Sunday, 11 December 2016 15:55

2017 Capsule Previews: Teams #1 to #12

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Here's the first 12 teams in our Capsule Previews of our Top 25, based on the 2017 Preseason Coaches' Poll. 

 

 1.  Oklahoma Sooners

Official Web Site:  Link      Schedule      Roster
Starting Routines Returning: 16/24
Routines Gone:  3 VT, 2 UB, 1 BB, 2 FX
Head Coach: KJ Kindler
Assistants: Lou Ball, Tom Haley
Returning Starters (7):  Natalie Brown (Jr), Chayse Capps (Sr), Stefani Catour (Jr), Ali Jackson (Jr), Charity Jones (Sr), Nicole Lehrmann (So), McKenzie Wofford (Sr) 
Other/Injured Returners (7):  Samantha Craus (Jr), Brenna Dowell (Jr), Reagan Hemry (Sr), Kara Lovan (Sr/I), Alex Marks (So), Megan Thompson (So), Nicole Turner (SR)
Graduated (3):  Keeley Kmiciak, Hunter Price, Haley Scaman
Other Losses (1):  Maile'ana Kanewa (I/R/Student Coach)
Newcomers (3):  Jade Degouveia (Fr), Maggie Nichols (Fr), Brehanna Showers (Fr)

Quick Assessment:  The defending National Champion Sooners lose three key members from their 2016 squad:  Keeley Kmieciak, Hunter Price, and Haley Scaman.  In particular, Kmieciak and Scaman were fixtures of the Sooner lineup.  Kmiciak was a first team All American in 2016 on the VT, FX, and AA, where she tied for 7th.  Scaman was the anchor (or #5) on VT and FX, a six-time All-American who was runner-up on FX in 2014.  Along with 2016 VT All-American Price, these three athletes comprised half the VT lineup and key routines on UB and FX.  In addition, VT/FX All-American Maile'ana Kanewa chose not to utilize her fifth redshirt season and is now a student coach.  The Sooners have not been known for their power vaulting and tumbling, and these losses hit in the wrong areas.   

Don't worry about the Preseason #1 Sooners.  All is not lost, however, as the Sooners welcome back a strong core led by Chayse Capps, a five-time 2016 All-American.  She was the National Runner-up in the AA in 2016 and is one of the early favorites for the AA title in 2017.  She's capably supported by 2016 All-Americans Natalie Brown (BB), AJ Jackson (VT, UB), Nicole Lehrmann (UB) and McKenzie Wofford (UB).  What's more, the Sooners are thrilled to welcome back Brenna Dowell, who took the year off to train for the World Championships and a shot at the Olympics.   Dowell is an instant boost to any lineup, but in particular on VT, UB, and FX.  

The Sooners further reload with a sensational frosh class, led by World Team Gold medalist Maggie Nichols.  WIth great lines and tremendous difficulty, she'll be battling for end of the lineup slots on every event.  Already in presason training she's showing that her beautiful execution and high skill level will translate beautifully to the NCAA, with a Yurchenko 1 1/2 on VT, pike-full in on FX and Van Leeuwen on UB.  Not to be overlooked are Jade DeGouveia and Brehanna Showers.  DeGouveia is a 2015 JO National Team member and 2016 JO National qualifier.  She tested elite in 2015 and throws some big skills, including a double Arabian on FX.  Showers was a standout in the L10 ranks but was slowed down by injuries the last two years.  She was the L10 VT co-champ and JO National Team member back in 2013.  With great toepoint and excellent form, she's a L10 in the same vein as some of the past Sooner greats. 

OU will definitely be among the favorites to win yet another National title, and they'll do it with their trademark clean gymnastics, consistency under pressure, great lines and creative choreography.  With Chayse Capps, Breanna Dowell and Maggie Nichols to lead the way, few teams will be able to keeps pace with the series of 9.9+ scores that will come.  They'll potentially sacrifice a tenth or 0.15 in start value on VT, but will look to make it up elsewhere with superior execution and an unflappable BB rotation.    

 

 2.  LSU Tigers

Official Web Site:  Link      Schedule      Roster
Starting Routines Returning: 20/24
Routines Gone:  1 VT, 1 UB, 2 FX
Head Coach: D-D Breaux
Assistants: Jay Clark, Bob Moore
Returning Starters (9):  Julianna Cannamela (So), Sydney Ewing (Sr), Sarah Finnegan (So), Ashleigh Gnat (Sr), Myia Hambrick (Jr), McKenna Kelley (So), Erin Macadaeg (Jr), Lexie Priessman (So), Shae Zamardi (Sr)
Other/Injured Returners (3): Lauren Li (Jr), Kylie Moran (Jr) , Kaitlyn Szafranski (So)
Graduated (3):   Michelle Gauthier, Jessica Savona, Randii Wyrick
Other Losses (0):  N/A
Newcomers (3):  Kennedi Edney (Fr), Ruby Harrold (Fr), Ashlyn Kirby (Fr)

Quick Assessment:  LSU finished just 0.2225 behind OU for last year's National title, edging SEC rivals Bama and UF.  They lose just four routines from that squad, including Jessica Savona and Randii Wyrick.  Savona was a key member of the FX lineup and was a first team All-American on the event in 2016 and 2014.  Wyrick was better known for her UB, where she was a first team All-American in 2013 and 2015, but she contributed key scores as part of the Tiger FX lineup in 2016.  

A strong LSU core should be able to absorb those losses and more.  They'll be led in 2016 by Ashley Gnat and Myia Hambrick, both potential AAers.  Gnat was a first team AA on VT and BB in 2016, and 2nd team on FX and the AA.  Hambrick showed marked improvement in 2016, earning 1st team All-American honors on FX and the AA, and 2nd team honors on VT and UB.  The third place finisher in the AA in 2016, she'll be among the favorites on the event in 2017, especially after upgrading her VT to a Yurchenko 1 1/2.  This (potential) AA pair will be capably challenged by a number of athletes.  Sophomores Sarah Finnegan, a 1st team AA on UB, and Lexie Priessman (2nd Team All-American on the UB) are both capable of contributing more in 2017, while seniors Sydney Ewing and Shae Zamardi, junior Erin Macadaeg and sophomores McKenna Kelley and Julianna Cannamela will all be returning starters.

