By Elizabeth Grimsley, Caroline Medley and Christina Marmet
Holy cow. What a rollercoaster of season it’s been. But, no time to lose! Predictions for 2018 start now (and so does my fantasy draft spreadsheet!), so let’s look at the facts.
Of this year’s Super Six, Oklahoma, LSU, UCLA and Alabama are all losing multiple key seniors that were regular 9.9+ contributors, most of them on two or more events. Losing Capps and Jones will be the biggest blows for the Sooners, but with them gone, some of their other talent (Marks, Degouveia, Showers if she’s healthy) might have an opportunity to shine. They’ll also gain some interesting newbies, including Jordan Draper, who seems like she might have the training and skill to compete dance-heavy routines like Capps did. (I can’t believe I’m using past tense for her!! Too soon!) LSU will sorely miss its trio of seniors, but based on some preseason training from this year, it seems that there are plenty of other Tigers raring to fill their holes. Kelley has been training all four events, with vault as her most likely addition. We will hope to see her front handspring pike half next season, and Priessman will hope to be healthy and consistent enough to regularly compete her Yurchenko 1.5 (or DTY!) to mitigate the loss of Ewing and Gnat’s 10.0 SVs. Incoming freshman Reagan Campbell has some strong tumbling and some serious beam prowess to bring to the table, but LSU will have to fight hard not to dip without the strong leadership and scores of its outgoing seniors.
UCLA will perhaps gain more than they lose, as both Glenns look to return and both Nia Dennis and Pauline Tratz will join the team as strong former elite competitors. Whether they’ll need to replace Peng’s crazy bars and beam potential is still up in the air, but Gerber, Mossett, and Cipra will all be hard to replace. What will really determine UCLA’s success next season, I think, is whether or not they can get it together on vault. We saw lots of preseason training of new 10.0 vaults and none of them materialized except for Kramer’s 1.5. Whether veterans step up to the plate or new girls join the lineup, the Bruins will need to improve their vault scoring ceiling next season to continue to compete with the field. Bama, on the other hand, should be looking for consistency. Losing McNeer, Sims, Jetter and Bailey will be the hardest pills to swallow, but they’ll bring in a huge class, including former elites Bailie Key, Peyton Ernst and Kylie Dickson. Whether these girls and their new classmates can be consistent will be the key to Alabama’s return to Super Six, but their scoring potential really isn’t a concern. The difficulty and precision of the outgoing class should be matchable by the incoming one.
Utah and Florida are the definite returners for me. Not only do they lose almost no one (Florida literally no one, Utah only Rowe), but they’ll both gain important gymnasts with lots more scoring potential and styles that fit the school. Utah will gain Tessen and Schwab back from injury, and incoming freshman Sydney Soloski’s gymnastics is high risk, high reward, similar to Skinner and other Utes. Her powerful tumbling and uncanny ability to stay on the beam should definitely benefit her new school moving forward. Florida gains Alyssa Baumann, who should really complete their beam lineup, which became a little shaky at times this year. They’ll also hope to regain Fassbender and Dagen for added depth on all four events. I think it would take more than just a little meltdown to keep these two out of Super Six next year.
But I’m also interested in the almost-qualifiers this year. What about Nebraska? Washington? Denver? Nebraska is losing Laeng and Lambert, both of whom played huge parts in their team’s impressive finish in semifinals. However, they stand to gain five new freshmen, including Kynsee Roby, a former NLC competitor with impressive difficulty on bars, beam and floor and top-three finishes on the same events at J.O. nationals last year. Washington loses Duranczyk, Janik and Yacalis, but should gain Hoffa back from injury and hope for more contributions from Roberson, who seemed to never bounce back from her early-season injury. They’ll also gain a solid group of freshmen, including Geneva Thompson, who placed first in every event at her regional championships two weeks ago. Denver loses Fielitz, Lomonte and Ross, all of whom contributed in postseason lineups. Headlining their incoming class will be Lynnzee Brown, a 2017 NLC qualifier with a Yurchenko 1.5 that’s quite stickable and a solid double layout on floor. Mia Sundstrom also may be graduating early to join the team, and with her solid Yurchenko full (or any of the upgrades she’s been working), the Pios will be back up to at least five competitive vaults despite graduating two.
After all that… I’m gonna think a little outside the box. Oklahoma will be back to defend, I believe. I don’t know if I can bet on a win for them yet, but I think OU, Florida and Utah will be the strongest in the mix. I’ll give spot number four to Alabama, thanks to their strong incoming class. Five and six will be a fight to the death between UCLA, LSU, Nebraska and Denver, I think. Michigan’s losses are too great to mitigate right now and Washington’s gains aren’t enough to compete with the rest of the field. Stanford would be an outside pick, but right now, I can’t count on Stanford for anything or anyone except Ebee. So I’m going with Sooners, Gators, Utes, Tide… Bruins and Huskers. I hate to say it, and my Louisiana-loving friends are gonna kill me, but I think LSU missed their biggest window of opportunity this year, and they’ll have to try really hard to open another one next season. And I can’t even pick a national champ. I think it’ll be between Sooners and Gators, but I can’t bank on either until I see injured gymnasts start training again.
