Corvallis Regional Preview

We finally arrive at a regional where the host is not the top seed. It’s the second seed, which is just as effective in reducing upset potential. This is our west coast regional, so it would have been nice if they had scheduled the meet later to separate it from the other meets. Alas, no. It’s at 7ET, 4PT along with the Alabama regional.

Rotation order (starting event):
[4] Georgia (vault)
[10] Oregon State (bye before bars)
[16] Arkansas (bye before floor)
[21] Boise State (floor)
[28] Arizona State (bars)
[32] California (beam)

The Favorites

Georgia enters the Corvallis Regional with its highest postseason ranking in the post-Suzanne era. No final conclusions can be drawn about the success of Durante’s first year because, well, nothing has happened yet, but after a troubling first month and a half, Durante has put the team in a better position to contend with the top programs. When Clark was fired and Durante hired, I questioned the move, not from any allegiance to Clark but from the perspective that Clark’s teams were improving and no one else was necessarily going to be any better. I’m big enough to admit that I might be at least 30% wrong.

One of my major knocks against Jay Clark was that he seemed to disregard the “girlier” parts of gymnastics, the elegance, the presentation, the refinement, the choreography, even the seemingly nonsensical things like leotards. When questioned about them, he would often deflect those issues as “Julie’s territory.” Even though those areas may seem intangible or insignificant, they are all reflective of investment in the larger performance quality. This year’s Georgia team possesses an attention to detail and performance that has been missing recently. Plus, Durante can claim the trophy for having solved the riddle of that sphinx Christa Tanella. Now, that doesn’t mean this team is any less likely to have a beam meltdown sometime in the next few weeks, but I like the overall direction. 

While the Gymdogs are not in quite the same territory as the previously previewed top seeds that could count a fall and still win easily, it would nonetheless take a disaster to knock Georgia out in this round. A few missed landings or a counting wobbly beam set is not going to make much of a difference in the larger picture.

Right now, Georgia sits atop the second tier of contenders, those team that have not yet proven they have the ability to somehow snatch a title away from the likes of Florida, Alabama, or Oklahoma. If the Gymdogs are going to become part of the elite group, they must prove the potential at this meet. In that respect, floor is the biggest concern. While beam has been the focus of most of the nail biting and ashen-faced sneering this year, when this team hits six for six, it is a nationally competitive rotation. On floor, the team faces much more difficulty mustering more than one or two 9.9s, even when everybody hits to potential. Watch the dance elements and the control of landings, especially for Worley, Rogers, and Jay.

The other significant determining factor in Georgia’s success will be the quality of the freshmen. Rogers and Jay can combine for five or six 9.9s when they are hitting, but they must be in form and must control their landings to do so. If they are missing slightly and getting 9.850s, Georgia will find it near impossible to become a top-tier team.

I’m also including Oregon State in the favorites section on account of both the performance at Pac-12s and being the host of this event. If the Beavers were not hosting, I would consider them somewhat susceptible to suffering a weak beam rotation and dropping into the mid-196s, where Arkansas will be waiting, but at home I expect something close to a repeat of the scoring we saw at Pac-12s, where Oregon State was able to ride being “the team that didn’t mess up” to a 197.850 and the conference title. Even if that beam rotation had turned problematic (it was teetering), the score would still have been in the low 197s, which should be safe again this weekend.

There are currently too many 9.825-quality routines in these lineups for Oregon State to be a contender to advance to Super Six. The team will not be able to rely on receiving a 49.675 for a perfectly solid 49.400-49.450 of a bars rotation once things get more serious, so it will be up to some of those early routines, especially on the events other than bars, to pick up the scoring pace. If something higher than a 197.200 is going to become a normal thing (and it will have to be for any hope of challenging at nationals), there must be more than one or two likely 9.9s per event.

On beam, Blalock, Stambaugh, Ohlrich, and Harris are still a little too happy just to stay on the event and avoid a fall. A 49.150 will be good enough at this regional because there are stacks of beam questions on the other teams, but it will difficult to dig out of that hole in a national semifinal. The level of confidence and security in those beam routines will be crucial. They have to start getting rid of those multi-wobble showings, especially those wobbles that come when moving out of, or adjusting after, otherwise hit acro skills. While vault and floor don’t suffer from the same tentativeness and “Please just don’t fall”-ness of the beam rotation, finding a way to get those first few routines out of 9.825 land will be vital.

The extremely high quality of gymnastics from Stambaugh and Jones is well known, and the team should be able to ride that fairly far. Still, they need a third and fourth musketeer. Blalock is there on two events, but we still need confirmation that there is more to this team.

The Contenders
Last year, Georgia and Oregon State also met in the same regional, and they were joined by a then-struggling Michigan team. Arkansas, in many ways, takes the Michigan role in this year’s competition, a normally strong team that has lost its star gymnast and is finding it difficult to remain competitive. Last year, Michigan almost managed to sneak into nationals after a season-best performance, and Arkansas will be hoping for the same opportunity. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to prove more difficult this time.

In every Arkansas meet I’ve seen this season, I get the impression the team is hanging by a thread. They compete just five high-quality vaults, and they have had to sacrifice Grable’s beam score by putting her first just to get through the event with hit routines. The Razorbacks likely need a beam mistake from Oregon State (while avoiding one of their own) in order to contend and will have to be excellent on every 4th-6th routine because their lineups provide no margin for error.

Arkansas actually comes into the meet as the highest-ranked team on floor because of three very strong routines from Lewis, Borsellino, and Grable at the back of the lineup. Those three performances are among Arkansas’s best opportunities for 9.9s, and they will probably need something like 9.875, 9.900, 9.925 from that trio to keep up. Since Arkansas begins on floor, we’ll know very early on if we have a real meet on our hands.

I’m also placing Boise State in the contenders section, but I’m adding an asterisk to that called the balance beam. On three events, this team is just as strong if not stronger than Arkansas. If they end up hitting beam, they too can challenge if one of the top seeds has a problem. Boise State is not one of those teams that boasts a lot of 9.9s, so the ceiling is only so high, but they can effectively 9.850 opponents to death, which makes a final score around 196.500-196.600 conceivable albeit unlikely.

The Broncos finish the meet on beam, as does Arkansas, so both teams may appear to be in artificial contention before that event, but to have any chance of being in the picture going into beam, Boise State will need at least 9.850s from Black, Otuafi, and Potvin-Green on both vault and floor and a patch of 9.825-9.850 performances from the entire bars rotation.

The Others
Since this is the western regional, we fill out the final spots with the bottom of the Pac-12. Arizona State has struggled to put together competitive rotations and looked extremely rough on both vault and beam at Pac-12s. It has been a number of years now since this team has been at all competitive, and it’s a shame to see a program that used to make nationals consistently now struggle to win meets at all and melt to the bottom of the conference. If something doesn’t change, Cal will pass ASU next year and bump the Sun Devils to worst in the conference.

Speaking of Cal, even though the team comes into regionals ranked lower than Arizona State, the story is entirely different. This is a team on the rise that will be absolutely thrilled to qualify for regionals this year. Cal is little more than a two-event team, but that’s an improvement from being a zero-event team. The vault and floor rotations are verging on nationally competitive (give it another year or two, but they can be 49.300 on both before too long), and 9.850 is a legitimate score for most of those routines. Bars and beam, however, are not competitive and will keep Cal well down the rankings. Alicia Asturias is a real gem, and I would love for her to advance to nationals as an AAer along with Grable (though I recognize that Borsellino (Ark), Black (BSU), and Mann (BSU) are more likely options).