Regionals in Review

Before we get to reviewing the action from Regionals, let’s take a look at our sessions for Nationals, which were announced officially today.

Afternoon Session:
[2] UCLA
[3] Oklahoma
[6] Nebraska
[7] Utah
[10] Stanford
[11] LSU

Evening Session:
[1] Florida
[4] Alabama
[5] Georgia
[8] Arkansas
[9] Oregon State
[12] Ohio State

This marks the third straight year that UCLA has found itself in the early session and the third straight year Florida and Alabama have been in the evening session. Some variety would be nice, but the time of the sessions is largely irrelevant. The only notable thing the draw would influence is the AA title, but I don’t think there’s much evidence to support the claim that the later session has a statistical AA advantage. It doesn’t matter. The teams in the early session will be sure to emphasize that they like this placement because it gives them more time to rest before Super Six, but I expect any team to be able to handle either session.

The afternoon session is a bit deeper in that it does not have three clear favorites, but I don’t think UCLA or Oklahoma should be that concerned by the draw. Both teams had some struggles at Regionals and still went over 197, and it’s unlikely that we will see teams fail to advance to Super Six while scoring a 197 in the Semifinals. I will do a series of Nationals previews over the next two weeks and will get into this in much more detail then.

For now, let’s talk about the weekend’s action from Regionals.

When there is so much going on at the same time, it is often difficult to digest exactly what’s happening and make evaluations based on it. Now that some time has passed, the situation we saw play out at Regionals becomes a bit clearer.

To start, no one was that amazing. We some some great individual rotations and a few teams excel on most events, but no one earned the title of Nationals Favorite based on the performances from Regionals, which makes the Nationals picture even more interesting. Nearly all the best teams scored in the low 197s, and nearly all of them are capable of so much more. Let’s take a moment to break down what we saw. I would normally add videos to illustrate the action, but we don’t have a ton of individual performances online yet, so enjoy some endless text!

Top Qualifier:
We’ve had a tumultuous season thus far that has seen many teams claim the mantle of title contender, whether realistic or not, but Florida has always been the odds-on favorite (with a peaking asterisk). Nothing changed after Regionals. The Gators were not phenomenal, especially on beam where we saw some seriously tentative gymnastics from the freshmen, but there were enough improvements from SECs for anyone to be optimistic about Florida’s chances. They proved they are still on an upward trajectory. Vault in particular was the best it has been all season in terms of containing landings. Kiersten Wang stepping in for Ellis was a completely different gymnast than we saw in January. At times this season vault was lagging behind, but that rotation at Regionals proved that they can compete with UCLA on this event (I hesitate to retain Alabama in that same category, and we’ll get to that soon).

We know Florida can win the National Championship, but they have to continue on this same path. The landings still need to improve (on vault King and Hunter can do better and they still scored 49.550, and there were two OOBs on floor), and I have some concerns about Rachel Spicer in that second position on beam. The performance from Regionals will not win Nationals in its own right, but no other team proved more capable.

Heir to the Throne:
The UCLA Bruins posted the second-highest score from Regionals, and that’s cause for the same kind of optimism that Florida fans should have because UCLA was not so awesome for large periods of that meet and still came out of it with a comfortable score. They performed one of their best floor rotations of the season, but every other event had problems. That probably should be a concern because we have yet to see amazing gymnastics from this team, but this is UCLA. More than any other team, UCLA doesn’t need precedent to pull out a great performance. Only one vaulter performed up to capability at Regionals, and they still scored a 49.450. If Frattone and Zamarripa hit well, that’s a 49.600 rotation. Also encouraging for UCLA is that the most crucial unexpectedly low scores came from Aisha Gerber,   a solid senior without a history of mental collapse, so I wouldn’t bet on that becoming a trend.

The true concern for the Bruins coming off Regionals is the bars. It’s not a concern solely because of De La Torre’s fall (though she needs to be going 9.850). It’s a concern because there is a lot of just OK gymnastics. Larson incurs way too many deductions for her talent level, and Gerber cannot have a January-type landing at this point in the season. As it stands, this team probably tops out at 49.200-49.250 on a good day. That’s not a National Championship kind of rotation. They have to stick every landing to squeeze as much as possible from bars, and I’m not sure that’s going to happen.

Also Contenders, But . . .
Oklahoma and Alabama have been right in the mix all season, but the Regionals performances for both of these teams give me a few more reasons to be concerned than I have for Florida or UCLA. Oklahoma managed well enough at Regionals, especially with a makeshift lineup after the injuries to Nowak and then Ward. Beam was excellent and they scored better on floor than I expected, which should be encouraging. Like UCLA, they had some lackluster performances on bars, but the biggest red flag was the weakness on vault because vault is the highest scoring event nationally. Even if UCLA has a bad bar rotation, or Florida has a wobbly beam, they are both going to drop only a couple tenths on the better performing teams, but Oklahoma could legitimately face a four or five tenth deficit just because of vault, which could be too great to overcome.