With returnees like that, you might not need a strong incoming class, but fear not, the Tigers are loaded.  Olympian Ruby Harrold (UK) heads the class, with an incredible skill set to draw from, including a double-twisting Yurchenko on VT and unusual skills and incredible combinations on UB (Van Leeuwen to Zuchold release).  Classmate Kennedi Edney is a former elite and a 2014/2015 JO National AA champion from Southern California.  She made the JO National Team from 2013-2016, a remarkable string of consistency.  She has big E skills (plural) on FX and a flighty Yurchenko 1 1/2 on VT.  The third member of the class, Ashlyn Kirby, is L10 from NC who tied for 10th AA at the 2015 JO Nationals.  She also tied for 12th AA in 2014. 

LSU has been building up to this moment this last several years and is ready to challenge for the title in 2017.  They have the experience, 5+ 10.0 Start Value (SV) vaults, big routines on UB, and tremendous tumbling.  If they do win, it will be through a high level of difficulty on VT and FX, and by staying clean and consistent on UB and BB.  Championships are often decided on BB, and this will be the key to the Tigers title hopes in 2017.  

 

 3.  Alabama Crimson Tide

Official Web Site:  Link      Schedule      Roster
Starting Routines Returning: 20/24
Routines Gone:  1 VT, 1 UB, 2 FX
Head Coach:  Dana Duckworth
Associate Head Coach:  Brian Raschilla
Assistant:  Bill Lorenz
Returning Starters (9):
  Katie Bailey (Sr), Mackenzie Brannan (Jr), Jenna Bresette (So), Nickie Guerrero (Jr), Amanda Jetter (Sr), Keely McNeer (Sr), Mary Lillian Sanders (Sr), Aja Monet-Sims (Sr), Kiana Winston (Jr)
Other/Injured Returners (5):  Abby Armbrecht (So), Angelina Giancroce (So), Ari Guerra (So), Jennie Loeb (Jr),  Mackenzie Valentin (Sr)  
Graduated (2):   Lauren Beers, Carley Sims
Other Losses (2):  Amanda Huang (TR/Ohio State), Avery Rickett (So)
Newcomers (5): 
Wynter Childers (Fr), Caitlin Cole (Fr), Madison Desch (Fr), Peyton Ernst (So/TR/Florida), Shea Mahoney (Fr)

Quick Assessment: 
Alabama finished just 0.0125 behind LSU for 3rd place at last year's National meet.  They return 20 out of 24 routines, and look set to challenge for the title once again in 2017.  Gone from that squad are two strong leaders:  Lauren Beers and Carley Sims.   Beers was a seven time All-American for the Tide, including 2nd team honors on VT in 2016.  Sims was a second team All-American on VT and FX in 2015, and was a key member of the Tide's FX lineup.  Both tumbled big double layouts, and leave an "E" sized hole in the floor ex lineups.

The Tide will be led in 2017 by juniors Mackenzie Brannan and Kiana Winston, and senior Katie Bailey, the 2016 NCAA VT champion.  Brannan is coming off a standout year that saw her earn All-American honors in the AA, VT and UB (2nd Team).  She has been slowed a bit in the preseason by injury.  Classmate Winston also earned All-American honors on FX and BB (2nd team) in 2016, fighting off injuries that have held back her considerable talent.   Bailey is a standout AAer who won 1st team All-American honor on VT and UB in 2016, and UB in 2015.  A large and deep squad will help the Tide easily absorb any losses from 2016.  In particular, seniors Amanda Jetter, Keely McNeer and Aja Monet-Sims looks set for standout final campaigns.  Bama also returns its entire BB lineup, which is a key advantage on an event where experience and consistency counts.  

To this strong returning lineup, the Tide depth further expands with five newcomers:  frosh Wynter Childers, Caitlin Cole, Madison Desch, and Shea Mahoney, plus transfer Peyton Ernst.  Desch is a former elite and US National Team member who was a part of the 2014 Gold Medal World Championships squad.  She also earned a silver medal in the AA at the Pan Am Games in 2015.  However, early in 2016 she retired from elite competition due to injuries.  Childers is a former elite qualifier and L10 standout.  In 2016, she won FX, tied for the BB title, and tied for sixth on VT at the Level 10 JO Nationals.  However, she did not finish the competition due to injury.  In 2015, she was the JO National champ in the AA and on VT and BB.  Mahoney is another former Level 10 standout, who missed part of last season with injury.  She was 7th AA at the 2015 JO Nationals, including a tie for 2nd on VT and 3rd on FX.  She was 3rd on BB and FX in 2014.  This frosh class offers plenty of potential, although a few question marks remain on their recovery from various injuries.  Childers and Desch have been shown training strongly during the preseason, with Mahoney still working her way back.  The same can be said of January transfer Peyton Ernst.  Ernst successfully competed BB for Florida last season, but was limited by injury.  She's add offseason surgery and it's not clear she'll be ready for the season.   

Bama has a strong and experienced core of gymnasts that will enable them to keep in the running for the National title in 2017.  To that, they add some potential frosh standouts.  Perhaps of all the contending teams, Bama has fewer choices for 10.0 start value vaults, even as they work to upgrade their vaults (the past potential is there, but injuries have played a factor).  Like OU, they'll rely on clean and consistent sets on BB and UB to stay in contention.         

