Our fourth Regional up for debate will be hosted by the University of Washington at 7:00 ET / 4:00 PT on Saturday and features  Alabama,  LSU,  Arizona,  Washington,  Iowa, and  Central Michigan.
Not to sound too repetitive, but like the other top seeds previewed so far (we’ll have a bit more discussion for the final two Regionals), I don’t see Alabama having any trouble at all taking first place at this Regional. One of the biggest issues for Alabama toward the end of the season has been establishing the best beam and floor lineups, but while the team certainly struggled on beam at SECs, I do think the lineup that competed was the correct choice. Gutierrez and Sledge have the potential for fine routines, but they have not proven the reliability that some of the others have. Milliner is still a bit of a question, and I would like to see Jacob regain some of her form from last postseason, but this is the best of the available options. At any rate, I don’t expect Alabama to have a fall at Regionals, so they’re fine.
The biggest factor in determining Alabama’s success likely will not be a single event but will be their ability to stick landings across four events. Alabama should always be neck and neck with UCLA for the top score on vault, but they haven’t stuck well in weeks. Now, they recently got a 49.475 at home, but if you watch the vaults, there were way too many tenths given away on landings. Similarly, the first three bar workers are not standouts and will incur definite deductions on handstands (Demeo’s half turn is just asking for it, and I question the routine composition for that reason), so stuck landings are a must. I don’t see any of the first three going above a 9.800 without a stick.
The other major key for Alabama is Geralen Stack-Eaton. This team is very reliant on its seniors and will not be successful if both don’t have a great meet at the same time. At Nationals, Stack-Eaton should be in the running for the AA title because she can go 9.900 on every event, but the team cannot afford her to have any stinker routines like she did at SECs. Those routines (along with Priess on beam) were the difference between first and second. If Stack-Eaton isn’t getting 9.9s, then who is?
I don’t mean to completely discount Arizona and Washington as teams, but do we really see them contending for the second qualification spot? I don’t. Of course, that will probably ensure that it happens as I have a really horrible history with predictions, but given recent performances and the cushy nature of this Regional, I think LSU has to feel pretty secure that about finishing second here.
Of all of teams, LSU is the most improved this year. 2011 was a complete disaster where they often struggled to break 195. Last year, a 49 was a great rotation, and this year it is an expectation. The antics of vault judge #2 at SECs not withstanding (poor judge #2, I’ve harped on her so much, but still . . .), LSU can earn huge numbers on vault and compete with nearly every other team. They are under-ranked at #6 on this event. They should be more like 3rd-4th.
One concern for LSU, though, is consistency. They are often accepting one fall on bars and beam, and while they haven’t had to actually count a fall in a while, that’s not a sustainable trend. Early lineup falls and 9.750s are no longer acceptable if they want to do anything other than make up the numbers at Nationals. Without some of those scores at the beginning of bars and floor at SECs, they would have challenged Alabama for a surprise second place. They really are just a few 9.850s away from being a top team, and while they don’t have the gymnasts to get there this year, there is hope for many future top 10 seasons.
The Near Contenders:
Arizona and Washington are very similar teams, but Washington’s frequent falls primarily account for the difference in ranking. At Pac-12s, Washington hit one beam routine higher than a 9.600 (and that 9.600 was when Whitney got a 9.900 from one judge and a 9.350 from another – how are we OK with that?). Arizona has been much more consistent, and I expect the Wildcats to hit for a mid-195 like they do most weeks. Like many #3 seeds this year, Arizona has some standout performers in Cristello, Matusik, and Quirk, but there’s not really anyone else on the team who can deliver more than a 9.800 with any level of consistency.
Washington has strong routines thrown in here and there, not so much from a couple standout AAers but from a wider range of specialists who can bring in periodic 9.850-9.875s. If Arizona finishes third at this meet, it will be on the strength of those AAers, but if Washington finishes third it will be on the strength of a consistent team-wide 9.800 effort. The other focus for Arizona will be trying to qualify individuals to Nationals, as Cristello and Quirk could be our AA qualifiers from this region.
Iowa was hanging around the same ranking as Washington for much of the beginning of the season, so I was a bit surprised to see them slip. A lot of that has to do with teams like Arizona and Washington being capable of going over 196 on a really strong day, while Iowa probably peaks out in the high 195s, which they did achieve a couple times. Jessa Hansen is the standout AAer for Iowa in that she can get 9.800 on every event, but it will be difficult for her to take one of the AA spots. However, give Iowa a shot at finishing 3rd at this Regional. They have just as much of a shot as the two above.
Central Michigan just edged out BYU for the final Regional qualification spot. Surely the goal for the season was to make Regionals, so mission accomplished, though this has been a weaker year than some we’ve seen recently. There’s an outside chance that Teubner could take an individual spot, but mostly it will be about trying to stay close and manage a 49 rotation, which they did not do last year at Regionals.