Tuesday, October 21, 2014

NCAA Most Successful Freshmen

Photo Credit: Andy Cripe | Corvallis Gazette-Times

Now that the school year is gearing back into session with official practices and the height of the elite season is over, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look back at some of last year's NCAA women's gymnastics freshman. Here's a list of freshman that appeared on the College Commits page.

Class of 2013
*Amanda Jetter - University of Alabama
*Dominique Pegg - University of Alabama
*Silvia Colussi-Pelaez (ESP) - University of Florida Oregon State University
*Talia Chiarelli (CAN) - University of Michigan   
*Ashley Lambert - University of Nebraska - c/o 2014, start Jan 2014 season
*Charity Jones - University of Oklahoma
*McKenzie Wofford - University of Oklahoma
*Maddie Gardiner - Oregon State University
*Mikaela Gerber (CAN) - UCLA
*Hallie Mossett - UCLA

In my opinion, hands down, most successful freshman goes to Madeline Gardiner of Oregon State University. It's difficult to break into any school's competitive lineup, and by the end of the year, Gardiner managed to do that as an all arounder. Although OSU didn't qualify a team to the National Championships, Maddie Gardiner earned a spot with a 39.350. She scored a 39.225 in the AA at NCAA Championships and made the beam finals with a 9.925. Maddie was one of the first few up in the beam final and her score of 9.8875 kept her in first place for quite some time. Eventually, she was bumped to 3rd place which is still an amazing accomplishment for a gymnast attending Nationals without her team as a freshman. I'll be curious to see how she grows into her role at OSU as the seasons continue.

Honorable Mentions
The following gymnasts may not have managed to break the AA lineup but they showed that they were consistent and were much needed.

Talia Chiarelli was the lead beamer for Michigan. She often started the apparatus with a 9.8+ beam routine that helped set the stage for many successful Michigan lineups. Also strong on vault and floor, Chiarelli was able to provide clean tumbling with scores also around 9.8+.

Amanda Jetter was a stable competitor for Alabama. She was often later in the lineup and found herself tying scores of senior athletes with more competitive NCAA experience. Injury has hampered much of Jetter's elite career  so hopefully we get a few more years to enjoy her gymnastics.

Hallie Mossett
UCLA struggled quite a bit last year with consistency issues. More often than not, however, Mossett was able to deliver a solid performance that tried to set the pace, even on the most trying apparatus: the balance beam. For the majority of the season, she scored above 9.8 on beam and managed to compete successfully in the all around a few times.

Who else do you think belongs on this list?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

2014 World Championships: Predictions vs Reality EF

Continuing Predictions vs Reality with my take on the individual event finals. You can read part 1 ft Team Final and All Around Final here

Predictions: Simone Biles, Hong Un Jong, Mykayla Skinner
Reality: Hong Un Jong, Simone Biles, Mykayla Skinner
I had the right 3, just in the wrong order. I'm actually still a little surprised that Biles didn't win but I think that's just a testament to how much Hong's Amanar has improved. Hong's Amanar is Maroney status - square on contact with horse, head squeezed between arms, arms not bent at all, good height on block and with an even tighter layout position. Impressive. Her Cheng still needs work but clearly that change in Amanar execution was enough. Biles' score is very admirable especially when you consider her D average is 5.95 compared to Hong's 6.35. Once I found out that Giulia was having twisting issues and that Alla had her Cheng, I figured it would come down to Sosnitskaya and Skinner for the bronze medal. Skinner has the better execution overall compared to Sosnitskaya so I think the placements were correct.

Can we just appreciate the difficulty in this vault final?! Sure Steingruber did a FTY but we otherwise had some great vaults - FTY and DTY, Lopez and Cheng (Yurchenko 1/2 on, layout 1/2 and layout 1 1/2 off), Rudi (technically a Chusovitina), and a Zamolodchikova (Tsuk 2/1). Great job, ladies!

