Pac-12 Championships Preview

This year, the Pac-12 will be our guinea pig conference (along with the Big 10) for the eight-team, two-session championship format. I’m very much in favor of this format because it gets rid of those insufferable byes and allows us to pay less attention to, for instance, the first session because it will be going on at the same time as SECs. Not everyone loves this format. Jay Clark would prefer a two-day format similar to National Championships. That seems entirely unnecessary and exhausting.

In the Pac-12 this year, the winner will most likely be Utah or UCLA. Oregon State has an outside chance to repeat, but I think they will need some counting falls for that to happen. If everyone hits, then the winner will start with a U. Which U it will be is anyone’s guess right now, which will make for a fun duel coming down to the final rotation (with no byes!).

And yet, picking how the teams will stack up is a tough prospect, so let’s look at what we have, event by event. On event rankings, I’m not going by the actual rankings, just my own perceptions of quality and potential.

Vault:

1. UCLA
2. Utah
3. Stanford
4. Oregon State
5. Arizona
6. Washington
7. Arizona State
8. Cal


This is the easy one. UCLA has the big edge over the other teams in the conference and will need to ride an advantage on this event if they are to take the title. Tauny Frattone is coming off a 10 on senior day, but she can usually go 9.925-9.950 under normal circumstances with a stick, which she has been doing the last few weeks. Frattone is also in an advantageous position since UCLA directly follows Utah on vault. If the judges go big for a Robarts stick on the Omelianchik, they have to do the same for a Frattone stick. UCLA also sports Olivia Courtney, who has the amplitude and distance to score 9.9 for a non-stick, and Vanessa Zamarripa, who has been vaulting poorly for 9.9s for weeks now. If she actually finds her landing, the score will be huge.

In addition to the aforementioned Robarts, Utah also has clean vaults Kailah Delaney and Georgia Dabritz that can go 9.900. This will be enough to keep them ahead of any of the rest of the teams, but the earlier workers don’t quite have the dynamics to challenge UCLA. Peszek and Larson will very likely outscore Lothrop and McAllister. Utah will probably top out around 49.400 on a good day, while that would be a weak score for UCLA.

Down the list, there’s not so much impressive vaulting. I put Oregon State below Stanford because OSU just doesn’t have much amplitude on this event, and Ivana Hong is really starting to find her form on the FTY for Stanford, which could make the difference. It’s close between the two, though.

Uneven Bars:

1. Oregon State
2. UCLA
3. Utah
4. Stanford
5. Washington
6. Arizona
7. Oregon State
8. Cal


This is a much tougher event. One of the reasons Oregon State has stagnated in scoring is an inability to display their tremendous talent on bars. Stambaugh, Mak, and Vivian are joys to watch on this event and should each be going at least 9.875 every week, so perhaps I’m ranking Oregon State first based on potential. Still, none of the other teams have shown enough to warrant being ranked higher. UCLA has Zamarripa and Gerber with lovely performances (and De La Torre when she’s on, which is mostly never), but the rest of the lineup is mostly workmanlike 9.850 gymnastics.

Utah has Dabritz, but other than that it’s nothing that is going to warrant many forays into 9.9 land. Beers and Hansen scored well against Florida, but my skepticism meter is still extremely high about those lineup choices. I put Hailee Hansen in the same category as Becca Alexin, and I don’t have confidence in the consistency of either. With Stanford’s roster, they should be better than fourth in the conference on bars, but is anyone other than Pechanec delivering? Ashley Morgan is not the answer on bars.

A bit rotation here is a must for Oregon State to keep pace, while UCLA and Utah will be trying to get through the event. 49.300 would be a fine score for either.

Balance Beam:
1. UCLA
2. Utah
3. Oregon State
4. Stanford
5. Arizona
6. Washington
7. Arizona State
8. Cal

Beam is difficult because it’s the most fickle with its emotions. My feeling about UCLA v. Utah on this event is that UCLA has the much larger potential and is more pleasant to watch. Gerber, Larson, and Zamarripa are so precise and elegant, and Hopfner-Hibbs and Peszek are rock solid. If those five hit to potential, I fully expect UCLA to win the event by a sizable margin. However, it’s UCLA and beam, so . . .

Utah has Corrie Lothrop performing very well, but otherwise there are too many 9.7s in this lineup every week. (Meaning there are scores in the 9.7s. One is too many.) They do seem like they have an order that is working now, though. I wasn’t happy with Lopez in that leadoff position.

Frankly, I’m surprised that Oregon State has kept it together as well as they have on beam this season, but nearly everyone except Mak is a 9.800-type gymnast, so it’s not enough to contend without falls from the others.

Floor Exercise:
1. Utah
2. UCLA
3. Oregon State
4. Arizona
5. Stanford
6. Arizona State
7. Washington
8. Cal

For as much as I usually just put UCLA as default #1 on floor due to attention to performance quality, I have absolutely no confidence in that lineup this year. Is Monique De La Torre really top 6 on this event? Mattie Larson is out of the lineup due to inconsistency, Hopfner-Hibbs has to mount with a double tuck because of her ankle, and Zamarripa still has to water down. It’s just not happening. They have to be pristine to keep pace.

Utah has scored very well at home on floor, and I expect that to continue here, though they will not be able to contend with Alabama and Florida once we arrive at Nationals. What I’ve seen from Stanford this year on floor has been harrowing, so I put them below Arizona. Both of the Arizona schools have the potential to put up pretty strong numbers on this event to counteract some other sub-49 scores.

So, making these rankings has convinced me that I’m favoring UCLA to win the title. That may be misguided because Utah has a lot of things in their favor: home gym, home crowd, and Olympic order. Still, I think UCLA has more depth (the 3rd and 4th routines have higher scoring potential overall) and more nationally competitive routines throughout the lineup. It will be very close, certainly, but I see UCLA taking it with both teams going over 197.500.

As for the AA, I’d like to see it go to either Zamarripa or Mak, both of whom are certainly capable of it, but the safer and more realistic choices are probably Peszek and Lothrop, who can 9.875 the meet all the way to a 49.500-49.550.

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