Live Blog – National Semifinal #1

Over the course of a season, we see a number of teams score well. Be it because of an outstanding performance, preposterous home scoring, or just a cruel trick played by swift-footed Hermes, so many teams record large scores that it is only our collective qualitative assessments that separate one from another. Today, we put those assessments to the test.
Six teams will advance to Super Six Team Finals. Logic would seem to tell us that Florida, UCLA, and Alabama will cruise safely into tomorrow, but it is impossible to be certain when a random fall on beam can make all the difference. I’m nervous, and I don’t even know about what in particular. I’m nervous for everyone in general.
And before we begin, a quick note to the judges. Please, in the name of my precious sanity, have some self-respect. Your 9.950 is precious. Don’t just give it away to anybody because all the cool kids are doing it. If Carole Ide jumped off a cliff, would you do it too? There are only a few routines that really deserve your 9.950, and I don’t want to see you throwing it away on some average stuck dismount that went up second on bars and won’t treat you right. Thanks for listening. I really do want what’s best for you.
OK. Now we can begin.
Here you may find your Live Stream links.
Semifinal 1, 12:00 ET: UCLA, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Utah, Stanford, LSU 
Semifinal 2, 6:00 ET: Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Oregon State, Ohio State
Follow along after the jump for live commentary and panicked murmurings around 11:30 ET.
We’re almost there. There are a few lineup decisions I’m still interested to hear about, like how much Kayla Nowak is actually doing. Oklahoma needs her on vault otherwise they will be sending up a 9.9 SV. Automatic drops are a big no-no at Championships.

Your judges for Semifinal 1:

Event Number Name Rating
Vault Judge 1 Charlene Christensen Brevet
Judge 2 Lee Bjella National
Judge 3 Marian Dykes Brevet
Judge 4 Gay Ann Valkoun Brevet
Bars Judge 1 Carol Ide Brevet
Judge 2 Kat Sgamba Brevet
Judge 3 Linda Fenton National
Judge 4 Donnalyn Trevethan Brevet
Beam Judge 1 Kelly Dornon-Heimsoth National
Judge 2 Mary Dillard Brevet
Judge 3 Patricia Ethredge Brevet
Judge 4 Donna Meinecke Brevet
Floor Judge 1 Lois Colburn Brevet
Judge 2 Catherine Batsche Brevet
Judge 3 Laurie Reid Brevet
Judge 4 Kim Riley National
Stream is up. Let’s get excited. I’m starting to get an overwhelming sense of uncertainty, like we might see some serious upsets today. Just a feeling.

UCLA introductions first. Kozai is always one of their people on floor event though . . . does she do gymnastics? She’s the new Tiffany Hyland. Natasha Kelley is there on the floor for Oklahoma.

Intros over, warmups soon to start. Upwards of several people are waiting for the meet to start. It looks like about 64 Bruins are warming up vault, including De La Torre and Larson.

It always looks so awkward for the individual competitor. Judges are taking control of their events. Here we go.

Rotation 1:
Cut away from Tutka on floor so we can see the crowd. Helping no one, cameras. Finishes with a strong double tuck. Vault warmup still concluding.

K.J. holding forth at beam. Bars from Nebraska – we see a moment before cutting to Damianova on floor. Camera operators Utah fans? High double pike.

What we’ve seen from Nebraska so far on bars has been clean. DeZiel sticks a nice dismount.

Olson has a minor wobble on her series on beam, but hits the rest. UCLA getting some pretty low scores on vault. Interesting.

Dabritz finishes well on floor. I’m seeing 9.850s being waved around.

Bounce back from Zamarripa – not her best. Maybe we’re seeing some nerves here from UCLA because these scores are poor. Frattone won’t make vault finals again. UCLA gets just 49.275. They’re in trouble. Utah is hitting floor.

The bits of Nebraska we’ve seen on bars have looked good but not great. We’ll see how Giblin and Evenstad do.

Pretty major wobble for Spears on Oklahoma’s beam. They don’t look quite on yet either, but good dismount from her.

Megan Ferguson waiting on the beam, our last competitor of the rotation for Oklahoma. She’s hitting very well. UCLA could be behind both Oklahoma and Utah after the first rotation, which I would never have picked. Robarts hits floor to finish things off for Utah.

After Rotation 1: Oklahoma 49.325, UCLA 49.275, Utah 49.275, Nebraska 49.150.

Standout score of the rotation was a 9.950 from Ferguson on beam. Oklahoma and Utah did their jobs. Nebraska and UCLA have some work to do.

Rotation 2:
UCLA and Oklahoma go to byes. Stanford and LSU enter the competition. I’m interested to see what the judges make of Stanford on floor and how Utah vault now compares to UCLA since UCLA had troubles with landings. Will everybody?

LSU starts on bars, some sloppy legs in this routine into a double tuck dismount.

Big bounce back from Dayton on her floor mount, I don’t expect this to be a very big score. No major problems, though. Second from LSU on bars also has a little sloppiness into the dismount. Utah is losing it on vault, but I don’t know what about.

Some wobbles from Skinner on beam but she got through it, and we see Shona Morgan finishing strong on floor. We’re not getting any scores yet on the live scoring.

Huge mistake from Nebraska on beam, but she stayed on. Hall has to come off the bars for LSU. Disaster. Ivana Hong looking lovely on floor. Huge lunge forward from Robarts on vault. That won’t score well. Courville hits bars well to start saving things for LSU.

