Throughout the week, I will be breaking down each of the regional championships, giving a good hard stare to the teams expected to advance as well as the teams that could conceivably make things a little more interesting than they were last year. Let’s begin with our #1 seed, the Florida Gators, and their home regional in Gainesville, Florida.
Competing teams (starting event):
 Florida (vault)
 Minnesota (bye before bars)
 Auburn (bye before floor)
 Maryland (floor)
 Bridgeport (bars)
 Pittsburgh (beam)
Once again, the Florida Gators enter the regional championships as the #1 team, and while any person with eyes and a basic understanding of the concept of gymnastics would consider them a lock to advance from any of the regional locations, it would take an upset of downright comical proportions to knock them out their home regional. We’re just two years removed from Florida’s near disaster of a 2011 regional, but this team is notably more secure than that one and also scores at such stratospheric levels that it could withstand even that kind of catastrophe and still advance.
Since anything but four events of cruise control would be an upset, watching Florida at this competition will be an exercise in nationals prognostication. Even though the Gators won SECs and managed a 198 while doing it, they only just out-touched Alabama at the end. There are still several areas where Florida can improve in order to pad that margin and become a more convincing favorite. The clearest weakness from the SEC performance was vault, an event that saw zero of six stuck landings. This is not the first time this season Florida has struggled to control the vault landings while recording a few too many 9.850s.
That kind of issue is normal for this point in the calendar, but controlling landings in pressure situations has undone Florida each of the last two years, which does make the issue a bit more interesting. A few average landings in the final rotation of Super Six last year opened the door just enough for Alabama, and even in the 2011 semifinals, Florida was still in a position to advance after counting a fall on the beam. The tight vault landings help seal elimination by less than a tenth. Because of strength on the other events, the Gators will not need to win vault at nationals to win the title, but they cannot allow Alabama a multiple-tenth advantage on the event. Watch for a touch more security in those landings next weekend.
The other factor to keep at least three-fifths of an eye on will be the bars lineup. Alaina Johnson is still up in the air, and there has been some discussion among fans that Florida should not even bother trying to shoehorn her back into the lineup for the end of this season. I disagree with that perspective. Johnson still provides a solid tenth of value over the current lineup when in form, so if she’s back to her usual quality (no guarantee), she should go. If she does, it raises the interesting question of who comes out. Dickerson is always at the mercy of how discerning the judges elect to be for issues like toes (exhibit A: the 9.750-9.950 spread from SECs), but I think Rhonda loves her stuck DLO in that opening position, which means BDG is probably more likely to come out if Johnson returns.
More interesting than picking apart Florida’s romp, however, will be the 12/13 confrontation for the second advancing spot.
The battle to advance out of this regional will come down to the #2 and #3 seeds, Minnesota and Auburn, and there is essentially nothing to differentiate these two teams. Certainly the team that hits will win, but if they both hit, there are a few key areas that will help provide some indication of which way the meet is turning as it goes.
Minnesota started the year with colossal home results and below-average road results, so it was easy to dismiss the team as home-scoring wonders. After a road 197 in Gainesville at the beginning of March, however, Minnesota began to emerge as a road team, which was confirmed by a large number at Big Tens. While the Gophers have been and continue to be an unheralded joy on floor, vault strength will be Minnesota’s most important merit badge if they want to make it to Los Angeles for the jamboree. When those landings are in place, the team boasts several potential 9.9s, scores that must be achieved to stay clear of Auburn. If Mable, Slechta, and Covers hit those landings, Minnesota should have a several-tenth advantage solely because of vault.
While Auburn also manages many of its higher scores on vault and floor, a Tiger victory looks likely if Auburn can reinforce the difference in quality on bars and beam. Interestingly, other than Florida, this regional is rather patchy on the bars talent. This may work to Minnesota’s favor because the weakness there will not be exposed to the same degree as it would be at another regional. Auburn must make sure it is exposed by overperforming an RQS currently in the low 49s. Specifically, Atkinson and Yokay need to score in the 9.875-9.900 range to provide a solid advantage because Minnesota is unlikely to receive much of anything over 9.850.
I expect the scores to go rather high as a whole, which is typical at Florida (the 9.950 is the official state bird), and if everything goes to plan, it should take something in the mid-high 196s to advance. Both teams have achieved that this year and should be capable when hitting, so the meet may very well come down to smaller factors like rotation order.
Auburn begins on floor and vault while Minnesota begins on bars and beam, so Auburn should have a fairly sizable lead at the halfway point. To withstand Minnesota making up ground on the better events, the Auburn lead probably needs to be at least four tenths. Auburn finishes on beam and must be extremely secure there. All six members of the lineup are 9.800 capable, but the team will also need some bigger scores from Walker and Atkinson. Finishing on vault could very well play into Minnesota’s hands because those stuck 9.9 vaults may take advantage of score building throughout the meet to record the highest rotation total for either team.
The final three teams are going to need some assistance to play a role here. Maryland has the potential to score in the low 196s, but that won’t be enough without a counting fall from both Auburn and Minnesota. I noticed a severe degree of beam trouble for this team at EAGLs and ending on that event may be a curse. Vault and floor are fairly strong and could keep the team in range at the halfway mark.
Bridgeport is the D2 darling, and literally everyone is rooting for this team to do something special. Certain routines are competitive, and I think they will surprise by putting up a viable score in the high 195s. Qualification, however, would require a Kent State-esque confluence of events. A much more realistic proposition would be an individual competitor advancing. Even though she is the star, it will be a tough ask for Monica Mesalles to advance for vault or floor with the talent at this regional, so watch for an AAer like Sasha Tsikhanovich or Lissette La Fex, which might be an even better spy name than Sunny Kato or Kahoku Palafox. If she doesn’t walk around all day carrying stolen microfilm, it’s a sadly missed opportunity.
Pitt snatched up the final spot to advance to regionals, and that was the victory. A 196 would be a very strong showing, but this is the least likely team of the six to reach that number. The senior Alyssa Adrian is the most realistic contender for an AA spot.