 

 4. UCLA Bruins

Official Web SiteLink      Schedule     Roster
Starting Routines Returning: 15/24
Routines Gone:  1 VT, 2 UB, 3 BB, 3 FX
Head Coach: Valerie Kondos Field
Associate Head Coach:  Chris Waller
Assistant: Randy Lane
Returning Starters (9):  Angi Cipra (Sr), Michaela Gerber (Sr), Napualani Hall (Jr), Janay Honest (Jr), Kateyln Ohashi (So), Madison Preston (So), Christine "Peng Peng" Lee (Sr), Sonya Meraz (Jr), Hallie Mossett (Sr)
Other/Injured Returners (3): Rechelle Dennis (Jr), Stella Savvidou (So), Macy Toronjo (So/I)
Graduated (3):  Sadiqua Bynum, Sophina DeJesus, Danusia Francis
Other Losses (3):   Matteah Brow (Fr/?), Melissa Metcalf (Jr/?), Nicki Shapiro (So/?)
Newcomers (9):  Maria Caire (Fr), Anna Glenn (Fr/I), Grace Glenn (Fr), Felicia Hano (Fr), Madison Kocian (Fr), Gracie Kramer (Fr), Giulianna Pino (Fr), Kyla Ross (Fr), Mercedez Sanchez (Fr)

Quick Assessment:  UCLA finished the season in fifth place last season, a strong finish to the season.  They lose 9 routines and six gymnasts from that squad, including key end-of-the lineup routines from Sadiqua Bynum, Sophina DeJesus and 2016 NCAA BB Co-Champion Danusia Francis.  Francis had a terrific final year, starting off with strong performance at the World Championships and ending with All-American honors on the BB.  Bynum was a second-team All American on FX in 2016 while DeJesus was a two-time 2nd team All American on UB.  The Bruins will also miss the services of beamer Nicki Shapiro.

The 2017 Bruins will be led by Christine "Peng-Peng" Lee and Katelyn Ohashi, plus a large crew of experienced returnees.  Ohashi capped off a strong debut campaign which saw her earn four Pac 12 Freshman of the Week honors.  The oft-injured Lee, a two-time 2nd team All-American, came back at the end of last season to give the Bruins a post-season boost.  The Bruins also return All Pac 12 FX team member Angi Cipra, NCAA Regional vault co-champ Madison Preston (slowed by a wrist injury), Pac 12 UB co-champ Janae Honest, and 2016 point leader Sonja Meraz.  Former elite Macy Toronjo, who sat out last season after shoulder surgery, could also provide a boost, but her recovery this fall has been slow. 

There are high expectations for the Bruins, both among their fans and the competing coaches, based on the Bruin's fantastic frosh class.  UCLA welcomes nine newcomers, headlined by Olympic Gold Medalists Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross.  Rarely does an NCAA squad gain a Gold Medalist, let alone two.  The Bruin faithful have high expectations for the pair, and both have looked strong in preseason training.  Ross has worked new sets, including a pike Omelianchik on VT, while Kocian is still in top form after her two medals at the Rio Olympics and the subsequent tour and press junkets.  Both are potential AA threats, although Coach Kondos has indicated that Kocian will likely sit out the vault due to her history of injuries.  UCLA also adds senior international elite Felicia Hano, who is looking strong in the preseason training and is slated for an AA slot.  She's a former L10 JO National Champion and US National Team member who competed at the 2014 Pan Am Games.  Adding to the depth are former jr. international elites and current L10s Anna and Grace Glenn.  Grace Glenn was a L10 JO National AA champ in 2014 who missed 2015 with an injury.  She returned in 2016, qualifying to Nationals and winning the Region 8 Regional AA title.  Her twin Anna missed 2016 with an injury but placed 6th AA and 2nd(t) on VT at the 2015 JO Nationals.  UCLA also welcomes Grace Kramer, a L10 with a Yurchenko 1 1/2 plus Maria Caire, Giulianna Pino and Mercedes Sanchez.

There are high expectations for the Bruins in 2016, with a sensational frosh class that provides both high scoring potential and plenty of depth.  However, the transition to college gymnastics is not always easy and many fine elite athletes have struggled with the transition.  This shouldn't be the case, and if the Bruins aren't in the running for a National title this year, they certainly will be in the mix for next season. 

         

 5.  Florida

Official Web Site:  Link      Schedule      Roster
Starting Routines Returning: 13/24
Routines Gone:  3 VT, 3 UB, 3 BB, 2 FX
Head Coach: Jenny Rowland
Assistants: Adrian Burde, Owen Field
Returning Starters (4):  Kennedy Baker (Jr), Alicia Boren (So), Grace McLaughlin (Jr), Alex McMurtry (Jr)
Other/Injured Returners (4):  Claire Boyce (Sr/I), Amanda Cheney (So), Lacy Dagen (So/I), Ashley Hiller (So)
Graduated (4):  Bridgette Caquatto, Morgan Frazier, Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto, Bridget Sloan
Other Losses (2):  Peyton Ernst (So/TR/Bama), Ericha Fassbender (Jr/?)
Newcomers (5):  Sierra Alexander (Fr), Maegan Chant (Fr), Rachel Gowey (Fr), Amelia Hundley (Fr), Rachel Slocum (Jr/TR/EMU)

Quick Assessment:  The loss of a gymnast the caliber of Bridget Sloan, a two-time NCAA AA Champion and nine-time NCAA Champion (3 teams), would be devasting to just about any team.  The Gators also graduated four-time All-American Bridgette Caquatto and All-SEC team member Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto.  Compounding the problems was the unexpected loss of key depth AAer Ericha Fassbender, who is no longer on the roster. But Florida is not just any team, and they've reloaded with one of the top incoming classes in the country.  The Gators will lose 11 routines in total from the 2016 squad, including three spots on the VT, UB and BB and return just four starters from their 2016 squad.   Unexpected off-season losses have decimated the corps of veterans, meaning they'll need step up performances from the newcomers and other returnees.

The 2017 Florida squad will be led by juniors Kennedy Baker and Alex McMurtry, along with sophomore Alicia Boren.  All three are potential AAers, altough the talent on the Gator squad may limit their events.  Baker is a five time All-American who was a 2nd team All American in the AA last year.  Classmate McMurtry has been looking strong in preseason training, popping a huge double twisting Yurchenko in her limited VT traiing.  She's a five time All-American as well, earning 2nd team honors in the AA last season.  Boren is another potentially AAer and an All-American on BB last season.  But, she's even better known for her explosive power on VT and FX.  The Gators will also look for increased contributions from the rest of the returnees, especially All American Claire Boyce, who missed last season due to a hip injury and former elite Lacy Dagen, who tore her ACL. The Gators should also see a boost from EMU transfer Rachel Slocum, who vaults a 10.0 SV pike front 1/2.