Hanset on floor for Stanford, followed by Morrison on bars for LSU, stuck dismount there. Wong on beam for Nebraska hits, and we’ll see Pechanec on floor, a little low on double tuck mount, good presentation but the tumbling in underwhelming.

If we had scores, we would know how Nebraska is scoring on beam, but things don’t look great. These camera angles are horrible. Everything is cut off or behind a sign. Ahsley Morgan finished floor for Stanford.

Some individual competitors finishing up now. Any word on scores? Utah 49.525 on vault? I have a lot of questions for these judges. UCLA will feel cheated by this since Courtney went just 9.900 for a stick. It will be fascinating to see what the judges do with Oklahoma now. Look at Marian Dykes’s scores for Utah on vault (judge #3). She was not as impressed as the others.

Rotation 3:
Utah and Nebraska on to byes, UCLA and Oklahoma rejoin the competition. UCLA probably needs a 49.250-49.300 on bars right now, but I don’t know if that’s in the cards. Rotation starting now.

Big lunge out of the mount for OK on floor, so Albright won’t get the 9.9s she’s been seeing. Score is 9.850 which is high. Floor seems a little charitable so far.

Ashley Morgan pretends to stick her yhalf but takes a big step forward. Hanset is very low-chested but appears to stick. MDLT starts UCLA with a needed 9.850 on bars. Pechanec bounces out of a Yfull.

Larson on bars now. Too much sloppiness everywhere but she hits her DLO better than usual.

Wobbles all over the place for Lau on beam. They’ll need to drop this. Oklahoma doing fine on floor, but the tumbling is not totally controlled. Good stick from Dayton on vault for Stanford.

Hall has some struggles on beam but stays on to help LSU stay slightly alive. Stanford scores a 49.300 on vault. These judges are judging landing and not form and amplitude. This is not acceptable. Dayton barely even left the table and got a 9.950 from one judge.

Courville hits her Arabian well, but has to struggle to save her front tuck.

UCLA has finished bars and scored a massive 49.450 to mostly make up for vault. They will feel much better about their chances now. We didn’t get to see anything except Larson, who was scored appropriately at 9.775, so it’s hard to judge.

Big wobble from Jordan on beam, but other major wobbles haven’t seemed to matter because the judges are giving everyone a 9.850, so we’ll see . . .

Interesting about the judging on floor, I mentioned it was loose, but it only seems loose for the weaker routines and harsher for the better routines. They’re keeping everyone too close together. Everything is a 9.850-9.875. Even Ferguson gets just a 9.900, when she has been going 9.925-9.950.

HALFWAY SCORES:
1. Utah – 98.800
2. UCLA – 98.725
3. Oklahoma – 98.575
4. Stanford – 98.450
5. LSU – 98.200
6. Nebraska – 98.150

Well, we certainly won’t be seeing any teams advancing with 196.200s like we did last year. Everyone is still in this. Oklahoma going to vault now, which will be the make or break event for them. They probably need to break UCLA’s score to feel safe enough. Similarly, UCLA is going to beam, so we know that it’s all still on the table. I thought LSU was overscored there, so let’s see what happens now.

Rotation 4:
Stanford and LSU leave the floor, Utah and Nebraska come back on. Just looking at the LSU beam scores some more. Courville had a clear full tenth wobble on a single skill and still got a 9.950 from one judge, so this is what we’re dealing with today. I can tell you right now that this session will not be controversy-free.

Oklahoma starts vault with Brewer doing a fine Yfull with low chest. Nebraska desperately needs a good 49.400 on floor right now to contend.

Looks like Gerber hit beam to start for UCLA. Baer now, have her dance elements deteriorated a bit from earlier in the season? Good same on the side somi as one foot was nearly off the beam entirely. This won’t be a great score but she’s staying on.

I hate seeing DLO bars dismounts head on, they always look terrible. Beers appears to hit bars. Utah started that rotation with a couple of 9.800s. Baer gets 9.875 on beam, which is too high but consistent with what LSU was getting.

These Nebraska floor routines are very 9.825, but we’ll improve as we get later in the lineup. Oklahoma went 49.125 on vault. Not good enough to feel safe now.

Zamarripa comes off on beam. Disaster for UCLA, and very unexpected. Wow. Everything to play for now. Huge pressure on EHH and Peszek.

McAllister finishes bars for Utah with a stick. EHH to go now on beam. She looks terrified.

DeZiel looking strong on floor. She needs to be 9.900 for Nebraska to get in this, little bounce out of dismount, but a strong routine.

EHH goes on beam now. HUGE hit for them. That should score well. Just huge pressure on Peszek. Well, we know she won’t be throwing her tuck full, that’s for sure. Evenstad follows to finish Nebraska off with a very nice routine. I enjoyed that even though the music choice has become a cliche.

Peszek now – hits series and gainer loso. Just the dismount left. Consider that bullet dodged by UCLA.

Wrong music on floor. Love that annoyed body language. Was focused on UCLA, but Utah gets a 49.225 on bars, which is OK but not great. No 9.9s in that rotation, so UCLA has actually moved .025 ahead of Utah. Would not have expected that after Utah’s massive vault scores. Both Utah and UCLA should feel OK right now, except Utah still has beam.

