Our third Regional will take place at the University of Arkansas at 5:00 ET / 2:00 PT on Saturday and will feature  UCLA,  Arkansas,  Boise State,  Missouri,  New Hampshire, and  Maryland.
Like Florida and Oklahoma, the UCLA Bruins are the clear favorite to win this Regional, and I expect them to have little trouble advancing here. Aside from the general narrative that UCLA teams peak beginning at Regionals, this UCLA team is much more secure across the apparatuses than some of the recent teams, which is the primary consideration for a top team advancing to Nationals. A great performance isn’t really necessary, as we saw at Pac-12s. This team had disasters from Peszek on bars and Courtney on beam and did not succumb to having to count a low score and didn’t let it deflate the overall performance (which was adequate but lackluster both before and after the falls). At this point, UCLA is a near guarantee for a 49.450+ on vault, and so a parade of 9.850s on the other events is all they’ll need to secure a top two finish.
As is always the case with UCLA teams, even though it is April, I still have multiple questions about the lineups. One of the major questions regards Kaelie Baer and where she fits in. She’s been the leadoff on vault all season, but in my mind the best vault lineup would be Hopfner-Hibbs, Larson, Peszek, Courtney, Frattone, and Zamarripa. So, does Val make the change or keep Baer in that position? Also, Courtney was put into Baer’s spot on beam at Pac-12s but had a disaster, so does Baer get the spot back? To me, it’s a question of attitude. Baer is perhaps the safer choice but doesn’t have a huge scoring potential.
We’ve become so used to talking about beam when it comes to UCLA, but I actually have confidence in the primary five to hit and avoid counting a fall. In evaluating the prospects for Nationals, the most tenuous apparatus for the Bruins is bars. This year should have been an improvement on that event, but with Wong’s injury and Whitcomb’s injury/handstands/disappearance, we’ve seen little progress at all. No one has been great so far, and this group is too capable of slogging along for 9.825s, which is fine for now but won’t be in Duluth. This dismounts in particular need to come together because many were not even close to sticking at Pac-12s.
Arkansas reached #1 for one week this season, but they have been wholly out of form ever since the injury to Katherine Grable. What was once a legitimate high-196s team now hasn’t broken 196.500 since February 3rd. I do expect to see Grable back on bars and beam for Saturday, which should help avoid some of the weak routines we’ve been seeing, but it may not be enough to make Arkansas secure in this second position.
The biggest problem rotation for the Razorbacks right now, and throughout the season really, is floor. Even ignoring from the profound catastrophe of a rotation at SECs, this team has struggled to find six gymnasts who can go on this apparatus since January. Because of this, the Cooks may feel pressure to get Grable back into the floor lineup for this weekend, but she can’t have had very many numbers at all, so it may not be possible. Arkansas will be starting on floor again at Regionals, so we will know right away whether they are truly able advance or whether Boise State has some hope.
Last year, many people gave Boise State a shot to advance over Arkansas at Regionals (though it ended up being Florida that they gave the biggest scare to). This year, the Broncos don’t have quite the same scoring potential across all the events (floor in particular has been an issue), so since the competition is taking place in Fayetteville, I think they will need some mistakes from Arkansas in order to advance. Now, the difference between the two teams is close enough that those mistakes don’t need to be falls. A few too many 9.7s from Arkansas in the first three positions should be enough to make this close. Fortunately, both teams will be on the competition floor for the final rotation, so let’s hope it stays close the whole way to give us an exciting ending.
If Arkansas goes 49.300 on floor to start, expect them to take it, but anything less than that will give Boise State a chance. The Broncos must get a few 9.900s from Glass and Potvin-Green, and they need everyone in that beam rotation to go at least 9.750. The 9.675-9.725s that we’ve been seeing too often are not acceptable at Regionals. Potvin-Green has been putting up humongous AA performances the last few weeks, and she will have have the unenviable duty of needing to match Pisani to keep Boise State close.
Let’s also not overlook Missouri, as the Tigers have been peaking in March and proving a capability to go over 196 consistently. I’m not sure I see them challenging if this is a clean competition because they don’t have the 9.9s that the top three teams do, but they do have enough 9.850s later in lineups to make up for some lower scores starting off. Missouri made Nationals in 2010 on the strength of Sarah Shire and some home scoring, but they don’t have that AA force (like Pisani or Potvin-Green) to lift the rest of the group this year. However, they should hang around enough to pester the other teams and give us something interesting to watch throughout the meet. We won’t be ignoring them the way we will some other #4 seeds.
On a good day, New Hampshire can go into the mid-195s, and they have some competitive individual routines but no one who can deliver a big score on more than one event. Expect to see a bunch of 9.725-9.750 routines with a 9.800-9.850 or two anchoring the rotations. The season-high score for UNH is 195.800, so meeting that at a Regional would be a victory.
Maryland posted their best score by far at the conference championships by getting some huge numbers on floor, but I don’t expect that to continue or be enough to contend at Regionals. Like New Hampshire, a score in the mid-195s for Maryland would be a nice result and would show that they can compete with some of the higher-ranked teams. It can be harder for the lower-seeded teams to get high scores at Regionals because they are directly compared with some of the best teams in the country, so staying afloat is a positive outcome.