If the returnees are not ready to step up, the frosh certainly will be there to push the vets for lineup spots.  A trio of elites headline the class:  Maegan Chant, Rachel Gowey and Amelia Hundley.  While none of the three quite have the Gold Medal credentials of former World Champion Bridget Sloan, they should prove to quite the force in the NCAA.  Hundley is coming off a sensational year that saw her finish 9th at the Olympic trials.  With big skills (double layout on FX, double twisting Yurchenko) on all four events, she's a legitimate AA threat.  Classmate Gowey came back from injury in 2015 to excel in 2016.  She placed 11th in the Olympic Trials, and she excels on the UB and BB.  She's also quite capable on the FX and VT, and is another AA threat.  Not to be overlooked is Canadian Chant, who has a consistent 10.0 VT (Tsukahara layout full) and big E skills on FX (double layout).  

Once (and if) the newcomers adapt to collegiate competition, they'll make for a Gator squad that is potentially deeper and stronger than the 2016 edition.  While they don't have a Bridget Sloan, they have a number of athletes that are potential superstars in their own right.  Although the season opens with a few questions regarding depth on UB, the Gators have looked strong in training.  And, with increased difficulty on VT (6+ 10.0 SV vaults) and FX, this squad looks to be increasingly like the Florida teams of old -- which means, a National Title contender.    

 

 6.  Utah Utes

Official Web Site:  Link      Schedule     Roster
Starting Routines Returning: 11/24
Routines Gone:  4 VT, 3 UB, 4 BB, 2 FX
Head Coaches: Tom Farden and Megan Marsden
Assistant: Meredith Paulicivic
Returning Starters (5):  Tiffani Lewis (Jr), MaKenna Merrell (So), Baely Rowe (Sr), Sabrina Schwab (So), Maddy Stover (Jr)  
Other/Injured Returners (3):  Kari Lee (Jr/I), Shannon McNatt (So), Erika Muhaw (So)
Graduated (3):  Kailah Delaney, Breanna Hughes, Kassandra Lopez
Other Losses (1):  Samantha Partyka (Jr/R)
Newcomers (4):  Missy Reinstadtler (Fr), Macey Roberts (So/TR/Maryland), Mykayla Skinner (Fr), Kim Tessen (Fr)

Quick Assessment: The Utes suffered some of the biggest offseason losses of the returning Top 12 teams, losing three athletes to graduation and another to an early retirement.  Kailah Delaney, Breanna Hughes, Kassandra Lopez and Samantha Partyka accounted for 13 of the Utes routines at the NCAA finals.  Hughes saved her best year for last, winning the Pac 12 AA title and the Regional AA title.  Lopez was a two-time All-American who earned first team honors on UB in 2016.  Delanay, like Lopez hampered at times by injury, was a three-time All Pac 12 team member on VT and an All-American.  And Partyka, a second team All-American on VT, was expected to be an All-Around force for the Utes in 2016.  These four also accounted for four of six VT scores and four of six BB scores.

Leading a pack of just five returning starters is two-time 2nd Team All-American Baely Rowe.  Rowe emerged as a key AAer for the Utes last season, and will be a key gymnast on UB and BB.  The Utes also return second team All American Sabrina Schwab, who quickly became a fan favorite for her beautiful long lines and elegant dance on FX.  She's training a tuck 1 1/2 twist on VT, which could improve her status as an All-Arounder.  After being slowed by injury, Maddy Stover looks to take a larger role in 2016, as will classmate Tiffani Lewis.  Both Lewis and sophomore MaKenna Merrell are looking strong in fall training, with Merrell showing strong upgrades on VT (Yurchenko 1 1/2) and FX (pike full-in).  In fact, several Utes like Rowe, Schwab, and Merrell are showing upgraded vaults in training.  The Utes also hope to have two-time All-American Kari Lee back at full strength.  She's already looking in fine form on UB and BB, and vaulting a Yurchenko Layout Full.  Two more sophomores, Shannon McNatt and Erika Muhaw will have the opportunity to step up this season, and break into the lineups, with Muhaw tumbling a double layout.  

Despite the huge losses the Utes have suffered, there is not a bit of despair among the Red Rocks.  Utah welcomes one of their strongest classes in some period of time, headlined by World Championship Gold Medalist and Olympic alternate Mykayla Skinner.  Skinner is known for her high level of difficulty on all four events, and throws some of the toughest tricks on the planet.  With the right skill selection and the reduced demands of the NCAA code, she should be able to adapt and deliver the types of scores the Ute faithful are hoping for.  At the recent Red Rock Preview, she showed that she plans on keeping many of her tough skills, including a clean double twisting Yurchenko on VT and a double twisting double back on FX (and full-in dismount), which would be an NCAA first.  She's also joined by two standout L10s, local Kim Tessen and former jr. international elite Missy Reinstadler.  Tessen tied for 2nd AA, 1st on UB, and 5th on VT at the 2016 JO L10 Nationals.  She also tied for 9th AA in 2015.  She's capable of terrific UB set and can tumble a double layout on FX and Yurchenko 1 1/2 on VT.  Reinstadler tied for 1st on UB, 3rd on BB, 5th on VT and 7th in the AA at the 2016 L10 JO Nationals.  She also tied for 9th AA in 2015.  She's been slowed durng the Fall, however, by a stress fracture (a lingering injury from last spring).  Utah also adds Maryland transfer Macey Roberts, who posted a season high of 9.9 on FX last season.  

Utah will be looking for some immediate impact from their standout frosh class, to complement the strong core of returnees led by Baely Rowe and Sabrina Schwab.  MyKayla Skinner has the potential to be the next Ute superstar, as do the other two frosh recruits.  Adjustment to college and college competition can be challenging for any athlete, so we'll have to see how these three adapt.  That will be a key, along with finding six consistent routines on BB.  The Utes missed the Super Six last season after a terrible BB rotation.  Most of that lineup is gone, and the replacements are not yet battle tested.   