Rotation 5:
UCLA and Oklahoma head away, LSU and Stanford come back. Watch out for Stanford’s bar scores in this rotation. Oklahoma should not feel safe in their lead over the Cardinal right now. Nebraska and Utah will be finishing their competitions in this rotation.

Lothrop starts on beam (I still don’t like that decision), she hits very solidly but it will be hard for her to score that high here, just a minor hop on dismount. Stanford leads off witha hit bars and we see just a moment of LSU on floor.

Skinner vaults a fine Yfull with a pretty big step back, Giblin follows with a comfortable stick. It may be too little too late. LSU appears to be hitting floor, and Lofgren looks solid enough for Utah on beam. They probably just need to hit two more beam routines to advance.

Our first final: Nebraska finishes with a 196.625. Would have been enough to advance out of either session last year, but it won’t be enough this year. Ashley Morgan hits bars. Stanford is right in this. We may have a nice qualification fight in the last rotation.

Mathis is strong on floor except for the leg separations in her tumbles. Huge wobble for Robarts on beam now, but they can drop it.

LSU is looking out of this, but Courville appears to be hitting her routine well. She’ll still be looking for some EFs potentially. Big wobble from Lopez’s feet (thanks a lot camera work) on beam, but she hits. Utah should be fine.

My stream kept cutting out during Hall on floor, which seemed appropriate.

Oooh, Stanford is currently .050 ahead of Oklahoma going into the last rotation. Everything to play for, ladies and gentlemen.

Utah finishes with a 197.200. Oklahoma and Stanford would need really big scores in the final rotation to pass that, so the Utes are comfortably in the clubhouse right now. UCLA needs just a 49.175 to guarantee qualification, which is certainly very attainable for them on floor. They basically just need to hit.

Rotation 6:
Utah and Nebraska are done. Nebraska, done for the season. Oklahoma will be on bars and Stanford on beam in what will likely be the qualification race. UCLA warming up floor. Cory is dancing more than anyone on the team, as usual. Love.

I think we have to give the slight edge to Oklahoma here because bars is lower risk than beam, but Stanford has proven 9.9 capability from many corners on beam and Oklahoma ust lost Hayden Ward on bars, so who knows. LSU will be on vault, where they can score well, but not well enough to make it into the top three unless we see many falls.

Stanford begins on beam with Becky Wing. Minor wobble after walkover, solid on series. Lunge forward on dismount, but job done.

Mathis on vault for LSU, solid. Brewer on bars, clean, efficient, fine. Zam on floor looks nice, but those legs on the dismount I’m still not happy with.

Stanford and Oklahoma are trading off mid-9.8s. This could still go either way. HUGE 9.900 from Ivana Hong. Olivia Courtney hits floor, so they need just two more hit routines to win the session.

Stanford continues to set the pace on beam, Oklahoma will need something special from the final two bars workers to advance. Wow.

It’s official: Zamarripa will not advance to vault finals. That’s such a shame. So few can actually perform two real vaults.

Olson hits a solid bars to Oklahoma. Will it be enough? Outlook is doubtful.

Peszek bounces out of DLO, but it’s fine. She was ONE pass away from securing UCLA’s advancement to Super Six and she fell. Oh UCLA. Big pressure on EHH now. This is NOT a guarantee.

Pechanec hits beam for Stanford. GREAT day for the Cardinal. Huge surprise that they put four events together. EHH now has to hit her last pass and not pull a Peszek. She could even go OOB and it would be fine, she just needs to stay on her feet. Done. That was a nailbiter the whole way for the Bruins.

It’s official. Stanford will advance. They actually almost beat Utah. Huge for them after the horrendous most of the season they had. Devastating for Oklahoma. It’s so tough for a top team to come into semifinals, have no major mistakes, and still come away in 4th.

You have to feel for Oklahoma. With the injuries they’ve had, there’s not much they could have done better. They just didn’t have the routines top to bottom.

FINAL SCORES:
1. UCLA – 197.400 (that was the hardest easy victory I’ve ever seen)
2. Utah – 197.200
3. Stanford – 197.125
4. Oklahoma – 196.925
5. Nebraska – 196.625
6. LSU – 196.550

Note, every single one of these scores would have advanced from BOTH Semifinals last year.

Individual Qualifiers:
Vault – Delaney, Courville, Giblin, Dabritz
Bars – Gerber, Courtney, Zamarripa, Olson, Shapiro
Beam – Ferguson, EHH, Peszek, Wong, Stone, Hong, Spinner, Matusik
Floor – Zamarripa, EHH, DeZiel, Ferguson

Remember when I said that beam would have the fewest qualifiers? I’m smart.

Current AA leader: Rheagan Courville with 39.475, which will absolutely not hold up after the second session. It’s strange – a lot of people could have scored very well save for a weird fall. Zamarripa would have been the runaway leader had she not screwed up beam – same thing happened in 2010.

This thing is lengthy, so when we return for the second SF at 6 ET, I’ll start a new post, so follow along there.

