Tuesday, January 4, 2011
NCAA Preview: Week 1
Put on your face paint and whip out your tiger claw: the NCAA season kicks off on Friday and it is a cause for celebration for some and panic for others. Given that the first week's rankings are determined by high score, the start of the season is always taken with a grain of salt. We've seen teams that go on to win conference and national titles score in the 194s and we've seen teams open close to a 198. Every year is different and dramatic.
For much of the preseason, the injury bug stayed away from many of the top teams. As the end of November bled into December, the gymnasts began running to the training room (if they could walk.) This year is a watershed moment for many teams. Rhonda Faehn put together the top recruiting class as far back as the summer of '08 when the girls began committing early in earnest. Kytra, Macko and Alaina would all be teammates. Kytra will not be a part of the action this season. Jay Clark had year after year of success on the recruiting trail, yet this year proved to be an astounding disappointment. After nabbing Level 10 standout Kaylan Earls, Jay lost out on his efforts to woo Peszek to Athens. Miss Val used the star power of Nastia and Alicia to help woo the Olympian to Westwood, which was a major blow to Jay Clark's effort. He had already lost out on three elite standouts to Florida. Several top girls went to the Crimson Tide. With the recent injury to Kaylan Earls, Georgia is left with a number of walk-on quality gymnasts in its freshmen class and a others who aren't exactly anticipated to become All Americans.
Oklahoma is competing without the leadership and top scores of Hollie Vise, but the thinspired team is prepared and looking to be one of the formidable teams early on.
UCLA was expected to put up a strong defense to its NCAA Title. With a stacked roster, things were going swimmingly until Zam got injured. The recent injury to Sam Peszek leaves the team without two of its stars. While the team still looks like a contender, it is missing a degree of zest. Several of the gymnasts appeared winded and heavily-bandaged when performing their floor routines during the team's filmed intrasquad. The team is watering down some of their tumbling early on and Miss Val is expected to give a number of girls competitive experience at the team's two meets this weekend.
Alabama graduated a large senior class and has its juniors sidelined for the beginning of the season. Expect Sarah Patterson to drone on and on about their freshmen and sophomores who actually look capable of holding things together until Geralen Stack-Eaton and Ashley Priess are back in post-season shape.
Blahtah does not look championship calibre, but that may not be as evident until mid season when some of the slow-starting teams get their act together.
Stanford appears stronger than last year and should be in the mix for much of the season.
Overall, this weekend will likely bring quite the mixed bag. The Gators will likely ride the wave of success early on, as several other perennial stalwarts flounder. Many teams will have strong debuts on some events by gymnasts and loads of falls on others. It is always great to see walk-ons earn an opportunity to compete in the lineup, but hardcore gymnastics fans will be frustrated with the quality early on. The mixed bag of scoring is always a grievance early in the season. Just the other day, the University of Minnesota tweeted that they scored a 190.9 in their intrasquad. If teams are now advertising about averaging just under a 9.550, this could prove to be one hell of a cringe-worthy weekend.
God Speed to all.
Meets of Note:
Penn State @ Alabama
Arkansas @ Oklahoma
Nebraska @ Florida
LSU @ Oregon State
Michigan @ Michigan State Quad Meet
UCLA @ Utah
Georgia @ Denver Quad Meet
UCLA Pac 10 Preview (Vs. Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Oregon State, Stanford and Washington)