Uneven Bars
Predictions: Yao, Aliya, Becky Downie
Reality: Yao Jinnan, Huang Huidan, Daria Spiridonova

In terms of predictions, UB and BB were the hardest for me to predict just because I had no idea who would even make the finals. For UB, I had Yao and Huang (or another set of 2 Chinese), Daria and Aliya, Ashton and Kyla, maybe Becky and Ruby, maybe at least 1 German (was not expecting Lisa but thrilled for her all the same), maybe Youna if she was hiding some upgrades. Overall, I loved the gymnasts that made the final. They all have great swing and good level of precision. Sure you could fight about flexed feet, sickled feet, whatever you want but, as a whole, this was a phenomenal group of the best uneven bar workers in the world.

I agree with the final placements. Based on our view, Aliya had a few minor errors while Daria just had one missed moment before her dismount. Huang's pirouetting style seemed really labored while Yao has the low Tkatchev. Everyone talks about Yao's construction but I actually do really like Huang's, if only she could fix her pirouetting technique. Lisa had a few handstand issues and sickles her feet in a way that is more noticeable based on her knee alignment. Either way, she is one of Germany's top bar workers and I'm glad she had the chance to show it off. Becky and Ruby both have immensely unique routines which Ruby was not able to complete successfully. Becky did not medal in her final but did manage to have a solid routine. One of the things that has been important for Becky Downie is her ability to hit routine after routine. Becky should be very proud of her successful year, making the World Championship event finals and successfully competing in said finals.

In terms of performance, this might have been my favorite final.

Balance Beam
Predictions: Kharenkova, Iordache, Aliya
Reality: Simone Biles, Bai Yawen, Aliya Mustafina

Looking back now this prediction is funny... or unforunate. Depends on how you look at it. Definitely unfortunate for Kharenkova and Iordache. With Kharenkova out, it was almost surely Iordache's to lose and unfortunately, she did just that. We were all worried about the layout full when, in the end, it was her tuck full that took her out of contention. I was a bit disappointed that of the 8 finalists, only 5 had routines without falls. Alas, such is the balance beam.

I don't know why I didn't have Biles on the podium. Maybe I thought she would wobble. Maybe I thought others would just be better. Clearly I thought wrong.

On Bai Yawen, just a thought. I do enjoy her balance beam but I wonder if China gets the "artistry" deduction. In their exactness, they lose a lot of the fluidity. Bai is probably the least offensive compared to, say, Shang Chunsong. For her specifically, however, she does seem to have excessive preparation on her skills. I might sound like I'm picking on her, I'm just trying to understand her E score in relation to other athletes. I did enjoy her routine, however.

I'm probably most bummed about the third place medal. I did see Teramoto's missed connections and wobbles that caused the deductions, it's just unfortunate. Le sigh.

Floor Exercise
Predictions: Simone, Larisa, Vanessa
Reality: Simone Biles, Larisa Iordache, Aliya Mustafina

My predictions went a bit further - Biles, Iordache, and if anyone was on the podium other than Ferrari, it would be Skinner. Boy was I wrong.

Words cannot explain how much I love Iordache's floor routine. It makes me so happy. Again, like in the AA, I was glad she did her upgraded routine. She's gotten 6.5D before so I'm curious what she wasn't credited or didn't do (quad turn? leaps?).

Once Mustafina upgraded per twitter, I figured she would get it. There was just too much in the "name of artistic gymnastics" and Nellie Kim and Bruno Grandi for Skinner to win. I'm not necessarily boycotting or anything, I'm just still angry about balance beam...

To end on a positive note, Larissa Miller's double arabian to stag is what dreams are made of. After Kyla falling earlier in the season and Aliya falling at Worlds, this was just the thing I needed to see to remember how beautiful of a skill the double arabian is and how lovely it can be when connected to stag. The form was great, the height she got was amazing. It was just one of those jaw droppingly beautiful moments in gymnastics.

Full results can be found here.

What were some of your event finals highlights?

Monday, October 13, 2014

2014 World Championships: Predictions vs Reality

Photo Credit: Getty Images (via gymnasticsmedals)

Glad to finally get back to blogging after a tough few months. Thank you all for being so patient. I thought the best way to recap Worlds would be through my predictions - moderately accurate, somewhat hilarious.

These predictions are from September 27, so after Asian Games but before World Championships.

Team Finals
Predictions: USA, China, Russia
Reality: USA, China, Russia

I will say, the battle for 2-4 was closer than I expected.