The Nationals Scene: Event Finals

After the tension of Super Six, Event Finals day is a chance to cool down, smile, and allow everyone to pretend that they are best friends again. For fans, it serves as an effective coping mechanism so that we can say goodbye to the season slowly, sort of like a coma.
In some cases, there is a clearly deserving winner based on the performance that day, but usually event finals are a way for judges to reward an exceptional season, respectable career, or superior display of difficulty. Sometimes, it’s a way to recognize an individual gymnast whose team was unworthy of her during the championship season, as we saw in 2010 when the judges tried really hard to give McCool the beam title even though her routine was poor that day (ultimately, Susan Jackson’s [thanks for the catch] clearly stronger performance won out). A lot of the discussion surrounding Event Finals involves the word deserves, so it’s always fun and nonsensical. 
Unfortunately, the dark side of Event Finals is that they are endless. Vault in particular has the potential to be a nightmare, with a steady stream of gymnasts performing their grating and unnecessary layout Yurchenkos for 9.600. On Semifinals day, root for the cutoff score on vault to get up to 9.925 in both sessions so that we may see just the minimum 4 qualifiers instead of 12 people tied at 9.900 all advancing to finals. 
We always see a ton of random qualifiers, especially when the cutoff score dips to 9.875 in a session so that any sort of relevant routine with a stuck dismount can get through, so my preview will not be comprehensive about anyone with a chance to advance. Instead, I’ll take a moment to highlight a few gymnasts that I see as the most likely title contenders.
Vault:
As we all know, the stupidest rule in all of NCAA gymnastics requires gymnasts to suddenly perform two vaults in event finals. Either they need to do away with the second vault and just have them perform the same vault twice, or they need to require potential qualifiers to perform a second vault in Semifinals, like we currently see in elite. Both of those solutions would eliminate the insufferable parade on non-10.0 vaults in finals. 
Because the rules stand as they do, the vault title often depends on the quality of the second vault, and the result is notoriously difficult to predict because we don’t see that second vault during the season.
However, one of the favorites has to be defending champion Marissa King. We know she can perform a Tsuk full as a second vault, which could very well be the most impressive second vault in the competition and bring her another title. The biggest question is actually her qualification to finals. She’s been getting a few 9.850-9.875s this year, and that score will not be enough to advance. 

Beyond King, things get a little questionable. UCLA, Florida, and Alabama all have four gymnasts who can advance to finals, but we don’t know a lot about how prepared they are for a second vault. Obviously, Vanessa Zamarripa would be a clear favorite under fully healthy circumstances, but coming back from the Achilles injury, I wonder how much time she has spent training her RO 1/2 entry. I’m sure she’d go for it in finals, but I doubt it’s up to the level we saw when she won in 2010.
I’m going to assume that Kytra Hunter could easily crank out a Yurchenko full as a second vault, so the title may be hers for the taking since her Y1.5 will score very well. Tauny Frattone can make finals on the strength of her Omelianchik, and we know that she has trained a RO 1/2 tuck 1/2 in the past, so she may be planning for a second vault as well.
Look for Jessie DeZiel and potentially Diandra Milliner to have second vaults that start from 10s as well, so don’t discount them in the hunt for the title. DeZiel in particular should have no problem bringing in two vaults that can score 9.850, which has been enough to win in years past.
Beyond this group we have some former elites like Peszek and Courtney who competed harder vaults years ago but are unlikely to be training anything other than their usual competition vaults at this point. Hopefully we see some impromptu Y1.5s a la Anna Li in 2010 as long as it is safe. Katherine Grable may have been in this conversation at one point, but I doubt she’s ready coming back from injury. We also know that Corrie Lothrop has several vaults, but she would have to make finals first, and I don’t see it happening.
Uneven Bars:
There are probably 20 people in this competition who could make a 9.900 on bars, and I’m predicting that we will have many ties in Semifinals to make this a packed final. Winning the title is going to take an extremely clean routine (people who routinely miss a handstand but still make 9.875-9.900 will not be relevant in finals) with either notable difficulty or reputation.
As we did with vault, let’s begin with the defending champion, Kat Ding of Georgia. At her best, she is still the best bars worker in NCAA, so don’t be surprised to see her win again, especially since we’re in Georgia and it’s her senior year. It’s a true shame that she hasn’t received a 10 this year (and don’t expect it to come at Nationals), but a second consecutive title here would help make things right. 
Also, look for the Florida duo of Alaina Johnson and Mackenzie Caquatto to be competitive frontrunners. Like Ding, I think they were both a little bit cleaner last season, but nonetheless Johnson has wonderful presentation, notably her excellent flight and form on the Ray, and Caquatto has the reputation and is very comfortable with her routine. In the future, when she’s healthy, I’d like to see Caquatto increase the difficulty from what we’ve seen at the end of this season so that she can meet her potential on this event. She should be better than solid.
Kat Ding’s teammates Gina Nuccio and Chelsea Davis also both have fair shots to make finals with their solid 9.900 routines. Nuccio probably peaks out at that score and would struggle to win the title, but everyone loves Chelsea Davis and the impressive amplitude on her Tkatchev will help her stand out and contend for the win.
Megan Ferguson of Oklahoma always scores well on bars because she doesn’t give anything away on handstands or the dismount. If it comes down to being clean, she can win, but she may not have that standout quality it takes to win the final otherwise. 
From the Pac-12, Nicole Pechanec and Leslie Mak both have clean, 9.9-level routines with creative composition that will help them make an impression in the final as well, but with those composition choices comes more risk, especially for Mak, so both would have to be perfect to win.
There are a host of other people I’ve left out who can score 9.900 on bars, such as the Alabama duo of Stack-Eaton and Priess or the Nebraska duo of Giblin and Evenstad, but I think those gymnasts will be lost in the shuffle of finals a little bit and, while they could contend, are much more likely to be bunched in with a lot of others in a 5th-10th place range.
Balance Beam:
Unlike bars, I expect the balance beam final to be a pretty simple affair with 9 to 11 competitors. Because there are always some falls from expected qualifiers in prelims, we don’t see the same number of people reaching that 9.900 plateau that usually ensures qualification. 
Last year in finals, Sam Peszek had a couple deductions in her routine, but won over her teammate Aisha Gerber because she performed a standing full to open and numbed the judges to later deductions, an effective strategy that could work again this year. Also, don’t count out Peszek’s other teammate Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs, who never seems to bring her best gymnastics to NCAAs but could very well make finals if she is on this year.
Outside of UCLA, Florida’s Marissa King and Oklahoma’s Megan Ferguson are fair bets to make this final and contend. King is having her best beam season, and her acrobatic skills are right on every time with no deductions. Ferguson is the most impressive part of a beam lineup that should score well from top to bottom, so scores of 9.950 are conceivable for both.
The Arkansas duo of Jaime Pisani and Katherine Grable have excelled all season to keep that rotation afloat for the Razorbacks, and their consistency could be rewarded in finals as well, though I would peg Pisani as more likely to contend on floor than on beam. 
On any given day, Alabama has several gymnasts who could make this final and be in the hunt, but because Stack-Eaton has been struggling lately and Jacob is leading off, I’m going to put my money on Sarah Demeo and Ashley Priess as the most likely to factor here. Demeo’s double pike dismount stands out, and Priess is usually very clean (and we may see her get some career recognition at some point at these championships).
Leslie Mak of Oregon State has a beautiful routine that could have won last year had she not fallen, but I wonder if the gainer full dismount could work to her disadvantage compared to people with much more risk. And speaking of gainer full dismounts, I would be remiss to forget Shayla Worley in this preview, but she has to hit in prelims first. The judges always love her, though, so don’t be surprised.
Stanford also has a few gymnasts who can advance to finals with 9.9s, but they will be unlikely to stand out from the group mentioned above.
Floor Exercise:
Floor should be good fun this year. I hope Lloimincia Hall qualifies to finals because I am fascinated to see what the judges make of her routine. 
Our defending champion Geralen Stack-Eaton should be in the race as she’s come along nicely this season since she added floor back, but I don’t see her repeating because the field is much deeper this year.