 

 7.  Michigan

Official Web Site:  Link      Schedule      Roster
Starting Routines Returning: 17/24
Routines Gone: 1 VT, 3 UB, 1 BB, 2 FX
Head Coach: Bev Plocki
Assistants: Dave Kuzara, Scott Sherman
Returning Starters (6):  Nicole Artz (Sr), Brianna Brown (Jr), Talia Chiarelli (Sr), Olivia Karas (So), Lauren Marinez (Jr), Emma McLean (So)
Other/Injured Returners (0):  N/A
Graduated (3):  Briley Casanova, Austin Sheppard, Lindsay Williams
Other Losses (3):  Nichelle Christopherson (Jr/TR/ASU), Ilana Gordon (Jr/?), India McPeak (Jr/TR/BGSU)
Newcomers (6):  Lexi Funk (Fr), Maggie O'Hara (Fr), Maddy Osman (Fr), Sam Roy (Fr), Polina Shchennikova (Fr), Paige Zaziski (Jr/TR/Arkansas)

Quick Assessment:   Michigan loses three seniors from a squad that at one point early last season, was ranked #1.  Despite that fast start and a Regional hosting slot, the Wolverines fell short of a spot at Nationals.  They were edged by Auburn and Stanford, who tied for 1st, just 0.05 points ahead of Michigan.  Early problems on BB at Regionals and general issues with depth held back the squad last season.  They enter the season missing seven routines from last year's Regional meet, including Austin Sheppard, Lindsay Williams and Nichelle Christopherson, who transferred to ASU.  Sheppard was a two-time All-Big Ten first team member and a standout on VT and UB.  Williams had a stellar senior season, making the All-Big Ten first team as well.

The Wolverines return six gymnasts that will form the core of their 2017 lineups, led by Nicole Artz, Brianna Brown, Talia Chiarelli and Olivia Karas.  Artz, a six-time All-American, emerged an a top AAer for the Wolverines.  She combined with sophomore Karas for a potent one-two AA punch.  Karas had a stellar frosh campaign, earning Big 10 Freshman of the Year honors.  A wrist injury impacted her in the post season, and the lingering effects are still being felt during the preseason.  Senior Talia Chiarelli is a two-time All-American who excels on VT, BB and FX, and is showing strong skills in the preseason training (Yurchenko 1 1/2).  Junior Brianna Brown is a two-time second team All-American who excels on UB with her long lines.  These four athletes represent 15 of the 17 returning routines.  Michigan also looks to get more output from Lauren Marinez, who looks fully recovered from past injuries and is showing strong skills during preseason training.  Sophomore Emma McClean is also ready to step-up, as needed, with a potential upgrade to a l 1 1/2 twisting Yurchenko on VT and the potential, according to Coach Plocki, to go AA this season.

To this core of six athletes, Michigan has added five frosh and a key transfer, Paige Zaziski (Arkansas).  They will give the Wolverines the depth they lacked last season, plus the potential for some very high scoring routines.  Zaziski was a member of the All-SEC Team in 2015 and 2016 and has a career high of 39.45 in the AA.  She'll be in the running for the lineups on all four events and provides experience and consistency.  The frosh are led by standout L10s and former elite Polina Shchennikova.  Shchennikova has beautiful lines and terrific technique on UB, her best event.  After a series of injuries, she is also training the other events, and competed VT and BB at the preseason exhibition versus EMU.  The other frosh signees are outstanding L10s with some key accomplishments to their names.  Three have had consistent Top 10 placements for several years in a row at the JO Nationals, a good sign of consistency at the college level.  Maddy Osman placed 5th AA and 2nd (t) on FX at the 2016 L10 Nationals.  She also tied for 6th AA in 2015 and was 7th in 2014.  She opens floor with a clean full-in.  Hailing from Southeastern, Maggie O'Hara placed 16th AA, 2nd on UB and 8th(t) on BB at the 2016 L10 JO Nationals.  She finished 2nd on UB and 7th AA in 2015.  Lexi Funk, who trained at IGI, placed 21st AA and tied for 8th on BB and 9th on FX at the 2016 L10 JO Nationals.  She was 9th AA in 2015 and tied for 8th in 2014.  A solid and consistent gymnast, she (along with Osman) also made the lineups versus EMU.  Michigan does lose half of their UB routines and it's not the strongest event for several of the gymnasts, so the frosh will need to step up in this area.

Michigan will look to return to Nationals in 2017 by returning most of their top scores and supplementing them with a key transfer and a top notch incoming class.  The increased depth and diversity of talent will enable Michigan to not only challenge for a spot at Nationals, but perhaps even at the Super Six.  Health is an issue, and several key gymnasts need to be able to contribute on the UB (Karas, Shchennikova).  The Coaches' Preseason poll recognizes this potential, elevating the Wolverines from thier postseason #13 finish to a #7 Preseason rank. 

 

 8.  Auburn Tigers

Official Web Site:  Link      Schedule      Roster
Head Coach: Jeff Graba
Assistants: Kurt Hettinger, Mary McDaniel
Starting Routines Returning: 15/24
Routines Gone:  2 VT, 2 UB, 2 BB, 3 FX
Returning Starters (7):  Samantha Cerio (So), Sarah Gracia (Jr), Kullen Hlawek (Sr), Kelsey Kopec (Sr), Taylor Krippner (So), Abby Milliet (Jr), MJ Rott (Sr)
Other/Injured Returners (7):  Telah Black (So), Emma Engler (So/I), Kennedy Finnister (Jr), A'Miracal Phillips (So/I), Lucia Scaglione (Sr), Emma Slappey (So/I), Cara Stricklin (Jr) 
Graduated (3):   Caitlin Atkinson, Lexus Demers, Kait Kluz
Other Losses (2):  Brooke Bray (So/TR/GWU), Blake Jones (Jr/?)
Newcomers (3):  Katie Becker (Fr), Gracie Day (Fr), Kendal Moss (Fr)

Quick Assessment:  Auburn returned to Nationals in 2016, following up their Super Six appearnce in 2015.  They lose nine routines from last year's NCAA squad, including superstar and all-everything Caitlin Atkinson.  Atkinson was the 2016 SEC Gymnast of the Year, a three-time All-American and the school record holder in the AA.  The Tigers will also miss Lexus Demers and Kait Kluz, who finished their final years in stellar fashion.  Demers competed three events, with career bests of 9.925 or higher on each.  Kluz was another three-event standout for AU, hitting 9.875 or higher on each.  She was co-champ at the NCAA Regional on FX in 2016.  All three athletes opened FX with an E tumbling skill, a trademark of a difficulty-laden Tiger FX lineup.

