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Women’s NCAAs: Random Observations
(23 votes, average 3.57 out of 5)

CBS Sports will air its coverage of the 2009 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships from Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday, and our exclusive IG coverage will appear in the June issue. Meanwhile, I offer the following impressions that stuck with me after my trip to the Cornhusker state in April.

Courtney Kupets: This Georgia senior really was in a “league of her own,” to borrow the description by Gym Dogs coach Suzanne Yoculan. Her biggest mistakes over three days and 12 events were minor: tiny hops or shuffles on a couple of vault landings in apparatus finals. She was machine-like, but not robotic. Her routines had energy, amplitude and also some risk. She also doesn’t follow scores or results. When I asked her if she thought her score from the first prelim session would hold up as the winning all-around score, she didn’t really know what her total was.

Suzanne Yoculan (Georgia)

Suzanne Yoculan: Retiring after 26 years and a record 10 NCAA titles, Yoculan will be missed for the edge she brought to the sport. She was one of the few coaches who learned how to fill seats at home meets (Utah’s Greg Marsden and Alabama’s Sarah Patterson have done it, too), and only time will tell if the Gym Dogs continue to draw such a faithful following in Yoculan’s absence. I hope her energy and name don’t disappear completely from women’s NCAA gymnastics.

“I think it will create a void in that she has raised the bar,” LSU coach D-D Breaux said of Yoculan’s retirement. “She puts an excellent product on the floor. I’m going to miss her personally as a friend, but as a coach I have a tremendous amount of respect and the job she does with her team, day in and day out.”

Super Six Format: In our annual NCAA Preview earlier this year I was surprised that a common suggestion from the top coaches was to limit the finals to four teams. The term “Super Six” has become unique to women’s NCAA gymnastics. But with only four events, six teams cannot competed simultaneously, so two byes become part of the six rotations. In terms of spectator involvement, the meet is difficult to follow because the byes stagger the running totals on the scoreboard. I just don’t think the schools that have never made the Super Six are going to want to drop to four teams anytime soon.

NCAA Scoring: Women’s collegiate gymnastics catches a lot of flack for its bloated scoring. If we compare it to golf, a 9.8 would be a par; it will neither hurt you nor help you. A 9.7 is a bogey, a 9.9 is a birdie, 9.95 an eagle, and a 10 is a hole-in-one. When you understand and accept this, the meets are interesting because, as a viewer, you can tell which team is hitting and which is not. There is an excitement with NCAA team competition that you don’t feel at the various World Cup meets around the world.

Floor Exercise: Not burdened by the need for high levels of difficulty, the current women’s floor routines include subtle, entertaining choreography. The routines have morphed from aerobics exercises of a decade ago to a hip-hop style that has its moments. I’m not quite sure how the judges evaluate this “dance,” but it’s fun to watch. As a team, UCLA was especially adept at this style, but coach and choreographer Val Kondos Field has always been a step ahead in this area.

Floor Mats: I’ve harped on this before, but using four-inch landing mats in the corners of the floor mat is a huge distraction to the event in terms of aesthetics. Not many gymnasts used them, but when they did, it looked unprofessional when the coach would kneel down to draw chalk lines (and not always accurately) to simulate the corner. Can judges really tell if a gymnast steps out of bounds when the lines aren’t straight? When meets are often decided by .10 or less, this quirk of the event doesn’t make sense.

I can understand that many of these collegiate gymnasts have chronic ankles after years in the sport, and that offering a soft landing will keep them healthy. But that’s all the mats should be used for; no further tricks should be allowed after landing, such as a punch front, because the cushioned landing makes such skills considerably easier.

Floor exercise mats in Lincoln

Floor Mats Again: Given the technical expertise of today’s equipment manufacturers, why not design a floor mat that features two “soft” corners for landing, designated by a simple boundary line. The springs have become so bouncy that some gymnasts can’t control their landings no matter how hard they try. If they land a bit stiff-legged, the mat rebounds them right back into the air.

Ashley Priess: It was good to see Priess, who dropped out of the sport at the start of the 2008 Olympic trials process, compete with such conviction for Alabama. Just a freshman, Priess was one of her the Crimson Tide’s main contributors. I asked her what happened between a year ago and now. “I think the biggest thing for me is I found teammates and girls and best friends that have all kind of picked me up and taken me under their wings and restored my love for the sport,” she said. “If you don’t love the sport … then ultimately you’re going to burn out. And for me that’s what happened. It’s not like that for everybody.”

Skill Level: No, college gymnastics is not elite gymnastics, but there were plenty of difficult elements and combinations on display. Nicole Ourada (Stanford) did a Pak immediate Stalder; Maranda Smith (Florida) tumbled an easy piked full-in and dismounted bars with a barani-out; Whitney Bencsko (Penn State) had perhaps the best piked full-in of the meet; and Brandi Personett (Penn State) tumbled a layout full-in back-out like it was nothing. West Virginia’s Mehgan Morris swung wrong-grip front giants, Georgia’s Grace Taylor caught a Comaneci between the bars three days in a row; Melanie Sinclair (Florida) did a high Hindorff on bars; and Arkansas’ first two gymnasts on beam, Jaime Pisani and Alex LaChance, mounted with risky front somis.

Comments (2)add comment

ARO said:

Floor Mats
I guess it depends on the specific mat and maybe even the specific skill, but for the most part it is harder to punch off of a mat than the actual floor it seems like choosing to use an extra 4-inch in the corner and punching out of it is fair enough, IMO.
May 11, 2009
Votes: +2

Karissa said:

I agree about the mats they need to make a corner mat to fit directly in the corner like they do with the sting mat for the landing zone for Double Mini , it is mad to fit the judging boundraires
July 17, 2009
Votes: +0

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