My favorite for the title is Kytra Hunter because she has exceptionally clean tumbling, and everyone has been looking for a chance to reward her insanely high tumbling since about 2009. She never got the recognition for it in elite because she wasn’t relevant enough on other events to make major international competitions, but this is the chance to do reward it now.

Hunter’s teammates Ashanee Dickerson and Marissa King can also score well enough to hang around the top of the standings, but both need to work out controlling those landings if they are even to make finals. 
If Hunter doesn’t win, though, I’m putting my bet on Jaime Pisani, especially if she doesn’t take the AA title. She is a beloved senior who always comes just short of winning major things, so don’t expect her to walk away from Duluth totally empty-handed. 
Interesting fact of the day: Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs has never made a floor final at Championships. I expect this will be the year she qualifies, and count on her to pull out the pike full in as a mount so that she has competitive difficulty. Most people are discounting her because this has not been her best year, but she’s my sleeper pick in this event. Sam Peszek has been controlling her landings a bit better lately and also could make finals here.
Rheagan Courville, Jessie DeZiel, Megan Ferguson, Ashley Morgan, and Noel Couch are other potential qualifiers, but I don’t think any of them quite have the whole package of complete leaps, difficult tumbling (throughout the routine, not just a mount and filler), and upright landings to win the title.

The Nationals Scene: Individual All-Around

In many ways, the runt of the competitions at Nationals is the All-Around. It doesn’t get its own day, no one prepares for it because everything is supposed to be about the team, and the result is almost an afterthought because of the focus on which teams advanced, but it’s always such a fun race because it could go so many different ways.

Depending on how you choose to look at it, you could make the argument that there are as many as 20 legitimate competitors for the All-Around title. Now, I am not that charitable, so I’m going to eliminate some of those from consideration pretty easily. But I do think there are about 7-10 gymnasts who can reasonably imagine taking the AA title. Because there are so many nominees, I’ve broken it down into a few categories to help organize our competitors.

The Frontrunners:

Jaime Pisani (Arkansas) – The top-ranked performer for most of the season, Pisani has to be considered the favorite, as much as we can have one in a competition this tight. She doesn’t really have a weakness and will benefit from the possible score-building of performing near the end of every Arkansas rotation. Bars is the biggest question for her (as it is for most of our top competitors), and because I expect the winning total to be around 39.600, she probably cannot afford the 9.850 there that her routine usually merits. She’ll need to go at least 9.875 on bars as she did at Regionals and then hope to go 9.925-9.950 on floor, which is quite possible even though she will perform there in the first rotation.


Kytra Hunter (Florida) – I expect many people to be rooting for Pisani because she is a senior and Arkansas likely won’t advance to Super Six, but don’t expect Hunter to give it away. To no one’s surprise, she can go over 9.900 on vault and floor in her sleep and will be expected to do so. In fact, she will need to do so because she should not break 9.850 on bars. But if she can get those big scores (by that I mean more than a 9.900) on the power events, one 9.850 should be fine. It may very well come down to how well she manages her nerves on beam and how the judges react to her dance elements because that switch side is a major red flag the likes of which Pisani doesn’t have.



