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The Tie Break: 2023 Big Ten Championship Bars

During the NCAA offseason, there’s a lot we miss about college gymnastics, from the sparkly leotards to the fierce rivalries. But the thing we miss most is every NCAA gymnastics fan’s favorite hobby: arguing about scoring. In fact, we were so sad about it that we decided to get our discourse fix in the form of a brand new series. What are we going to argue about? Every gymnastics fan’s pet peeve: ties where the routines are not equally good. 

In each edition of The Tie Break, we’ll choose a tie from NCAA gymnastics history and debate until we decided how the routines truly should have been ordered. This week, we’ll tackle the bars title at the 2023 Big Ten championship, in which six gymnasts tied with a 9.950. 

Our weekly contributors, editor-in-chief Elizabeth Grimsley and GEC editor Rebecca Scally, will be joined by NCGA-East editor Allison Freeman and intern Aaron Doyle. 

The Contenders 

Carly Bauman (Michigan)

Sierra Brooks (Michigan)

Delanie Harkness (Michigan State)

Abby Heiskell (Michigan)

Mia Takekawa (Illinois)

Natalie Wojcik (Michigan)

The Debate

Rebecca: Welcome to this year’s second Tie Break! This week, we’re looking at a six-way tie for the Big Ten bars title between four Wolverines, one Spartan, and one Illini. On a scale from one to my brain is melting, how did you feel trying to sort out your order? 

Allison: Two brain cells sharing a unicycle that only fell four times, no injuries. 

Elizabeth: I started diving into unwritten rules and personal biases—dangerous territory. 

Rebecca: I figured we’d be going that way. Also, let’s establish off the top: This handstand angle SUCKS. 

Aaron: I had to rewatch them at least three times each. 

Allison: RIGHT! Handstands make or break whether I’m in love with a routine or meh about it.

Elizabeth: The angle in general was CROOKED THE WHOLE TIME. I could hardly focus on anything else. 

Allison: I went for toe point, landings, and height to narrow things down since handstands weren’t going to cut it. 

Elizabeth: It made me notice hand adjustments more than I ever have in my life. I almost never point those out when watching normally? 

Allison: Bails! So many were wiggly! Too many! 

Elizabeth: Wojcik’s shocked me simply because I thought she was a perfect angel going in. But that angle didn’t do her favors. It wasn’t bad—don’t get me wrong—but it showed imperfections really well. 

Aaron: Agreed! Barely anyone was able to show full control on their Bail. 

Elizabeth: I did like the angle for blinds on high bar though. You could really see Brooks’ and Heiskell’s overturn, which I remember Rhiannon [Frank] pointing out in a previous Judge’s Inquiry. It’s very slight, but it’s there.

Allison: Yes! Agreed about the overturn!

Aaron: I also noticed bent arms on releases, which I don’t think the judges were paying much attention to. 

Rebecca: Never do. 

Elizabeth: I certainly didn’t pay attention to that when watching haha

Rebecca: OK, let’s start from the end: Dismounts. Who’s hot, who’s not? 

Allison: For some reason, this angle made the difference in height of release moves and dismounts really pop. 

Aaron: Harkness had a beautiful routine up til the dismount. 

Elizabeth: Wojcik had the worst landing for sure. 

Rebecca: Definitely. 

Elizabeth: Harkness wasn’t cute in the air, which was a shame because the rest of her routine was pretty spot on. 

Allison: Takekawa had the best body position for me. Fully agree about Harkness. 

Rebecca: Then Brooks and Harkness I thought had clear scoots that they tried to disguise, the other three I’m willing to call sticks. 

Elizabeth: Brooks’ did the I-stuck-but-immediately-brought-my-feet-together-so-it-looks-like-a-hop thing. 

Allison: Yeah, I noted that Brooks was “tidy, but not polished” on the dismount. 

Rebecca: Yeah I thought I saw backward movement… Let me rewatch. 

Aaron: Takekawa’s dismount wasn’t my favorite either. There was a leg separation in the first flip, and she closes her hips in the second. 

Rebecca: I hate the Takekawa hollow, I’ll say it. It’s probably not a deduction, but it bums me out. 

Elizabeth: Takekawa’s routine in general was my least favorite of the bunch just aesthetics-wise. 

Allison: I’m Team Hollow over Team Sheep, so that’s my bias. 

Elizabeth: Maybe I just don’t like her style.

Aaron: Agreed. If the hollow shape was consistent throughout, I’d have no problem with it. I just don’t like how she changes from arch to hollow. 

Rebecca: Diet Shchennikova. 

Elizabeth: But I agree the double layout had the clear leg separation error regardless of what you prefer in terms of technique.

