It’s that time of year when NCAA gym becomes the Hunger Games — Other gym news — Must-click gymnastics links
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, Feb. 25, 2023
This always seems to be the time when the college gymnastics season loses a bit of its luster. Sometime in late February, when the season is either half over or halfway to nationals, depending on your outlook, illness and injury start taking over teams. Factor in the stress of travel, weekly competition and exams, and many teams suddenly appear to be hanging on by a thread. (As is your gymnastics correspondent, if I’m being honest. I tend to disagree with T.S. Eliot that April is the cruelest month; for me, it’s always February. Nasty, brutish and blessedly short.)
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Last week, we got the news that Utah’s Grace McCallum had hyperextended her knee at the Metroplex meet on Feb. 11 and might be out for the season.
Florida lost Savannah Schoenherr to a broken foot before the season began. This week, we found out it was a vicious staircase responsible for her injury.
Florida’s beam leadoff stalwart Leah Clapper has been out for the bulk of her Covid year as well. Morgan Hurd and Riley McCusker aren’t making lineups.
Several UCLA team members who were vital to lineups in prior seasons have been absent due to injury this year. Katie McNamara tore her ACL. Kalyany Steele made it back to the bars lineup post-injury, but the rest of this year’s seniors are not in the picture. We have not seen Frida Esparza, Sara Ulias or Brooklyn Moors this season.
Late-breaking Moors update:
LSU lost Kiya Johnson to an Achilles tear earlier in the season, a devastating blow, and had Bryce Wilson in concussion protocol for a few weeks. Fifth-year transfer Cammy Hall tore her Achilles and was out for the season before it started. Now they are facing meet weekend without Livvy Dunne (torn labra), Alyona Shchennikova (groin injury) and KJ Johnson (broken foot from too much celebrating victory over Florida). A team that rarely digs deeply into its roster will be forced to.
A look at the injury rosters on College Gym News shows that nearly every team in the NCAA is dealing with a mix of long- and short-term injuries right now, although some top teams like Oklahoma, Michigan and Cal are either very lucky this year in terms of long-term injuries or are actively doing something right to prevent them.
And it’s not just physical injury. This is also the time of year we’re most likely to see teams lose their mental game during a rotation, like Arkansas on beam last week, or Florida on vault and bars versus LSU. We have seen quite a few gymnasts — Florida’s Chloi Clark and Michigan’s Natalie Wojcik among them — discuss the importance of mental health preservation in the wake of wacky judging and critical takes by the peanut gallery.
Scores remain high and teams are setting program records left and right. Perfect 10s are handed out like candy. Some of that can be attributed to the aforementioned generous judging; others, like Boise State’s first-ever bars 10 for Emily Lopez or Jocelyn Moore’s long-awaited vault 10 for Missouri, are oases in the desert that is NCAA judging right now. But it’s hard not to notice that the gymnasts are not all right. And how teams handle this now will determine how they fare going into the postseason. Resting stars, like Auburn did last week with Suni Lee and Derrian Gobourne and UCLA did with Chae Campbell, may be key to a strong performance come April. But it’s something that teams like LSU and Florida have long struggled with, despite their strong respective rosters.
Now that National Qualifying Score (NQS) has entered the chat, I think we will start seeing some strategic moves this week among teams with postseason goals. But as we bid February adieu (or good riddance), let’s remember to raise up the gymnasts, not tear them down more than they already are.
Other gym news
This week calls for GIFs. The Balance Beam Situation has us.
Road to Nationals has our scores and our rankings.
The list of AAI Award nominees is out. The award is given annually and represents the coaches’ vote for the most outstanding senior NCAA female gymnast.
Denver’s Lynnzee Brown spoke to Scott Bregman at the Olympic Channel to discuss her storied NCAA career.
Sierra Brooks of Michigan wrote a fantastic blog about fan criticism of athletes.
And Brooks’ teammate Natalie Wojcik chimed in about yet another injustice Michigan gymnasts face this week:
SafeSport put coach Qi Han of Everest Gymnastics on temporary restrictions. Han has been investigated before by SafeSport after 2016 Olympic alternate Ashton Locklear came forward alleging abuse by him in 2017.
See also: Victoria Nguyen.
We also learned that Al Fong of GAGE has been under investigation by SafeSport for 40 (!) allegations of abuse.
Lilia Podkopayeva, 1996 Olympic all-around champion from Ukraine, donated winter gear and medical equipment to her home country. Two tons of it, in fact:
Rutgers coach Umme Salim-Beasley, interviewed here two weeks ago, signed a scoresheet in protest of “appalling” scores. Not the first time, either!
Social media post of the week
Grace McCallum maintaining a killer sense of humor around her hyperextended knee.
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