Jessie DeZiel (Nebraska) – Obviously there are a bunch of strong All-Arounders for Nebraska, and we’ll get to the rest of them soon, but I think DeZiel is the most complete of the group and the most likely to put up a competitive score. Like those above her, we know that vault and floor will be huge, so her biggest challenge may be overcoming her early lineup placement on bars. If she can get out of that first event with a 9.875, she’ll have just as much shot as anybody. She had a little hiccup on beam at Regionals, but she may be the most trustworthy beam worker in the lineup, so I don’t expect to see a repeat.



Sharaya Musser (Penn State) – If she were competing with a team at Nationals, I might be slightly more emphatic about Musser’s chances to win the All-Around. However, it is notoriously difficult to score well without a team to boost the numbers at end, especially for gymnasts accustomed to performing with teammates. Although, Musser will be rotating with Florida, so if score-building were to carry over to an individual competitor, she’s in the right rotation for it to happen. She had a pretty disastrous showing at last year’s Nationals, so I’m sure she will be looking to rebound by going clean this year. See the notes for everyone above her about bars, because it’s true again for her.


Sam Peszek (UCLA) – Peszek doesn’t have the one big event where she can bump up her scores, but she can be counted on to be solid enough to warrant a pretty high score for each routine. She did score 9.950 on vault at Regionals for performing that Yfull as well as she can possibly do it, but she is third in the lineup, so it will be difficult to count on repeating that feat. For Peszek to win the title, she’s going to need to stick that bars dismount for a 9.850 again and hope that the judges are impressed enough by her hands-free beam to go over 9.900 because floor probably caps out at 9.900 and she’ll need at least one 9.925-9.950 from somewhere. It would be risky to throw in the standing full in a crucial team setting, but she may need it to make the judges notice.


Vanessa Zamarripa (UCLA) – I’ve been going back and forth about which UCLA gymnast is more likely to place well, and while Zamarripa has the higher ceiling on vault and bars, her floor routine may keep her just short of contending. She has some leg separation issues that I think will keep the score down just enough that she would need to be perfect on the other three events to make up for it. It’s possible, but it’s going to require her sticking three events, which she hasn’t done in the same competition yet this year. Vault cannot be anything less than 9.950 for her to have a chance. If she gets that 10 (if anyone at Nationals gets a 10, it will be Zamarripa on vault), she could easily deal with a 9.850 on floor.


Geralen Stack-Eaton (Alabama) – Stack-Eaton should be a very likely candidate for the title, especially considering that she was just a competent beam routine away from winning last year, and she is one of the very few frontrunners actually capable of scoring 9.900 on every event. However, she has not been her usual high AA self over the past few meets. She has been throwing in uncertain beam routines, and her vault has deteriorated from the 10 we saw in the first meet of the season. Expect a few big scores, but I wonder whether she can put all the events together in one meet because it’s been a while since she has done it.

The Likely Stories:
Leslie Mak (Oregon State) – Mak is beloved by fans, coaches, and judges, as made evident by her second consecutive Pac-12 GOTY award, so it’s certainly possible to see her score very well on every event, but I don’t think she can go high enough on vault to contend, and she doesn’t have quite the scoring potential on floor. However, 9.950 is not outside the realm of possibility of bars and beam, so she could gain some points on events where the frontrunners have more trouble.

Ashanee Dickerson (Florida) – At Regionals, Dickerson proved that she can record a 9.900 on each event. The biggest question in her scoring potential has always been bars, but the judges don’t seem to have an issue with her routine this year. She’s not among my frontrunners because I don’t know that she can repeat the performance, and I do expect the judges at Nationals to be a bit conservative with their scores early in lineups. Dickerson doesn’t go later than 4th on any event, and we could see the judges save scores for later routines.

Rheagan Courville (LSU) – Courville has scored exceptionally well on vault this year has been consistent enough with her 9.875s on the other events to be in the All-Around conversation. There are no weak events for her, but I do wonder whether she can get enough 9.900s to get out of that 39.475-39.525 zone and have a shot at the title. Beam will be crucial. If she can go 9.900 there, she’ll be in it with a chance, but we haven’t seen that many times this year.

Marissa King (Florida) – At her best, Marissa King is competitive with all the other Florida AAers, so don’t be too surprised if she places very high. Her beam routine is excellent and consistently receives 9.950s from multiple judges, but her vault is so underscored and she has looked shaky enough on floor  lately that I don’t have the same confidence that she can overcome a non-9.9 on bars in the way that a Pisani or a Hunter could. If she works out her floor routine, she can certainly get into the top 5 or so, but I don’t see her beating everybody even in the best of circumstances.

Ashley Priess (Alabama) – I have to admit being a little bit wrong right now because I seriously doubted Priess’s ability to compete in the All-Around for a whole season given her health history. She has done this valiantly and scored very well along the way, and her anchor scores on bars and beam have the potential be competitive with anybody. Vault is fine but unremarkable early in the lineup, but the routine to really watch will be floor. Her composition isn’t up to the difficulty of some others and she has struggled with landings, so she may be giving up a tenth or more to some of the top scorers on this event alone.

