We’re nearly there. During a frantic five-hour period tomorrow, everything we need to know about nationals will be decided. I’ll be there for every moment, of course, and since it will be impossible to keep and eye on everything at the same time, I hope you all will help keep everyone updated. One final regional to preview before the chatter ends and things start getting good.
Competing teams (starting event):
 UCLA (vault)
 LSU (bye before bars)
 Arizona (bye before floor)
 Ohio State (floor)
 Central Michigan (bars)
 NC State (beam)
By all logic, this should be a straightforward meet in which UCLA and LSU advance to nationals as the indisputably strongest teams, but of all the regionals, I feel the least confident about how this one will play out. It smells dangerous.
UCLA enters as the higher seed, but it could very well go either way between the two. If they both hit to capability, the meet will come down to minor details, but if that’s the case, it won’t matter because they will both be swimming through to the next round. This year’s Bruins are rather more well-rounded than teams of recent years, while LSU is a terror on vault and floor and quite a degree more nerve-wracking and 9.7ish on bars and beam. In that way, this is similar to the Minnesota/Auburn contest in Gainesville but on a larger scale. I trust UCLA more to hit (it’s an odd sentence, I know), but LSU will have the bigger rotations.
The Bruins had a hiccup on beam at Pac-12s, but that has been the exception rather than the rule this season. Based on the history of the last three months, I would expect the team to hit since (rather shockingly) this has been one of the more secure UCLA beam teams in recent years. Although on paper, that Wong, Courtney, De Jesus patch in the middle of the lineup is terrifying. Couple that will the immense pressure of trying to advance to a home nationals, and I will certainly be keeping an eye on that rotation. If the Bruins hit beam, they should be free and easy going into floor.
The only complication to that is the severe fragility of the team this year. With McDonald out of the lineup at Pac-12s, they didn’t even show six 10.0 vaults. It’s quite likely that the first three vaults and the first two floor routines will not be nationally significant, but the strength of the back three routines on both events should keep the rotations scoring well since all six of those routines can go 9.900. Those are the most reliable 9.9 hopes for UCLA along with the Zamarripa bars routine and the Zamarripa and Francis beam routines (and perhaps some less assured options on bars with MDLT and Wong).
In true UCLA fashion, these lineups are still very much uncertain. They will be scraping together possible routines until the last moment, so broader success may hinge on which athletes are in a position to compete. The ideal realistic lineup would have Sawa back in on vault and floor, but she is cutting it very close with getting those routines back into competitive form. Certainly, there are people competing on every event who would not have been considered lineup-worthy if the team were at full strength. Watch the routines from those people. They need to be at 9.850 potential for the Bruins to be competitive at nationals.
LSU begins on bars and beam, so we will know early on whether we have a meet or whether we can sit back and check in on something more competitive. If the Tigers get through those events, it will be a smooth ride to the finish. The back three routines on both vault and floor for LSU and UCLA have very similar scoring potentials, but LSU pulls ahead with much more powerful and impressive early routines from Dickson, Jordan, Ranzy (VT), and Mathis (FX). Those routines can score 9.875 while UCLA will be getting 9.825s. Expect 49.500+ on both from LSU.
For LSU, the picture is less rosy on bars and beam. They have improved on both events this year to be sure (that’s why they are as competitive as they are), but they are still the reasons LSU is not contending in the same conversation as Florida, Alabama, and Oklahoma. There are bits and pieces of form breaks and rushed/missed handstands through most of the lineup on bars, so the goal will be to get through the early routines without giving away anything major so that Courville and Morrison can bump up the score. Aside from the fanciful Metroplex meet, LSU has not reached above 49.200 on bars on the road this year, which may become a problem later on. They need to see 9.850s from Dickson and Wyrick because they are too often working against 9.7s from Jordan and Ranzy at the beginning.
For beam, getting through it will be enough for this meet, and then we’ll reassess. Putting Taylor in the first position seems like a prudent change based on the SEC results, and more of the same will be required for the rest of the season. Garcia is still a liability if she remains in the lineup, and the whole group aside from Courville is a bit too 9.800. The middle of the lineup will be at the mercy of how strict the judges choose to be for completed dance elements. Normally, LSU would be able to count a fall on beam and still advance, but Ohio State’s scoring tendencies at home should make both UCLA and LSU wary of even entering that conversation.
I’m breaking with protocol and bumping Ohio State above Arizona even though the Buckeyes are the #4 seed because they are the biggest wildcard in the whole of regionals and are more likely to be able to pounce if there is a mistake elsewhere. This year’s Ohio State team is not as talented as last year’s team, especially because of the loss of Colleen Dean, but nationals is still not out of the question. The last home score for the Buckeyes was 196.850, so even though they have recorded much weaker scores over the last two weeks, I’m not counting them out. It would take a mistake from one of the top two seeds to drop into OSU’s range, yes, but just the one mistake.
They begin on floor in the first rotation, and it will be the most telling event because it has the highest scoring potential. If Shaffer and Miller are getting 9.900-9.925, we have ourselves the makings of something. The trouble for Ohio State will come on vault and beam. There are a few weaker routines on each event (and a number of hit concerns on beam) that are unlikely to reach 9.8, which could take the Buckeyes out of even a mess of a meet. If they hit for 9.800 in the first few spots on vault and beam, they will be in this to the end.
Arizona had a rather poor showing at Pac-12s, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for their chances here (although Ohio State didn’t exactly have a great showing at Big 10s). Floor should be the clear strength for this team, but those landings two weeks ago were all over the place to the point where I thought the OOB judges were practicing semaphore. Even if they do get the landings in place on floor and don’t count a bars fall, they are probably just a little too 9.800 to factor here. At Pac-12s, no leadoff routines scored over 9.750, and that’s a big red flag.
Cristello is the star, the only one capable of reliable 9.9s, and should be a strong contender for an individual spot.
Central Michigan and NC State are just making up the numbers here, I’m afraid. They are by no means the weakest teams in the whole of regionals since both are capable of scoring in the 196s, but it’s going to take much more than that to factor. Floor could go well over 49 for both teams, but they just don’t have the routines at the beginnings of their lineups (especially on bars and beam). While even some of the top teams can overcome a 9.750 or two, these teams don’t have the stars to overcome the lower scores. They would need a universal meltdown to enter the overall conversation. Individually for NC State, Ouellette and Ham could contend for individual spots, but it will take a big performance to outdo the contenders for OSU and Arizona.