OU loses Capps, Jones and Wofford from its postseason lineups, but should rebound just fine. Floor will be the one event to watch though in my opinion, as the Sooners will need to find two reliable routines that can go 9.85+ week after week. Capps and Jones are graduating, as well as two of OU’s backups we saw this season in Turner and Lovan. It will be interesting to see how the freshmen can contribute there, and to also hopefully have Showers back to full health and Degouveia and Marks on more events (floor!). Florida doesn’t lose any routines from this year’s Super Six, so it will be one to watch and it should be in the hunt for that national title. The Gators will hopefully get Fassbender and Dagen back. However, that freshman class is a gigantic question mark to me, with really only Skaggs that should kill in in NCAA, but I won’t set my hopes too high for Baumann (on the road to recovery) and Bradley (injured yet again). While we don’t really know what to expect from them, once again Florida is already set for next season and will essentially just gain more depth. I have UCLA in third, with the hope that by then the Bruins will have worked their vault situation out and will compete their 10.0SV vaults instead of just teasing us with them in practice videos. On paper and if healthy (and that’s quite a big “if”), this team should be able to finish on the podium and put pressure on the Sooners. The Bruins should have the Glenns back, hopefully Toronjo hopefully on more events, and Dennis and Tratz as the two big recruits. I foresee a dip for LSU, which will have to replace the high scores and incredible consistency of its three seniors (Gnat, Ewing and Zamardi). We all had the same worries after the class of Courville/Hall/Jordan graduated, but the Tigers never missed a beat and were actually better than ever. I predict the Tigers will qual
ify easily, but once again that the whole pressure to “Do it for DD before she retires” will get to them. Alabama will be right there as usual, even though the Tide loses a big class, it also gains a big one with a lot of potential. Utah only loses Rowe, and should have Schwab and Tessen back in addition to two freshmen. The Utes proved this season they could handle the pressure and work with the routines they had, and I don’t see any reasons why they wouldn’t be back to the Super Six. The only cause to worry is if they came to lose Skinner, who is undoubtedly the biggest contributor to this team. Without her scores, I don’t see the team advancing to Super Six, but hey, let’s not jinx anybody.
Man what a season. But rather than dwelling on how depressed I’ll be for the next 200+ days, I’ll instead look forward to a year from now at the 2018 Super Six. And I believe many of the same teams will be there. Florida loses approximately zero routines and gains Alyssa Baumann, Megan Skaggs and a questionable Vanasia Bradley. Skaggs alone would be a great addition, but adding Baumann and Bradley and the Gators will be a force to reckon with in 2018. Oklahoma is also in a good position despite losing Chayse Capps, Charity Jones on beam and floor, and McKenzie Wofford’s bar routine. Jade Degouveia and Bre Showers should be back to full health, Alex Marks will look to contribute on more than vault, plus the Sooners are getting a phenomenal class of level 10 stars. UCLA is also in good shape but a similar situation to Oklahoma: yeah, Peng-Peng Lee is probably graduating and Mikaela Gerber, Angi Cipra and Hallie Mossett won’t be there anymore. But the team will not only still have its plethora of former elites but both Glenn sisters will be back plus Nia Dennis and Pauline Tratz will join the team as well. I’m expecting not only a repeat of Super Six qualification but an improved final result as well, as vault was really the only thing holding the Bruins back in 2017.
Alabama and LSU have more to lose in 2018. LSU’s graduating a phenomenal class of eight routines and only gaining two freshmen, albeit solid ones. The Tigers will not only have to replace Gnat and Ewing’s routines, in particular, but replicate their 9.9-every-time-out performances across three events. Alabama is also losing a huge class that all mostly contributed routines. However, the Crimson Tide is gaining a bit more than LSU with Kylie Dickson, Lexie Graber, Bailie Key, Alonza Klopfer and Kaitlynn Scott plus Peyton Ernst joining the roster. Bailie Key and Ernst alone would be a phenomenal class. But adding Dickson, Graber, Klopfer and Scott’s routines to the mix and Alabama will be a force to be reckoned with once more.
Then there’s Utah, which is only losing Baely Rowe’s four routines across the events but bringing in Alexia Burch and Sydney Soloski. However, more importantly for the Utes, Kim Tessen and Sabrina Schwab will be healthy once again, which will honestly be more of a helping hand than either recruit. But although many of this year’s Super Six teams seem to be well off, that doesn’t mean they won’t be challenged. Stanford is bringing in a phenomenal class. Kyla Bryant, Rachael Flam, Taylor Lawson, Lauren Navarro and Catherine Rogers will all don Cardinal red with a real chance of not only making it back to nationals but advancing to the Super Six—which we all know needs to happen in Ebee’s final year.
So, you know what? I’m calling for an upset to the normal order. My 2018 Super Six predictions have OU, Florida, UCLA, Alabama and Stanford and Utah in the finals and the Sooners winning the title.