Kat Ding (Georgia) – Wouldn’t it be great if Kat Ding suddenly contended for the All-Around title? We’ve always known that she can easily go 9.925-9.950 on vault and bars, so expect those scores to bump up her other events and keep her competitive. However, I don’t think they will bump up beam and floor quite enough. She has improved exponentially on the last two events, but that improvement has resulted in her being a reliable 9.850 scorer, which will not be enough to unseat some of the others.

Alaina Johnson (Florida) – I don’t quite have the same expectations for Johnson that I have for the other Florida gymnasts because, much like Ding, I question her ability to go higher than 9.850 on beam and floor. We’ve seen it happen, but I don’t expect it to happen at Championships. Also of note, she has been scoring 9.900 a lot this year on bars, and her talent level makes her capable of more than that. Florida is too talented to peak out a 9.900 on bars, and she needs to go higher both for herself and the team.

Don’t Forget:
Katherine Grable (Arkansas) – If not for the injuries, Grable would undoubtedly be in a higher category, but we haven’t seen her compete on vault in quite some time, and at Regionals floor was fine but not entirely back to form. She’ll have had an extra two weeks to progress, but I have a difficult time imagining her back in top shape again by Friday. If she is, she has a great shot at contending, but I don’t see her being in 9.900 form on the leg events yet.

Emily Wong (Nebraska) – Wong was the surprise winner of the Big 10 AA title with a 39.600, so there’s precedent for a great performance. However, the vault and floor performances from Regionals along with her early lineup placement on bars makes me skeptical about how many high scores she can actually get. Her RQS is not up to 9.900 on any event, so she would truly need a career performance to be considered with the top group.

Janelle Giblin (Nebraska) – Unlike Wong, who is very steadily 9.850-9.875 across the board, Giblin has some very good routines and some not so impressive routines. She could very well score 9.900 on vault and bars, but beam is a nail-biter and floor is unlikely to warrant a score that will be AA competitive. Her focus will be more on advancing to a couple event finals than on winning the All-Around.

Noel Couch (Georgia) – It would seem possible on paper given some of the scores she has received, but she is an early-lineup worker who needs to get her sturdy 9.800-9.850, and I expect the scores at Nationals to reflect that. Like so many of the other AAers, bars is the weakness, but for Couch it’s more like a 9.750 weakness instead of a 9.850 weakness.

Corrie Lothrop (Utah) – Earlier in the season I would not have expected to be placing Lothrop this low on the AA expectations because of the copious number of 39.5 scores she was getting. But this change of vault and placement in the early part of the beam lineup have severely halted her scoring potential. She is going to be very 9.850 at Nationals, which won’t be enough to be in the All-Around conversation.

Notes on Some Others:
-Stephanie McAllister will compete the AA for Utah, but the lower vault and beam scores will keep her out of the running.

-Makayla Stambaugh is a beam routine away from being in a higher category, but that event will keep her overall total lower. Vault is also a 9.825-9.850 routine, which won’t help her AA cause (or the cause of her team trying to get out of that 49.150 zone on that event).

-Schleppenbach and Skinner are the other All-Arounders for Nebraska, but Schleppenbach is a question mark after missing Nationals and Skinner has too many weak events to score that well.

-Brie Olson has looked quite strong in the AA over the past few meets, but she was a stand-in on beam for Kayla Nowak, so if Nowak comes back into the lineup we may not see Olson in the AA at all.

-LSU will also give us Lloimincia Hall and Jessie Jordan in the AA, but the bars routines from both of them make any AA dreams appear out of reach. Hall would need a 9.950 on floor and a newly secure beam routine to even consider it.

-Nicole Pechanec is Stanford’s lone contribution to the AA conversation, but she is more of an event specialist who has been asked to compete on all the events rather than an All-Arounder. Expect some 9.9s and some 9.7s.

-We have some standout individuals like Alina Weinstein, Rachel Updike, and Katie Zurales who are capable of recording some nice scores on certain events, but if any individual competitor places well in the AA, it will be Sharaya Musser.

The Nationals Scene: The Favorites

First things first (again). I jumped the gun a bit yesterday, and we will be having live streaming of Semifinals. Happy day. On to the favorites.

While I have certainly addressed some candidates for the national title in the previous previews, namely Alabama, I would be willing to bet that our eventual champion will be one of the top two seeds. Given everything we’ve seen this season, Florida has to be considered the favorite. Even when they weren’t performing that well at mid-season, the Gators were still the top-ranked team in the country, and they have the fewest potential weaknesses and uncertain routines of all the teams at Championships. But given the history and some of my lingering concerns about the solidity of the freshmen on beam and the landings on floor, we can’t put all of our expectations on Florida to win. If you’re looking for a strong backup choice, head over UCLA’s direction. While the Bruins cannot be considered nearly as safe as Florida, the ceiling for this team is higher than any of the other contenders, which makes them most likely to challenge.

Florida:

Even though we could spend months on Florida’s history of not performing at Championships (and I think I probably have), I would be shocked if they failed to make Super Six again this year. With the consistency this team has displayed and the charitableness (P.S. apparently charitability is not a word, and the dictionary and I will be having a little discussion about that because charitability is far superior to charitableness) of their Semifinal draw, a repeat of 2011 should not be on the agenda. The Gators are the only team I could see counting a fall and still advancing to Super Six.

