Alabama hosts our third regional, which begins at 6:00 CT, so it will be one of the last to finish. Unfortunately, I don’t expect it to be that close, but if it is, at least it won’t be overshadowed by all six meets going on at the same time.
Rotation order (starting event):
 Alabama (vault)
 Utah (bye before bars)
 Denver (bye before floor)
 Kent State (floor)
 BYU (bars)
 Iowa State (beam)
The tale grows a bit dull as we head into a third regional of the same, but Alabama, like Florida and Oklahoma, is about as locked as a lock can be to advance out of regionals. That’s what happens when the top seeds host. It becomes that much less likely that they will even finish second let alone be upset. In the future, the NCAA should avoid selecting all the best schools to host in the same year.
Alabama has been surging and will feel quite pleased about finishing only one tenth (before penalty) behind Florida at SECs while competing without Ashley Sledge. The vaults are crazy powerful, and with the landings improving each week, the event is becoming an easy 49.500. There are individual blips here and there in the beam and floor rotations but nothing that would account for any fundamental disadvantage to Florida.
Bars has been the story all year for Alabama, but the condition of the event is improving marginally. Priess has begun to minimize the deductions on the dismount, and Kim Jacob managed a 9.875 at SECs, which seemed unlikely even a few weeks ago. Even when hitting to capability, however, Alabama will lose ground on this event, so the dismounts must be stuck and completely precise. This weekend, watch how many of the bars deductions are built-in versus given away. If Alabama sticks five or six bars dismounts at nationals, the team can stay close enough to Florida to remain competitive and pounce on any potential landing errors.
What I find most interesting about Alabama right now, and what I will be keeping the strongest eye on at regionals, is the lineup decision making. Even though I’m not necessarily a fan of automatically putting the weakest routine first because I think there is value in letting a showy first routine bump up the subsequent scores, I also don’t agree with putting the best routine first and losing out on a potentially big number. On bars, the coaching staff clearly feels putting Sledge first is necessary for a hit rotation, but it will be a problem when Alabama’s best bars worker gets a 9.875 in the first position while Florida (and potentially Oklahoma as well) is racking up the 9.925-9.950s in the fourth, fifth, and sixth spots.
On vault, we now have a similar situation except there is no question that all six will hit there. Kayla Williams is emerging as the strongest lander on the team, and while she doesn’t have the distance of Gutierrez or the difficulty of Milliner, she proved at SECs that her vault is clearly 10-worthy. While there may be some benefit to the score building she provides in the first spot, that benefit is intangible. What is much more tangible is that she would have received a 10 at SECs had she not vaulted first. Even though the difference is only .025, that can be a valuable .025. She needs to be in a position where she can more easily get that 10.
I’m also including Utah in the favorites section because, unlike the Florida and Oklahoma regionals where the third seed has at least a fair shot at advancing even if the second seed hits, Utah will have to give away a fall or fall-equivalent for Denver to have a realistic chance. This Denver team is mid-196 capable, but Utah can probably go 48.900 on both bars and beam and still exceed that number. Beam, of course, is almost entirely terrifying, so Denver will have a shot if Utah can’t pull it together for 9.8s there.
The most important routines for Utah’s success at this regional and chances of making Super Six later on are the first four vaulters and the first five bars workers, both sets of gymnasts culminating in Nansy Damianova. These routines are the most beholden to the level of scrutiny of the judges. As we saw during the Florida meet, sometimes the judges are really happy with them, and if that’s the case at nationals, Utah can still make Super Six.
However, on vault, the first several gymnasts lack the power of gymnasts on the top teams and come off the table flatter than many of the gymnasts with whom they will be compared come the end of the month. If the judges decide to evaluate those qualities, and if the landings aren’t there as well, the judges would be justified in staying right around 9.800-9.825 for the bunch, which would impede scoring potential. The same is true on bars, but replace power with handstand and pirouette finishing positions.
The Damianova scores will be the key barometers. If she’s allowed to go 9.875-9.900 for routines like the one above (which received 9.900), Utah is healthy. If she’s getting 9.800-9.825 for the same work, the rotations will struggle to remain competitive with the other top six or eight teams in the country.
Denver has the routine quality in the fifth and sixth positions on most events to compete nationally, and the strength of those routines primarily accounts for the current ranking of the team. Martin has received a 10 on vault and will compete for an individual spot at nationals, and McGee is right toward the top of the rankings on both bars and floor. Where Utah’s challenge is getting those early routines into the 9.850 range, Denver’s challenge is ensuring those same routines reach 9.800. There are a few too many potentially counting 9.7s for this team to beat a hitting Utah.
It would seem that Denver’s best chance to advance will be a beamtrastophe from Utah, but Denver isn’t exactly immune from the beamtastrophe either and is a bit too likely to count a low score. Denver begins on floor and vault while Utah begins on bars and beam, so there’s a fair chance they can keep it close or even go ahead through two events, but keeping that up for four seems a very tough ask.
Speaking of beam issues, Kent State is here. This team should have absolutely cruised to the MAC title with a solid point of a margin over the rest of the teams but had an awful beam showing in the final rotation to drop to third. Marie Case is the only comfortable beamer on the team, and she cannot carry the group. Kent State, like Denver, ends on beam, so expect them to stay within sight for most of the meet. However, they would probably need a multiple tenth advantage over Denver going into the last event to place above fourth. A 2011 repeat this will not be. Look for Case to contend for an individual spot.
Ditto BYU. This team is rather similar to Kent State, except without those few potential 9.9s here and there. The BYU season started well enough when they managed to finish not last in Cancun, but the 196s never came. It will take a 196 to advance out of this regional. If BYU figures out how to get through beam, which has been a challenge enough this year, the team can challenge Kent State for fourth.
Iowa State also qualified. They managed a strong score at Big 12s featuring a whole pack of 9.850s and 9.875s, but that feat is unlikely to be repeated at regionals. The teams in this regional excel on floor, and including the three lower-ranked teams, they are all capable of going over 49 there. If beam is more secure than I expect it to be, the rankings of the bottom three may hinge on which one can go 49.150 or so on floor versus which ones languish in the 48.8s.