The Pac-12 has been a funny little creature this year, sort of injured and ragged but still nice in places, like one of those baby ducks that they wash the crude oil off in dish soap commercials.
This year, there is no true top team, no feature force that will surely contend for the national title and should have no trouble winning the conference championships when hitting 24/24. While it would still be somewhat surprising if no Pac-12 team advances to Super Six, it wouldn’t be shocking in the way we would normally expect. Every team has weaknesses, and every team could lose to any number of teams around the nation, even on a good day. With the top four seeds so closely ranked, nothing separates them except potential. The results have given us no reliable guidance. That will serve to make the final session a sight to see. A potential mess, yes, but a sight to see.
Oregon State and Stanford haven’t featured in the top conversation this year, but don’t count them out of the title race. For the Beavers to win, they’re probably going to need to be served assistance two ways: home-gym assistance and other-teams-faltering assistance. They’ve peaked out in the low 197s this year for hit competitions, and for that kind of score to win, others will have to make mistakes. Stanford has also peaked in the low 197s, but they have been more often on track for higher scores before being done in by a fall or a rash of 9.6s. I’m still not really sure how good this team can be because we haven’t seen it. Stanford is the biggest consistency risk in the conference. The multiple potential 9.9s, however, are undeniable.
Utah is probably the safe choice to win. However, that 198 has been the talk of the town for the last few days, and I almost wonder if that will end up hurting the team by pairing “Utah” and “overscored” too much, causing a reaction the other direction. A season-best beam rotation will be vital for them because they won’t be getting 9.850s for major mistakes. UCLA has been the most injury-depleted team this year, and a lot of the Bruins’ success will depend on who they can get in the lineup and who is far enough along to hit for more than a 9.800. They’re cutting it close, but they’re also UCLA.
The rotation order is as follows:
Session 1: Cal – VT; Washington – UB; Arizona St – BB; Arizona – FX
Session 2: Stanford – VT; UCLA – UB; Oregon State – BB; Utah – FX
There is a pretty big gap in quality between the first session and the second session, and if all of the top four teams hit, they will be the top four finishers. Let’s take a look at how they stand each event.
Even a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have expected to be talking up UCLA’s chances on vault, but the Bruins are starting to land. The results on vault could largely hinge on their lineup. Even though Pritchett hit a much better vault last week, I still don’t think she and McDonald are postseason material. Should the Bruins get an in-form Sawa and/or De La Torre hitting for early 9.850s, they can win vault. Otherwise, Utah should take the event.
In comparing the Bruins with the Utes, both teams have a guaranteed big score at the back of the lineup, but Courtney and Baer in the 5th and 4th spots have been landing better than Dabritz and Damianova these last couple weeks and have somewhat more dynamic vaults. Neither team has been getting great quality from the first three vaulters, but Utah has been a bit more reliably 9.800, which is why UCLA’s early lineup is a deciding factor.
Oregon State has squeezed as much as seemed possible out of the vaulters, and the addition of Gaspar has helped significantly. I wonder about the power and landing positions in comparison to the competition, especially from the first three. Blalock and Stambaugh are strong, but they’ll need some sticks to get out of 49.250 land and contend. Stanford has two strong vaults as well in Dayton and Hong and another potential one in Vaculik, but the rest of the rotation could bring down the score just a bit too much to win the event. Ashley Morgan has occasional landing trouble with her vault, and Hanset has enough built-in deductions with landing position to prevent her score from going very high.
Bars is anyone’s game and could very well be the deciding event. Oregon State actually comes in as the highest ranked of the teams on bars, which is quite an accomplishment after losing Mak and Vivian. The Beavers rely on Stambaugh to bring that score up much in the same way Utah relies on Dabritz and UCLA relies on Zamarripa. To avoid losing too much ground, the Utes must stick in the same way they did against Florida and the Bruins must stick in the same way they did against Michigan. Both teams are far too susceptible to getting stuck in 9.825 land until the anchor saves them, which won’t cut it.
None of the teams have looked as refined as they probably should on bars at this point in the season, which is why any team that can stick for something like a 49.400 should have a nice advantage. Stanford has tremendous potential to be that team on paper with Hong, Shapiro, and Vaculik leading the way. It hasn’t worked out that way often enough this season, but it could still happen if 2012 postseason Stanford shows up.
If Stanford is going to contend for the title and make a serious push into the postseason, it will be because of beam prowess. Now that UCLA has lost Larson, Stanford doesn’t have much competition to the claim of most refined beam team in the Pac-12. Hong, Spinner, Shona Morgan, and Vaculik are all capable of 9.900 brilliance. That Stanford isn’t ranked in the top three on beam is solely the result of consistency. They must get six hits. Vaculik must have it together.
Remarkably, this has been one of UCLA’s most consistent beam seasons, and we saw none of those three-fall implosions we’ve come to expect, even at the beginning of the year. Francis is an utter gem, and Zamarripa should be able to trot her way to a strong score. The first three of Baer, Wong, and Courtney probably won’t go too far above 9.8, but if the back three save them, it should still be a big rotation.
Utah and Oregon State are looking more to get through the event. The Beavers have some supremely nervy 9.7s, and it’s difficult for most of their routines to get above a 9.850 even at the best of times. Utah has a similar problem to most of the other teams with some 9.8ish early showings, but the lack of consistency at the back of the rotation makes the event a red flag for them. Utah going 6/6 with no major breaks would be the unexpected outcome.
Floor has been tough to read this season across the country because the scores have been going so much higher, especially for home teams at the ends of meets. You’re a 9.950, you’re a 9.950, everyone’s a 9.950! If Utah is going to win the title, that title will almost certainly have to include winning floor as well. In the past, the Utes have built their success on secure landings, so the occasional slight stumbles and bounces back out of dismounts have to go.
UCLA has turned Pritchett’s 9.950 into a thing these last few weeks, and they will need 9.9s from each of the last three to keep in contention on this event. The beginning of the lineup makes me somewhat nervous because a discerning judge can take a lot from McDonald’s routine and Sawa is just coming back and did no more than get through her routine last week. The scoring potential is still strong, but it’s not the UCLA floor rotation we’ve come to expect.
Oregon State and Stanford are way down in the rankings, both below Arizona, a team that could make a nice push toward the mid-196s and a top-four finish (if a second-session team has a fall) with a big floor rotation. The Beavers have two brilliant routines from Jones and Stambaugh that could contend for the event title, but they haven’t shown enough from the rest of the team. Stanford likewise has several routines that can score well but has not been at all consistent with the tumbling landings.
This thing is going to come down to the last rotation. A different team will probably be leading after each rotation, and a different team could very well win each event. If you force me to make a pick, I’m taking UCLA. The Bruins finish on vault, and if the scores increase throughout the night, they could get a big boost there to take the lead.