The NCAA women's gymnastics season kicks off on Friday, Jan. 6, and one of the first competitions of the year is an exciting Southeastern Conference matchup between second-ranked LSU and No. 9 Georgia in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Both teams will be looking to build upon their success from 2016, when LSU finished second at the Super Six and Georgia finished sixth.
Although it's difficult to speculate on lineups before the season has started, we've pointed out a few key gymnasts to watch for on each event during this season opener.
The 10.0 Vaults
Following the downgrade of the Yurchenko full last year, many teams have been working to add 10.0 start-value vaults to their lineups. LSU ranked No. 1 on vault last season and could potentially have even more 10.0 vaults this year. Senior Ashleigh Gnat will continue to compete the double-twisting Yurchenko, a vault she scored a perfect 10.0 on twice last season. We will also likely see the Yurchenko 1 1/2 from freshman Kennedi Edney, senior Sydney Ewing, and junior Myia Hambrick. Hambrick competed the full last year but has been training the 1 1/2. At Gym 101 in December, she competed the full and landed with a perfect score. Check out a video from a fall intrasquad, in which she was training the 1 1/2:
Georgia was not far behind LSU last season on vault -- UGA was tied for the No. 3 spot in the country. Georgia will need to replace two key vaults this season from Brittany Rogers and Brandie Jay, both of whom competed the Yurchenko 1 1/2. Top Gymdog vaulters to watch for in the season opener are junior GiGi Marino, who is continuing to train the Yurchenko 1 1/2, as well as sophomore Sydney Snead, who has been training the 1 1/2 as a new vault this year.
An Olympian on Bars
Bars was not the strongest event for either team last season. LSU ranked No. 5 and Georgia ranked No. 9 on the event. The GymDogs have shown some impressive routines in training, and we will likely see junior Natalie Vaculik and Snead return to the lineup this year and potentially the addition of freshman Jordyn Pederson. Snead has the ability to score highly on bars with hit handstands and stuck dismounts. Check out her routine from fall training:
LSU's most anticipated addition to the bar lineup is freshman and Olympian Ruby Harrold, who will compete a unique and difficult routine. We can also expect to see returns from Hambrick, sophomores Sarah Finnegan and Lexie Priessman, and senior Shae Zamardi. It's possible that Edney could make the lineup also as well as Gnat if she competes all-around.
Staying Solid on Beam
Georgia struggled early on beam last season but improved dramatically by Super Six and had the fourth highest team score at the meet. Returning to the lineup this year, we'll likely see Vivi Babalis, Ashlyn Broussard and Vaculik, who have all looked impressive in training. Check out Broussard's super solid beam work from fall training:
Breaking into the lineup, we may see Snead, who has been training high difficulty on beam, including a triple series and a front tuck. Also watch for freshman Sabrina Vega, who was always beautiful on beam in her elite days.
LSU have not lost any gymnasts from its previous beam lineup, and it will be interesting to see which gymnasts compete on Friday. Finnegan will be one to watch on this event with her high difficulty and solid composure. We may also see a routine from Priessman, who has been training to hopefully compete all-around this season.
'E' Tumbling on Floor
Both LSU and Georgia pack in the difficulty on floor, and we can expect no different this season. LSU was ranked No. 2 on floor last year, and much of the Tigers' lineup has returned for 2017. Look out for Gnat, who scored a perfect 10 on this event four times last season. Check out her routine from the recent Gym 101 in December:
Video via NCAA Gymnastics
For Georgia, the GymDogs will be looking forward to having Marino -- one of their top competitors on floor -- back in the lineup. Also look out for Vega, who has looked impressive in training and may break into the rotation.
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Top Five NCAA Bar Swingers to Watch in 2017
Top Five NCAA Beam Workers to Watch in 2017
Senior Spotlight: LSU's Ashleigh Gnat