While the Pac-12 Championships will be exciting for the battle between UCLA and Utah, tomorrow’s main event is really the SEC Championships. We have a great contest shaping up between Florida and Alabama, which I expect to be very close and will probably come down to a few tenths either way. Unfortunately, the draw has been revealed and Alabama ends on a bye, which takes some of the drama out of it, but try not to let that spoil things. Let’s just hope neither team has to count a fall.
Not to be totally overlooked, Georgia is also the “host” team, and it wouldn’t be inconceivable for them to challenge. However, in a realistic scenario, I don’t see them scoring higher than Florida or Alabama unless we do start counting falls. We could see both Alabama and Florida pushing the 49.500 territory on a few events, and Georgia just doesn’t have the scores throughout the lineup to be able to do that. They can very well go 197.300 this weekend, but I expect the winning total to be higher than that.
Another compelling story at the SEC Championships will be the likely fourth place battle between Arkansas and LSU. Arkansas’s performance will largely depend on whether Grable is available (and on how many events). Unlike some of the deeper teams, the Razorbacks don’t have 9.8s sitting in the wings to come in and replace Grable and Salsberg, so they have been counting a lot of falls and 9.7s the last few weeks. LSU won’t have to do that and will easily outscore a less than ideal Arkansas. In fact, if Georgia doesn’t hit exceptionally, they should watch their backs for LSU. The Tigers are peaking right on time.
In the Pac-12, even though Utah has an excellent chance of winning (and is probably the logical choice), UCLA is the better team if everyone hits to potential, but we don’t have that kind of clear difference between Alabama and Florida. If both teams hit to potential, it could still come down to a tenth, which is, of course, what will make tomorrow so much fun. I think I know which way I’m leaning, but let’s take a look at each event to help confirm the decision. (As with before, these are not official rankings and are instead based on my own opinions and perceptions.)
This is the event with the clearest difference between the top few teams. While Alabama usually gets a .050 boost per vault at home (See: Diandra Milliner’s 10), they’re still capable of at least four solid 9.900s, and I would consider anything less than a 49.500 tomorrow to be an underperformance based on the way the scoring has gone this season.
Florida is also obviously extremely adept on vault, and on paper they would appear to be able to hit right with Alabama (the lineup of Johnson, King, Dickerson, and Hunter is comparable to Sledge, Gutierrez, Stack-Eaton, and Milliner). However, Florida’s group hasn’t hit those 9.900s nearly as consistently, with far too many scores in the 9.8s coming from those late positions. Also, the leadoffs Spicer and Ellis are not as capable of sticking for an early big score as Clark/Williams/Priess are.
Vault is LSU’s best event, and they have a few 9.900 possibilities in that lineup, with Courville capable of 9.950. The consistency of 9.875 scores puts them just above Georgia in my opinion, since the Gym Dogs are too reliant on Hires and Ding, with everyone else likely to go around 9.825. Georgia has to get at least 9.850s from Couch and Earls if they are going to keep within a reasonable distance of the top two.
Florida is ranked #1 on bars, and they are certainly talented on the event, but this is a misleading ranking because 1) none of the teams are that great on bars this year, and 2) uneven bars at Florida has been the most overscored rotation in the country this year. Their scores will come down to Earth at SECs, and I expect Georgia to be able to catch them on the strength of Nuccio, Davis, and Ding, all of whom should go 9.900. Chelsea Davis has really found her form on this event, and Kat Ding’s prowess is well documented.
For another season, this is the event where I have the most question marks for Alabama. Stack-Eaton and Priess can score well (much like Georgia’s vault with Hires and Ding), but the likes of Demeo and Jacob are not cutting it for me at the beginning of the lineup. Ashley Sledge also needs to make sure the rest of her routine is worthy of the dismount. If Alabama can stay afloat with a 49.250 here, then they’ll probably be fine, but if we see some 9.775s early in the lineup, that could be a tough ask.
Arkansas doesn’t have the handstands to compete with the top teams on this event, but if Grable is back, I see them scoring acceptably. Auburn, too, has some solid 9.850-9.875s in that bars lineup, so I have them in sixth, but not by a great deal. They could certainly outscore LSU, but I give the edge there to LSU because of Sarie Morrison’s scoring ability.
I’m being kind of hypocritical in this ranking because I have been distrustful of Florida retaining the same beam lineup all season. (What if someone gets injured? No one else has competition preparation.) And yet, I’m giving them the #1 spot on beam because their lineup has been more stable than Alabama’s. For Alabama, I have questions revolving around the name of this blog. What’s the Milliner/Gutierrez situation. Is Kayla Williams in for good? They have big scoring potential, but I don’t have as much trust in the lineup.
Georgia has been fine on this event, and they have a consistent lineup, but Worley is the only one I really see putting up a high score. The rest of them will just be expected to be solid. For Arkansas, Grable is the centerpiece of the lineup, so without her it’s just Jamie Pisani and a whole bunch of 9.7s, which won’t cut it. LSU is similar and could outscore Arkansas, but it will be close. This event could decide their placement.
Ah, what to do about floor? I went back and forth on this one. Florida has certainly had an inconsistent showing on floor this season with a few too many OOBs and missed landings sprinkled in, but they have five people in the lineup capable on scoring 9.900, and I’m not sure that Alabama does. Alabama has some great gymnastics at the end of the lineup, but there’s also the Lora Leigh Frost question (she’s not as impressive a 2nd as Stageberg), and the issue with Ashley Sledge doing two layouts as a middle pass. Judges are less likely to be impressed by Alabama than they are Florida.
Georgia has really improved on floor since the disastrous beginning of the season, but they’re too reliant on being able to tape Nuccio together to get a big score, and Mariel Box isn’t really quite at the level needed to score well in the postseason.
I’m actually surprised I ended up putting Florida above Alabama on three events. So, I suppose that answers the question for me unless Alabama racks up a giant lead because of vault. I’m going with Florida to win. Georgia also looks primed for a #3 finish as expected. In fact, one of the most interesting stories may end up being the fight for 4th and 5th (if you’re like me and think that things like which team finishes 5th at SECs is interesting).
Florida starts on beam tomorrow, so we’ll know right away whether last year’s demons really have been exorcised or whether they were just on a low simmer. If Florida hits beam for something like 49.300 or above, they should cruise through the rest of the events, but if it’s a wobble factory or there’s a fall, look to Alabama to be the sturdier team.