So, with Semifinals dispensed with, let’s take a moment to investigate what needs to happen for Florida to finally win a title. On vault, it’s all about the landings. This team has improved exponentially over the last month on the vault landings, and that can’t go away this weekend. Because judges tend to be overly critical of Marissa King’s vault, she must stick to force them to go 9.900. Hunter and Johnson have strong enough form that a minor step is OK, but it must be controlled and can’t warrant a full tenth.

On bars, it should be all about Caquatto and Johnson getting their 9.925s (which have been less frequent this year than they were last year), but it’s become all about Dickerson. She sticks her DLO every time now, and that has led the judges to give her very high scores. Much like Noel Couch on floor, the form is not always worthy of the scores, and the deductions are there to be taken if the udges choose to. The treatment of Dickerson’s bar routine will be one of the crucial decisions of Championships. If the judges go 9.900, Florida will have no problem scoring exceptionally on this event as long as Caquatto and Johnson get their 9.900s.

Even taking into account my concerns, Florida is still extremely capable on beam and has not been nearly as shaky as they were last season. However, there is something about this lineup that just doesn’t sit well with me. Rachel Spicer has had a few uncertain performances as we’ve progressed toward the business end of this season. If she has a mistake in that second position, how will the rest of the team respond? Will they get all 2011-y again? They gave away too many tenths on beam at Regionals, and this issue needs to be addressed to ensure that Spicer is not this year’s Mahlich.

As Rhonda has mentioned all season, floor should be the best event, but it’s not there yet. This has been the slowest event to come along under the new training schedule, and I do wonder whether it’s just a little too slow. We’re still seeing some OOBs, some 9.7s, that do look like a result of lack of numbers or lack of certainty on the equipment. The podium at Duluth didn’t wholly agree with this team at SECs, so some adjustments will need to be made.

Because the Gators are really working the AA angle this year, with the four leaders and Caquatto’s bars the important routines on each event, there is no one standout gymnast that must perform for them to be successful. It needs to be more about minimizing those egregious errors, those 9.6s-9.7s, across the team so that the multiple 9.9s that we are sure to see can help raise the team up rather than bring them back from holes.

UCLA:


In true UCLA fashion, I barely even know what to make of this team going into Championships. That was also true last year, and they proceeded to look rather poor in Semifinals only to show their best gymnastics of the season in Super Six to fall just a Zamarripa short of a repeat national title. This year’s Bruins are more talented and more consistent than last year’s team, but so is nearly everyone else. I do believe that if Florida hits to their highest capability, no team will be able to catch them, but UCLA can get the closest and put themselves in a position where one minor mistake from Florida opens the door for an upset.

Vault is not really a concern for this team. They have the best vault lineup in the country and proved that at Regionals where they scored a 49.450 for just one stuck vault. However, because it’s a strength, it would be easy to overlook vault, and that’s a mistake. UCLA will not be able to compete with several other teams on bars, so much like Team USA, they have to maximize their advantage on vault. A 49.400 doesn’t provide enough cushion, and they vitally need sticks from Frattone and Zamarripa to give that lineup at least a couple scores over 9.900. A 49.500 has to be the minimum expectation.

UCLA hasn’t really been punished this season for what an issue this bars lineup is, but let’s not pretend that everything is fine. De La Torre had a handstand catastrophe and Gerber had a poor dismount at Regionals, but the true problem here is how little 9.9 gymnastics exists in this rotation even when everybody is hitting. Mattie Larson’s tkatchev isn’t great and she desperately needs to go to the Zamarripa School for Handstands. Sam Peszek is just 9.850 on this event because it’s her worst one, and Gerber is not really an anchor and will max out at 9.900 at Nationals. For this team to challenge for a title, every handstand must be hit and every landing must be stuck to squeeze any bonus tenths out of this event. They can very easily go 49.200, but a title is going to require something more like 49.350.

I’m going to say something shocking: I’m not concerned about UCLA on beam. While Kaelie Baer is a walking dropped score in the second position, the rest of the lineup contains five gymnasts that I trust to hit (even Larson) who can all show 9.900 gymnastics. Gerber, Larson, and Zamarripa show pleasant, controlled, elegant routines. It seems strange to describe gymnastics as “thoughtful,” but their routines are. At the end of the lineup, Hopfner-Hibbs and Peszek have confident, aggressive routines that give away little in deductions. A beam rotation hit to potential from this team could be the surprise of Nationals.

Floor is the only event that went really well for the Bruins at Regionals, and I am interested to see how the judges treat it at Nationals. I think they’ll respond quite well. It is UCLA on floor after all. The keys will be whether the judges are impressed by Alyssa Pritchett’s mount+filler routine and, more importantly, how they respond to the composition for Zamarripa and Hopfner-Hibbs. Because of recovery from the Achilles injury, Zamarripa’s floor tumbling is unexciting and far less difficult than her capability, and the judges may be unimpressed. Hopfner-Hibbs will be mounting with her double tuck, and I would not count on seeing her piked full in unless she makes event finals. Judges have been eager to give this routine a 9.950 so far, but the only decision that matters is the one at Nationals.

I anticipate Peszek and Zamarripa being on form in the AA during Championships weekend, so the success of UCLA will depend on the seniors. Gerber, Frattone, and Hopfner-Hibbs can’t be giving away too many 9.825-9.850 routines on any of their events, and Baer has to show why she is in these lineups. If they all do their jobs, we may see a very exciting Super Six indeed.