A wrap-up of top meets from the opening weekend of NCAA gymnastics. Make sure to check out the team and all-around standings for the week as well!
LSU vs Florida, 196.875 to 196.575. This was definitely one of the best meets of the week, with Florida looking to take the win throughout until the very end. Bridget Sloan fell on her flight series in the first half of their beam rotation (after fighting SO hard to stay on!), but despite super strong performances form Kytra Hunter and Mackenzie Caquatto pulling it back together, Marissa King fell in her anchor routine, counting a fall and handing the win to the Tigers (a real shame, as the rest of her routine was lovely, including a stuck double full off). Apart from the beam mishap, the Gators had a pretty solid day, with the only other big mistake coming from Caquatto getting a bit lost in her handstands after her pak salto; she eventually hopped off the bars after attempting to get back in control. The rest was pretty stellar, though, with Hunter especially incredible across the board, earning a sky high 39.675 in her first all-around attempt this season. Her hindorff on bars was especially fantastic, as was her A+ floor routine. Though LSU got a helping hand from Florida’s falls, they held their own throughout the meet with vault and floor especially strong. Rheagan Courville’s beam was a standout; it’s absolutely packed and includes a fantastic standing arabian; on floor, I was impressed with her double arabian in addition to Maliah Mathis’ perfect double pike. The team continues to grow on bars, with Randii Wyrick’s tkatchev fall the only big issue…but she gets bonus points in my book for somersaulting to her feet right out of her fall! Truly awesome. Lloimincia Hall brought the house down anchoring on floor once again, beginning with her trademark giant double layout and ending in wild celebration that continued after her score and the final team scores were posted. It was a huge win for LSU, who spent last season establishing themselves as a consistent top ten team and who should continue to grow among the best in the nation as this season goes on.
Georgia vs Arkansas, 196.200 to 195.775. Despite losing to Georgia at home, Arkansas competed strongly in their first meet of the season – and their first meet without last year’s top seniors Jamie Pisani and Mariah Howdeshell. Katherine Grable emerged victorious as the Razorbacks’ new leader, posting team high scores on all four events while also taking the all-around and floor titles. She stuck a double arabian cold in the opening pass in her floor routine, which also included a lovely 1.5 to rudi to back layout-stepout and finished with a great double pike. Amy Borsellino also stuck a beautiful double arabian on floor, though unfortunately followed it with a sat 1.5 to punch front in her second pass. Freshman Sydney Dillard was incredible in her debut performances on beam and floor; she should be one to watch in the future! Georgia was steady throughout the night, with the only fall coming from Christa Tanella when she split the beam. There was also a near-fall from Brandie Jay on floor, who opened with a huge double pike followed by a great 2.5 to front tuck; unfortunately, she was a little short on her double tuck and stumbled forward, though amazingly didn’t put her hands down! Chelsea Davis gets higher and higher on her tkatchev with each meet and Brittany Rogers continued to impress with her unique skills on bars and beam, but Shayla Worley was most impressive to watch on beam once again, showcasing a gorgeous sheep jump, a lovely flight series, and a stuck gainer full. She’s been very strong so far this year, something I hope she can keep up throughout the season. Both teams have room to improve, but for this early in the season, the Razorbacks and Gym Dogs are exactly where they need to be.
Michigan vs Nebraska, 196.900 to 196.300. Michigan is BACK and looking strong, showcasing strong and confident routines in their second meet of the season. They were easily able to defeat Nebraska, who came out fighting but have a little cleaning up to do before they reach last year’s level. Nebraska still has the all-around talents of the stellar Jessie DeZiel, Emily Wong, Jennifer Lauer, and Janelle Giblin (DeZiel and Wong tied for second in the all-around while Lauer and Giblin came in fourth and fifth, respectively); these four were especially remarkable on beam, hitting one stellar routine after another in their final rotation of the night (Lauer has a gorgeous sheep jump and competes a one-armed back handspring as part of her flight series while DeZiel stuck a solid 2.5 dismount). Floor is another strong point; they took form-based deductions throughout, but have some very bright spots as well, including DeZiel’s 2.5 to punch front and Wong’s incredible triple full. Again, though they need to work on cleaning up, they have a strong foundation for what should be a great season. Michigan, on the other hand, used their super supportive home crowd to bolster their depth. They did have some problems to start; freshman Austin Sheppard had trouble with her vault in warmups and was switched out, instead performing an exhibition vault that she balked. The rest of the rotation was fine, though a bit underwhelming, with Sachi Sugiyama’s Yurchenko 1.5 taking the team top score of 9.825. They got some spark back on bars, however, which is easily one of the best uneven bar rotations in the country at the moment. Shelby Gies had a huge tkatchev and a stuck blind full to double tuck, Sugiyama’s pak salto is lovely and she stuck her full-out, Brittnee Martinez competed a great blind full to a big tkatchev along with a stuck double layout, and Joanna Sampson had a tiny bit of trouble on her overshoot, but sailed through her full-twisting double layout. Sugiyama fell on her punch front on beam, though those who followed her pulled it back together; I was most impressed with Katie Zurales, who had a great side aerial to back handspring and a pretty sheep jump. Like bars, floor was a standout, especially in front of a home crowd; it’s hard to get critical here without being super picky! I loved Natalie Beilstein’s routine as a whole and Sampson’s double full to back layout stepout, though each routine had a bright spot and lots of crowd support. Sampson had an especially phenomenal meet, sharing the floor title in addition to winning the all-around; I can’t wait to see what she and the rest of the team can do throughout the season.