Elizabeth: The only hollow double layout I’ve ever liked is Our Queen Grace Taylor. I agree that Heiskell had the best dismount and landing. I don’t care that it was “only” a double tuck. 

Rebecca: My dismount champ is Heiskell for sure. The tiniest heel shift that was definitely, unambiguously just closing the heels to salute and definitely not hiding anything, plus perfect form. 

Rebecca: I will also give Bauman credit for trying to do a knees-together double front, which is really hard, but it’s not perfect if we’re splitting hairs. 

Allison: Heiskell had the best dismount for me too. 

Elizabeth: My notes on Bauman were my longest list of the six! 

Aaron: Me too! Her routine had many little deductions that aren’t really obvious.

Allison: Didn’t she have the shortest routine, too? 

Rebecca: Okay, so dismount order I’m looking at Heiskell -> Bauman (bit of form, stuck) -> Brooks (very clean, maybe scooty) -> Takekawa (bit more form, stuck) -> Wojcik (clean, clear hop) -> Harkness (form, clear hop). Anyone want to fight me on that?

Allison: I can agree with that order. 

Elizabeth: Bauman also landed her dismount with her feet apart and never brought them together, which is a big no from me.  

Rebecca: I’m open to moving Bauman lower.

Elizabeth: It depends on if we care more about feet landing apart but clearly stuck or maybe a little movement but more difficult and good in the air. I don’t really have an opinion one way or another. 

Rebecca: I didn’t even think about not moving heels together. (Being an elite fan first, I still find that rule super bizarre.) 

Aaron: I noted that for Bauman too. But, I love a good stuck double front, and her feet weren’t too far apart either. 

Aaron: I’d put Wojcik over Takekawa, even though her landing wasn’t super controlled. The shape in her double layout was too perfect. 

Elizabeth: I think I would put Wojcik over Takekawa too. It’s the obvious air form for me that ruins the whole skill. 

Rebecca: OK, cool. Same bar releases. Aaron, Mr. Bent Elbow-Watcher, what have you got? I always notice that Brooks’ pike Jaeger catch looks a little rough. 

Allison: It’s super quick, and even though I knew she caught it, for some reason I didn’t expect her to. 

Elizabeth: I just need to say that I am not a fan of the piked Jaeger technique of any of the ones that did a piked Jaeger in this group. It’s Audrey Davis’ style or don’t do it at all for me, and I’m not afraid to share that bias. 

Aaron: It was hard to see Wojcik’s and Harkness’ elbows on their releases, but for everyone else (who all do a Jaeger variation), I noticed slight elbow bends. I noticed bent elbows on Brooks the most. 

Elizabeth: I also…need to bring up the crookedness of Wojcik’s Deltchev *hides* And the FLEXED FOOT. Which ruins pictures, let me tell you. 

Rebecca: Nobody’s ever given me a clear answer on whether that’s an acceptable variant, honestly. 

Elizabeth: I feel like I’m being so negative for this tie break. I love all six of you, and I’m sorry. 

Rebecca: I like it better than a normal Deltchev, it looks more intentional to me, but in terms of the code… It’s a mystery. 

Allison: Deltchevs to me always look a little off to me and this was no exception.

Elizabeth: I will say that the height does cushion some of the other issues for me, so I’m willing to forgive a lot more than a normal release. 

Rebecca: The airtime is ridiculous. 

Aaron: Honestly, I think Wojcik purposely launches herself 20 feet into the air on her Deltchev to confuse the judges. 

Allison: Her and Bauman had the best release height, I’d say. 

Elizabeth: Overall I think I want to say that Bauman had my favorite overall single-bar release of the bunch. 

Allison: Same! It’s so floaty and makes me think flying is possible. 

Rebecca: Takekawa I didn’t notice elbows on the catch, but I did think she lost body tension for a second and it just looked loose overall. 

Elizabeth: Heiskell’s probably my second favorite, but I wish she had juuuuust a bit more turnover in her salto. Then maybe Wojcik after that, but again, I have piked Jaeger bias. 

Allison: We’re on far too much the same page today, Elizabeth.

Rebecca: The Harkness Gienger is what we haven’t hit yet, and her form is ridiiiiculous even though she probably could have had a little more height. I definitely think the two pike Jaegers are a step below the other releases in terms of quality. 

Elizabeth: I would put Harkness either above or below Wojcik depending on how we want to play the Deltchev.  

Allison: Takekawa’s is my favorite of the two piked Jaegers, only because I felt like her form made it stand out. 

Elizabeth: See, I liked Brooks’ better. It was just a little tighter and cleaner to me, but they were so close that I would be fine with either order. 