I’m very surprised by the weaknesses I saw from Alabama at Regionals, and even more surprised that they have become a trend. Of all the top teams, Alabama showed some of the weakest, least contained landings, which absolutely should not be happening. Alabama traditionally survives on the kind of solidity we haven’t seen for weeks. The way they landed on vault and floor reminded me of a team that is too injured to try to stick. Now, I don’t think that’s really the case for Alabama, but that’s what it looked like, which is a problem. For a bunch of weeks in a row now, they have not landed their vaults effectively, and there were multiple mistakes on tumbling passes at Regionals. Unless something changes, this is a third-fourth place team.

Look Who’s Still Here:
Georgia isn’t going anywhere, which is fascinating. On paper, they should not be as competitive as it appears they are. I made the comment in the Regionals preview that Noel Couch would not be getting 9.9s in the postseason, but she got two of them at Regionals, so up is down and I don’t know what to think. Could it happen at Nationals? Maybe, I guess.

Georgia had their best floor rotation of the season, and were a Shayla-ed beam routine away from being right with UCLA. The problem for the Gymdogs is that, of the top five scoring teams, they performed closest to their best gymnastics. On a day like we saw on Saturday, they will appear nationally competitive, but they don’t have the depth of high-scoring routines throughout the lineups to keep pace with a Florida or UCLA if those teams have a great day.

Note that Tanella did not compete at Regionals, and I didn’t even notice for a long time. Persinger is a better choice because she has gained consistency and has the NCAA equivalent of “international look,” which even though Martha invented it, is still a thing in NCAA, especially at Nationals. Jay also completely broke with his coaching precedent by adding Cheek into the vault lineup at Regionals. He doesn’t usually like to make changes that late in the season, so I was glad to see it in him. One of my complaints about Jay is that he has seemed far too set in his ways for being a new head coach, so his trying new things is excellent to see.

Falling . . .
Utah and Nebraska had the unfortunate status of being in the gymnastics overload final Regional, so it was a bit difficult to care about their performances out of fatigue. Scoring seemed significantly tighter at Utah than it was just a few weeks before. That’s good for the Utes because they need to get used to how they will be scored at Nationals, but it’s bad for them because it showed which previously 9.900 routines won’t actually be getting those scores. Corrie Lothrop needs to scrap her new vault yesterday because it’s not very good and is an unacceptably low score for the anchor position.

The big story for Nebraska was the injury to Schleppenbach, which prevented her from competing. Not much news from the Huskers about her prognosis, so we’ll keep her tentatively penciled in for Nationals. However, that development showed how reliant they are on every single top contributor hitting every routine. Jessie DeZiel is absolutely excellent on vault and floor, and there are some strong bar routines in that lineup, but Nebraksa needs Schleppenbach in the lineup otherwise I don’t see them advancing out of that Semifinal. Busacker has had so few routines this year that she is not a solution.

The Comeback:
Arkansas should be extremely proud of the way they came back from poor performances and scored well at home. Having Grable back and Lewis healthy was obviously a tremendous boost, but many people picked them to be upset, so overcoming those low expectations was impressive regardless of lineup. Now, the actual performance at Regionals should make the Razorbacks both pleased and concerned. They should be pleased because they performed extremely well, and they should be concerned because extremely well for them probably won’t be good enough to advance out of Semifinals. The bar rotation was the best I’ve seen from Arkansas this season, with a bunch of stuck landings, and they were still mired in the 9.8s. In most cases, they hit to the best of their abilities throughout the meet and were still not close to challenging an average UCLA because of a 49.250-49.300 ceiling on each event.

What Do We Do with You?
Stanford was a bit unphenomenal at Regionals, but they did well to hit the final four beam routines to save a recurrence of last year’s harrowing result. This team has the potential on every event, and there is an outside chance for them to advance to Super Six because I see them scoring pretty close to Utah or Nebraska if they actually put together a complete meet, though that has yet to occur this year. As we have seen most of the season, flashes of brilliant rotations were followed by awkward landings and unimpressive or tentative gymnastics. For instance, vault had been improving so much over the weeks, and then it was a disaster at Regionals all of the sudden.

The Backup Dancers:
Ohio State, Oregon State, and LSU are also teams. Ohio State did well to qualify out of Regionals, but they performed a lot of iffy gymnastics and were way too close to NC State for comfort and advanced because of hitting more beam routines than Penn State did. I wasn’t that convinced by any of the Buckeye gymnastics. It’s great that they advanced this far, but now they are being judged on national standards and they will not meet them.

Oregon State and LSU fought off valiant efforts from Michigan and Washington respectively, and I admit I was rooting for the upsets both because upsets is more fun and because neither of the higher seeded teams were very impressive at all. LSU should be extremely concerned about not scoring well on vault and floor because the bars and beam rotations are just average and have been all year. They rely on bumping up their scores with two great events, which is a risky game anyway, and did not work at Regionals. Likewise, Oregon State is a really nice bars team with a lot of unmemorable performances on the other events. Vault and beam in particular are not going to give them much chance at advancing to Super Six. I wholeheartedly commend Michigan and Washington for keeping it exciting, but that it was even as close as it was says more about the poor performances of OSU and LSU. Michigan and Washington had season-best showings but did not have the depth or talent level to take that trip to Nationals based on their own merits. It was about other teams underperforming.

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