AU returns a bevy of gymnasts, led by junior Abby Milliet, senior MJ Rott and sophomore Taylor Krippner.  Milliet was an All-SEC team member in 2015 and was a key scorer on three events for the Tigers.  Rott is the Auburn record holder on VT and was the Region co-champion on the event.  She's a potential AAer, but her upgraded vault (Yurchenko 1 1/2) and FX (double layout) are her best events.  Krippner also competed three events at Nationals, and was a steady force in her rookie campaign.  Kullen Hlawek, Kelsey Kopec, and Samantha Cerio all return and look to make key contributions in 2017.  The Tigers will also look to seven other returners to make an impact, especially sophomores Emma Engler, A'Miracal Phillips and Emma Slappey.  All three saw their seasons cut short by injury.

Auburn welcomes three newcomers for 2017:  Katie Becker, Gracie Day and Kendal Moss.  They, along with the sophomore class, will be looked upon to fill the gaps left by the departed stars.  Is there an Atkinson among them?  The likely candidate is either Day and/or Becker, or some combination of the two.  Day is a L10 standout with clean lines and plenty of amplitude.  She's a two-time L10 JO National champ on the FX ('14 and'15), and a 2015 JO National team member.  She also finished 2nd on VT and 4th on UB in 2015.  She competed just two events at States and Regionals in 2016, while working her way back from injury.  Becker had a standout year in 2016, placing 6th AA at the L10 JO Nationals.  She also placed 9th on VT and tied for 10th on UB and BB at the meet.  In 2015, at the JO Nationals, she finished 8th AA.  Clubmate Moss is an UB standout, but she also finished 14th AA at Regionals in 2016, with top 7 placements on UB, BB and FX.  

In their quest to return to Nationals, Auburn will tap their large roster of returning athletes to fill the spots of the departed stars.  Adding to that will be strong frosh Becker and Day, and increased contributions from their sophomore class.  This Tiger squad will rely less on the performance of a few stars but instead will have a more balanced contribution across the lineups.  There is certainly enough talent there to challenge once again, but the competition for these last spots at Nationals is only getting more intense. 

 

 9.  UGA Gym Dogs

Official Web Site:  Link      Schedule      Roster
Starting Routines Returning: 14/24
Routines Gone:  2 VT, 2 UB, 3 BB, 3 FX
Head Coach: Danna Durante
Assistants: Jay Hogue, Philip Ogletree
Returning Starters (9):  Viviana Babalis (Jr), Ashlyn Broussard (Sr), Gracie Cherrey (So), Lauren Johnson (Sr), GiGi Marino (Jr), Morgan Reynolds (Sr), Rachel Schick (Sr), Sydney Snead (So), Natalie Vaculik (Jr)
Other/Injured Returners (4):  Jasmine Arnold (Jr), Caroline Bradford (So), Beth Roberts (Sr), Hayley Sanders (Jr)
Graduated (3):  Mary Beth Box, Brandie Jay, Brittany Rogers
Other Losses (0):  N/A
Newcomers (3):  Rachel Dickson (Fr), Jordyn Pedersen (Fr), Sabrina Vega (Fr)

Quick Assessment:  The Georgia Gym Dogs qualified to yet another Super Six final last season, getting the maximum from their squad and peaking at the right moment.  Gone from that squad are just three gymnasts -- but three key ones, as they accounted for 10 of the 24 routines in the finals.  The three departed stars, Mary Beth Box, Brandie Jay and Brittany Rogers, accounted for 16 All-American awards over their illustrious careers.  Two Gym Dogs took home National titles in 2016:  Jay on VT and Rogers on BB.  These three also accounted for key end of the lineup (or pressure leadoff) routines on all four events.  Replacing them will not be easy, a fact the Coaches' recognized when they dropped the squad from ther #6, their 2016 finish, to #9 in the Preseason.

The Gym Dogs enter 2017 with 9 returnees, led by seniors Ashlyn Broussard and Morgan Reynolds and sophomore Sydney Snead.  Broussard was the team MVP in her sophomore year while Reynolds was a NCAA Regional co-champ on BB.  Reynold was slowed last season by a bacterial infection in the preseason, but is a potential AAer for UGA.  Snead was the top frosh last year and made the All SEC Freshman Team.  She'll be looked up on for more contributions in 2016 and has looked quite strong in preseason training.  A potential sophomore year breakout for her could be in the works.  A host of other potential specialists could step up in any number of events, as the Gym Dogs seek to replace some pretty high caliber scores.  One gymnast who made a signifcant step forward last season, Rachel Schick, has been slowed by an elbow injury.   

Helping out in that task are a trio of frosh:  Rachel Dickson, Jordyn Pedersen and Sabrina Vega.  Vega is a former US National Team member and a member of the 2013 Gold Medal winning World Championship US team.  After a period of injury, she has returned strong and has shown solid work in preseason training, including a tuck full-in on FX.  Complementing Vega will be L10 standout Rachel Dickson, a two-time JO National Team member.  She tied for the L10 National UB title in 2016 and placed 3rd AA.  Canadian Pedersen is a former elite National Team member who was an alternate to the Canuck's 2014 World Championships squad.  Although she too has been slowed by injury, she'll look to adapt her sets to the less rigorous demands of NCAA competition.

The loss of the key superstars won't be easy for the Georgia coaching staff to replace.  Although they have three strong frosh, it will also likely take stepup performances from some of the returnees to close the gap on experience and execution.  The leadership and talent of champions like Jay and Rogers gave the UGA lineup some solid anchors and marquee names.  Vega looks like she is ready to take their place in at least a few events, but it will take others like Dickson, Reynolds and Snead to fill in the gaps on the other events.  