Aaron: I agree Bauman and Heiskell have the best releases. I would put Wojcik third because I do admire height and originality. The form isn’t so bad—I’ve seen worse in the NCAA. 

Rebecca: Feels like we’re settling toward something along the general lines of Bauman > Heiskell > Harkness > Wojcik > Takekawa =? Brooks. Let’s do transitions quickly and then we’ll finish with handstands/form and see where we are. 

Elizabeth: Bauman at the bottom don’t @ me. One of those I-don’t-know-if-I’m-trying-to-be-horizontal-or-handstand ones. I know it’s technically allowed, but it’s my least favorite of the shoot-over styles. 

Rebecca: I think you could make the case that the Heiskell Pak is too low. That’s a deduction that would be absolutely draconian to take in NCAA, but in elite, I think she’d qualify. We can ignore that because it’s pretty if we feel like it. It doesn’t cause rhythm issues. 

Elizabeth: All I noted on Heiskell was a very slight foot cross. 

Allison: Same. I thought Heiskell had incredible control in that switch kip, though. Usually those are a “hope for the best” situation, but hers wasn’t spiraling chaotically. 

Rebecca: Control is a huge strength of hers all routine. 

Allison: I know this isn’t what we’re talking about, but I’m thankful that the routine constructions weren’t a copy-paste otherwise I wouldn’t be able to keep them straight. 

Rebecca: Totally! 

Elizabeth: Wojcik to me was a little loose on her shoot over catch, too. I think the bail not to handstand really hurt the ones who did it, for tie-break purposes. 

Rebecca: Yeah, I had that too. Nothing on anyone else, this is usually a part of the routine that’s just OK…

Elizabeth: Harkness’ shoot over was maybe a tad short or at least she didn’t really hold handstand that long. But the camera angle was a deterrent on hers. 

Elizabeth: I’d probably rank it Heiskell, Brooks, Takekawa, Harkness, Wojcik, Bauman if I had to. 

Rebecca: Sure, that works. 

Aaron: I thought Brooks and Harkness didn’t hold the bail to handstand very long. I love Heiskell’s Pak, but is it just me or does it look slightly uncontrolled?

Elizabeth: With how much speed Heiskell got out of her Pak, I was convinced she was about to shoot off the podium. I didn’t see anything *wrong* with it though. 

Allison: It was so quick? Snappy? 

Elizabeth: Honestly, I think she proved control by not having any deductions despite that speed. 

Allison: I can agree with that. 

Elizabeth: But I 100% know what you’re talking about, Aaron. 

Aaron: True. She goes super high but still manages the catch the low bar cleanly.  

Elizabeth: Maybe we call it powerful rather than uncontrolled haha

Allison: Old Faithful. It’s gonna be big, but you know it’ll go exactly as planned. I have never been to Old Faithful. So if I’m wrong, I am so sorry. 

Rebecca: We’ve hinted at handstands a few times, and we’re going to be doing some guesswork because of this angle, but what did you see? I thought Bauman missed her first cast handstand. I might be wrong. I don’t trust my eyes. Takekawa’s were a little lukewarm all along. 

Elizabeth: I thought Takekawa’s was maybe missed after her Jaeger. I also noted the same thing for Bauman’s first one. 

Aaron: I thought that Wojcik’s first handstand wasn’t exactly on top of the bar, but I’m not surprised that the judges didn’t take anything. 

Elizabeth: Plus if we want to get really picky and point out things that aren’t deductions, Heiskell’s full pirouette didn’t finish on top of the bar. 

Allison: I had Heiskell with the best handstands. And Harkness/Brooks as the not as great. 

Aaron: Really? I thought Harkness had great handstands. 

Rebecca: I thought Harkness was on the stronger side too. Agree with Heiskell overall the best.  

Elizabeth: For Harkness, like I mentioned earlier, all I noticed with her handstands were all the hand adjustments. Rhiannon tells us that’s not a deduction unless judges want to take rhythm, but it was so distracting to me. I would only use it against her depending on our potential ranking, though. 

Rebecca: And foot form… I’ll put Heiskell and Harkness as the top tier, Wojcik just the tiniest smidge below because of that one foot on the Deltchev, and the others a bit more lukewarm but nobody actively poor. 

Elizabeth: I can second that assessment. 

Aaron: I agree. I’m glad I didn’t have to look at too many flexed feet. 

Allison: Agreed! No one set off my “where is the toe point!!!!” alarm. 

Rebecca: Brooks is definitely somebody whose feet you noticed in her recruit days, but she and the coaches have done a great job of working on it and constructing routines that downplay it. 

