fourth place at an extremely competitive meet and thus did not make it to nationals as a team. However Lopez and junior Kelley Hennigan both qualified as individuals for the all around. Hennigan, who seemed to get more and more consistent throughout the season, continued that trend at nationals posting a 39.2 and tying for a tenth place finish.
Lopez had her worst meet of the season, posting only a 38.550 all around however she did qualify for event finals on vault.

2010 Season Outlook

The number one concern I have for this team is quite obvious. Who is going to replace Lopez? While Hennigan was a model of consistency last season, Denver will lack the explosive scoring that Lopez provided. If Lopez were back for another season I would say Denver would have a shot at cracking into nationals. As it is they will probably have to settle for another consistent, if not earth shattering, season.
On the positive side, I have every reason to expect that the returning gymnasts will continue to improve as they did all last season. They should also have some nice senior leadership from Hennigan whom I expect to return to nationals as an individual qualifier and to again acquit herself nicely.
Last season Denver's low scoring events were bars and floor. Based on their returning gymnasts and taking a look at their recruits I don't expect them to make vast strides on these apparatuses. However they did prove last season that they were capable of cracking the all important 49 point mark on every event ( and not just on senior night). Will they be able to continue to do so without big scores from Lopez? I doubt it but anything is possible. Look for continued strength on vault where the Pioneers always seem to be at their best.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gym Countdown: #19 Minnesota

2008-09 Season Recap

It was a whirlwind season for this team last year with some incredible highs and some rock bottom lows. Let's start with the highs. On senior night the Golden Gophers scored a season high 196.75 against Iowa which gave the team its highest score in five years. Senior Carmelina Carabajal took the Big Ten all around title and while Minn. finished 4th they still had a strong showing at the conference championship.
On the down side the Gophers posted several low scores on the season including a 191.475(?!) against Iowa St. Perhaps worse than that was their poor showing regionals where they landed in fifth. While I don't think people were expecting them to challenge for the top two spots over Florida or UCLA, this team definitely had a shot at third and therefore a higher ranking than they attained at the end of the season.

2010 Season Outlook

So what can we expect from the Gophers this season? Well on the downside losing Carabajal doesn't help. That's four consistently strong scores and a conference all around champion that this team is going to have to replace. On the other hand this extremely young team shoulg find a strong leader in their sole senior Alexis Russell. If she can step up and top last season's already strong scores the Gophers may make even more noise than they did last year. From what I can tell of their incoming class, their recruits look pretty good and should be able to contribute right away.
I expect Minnesota to have continued strength on bars and beam. The place they really need to work is vault. If they could improve their average score on that event alone by half a point they would have a true shot at making nationals. That having been said I don't see this team making it to NCAAs this year. With all their youth they should have an opportunity in the near future if they keep improving

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Gym Countdown #20: West Virginia

Because I think utterly blind prognostications and predictions are fun, I thought I would countdown my top 20 teams for the 2009-10 season ala the New York Times' quad countdown for college football. Unlike the Times I will only do one a week rather than every day as I don't have time to compile statistics for every single team every single day between now and the start of the season.

So let's get the ball rolling with number 20: West Virginia

2008-09 Recap
The Mountaineers opened with losses to UGA, Michigan State, and Iowa. They had strong showings in their next few meets but were then blown out by Oklahoma and Missouri in a quad meet where WVU finished third, in front of only Brown. They then managed to take 2 of their final three of the regular season, losing only to Penn St. a team that would be nationals bound.

Unfortunately West Virginia did not have their strongest showing in the post season. They lost the EAGL championship to the Wolfpack of NC State and in a tough outing at regionals WVU landed in fourth behind UGA, Penn St, and Nebraska to end their season.

2010 Season Outlook
I toiled a great deal over this last (or first depending on how you look at it) spot. A lot of teams could easily fit in here so really it was just a gut feeling that made the final decision. While I don't know if I will be expecting West Virginia to make a run at nationals, I do expect them to keep pace with what they have been doing and hopefully improve. Their biggest hurdle will be replacing all-arounder Mehgan Morris who may be the best gymnast in the program's history. The Mountaineers will be looking for leadership from junior all-arounder Amy Bieski. The team also has some solid freshman recruits coming in to round out the line-up.

Last year's average score for WVU was 194.934 and their top score of the year came in their loss to Penn St with a 195.925. This team will be looking to improve on both of those figures in 2010. The Mountaineers should have continued strength on the vault where Sr. Chelsi Tabor leads them with consistent scores of 9.9 or higher. Like many college squads West Virginia's nemesis is the beam. Last year they never broke 49 as a team and tended to hang out at 48.5 or lower. They'll need to make a big move on this event if they want to make a break towards nationals.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

New Rules: Sacrilige or Salvation?

There has been so much controversy over the new NCAA Gymnastics rules I thought it would be helpful to make a list of pros and cons.

We'll start with the pros.

1)Possibly more parity - Looking at the results from last year's nationals different teams would have made it to finals with the 6 up 6 count rule even with only four teams making it (namely Penn St). We also would have had a different champion, Alabama.

2)Easier to follow - A common complaint about college gymnastics has been its ability to apparently baffle the uninitiated thus negatively effecting the sport's popularity. The new rules simplify and streamline the post season meets making them easier for laymen to follow.

3)Possible Live TV Coverage - With 6 teams competing the networks would have to clear out several hours of air time to give complete live coverage. With less teams in the mix there is a more realistic possibility.

4)Overwhelming Coaches' Consensus - 60-3 was the final tally voting in favor of these changes. One has to assume that these people closest to the sport have a pretty good idea that change is necessary for the continued success and growth of college gymnastics.

5)More Excitement - When every routine counts there is bound to be more suspense, more drama, and generally more excitement throughout the meet which is what makes sports fun to watch in the first place

And now for the cons...

1)Possibility of safer/less difficult routines - I think most people agree that they enjoy seeing the tough skills performed. Teams may use simpler routines to put up consistent scores rather than risking the tougher/more entertaining skills.

2)Confusing disparity between regular season and post season scoring - While the post season scoring may be easier to follow, it could also be confusing to suddenly change the rules on gym fans after the regular season.

3)No guarantee on TV - While they may have changed the number of teams to make nationals more TV friendly, the reality is that most TV networks are not falling over themselves to air a live gymnastics broadcast on Saturday night.

4)Maybe the wrong changes
- While recognizing that change is necessary perhaps the coaches are too close to the sport to see what could really make the difference in its popularity. Ignoring other possibilities such as counting win/loss record (like every other sport out there)or even just upping the marketing on school and conference levels seem to have fallen by the wayside for the moment.