(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
WCSN’s gymnastics coverage team took a look back on ASU’s 2016 season and each reporter gave his or her opinions on the status of the program and what to look for in this weekend’s Pac-12 Championships.
Who has been the biggest bright spot for ASU this season?
TYLER PALEY: It has to be Taylor Allex. She was the best gymnast on this team last year and got even better this year. Allex set a career high on floor with a 9.950 against Cal and ended up tying her career high on vault with a 9.900 on more than one occasion. She was visibly a leader on a Gym Devils team that often appeared not to have much solid leadership. Allex’s impact on this struggling ASU team was felt in more ways than one.
JOSEPH CONSTANTIN: The biggest bright spot for ASU this season has been Taylor Allex. She has built off what she did last year, and proved to be ASU’s best gymnast in what was a great senior year for her, setting new career highs in vault and floor.
MADELINE WITT: Senior Taylor Allex has been the biggest bright spot for ASU this season. She consistently set new career highs and posted high scores for the Gym Devils all season.
GABRIELLE MERCER: Taylor Allex to me is the team’s best gymnast. She is always able to get those scores that the team needs in order to even remotely keep up with other Pac-12 teams.
What has been the biggest concern all season?
TP: It’s hard to narrow it down to just one. From the outside, the answer is obviously injuries. Freshmen Morgan Wilson and Eileen Imbus both went down with season-ending injuries towards the middle of the year, and Katelyn Lentz, who at one point was a consistent all-around competitor, was relegated to just one event in the team’s final three meets because of an injury. Another concern is roster changes, with Kristine Levin leaving the team mid-season and three Gym Devils from 2015 who were expected to return not coming back. Finally, the status of Rene Lyst is problematic. While Sun Devil Athletics has only said Lyst’s indefinite administrative leave is due to an HR/personnel issue, the absence of any head coach can cause issues that are detrimental to the team, especially with the status of her job up in the air. It is unknown whether Lyst will return to her role at the Pac-12 Championships this weekend, or at all.
JC: The biggest concern for ASU all season was its inability to improve on bars. Time and time again ASU failed to convert on the apparatus and suffered multiple falls in more than one meet. When a team has an entire event that it consistently fails on, that’s alarming and something that needs to be addressed.
MW: Consistency. ASU had a problem with consistency all season, including falls on the uneven bars and wobbles on the beam, ultimately resulting in low scores and losses.
GM: The biggest concern for the team this season has been its level of talent and how they match up against the rest of the Pac-12. If the Sun Devils don’t have the talent that we are consistently seeing from teams like Utah and UCLA, they don’t stand a chance in the championship.
Which freshman this year has the most potential in years to come?
TP: If you had asked me at the beginning of the season, it would have been hands down Katelyn Lentz. But, the performances that Heather Udowitch had over the final few meets has proven that she is the real deal. She started on bars and progressed to be an all-around competitor – and a solid one at that. If she can stay healthy and stays the course with this rebuilding ASU team, she has the potential to be one of the top gymnasts in the conference by her junior or senior year.
JC: The freshman with the most potential is Corinne Belkoff. She showed continuous improvement throughout the year, most notably in the all around. She is going to be someone to watch as she will presumably take over the all around competition spot of senior Allie Salas next year.
MW: I think Katelyn Lentz has the most potential in the years to come. She came into the meets and immediately was anchoring in at least one event while competing in the all-around. I think as long as she stays healthy, she will continue to improve and will be one to watch.
GM: Heather Udowitch has been consistent all season. She is constantly putting up some of the higher numbers for the team and proves to be a big asset for the Sun Devils. I believe she’s only going to continue to improve over the next four years and continue to be a valuable gymnast.
This is the second straight year ASU has finished last in the Pac-12 regular season. Will the Gym Devils finish at the bottom at this year’s championships?
TP: Yes. There’s simply not enough depth or talent on this ASU team to compete with the powerhouses like Utah, UCLA or Cal. The Gym Devils did not defeat any Pac-12 team all season and their RQS is more than two full points below Arizona, who currently sit right above ASU in the conference. Arizona State will likely not be able to send up six gymnasts for at least one event on Saturday because of the team’s lack of healthy athletes. Some members of this team have potential in future seasons, but as of now, ASU is the worst team in the conference.
JC: No. Although the Gym Devils finished last in the Pac-12 regular season this year, I believe they will not finish last at the championships. I think they will pull together one of their best meets of the year driven behind the three seniors who will be competing for the last time. ASU will place sixth in Seattle this weekend.
MW: Yes. I predict the Gym Devils will come in last again this year. ASU is a young team in the rebuilding stages and finished the season 1-11. Along with that the Sun Devils have been plagued with injuries all season and are now entering the championships without head coach Rene Lyst.
GM: ASU has a very strong chance of coming out of the bottom again this season. The team just does not have the talent that most all of the other Pac-12 teams have. Until the Sun Devils get performers who can put up scores in the high nines, they will continue to be in the bottom of the Pac-12.
What is a bold prediction for the Sun Devils to conclude this year?
TP: Best case scenario, the Gym Devils step up in Seattle and beat Arizona to come in seventh out of the eight competing teams. Additionally, Taylor Allex could get a regional bid on vault and/or floor.
JC: With head coach Rene Lyst on administrative leave indefinitely, it’s hard to say what the Sun Devils are going to see with the season coming to an end. I believe we will not see Lyst return to the helm of the Gym Devils and athletic director Ray Anderson will look to find a coach who can get the Sun Devils moving up in the Pac-12 rankings. I boldly predict that Taylor Allex will get an invite to participate in an NCAA regional meet, and with an outstanding performance there, qualify for the NCAA Championships in Fort Worth in April.
MW: If they’re lucky and put on the performances of their lives, the Gym Devils could walk out of Alaska Airlines Arena having come in fifth place. It’s extremely unlikely, but maybe this is the meet ASU has been waiting for all season long.
GM: Best case scenario for the Sun Devils, if they do come in last, is to at least closely trail behind the other teams. They have a chance to show they have what it takes to keep up with these teams, just not necessarily to beat them. So the most important aspect for the Devils right now is to just stay afloat and try not lose their momentum.