Aaron: Kind of ironic that Wojcik is mid-tier with foot form when I would say she has the best toe point of all six gymnasts. 

Elizabeth: That silly Deltchev!

Allison: On the other hand, I do love that Deltchev because I love a good risk. 

 Rebecca: Yeah it’s really just that one instant. I’m not inclined to penalize her too much for it. She’s not going to win, but it’ll be because of the dismount hop not the 0.3 seconds of Deltchev foot. 

Elizabeth: Right. 

Rebecca: OK, bringing it all together. I think our No. 5 vs. No. 6 is between Takekawa and Bauman. Anyone got something else there? 

Aaron: I agree. I would put Takekawa at fifth and Bauman at sixth. 

Rebecca: Odd that those are our two “true stick” routines, but there were other things going on. 

Elizabeth: I didn’t actually do a ranking beforehand because they were so close, but I’d probably go opposite of Aaron and put Takekawa last and Bauman fifth. 

Rebecca: I think I’m also leaning Takekawa last. 

Elizabeth: The dismount form is worse to me than the shoot over. 

Allison: I have Bauman fifth! I can live with Takekawa sixth.

No. 5: Carly Bauman (Michigan)

No. 6: Mia Takekawa (Illinois)

Rebecca: Perfect. Let’s go for winner next. I have Heiskell. Thoughts? 

Elizabeth: I agree. 

Allison: No contest. Immediately yes. 

Aaron: Yep!

Rebecca: Beautiful. I’ll be complaining about her leading off bars when I’m in a nursing home. I don’t care if she likes it. The scores she gets compared to her teammates aren’t fair!

No. 1: Abby Heiskell (Michigan)

Elizabeth: It wasn’t clear to me when watching but for sure now that we’ve talked it through: I’m sort of leaning toward Harkness OR Wojcik, then Brooks in fourth for the other placements?  

Allison: I have Wojcik then Brooks.

Aaron: I’d put Wojcik second. Then Harkness. 

Rebecca: Brooks is my No. 4 for sure. I’m not sure about Harkness or Wojcik for second and third. 

Elizabeth: Maybe they can tie like we did in another Tie Break haha 

Rebecca: We can have a meta-Tie Break where it’s just Rhiannon calling us all stupid. 

Allison: Can we have a Break the Tie Break series once we have enough? 

Elizabeth: *skull emoji* 

Aaron: Haha. Then after that, Break the Break the Tie Break. 

Allison: When have I ever had a bad idea, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth: Never in your life. 

Allison: Narrator: Mysteriously, Allison disappeared from CGN. No one knows what happened. 

Rebecca: OK, just to try to clear this up, I got a little lost… Are we mostly talking about Harkness vs. Wojcik for second and third, or does someone want to make the case for Brooks in the top three?

Elizabeth: I’m good with Brooks at No. 4. 

Aaron: Brooks is also my No. 4. 

Rebecca: Great. 

Allison: Yes!

No. 4: Sierra Brooks (Michigan)

Rebecca: I think Harkness has more little stuff, for sure, but we definitely found some small hits for Wojcik too. And that dismount hop is maybe the single most undeniable deduction in all six routines. To me, this kind of comes down to what NCAA judges are forced to take vs. what can be a judgment call. 

Elizabeth: So for Wojcik it’s the shootover (maybe), single flexed foot, and clear dismount hop. So at least one “real” deduction. Harkness had a lot of maybes, things we were uncertain about plus the clear dismount form. I *think* I want to say Harkness above Wojcik, but it’s very very close. It comes down to Harkness’ dismount form vs. Wojcik’s dismount hop and loose shoot over. I could be convinced to go the other way though. 

Allison: I’m going with Wojcik. 

Rebecca: Let’s also be clear, just because I don’t know if we’ve explicitly said it: Harkness’ form is also really, really gorgeous. She’s definitely on the same level as Wojcik for pure pretty points.  

Elizabeth: It is! She’s underrated for sure.  

Aaron: I’d also go with Wojcik for No. 2. Harkness’ dismount gave it away. 

Elizabeth: Bars is always the hardest event to do for Tie Break. The only thing harder I think would be very similar vaults. 

Rebecca: I can live with Wojcik. It’s definitely really close. Last tie break took literally 20 minutes and we’re almost at an hour here 

Elizabeth: Death to six-way ties! 

No. 2: Natalie Wojcik (Michigan)

No. 3: Delanie Harkness (Michigan State)

READ THIS NEXT: The Tie Break: 2023 Big 12s Floor

Article by Elizabeth Grimsley, Rebecca Scally, Aaron Doyle, Allison Freeman

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