First off, going to team qualifications, I had 7 of the 8 teams correct but I had Germany in for Australia. I'm thrilled for Australia after a disappointing finish at London and missing most of the international 2013 season. They've come back fighting and have shown that even without one of their best, Lauren Mitchell, they are still a team to be reckoned with. On the other end, Germany missing out was a bit disappointing. As a nation that has become extremely strong on uneven bars, 4 of the 5 routines had falls in them. Of 4 girls with event final worthy routines, only 1 made it. That has to be a tough pill to swallow but I'm sure they'll come back stronger next year.

For teams 5-8, I can't say I'm too surprised about the team final placement after you consider who qualified. Italy was massively boosted after having 3 very serviceable double twisting Yurchenkos in Fasana, Ferrari, and Rizzelli. They've also improved on uneven bars, while still not perfect, they are showing advances. Also, in general, Ferrari is no longer alone in pulling the weight of the country. Fasana joins her as a strong all arounder, Campana has Olympic experience, and the new ladies all held their own, even on balance beam.

Now, for teams 1-4, I did have the correct order but it did end up a lot closer than expected... Oh, for teams 2-4! I knew the US would win but I did not, by any stretch of the imagination, predict the margin would be nearly 7 points. Not only were the other 3 nations struggling with injuries and depth, they all had to count at least one fall in the final 3 up, 3 count format. I put China in second because of everyone's belief that they would "bring it" for a home championship but also after seeing their performance at the Asian Games. Yes they would be tired, but the difficulty was undoubtedly there. Russia and Romania being as close as they were was also shocking. While we often acknowledge Aliya as the one who carries Russia, she does get a bit more help than Iordache does. Aliya has her best friend since 2010 by her side, also a World Champion. She's joined by European event finalists and medalists and another Olympian. Iordache was joined by Stefania Stanila, the one who joined Larisa at Worlds last year. The one we thought was just there for experience and never thought we'd see her again. Here she is now, crying after the team final believing her errors are the errors that most hurt the team.

I'm side tracking a bit because I think this is the first time I've really had to process that the "babies" of London are now the team leaders. The way we saw Catalina Ponor help nurture Larisa Iordache, we now see Iordache doing that with her teammates. The way Ponor was so excited when Larisa won floor exercise gold at the 2012 European Championships, we now see Aliya Mustafina reacting in the same way to Daria Spiridonova. Our previous rebels off in the corner in Mustafina and Nabieva, are now team mothers, comforting the younger gymnasts.

Overall, the team final wasn't too exciting other than the unfortunate falls that made it closer than expected. If anything, I hope this motivates the young Romanians seeing how close they were. Perhaps they counted themselves out and didn't need to. Every routine mattered and they were just 0.5 away from a medal. That says a lot of this young team.

All Around Final
Predictions: Simone Biles, Aliya Mustafina, Larisa Iordache
Reality: Simone Biles, Larisa Iordache, Kyla Ross

The all around final was phenomenal. I was clapping. I was jumping. I was screaming. My jaw was dropping. Intense!

If my memory serves me right, things were going fine for the top 5 girls (the 4 mentioned above plus Yao) until balance beam.  Aliya "I Make Up My Beam Routine As I Go" Mustafina made up a routine with not the greatest difficulty and had a few form breaks.

Then, we go to floor exercise and all hell breaks loose.

Yao Jinnan fell on her dismount and I was in complete and shock. Word was that Larisa warmed up her piked full in. This made me so happy to see that she would really push for an AA and event finals medal. Her reaction to going into first with just two gymnasts to go was priceless. Then, Aliya falls on her double arabian. There are just some things people should never fall on because of how beautifully the skill is performed. This is one of them. Again, with the jaw dropping and the screaming. That's when it also became clear that Kyla would be on the podium. Consistency matters. I didn't have Kyla on the podium because she had three people in her way for the silver medal. Clearly, that didn't matter.

And Simone hit her floor exercise. One of her best and dramatic finishes (in terms of performance, not result obviously).

Overall, I really enjoyed the all around. I'm still upset about the falls in the team final that I don't anticipate rewatching that any time soon. While the all around was heartbreaking, I did like the fact that it came down to the last event and the podium was largely undecided.

Event finals predictions vs reality will be coming soon :) What were your podium guesses and how did they end up?