2019 is here, and so is the NCAA gymnastics season! Many NCAA teams begin their seasons this weekend, and FloGymnastics is bringing live coverage of the Cancun Classic, where Iowa State, Michigan, Rutgers, and West Virginia will open their seasons January 4. Not only is it the first meet of the season for these four teams, but there are other stories to follow for each team as they compete in Mexico.
1. Olivia Karas' return to competition
Michigan senior Olivia Karas hasn't competed in an official meet since February when she suffered a season-ending injury at Maryland. Prior to her injury, Karas was one of the Wolverines' top gymnasts on every event. She has a career high of 9.900+ on every event and has an all-around career high of 39.625.
At Michigan's preseason exhibition, Karas competed vault, bars, and beam and earned 9.800+ scores on vault and bars but faltered a bit on beam for just a 9.600. The Cancun Classic presents Karas with her first opportunity to officially compete since her injury and improve on her routines from the Wolverines' preseason exhibition. She has been stellar for Michigan in the past, but only time will tell when she can return to her pre-injury gymnastics.
2. Iowa State's large freshman class
The 2019 Cyclone women's gymnastics roster consists of 20 gymnasts, almost half of whom are freshmen. With nine freshmen, the Cyclones will surely rely on many newcomers this season. It takes time to transition from club to NCAA gymnastics, so it will be interesting to see how many freshmen make the Iowa State lineups and how they do in their NCAA debuts.
3. Umme Salim-Beasley's debut as Rutgers head coach
Many NCAA coaching changes have happened in the past two seasons, including former Temple head coach Umme Salim-Beasley taking over the reins at Rutgers starting this season. Salim-Beasley was an assistant coach for the Scarlet Knights from 2012-2015, so she may have some familiarity with the program and some of the gymnasts. However, for the past three years, she helped the Temple women's gymnastics team make history, including setting a program-high RQS and resetting the school record team score twice.
Since joining the Big Ten in 2014-2015, Rutgers hasn't been able to finish higher than ninth out of 10 teams. But under her leadership, she hopes to elevate the program.
“Everything that we're doing with the program now is nothing like what I was a part of when I was an assistant coach," she said. "So we really are bringing something fresh and new to this team that they've never experienced before.”
The Cancun Classic is the first opportunity for the Scarlet Knights to show that they are a new, different, and better team and program than before.
4. West Virginia's increased difficulty on floor
According to Mountaineers assistant coach Kaylyn Millick, they've "upped (their) difficulty for the 2019 season," including multiple E passes. Floor was West Virginia's second-best event last season, finishing at No. 28. With harder routines, the Mountaineers have the potential to score higher, compare to higher ranked teams, and improve their overall ranking on the event. But what also comes with higher difficulty is risk. Will the E passes be worth the risk, or will it end up hurting their execution and scores?
5. Big Ten preview
Two of the teams competing at the Cancun Classic are Big Ten schools. Michigan and Rutgers will meet directly at least two times this season, first at the Cancun Classic and in late February at Elevate the Stage Toledo. The Michigan Wolverines are the reigning Big Ten champions, and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights finished ninth at the 2018 Big Ten Championships. So this meet can offer a perspective of the entire range of gymnastics from the Big Ten, which is the largest gymnastics conference with 10 teams.