I do think Ashley will bounce back well from her not so great 2nd half of the season from last season. She did well at WTT and with a renewed focus and something to prove, I think she'll be really motivated to put her best foot forward. However, if she's going for that 3-3 things could turn out differently. If she's not secure with it yet, she may leave the door open for Mao...
Mao will be good but not 100% ready. I can't recall a time she ever started off the season in form. She's a slow burn kind of skater; she warms up as the season progresses so that by the time nationals rolls around in December, she starts to sizzle. I think she'll be solid here but with Ashley on home turf, it will be tough for her (Mao) to get the win. Then again, if Ashley starts off shaky which is a possibility b/c of the new element she's adding, Mao could come out on top.
Both of Elena's programs have impressed me. She does have a distinctly "fresh off the JGP" look about her (tiny, long and spindly) and her style and presentation are still on the juniorish side; however, girlfriend has spark, charisma and personality for days! She is amazingly expressive when she skates and is very good at drawing in an audience. Her jumps aren't of senior quality yet (speed, ride out, etc.) but on base value alone she'll put herself in the mix. She was a pretty solid skater last year but that often changes when juniors make the jump to senior (bigger stage, more pressure). Her test skates looked pretty solid though. I think she may be a wrench this season...go on and throw her in and watch her shake up the standings a bit.
I think Liza T is going to take some time to find her stride. Her program looks very underwhelming at this point...the judges may be sick of seeing the same thing from her. She's somewhat stagnant in her PCS. We all know seniority/reputation is what carries senior skaters over the juniors who often have harder content but less experience/maturity. Liza T's PCS aren't that good to begin with b/c of issues in her skating and her inconsistency doesn't help her case either. I don't think the judges would give her a leg up over Elena if Elena skated cleanly and Liza T didn't. Elena is fresh, energetic and cute as button with lively programs and lots of charisma to boot. If Liza T wants to be on that podium, she has to deliver.
Of course all of this can change in the blink of an eye. I have no idea what condition the ladies will be in come competition time but, purely on speculation, I think that's how it will play out.