UCLA vs Utah, 197.425 to 195.300. The Bruins beat the Red Rocks at home by just 0.05 last year and as two of the best west coast teams (and now Pac-12 rivals), the competition between them is usually fierce. But Utah was without Kassandra Lopez, out with a calf injury sustained in the last practice before the meet, and were forced to replace her in three key spots in the lineup. Mary Beth Lofgren fell from bars right off the bat, and though freshman Breanna Hughes brought things back with a lovely set (earning a 9.85 for her very first routine!), Nansy Damianova and Hailee Hansen followed with falls on a toe-on and jaeger, respectively. Corrie Lothrop and Georgia Dabritz anchored nicely (with Lothrop’s piked jaeger and stuck double layout both especially great), though Utah was over a point behind after the first rotation. Things picked up on vault (Tory Wilson’s giant FTY and Lothrop’s brand new Yurchenko half-on, front pike off were both impressive) and floor (the ever-powerful Wilson’s huge double layout, Dabritz’s stuck triple full, and Damianova’s lovely routine were my favorites), though they showed nerves on beam, where they were apparently heckled by members of UCLA’s marching band. Wilson came off on her back pike and there were a few other shaky routines within, but Dabritz, Lothrop, and Hughes were mostly solid. Home team UCLA, on the other hand, were about as close to perfect as one can be this early in the season, going 49.3+ on all events but bars, where they still earned a 49.275 despite mistakes. Their vault lineup was stacked, with a number of strong FTYs anchored by Vanessa Zamarripa’s roundoff half-on, laid-out half-off. When they came to bars, there were problems early in the rotation (a rough double pike dismount from Danusia Francis and a fall on a Gienger from Sophina DeJesus), but Lichelle Wong sailed through one of the cleanest routines I’ve seen her do while anchor Zamarripa was just about perfect, earning a 9.975 for the event title (she also took the beam, floor, and all-around wins). Beam was mostly sharp for the Bruins; in addition to Zamarripa, Mattie Larson and Francis were incredibly impressive. But floor was the event to watch; Sadiqua Bynum apparently learned her routine in less than a month and already looks greatly improved from last week. My favorites were DeJesus (loved her 1.5 to punch front layout to close), Zamarripa (such a gorgeous Rudi!), and Courtney (who stuck her double arabian perfectly). UCLA defeated Utah by over two points, an unprecedented finish though with more focus and less nerves, the Utes have plenty of room to build on what they started.
Alabama vs Missouri, 196.450 to 192.025. Ranked No. 1 in preseason, Bama opened the season on a high note in their 2013 debut meet at Missouri. Though their score was seventh-best in the nation this week, they were remarkably consistent, going 49+ on each event with the majority of their deductions coming from form issues that should be easily fixable throughout the season. Ashley Sledge started things out for the Crimson Tide with a nice routine capped off by a stuck double layout. Sarah DeMeo continues to grow on this event each year, catching a big jaeger and also sticking a double layout, while Ashley Priess nailed her huge Tkatchev to pak salto, a combination she’s been competing for over seven years! Sledge and Kaitlyn Clark both competed strong FTYs on vault, the team’s strongest event this week with Diandra Milliner’s beautifully stuck Yurchenko 1.5 easily the highlight. A couple of problems came at the very beginning of the floor rotation, but the last four competitors finished out remarkably; Brooke Parker hit a big double arabian and stuck her double pike, DeMeo also stuck a double pike and landed a lovely 2.5, Milliner showed off a huge double arabian, and Kim Jacob had a strong double pike and a lovely 1.5 to front full, earning the highest score on the event. Jacob also won the all-around, ending her performance with a first-place beam routine that included an incredible flight series, a solid side aerial, and a stuck 1.5 dismount. DeMeo tied her 9.9, opening with a McCool mount (a front handspring onto the beam!) and ending with a stuck gainer full. On the Missouri side of the meet, Rachel Updike (a former U.S. junior national team member who competed for GAGE and typically stands out as an all-arounder) was incredible on vault, where she competed a big FTY with a small hop, and beam, where she had a beautiful flight series and front aerial in addition to a stuck gainer full. Tori Howard and Katelyn Trevino were also great to watch on floor; I especially loved Howard’s whip half to Rudi.
