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.