 

 10.  Cal Bears

Official Web Site:   Link      Schedule      Roster
Head Coach:  Justin Howell
Assistants:  Elizabeth Crandall, Jessa Hansen
Starting Routines Returning: 24/24
Routines Gone:  None
Returning Starters (11):  Zoe Draghi (Sr), Allicia Gallarzo (Jr), Jessica Howe (Sr), Charlie Owens (Sr), Desiree Palmores (Sr), Emily Richardson (Sr), Ariana Robinson (Jr), Sofie Seilnacht (So), Sylvie Seilnacht (So), Yuleen Sternberg (Jr), Amber Takara (Sr)
Other/Injured Returners (5):  Isabelle Castillo (Sr), Dana Ho (Sr), Emily Howe (So), Chelsea Shu (So), Toni-Ann Williams (Jr)
Graduated (2):  Kristina Heymann, Serena Leong
Other Losses (0):  N/A
Newcomers (4):  Alexandra Dudschus (Fr), Cassidy Keelen (Fr), Rachael Mastrangelo (Fr), Mariah Peterson (Fr)

Quick Assessment:  Cal culminated its rapid rise from the near elimination of its program to a 7th place finish at Nationals.  They return all 24 of the 24 routines from last season, having said goodbye to the departed Kristina Heymann and Serena Leong.

The returning lineup is headlined by Toni-Ann Williams, who was not even able to participate in the NCAA Finals with the rest of her team.  Instead, she competed at the Olympic Test Event.  Williams is a potential AAer who stands out for her big skills (double layout and full-in on FX, Yurchenko 1 1/2 vault) and her power.  She's showing strong improvements in preseason, with a new release on UB.  However, Cal has a full and deep roster of gymnasts ready to step up at any moment, led by their Senior class.  It was the seniors (Zoe Draghi, Dana Ho, Jessica Howe, Charlie Owens, Desiree Palmores, Emily Richardson, Amber Takara) that formed the heart of last year's squad, supplemented by junior Ariana Robinson and sophomores Sophie and Sylvie Selnacht.  Last season, the Bears fielded one of highest team start values on vault in the country.  Even with some rule refinements, at least five of the returners are training 10.0 start value vaults. 

To this strong and experienced core, Cal adds some excellent frosh, led by L10 standout Cassidy Keelen.  Keelan has placed in the top five AA of the L10 Junior Olympic Nationals a remarkable four times.  With clean lines and top skills, she could become Cal's top AAer.  Mariah Peterson graduated early and joins Cal from the state of Utah.  A powerful gymnast, she tied for 20th AA, 4th on UB and 7th on VT at the 2016 L10 JO Nationals.  She was also 5th AA at Nationals in 2015 and 6th(t) AA in 2014.  Rachael Mastrangelo missed much of last season but tied for 15th AA at the 2015 L10 JO Nationals.  Local product Alexandra Dudschus placed 8th AA at the Region I L10 Regionals, and competes high level skills on all four events.  In fact, all four train or have thrown 10.0 SV vaults and E level tumbling skills.     

Cal returners a strong and experienced lineup -- all 24 routines plus superstar Toni-Ann Williams.  To that, they add an exceptional recruiting class capable of high level skills.  Cal will continue to excel on VT, with 8 or more gymnasts capable of 10.0 SV Vaults.  This will be a key advantage that the Bears, especially in Pac 12 competition.  The keys for the Bears remain the same from last season -- consistency and execution on UB and BB, two areas where they've had issues in the past year.  They finished last season ranked just 19th on UB and 13th on BB, and inconsistency cropped up in a number of meets.  To move up into Super Six contention, they'll need to continue to advance and improve and close the gap on these two events. 

 

 11.  Stanford Cardinal

Official Web Site:  Link      Schedule      Roster
Starting Routines Returning: 14/24
Routines Gone:  2 VT, 2 UB, 3 BB, 3 FX
Head Coach: Kristen Smyth
Associate Head Coach:  Chris Swircek
Assistant: Neal Gallant
Returning Starters (6):  Rachel Daum (Sr), Dare Maxwell (So), Danielle McNair (Sr/I), Nicolette McNair (Sr), Elizabeth Price (Jr), Haley Spector (Sr)  
Other/Injured Returners (3):  Taryn Fitzgerald (So/I), Hailee Hoffman (So), Nicole Hoffman (So)
Graduated (4):  Ivana Hong, Melissa Chuang, Jenna Frowein, Taylor Rice
Other Losses (0):  NA
Newcomers (3):  Kaylee Cole (Fr), Ashley Tai (Fr), Aleeza Yu (Fr)

Quick Assessment:   Stanford finished a solid 10th at last year's National meet, and say goodbye to 10 routines from that lineup.  They lose four key seniors, including stars Ivana Hong and Taylor Rice.  Hong was a five-time All-American and a 2016 AAI Award Semifinalist.  Rice was a three-time All-American and regular in the AA, although she was limited by injury at Nationals.  Also gone is Melissa Chuang, who ended her career with First Team All-Pac-12 honors on the BB, and FX specialist Jenna Frowein.

Leading the Cardinal charge in 2017 is superstar junior Elizabeth Price.  She was, of course, the team leader in 2016 as well with difficulty and amplitude on all four events.  Her release sequence on UB (Maloney to uprise clear to handstand to Church to overshoot to handstand) is unmatched in the NCAA.  The six-time All-American finished fourth AA at the 2016 NCAAs.  She'll be capably supported by four seniors:  Rachel Daum, Danielle McNair, Nicolette McNair and Haley Spector.  Nicolette McNair is a former 2nd Team All-American on UB and has the potential, if healthy, to compete AA.  She reportedly had off-season surgery, as did Price.  Her twin Danielle has been a key member of the VT and UB lineups, but has also battled injuries in the past.  Daum missed the first part of last season but at full strength is a regular on three events (no UB).  Spector is a regular on FX, and can throw a double Arabian.  Last season, Dare Maxwell was the only newcomer to compete on a regular basis.  She was a key fixture on UB, but could figure on more events.  Her classmates had tougher rookie campaigns:  Taryn Fitzgerald's season ended in injury while by Hailee Hoffman and Nicole Hoffman (no relaton) sat out most of the season.  There will be an opportunity for increased contributions from the sophomore class this season.