Oklahoma vs Arizona State, 196.700 to 193.625. Oklahoma’s second meet of the year was a fantastic one, besting the Sun Devils by over three points and earning top scores on each event with routines that looked slightly stronger than what they competed just a week earlier in Georgia. The Sooners still have a bit of work to do in terms of strengthening their bars, as handstands are still a bit off and form in general is looking iffy. But Erica Brewer looked especially clean, throwing a huge tkatchev and sticking a big double layout; I also loved Rebecca Clark’s toe-on shaposh and toe-full to stuck double tuck, and Keeley Kmieciak’s toe-on Tkatchev and stuck full-in dismount. Vault was a no-brainer for the Sooners, who were able to count a 9.825 as their lowest; Madison Mooring’s big Yurchenko half earned the top score of a 9.9, but the team as a whole looked especially strong here. Though they unfortunately saw a fall from Kmieciak on floor, the rest of the team kept it together, counting three 9.85s and Taylor Spears’ huge 9.875 to their total. I loved Lara Albright’s routine, which featured fun choreo and lots of twisting, with a front handspring to front double full, 1.5 to front full, and front handspring Rudi. Spears rocked here, though, also opening with a double full, followed by a 1.5 to punch front layout and finishing with a gorgeous Rudi. Though beam is normally a tricky beast to finish the day with, it was Oklahoma’s best, as the team’s six competitors all placed among the top seven scores, with a 9.8 the lowest to count. Brewer was easily the standout here, winning the event with a 9.925 for a routine that included a brilliant flight series (bhs-loso-loso), solid jumps, and a stuck double back off; she actually had a fantastic day as a whole, also taking the bars and all-around titles. Olson’s beam also impressed me, which is to be expected; her roundoff layout to two feet was super steady (and such a nice change from your typical flight series) and she stuck her side aerial to full twist off. It was a comparatively rough day for Arizona State at home, with form issues garnering many deductions on bars, though beam was actually quite steady and Natasha Sundby’s vault was one of the high points of the meet. After two weeks on the road, the Sooners have their first home meet this Friday against Denver, which should be awesome and celebratory for them after doing so well on the road.
Stanford (196.025), Arizona (195.850), Illinois (193.750), and San Jose State (192.550). Stanford is the kind of team that typically uses half of its season to warm up, the other half to start posting stronger numbers, and then NCAAs to turn heads. Though this didn’t work out too well for them in 2011, when they narrowly missed out on making it to Championships after a lackluster few months, it was a golden strategy last year, leading them to the Super Six in the biggest team turnaround all season. That seems to be the way things are going this year, as they’re hitting routines and posting decent scores, but are not yet at the level of teams like UCLA or Florida, who would rather go all-out with their top-ranked athletes only two weeks in. The Cardinal should avoid burnout, though, and even with comparatively weaker scoring, they still managed to go 49+ on everything but floor, including a big 49.325 on bars (that event’s high among all teams so far this season). On Saturday, the team began the quad on bars, often tricky for the first rotation though clearly no deterrent to the Cardinal, who began with a beautiful routine (featuring a stuck double front dismount) from Shona Morgan. Ivana Hong also showed clean lines and straight handstands, though it was Kristina Vaculik who performed the routine of the day, catching a beautiful sky-high Gienger and earning a big 9.925. Morgan also opened the beam rotation with a steady routine and a stuck double full, though Hong seemed strongest and Amanda Spinner was especially impressive to me (she just moves so well on that event). Anchor Pauline Hanset did fall, though with no other major mistakes, the team was still able to finish well. Floor was the iffy spot for the day, with low energy and underrotated passes the biggest problems; Morgan was the only athlete to reach 9.8 with her fun hip hop routine. They came back a bit on vault, with a number of great FTYs, a cool front handspring front pike for Hanset, and a huge stuck Yurchenko half from Nicole Dayton. It was a good night with a solid foundation yet leaving plenty of room to grow as the season goes on. Other team standouts include Alina Weinstein of Illinois, one of the team’s best all-arounders last year and an athlete who will truly carry this team in her senior year, anchoring all but floor; I was also impressed with bar routines from San Jose State’s Cami Guyer and Marissa Unpingco. Of course, you can’t mention Arizona without Aubree Cristello, another senior all-around phenom currently ranked third in the nation after two meets. Cristello earned a 39.475 this weekend, competing either fifth or sixth in each lineup and impressive everywhere, but absolutely nailing floor. Arizona’s floor rotation as a whole was actually pretty fantastic, earning a 49.4 one huge routine after another. They had lots of problems here week one, but when they’re on, they’re on, and they seem like the kind of team that could sneak into Championships by catching a top-ten team off-guard at regionals. I was also impressed with Allison Flores on bars; she could stand to fix some form issues, but her full-twisting double layout dismount is incredible.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
Photo from Michigan Gymnastics