Stanford welcomes three frosh, and they'll be looked upon to contribute big scores immediately.  Leading the charge is Kaylee Cole, a Texan who has competed as an elite for Bolivia, including the 2015 Pan Am Championships.  As a L10 in the US, she placed 8th AA at the 2015 Region 3 L10 Regionals, after winning the TX state AA title.  She was 11th AA at the 2014 L10 JO Nationals.  Another international gymnast, Aleeza Yu, was a Canadian National Team member who competed at the 2014 World Championships.  Injuries have slowed her down since then (ACL, ankle, foot), but she returned in 2016 to take 7th AA at Elite Canada before being sidelined.  The third member of the class, Ashley Tai, is an in-state L10.  She tied for 24th AA at the 2016 L10 JO Nationals.  She also won the JO NIT meet in 2014.  With depth an issue, she'll be looked to contribute immediately as well.   

Stanford's return to Nationals will depend on how many gymnasts step up to fill the void left by the departed seniors.  You can probably expect a slow start for the Cardinal, as they have frequently struggled early in the season with injury recovery and a lack of depth.  However, by the end of the season they've been able to pull it together to qualify for Nationals (and sometimes, the Super Six).  There is a strong core of athletes lined up behind Price, but there may be questions in spots five and six in every event.  Stanford will need to stay healthy and get stepup performances from their underclassmen to fill these spots.  Depth is a concern, in particular on UB and VT where injuries may impact the lineup options.   

 

 12.  Nebraska

Official Web Site:  Link      Schedule      Roster
Starting Routines Returning:  19/24
Routines Gone:  1 VT, 1 UB, 2 BB, 1 FX 
Head Coach: Dan Kendig
Assistants:  Heather Brink, Dan Miller
Returning Starters (6):  Danielle Breen (Jr), Sienna Crouse (So), Jennie Laeng (Sr), Catelyn Orel (So/I), Megan Schweihofer (So), Grace Williams (Jr) 
Other/Injured Returners (4):  Kelli Chung (So), Megan Kuo (So), Ashley Lambert (Sr), Kami Shows (So)
Graduated (2):  Hollie Blanske, Madison McConkey
Other Losses (0):  N/A
Newcomers (6):  Alexa Clark (Fr), Abbie Epperson (Jr/TR/Maryland), Sierra Hassel (Fr), Taylor Houchin (Fr), Laura Oh (Fr)

Quick Assessment:  Nebraska placed 8th last season, with the coaching staff once again maximizing the output of the squad and getting the frosh to make an immediate impact.  The Huskers lose just five routines and two gymnasts from that squad, Hollie Blanske and Madison McConkey.  Blanske was a major force for the Huskers, a six-time All American and potent All-Around threat with a high level of difficulty on every event.  Her anchor scores will be difficult to replace.

The Huskers will try to build upon last season with a core of six gymnasts, led by senior Jennie Laeng and juniors Dani Breen and Grace Williams.  All three are potential AAers, if needed.    Laeng was the 2015 Big Ten co-champ on UB, while Williams was an All-Big Ten first team selection and Breen a second team All-Big Ten team selection.  Sophs Sienna Crouse and Megan Schweihofer also stepped up big time in their rookie campaigns, and will be looked upon to do the same in 2017.  Unfortunately, classmate Catelyn Orel may be out this season with an injury.  This especially hurts a team with so few returning starters.  NU also hoped to have Ashley Lambert back at full health for 2017, but the former 2nd team All-American (FX) has been set back by injury and two more surgeries in the month of November.     

With a relatively small set of experienced returnees, Nebraska's 2017 incoming class will be relied upon for immediate contributions.  It includes transfer Abbie Epperson and frosh Alexa Clark, Sierra Hassel, Taylor Houchin and Laura Oh.  They are led by Taylor Houchin, a 2016 L10 Junior Olympic AA champion.  She also tied for 2nd on VT (Yurchenko 1 1/2), 3rd on BB and 5th on UB at Nationals.  In 2015, she finished 24th(t) AA and 6th(t) on UB at the JO National meet.  She'll be a key force in 2017, along with talented transfer Epperson.  The daugher of two NU standouts, Epperson has posted highs of 9.85+ on all four events in college, but excels on VT and UB.  The Huskers also welcome a trio of L10s that will provide much-needed depth.  You can expect the coaching will be able to maximize their contributions, as they have with every Husker incoming class.  Clark placed 13th AA at the 2016 Region III L10 Regionals and 31st in 2015.  Hassel was a 2014 L10 National qualifier who missed much of 2015, but returned and qualified to Regionals in 2016.  Her highlights include a clean triple twist and front double twist on FX.  Oh qualified to the L10 JO Nationals in 2016, tying for 15th on FX.   

With a small returning core and some untimely injuries, the Huskers have some challenges ahead of them in their pursuit for a return to Nationals.  However, Head Coach Kendig and his staffs have proven time and time again to be able to maximize the output of a small roster.  This year should be no different.  With Breen, Crouse, Laeng, Schweihofer and Williams being supplemented by Epperson and Houchin, there is quite a formidible Husker lineup in play.  The avoidance of further injury and a few stepup performances from their depth chart may be the keys to success in 2017, however.

 

 

Teams #13 to #25

Intro

 

Key to the Tables:

 

Ranking: By 2017 Preseason Coaches' Poll

Coaches: Only regular, paid coaches are listed.

Starting Routines: Defined by starting lineup in last meet of the post season.
Returning Starters:
Defined by starting lineup in last competition
Year in School:
(Is listed as reported on the school's roster)

Fr = Freshman
So = Sophomore
Jr = Junior
Sr = Senior

Status Codes for Returners:

I = major season ending injury in 2016 or preseason 2016-2017
R = retirement/not competing (for any other reason than transfer or injury)
TR = Transfer
RS = Redshirt (note:  not all eligible gymnasts will employ or are awarded a redshirt year)
?=unconfirmed/unknown information

Last modified on Monday, 02 January 2017 15:13