Nationals Capsules Pt. 1: What to Expect When You’re Expecting (to Lose to Florida)

Over the next week, I’ll be providing hearty little capsules about each of the teams heading to National Championships, covering their strengths and weaknesses and their overall outlooks for the competition. Let’s begin with the lower three seeds from the first semifinal.

Today, Val did an interview with Sam Peszek (whose interviewing skills have skyrocketed this season) where she said there are no straightforward semifinals anymore. You mean except for the first one? Of course, anything can happen. That’s always true. However, this semifinal is in the hands of the top seeds, and I firmly believe that if Florida, Georgia, and LSU hit 24-for-24, they will advance to Super Six regardless of the other performances. Actually, Florida probably doesn’t even have to hit that well to be comfortable.

To change that presumed outcome, it will take a season best from Minnesota or Stanford mixed with an off meet from Georgia or LSU. This is quite possible, but it will take a confluence of events. It won’t be all on one team. The lower seeds will need help in the form of a sub-49 rotation or, more likely, a counting fall. This semifinal is still deep enough that Georgia and LSU should not be able to count falls and advance, at least hopefully. I never like to see a missed meet provide a ticket to Super Six. If the Gators are on 49.5s track again, they can probably count a 9.300 and be OK.

It wouldn’t be National Championships without a few crazy falls, though, so don’t take this session completely for granted. Assuming no falls, however, it should take a score into the lowish-midish 197s to advance to Super Six, so that is the standard on which we must evaluate all of the teams.  

[8] Minnesota

Since remaining a thing at such a late point in the season isn’t exactly the norm for the Gophers, they are free to take a moment to have some “Wheee! Nationals!” time, but only a moment. While I wouldn’t call it a likely outcome, this team has the potential to continue past semifinals and should not be content with simply making it to the big city full of big dreams.

The Gophers have not received an away 197 this season outside of Florida, where the only thing higher than Ryan Lochte is the bars scoring (Blamo!), so they still have to prove they are more than an upper-middle 196 team when being directly compared to all the best teams in the country by judges who should be picking apart routines to separate the bestest from the best. This is especially difficult because Minnesota does not have the reputation of the perennial contenders, and whether we like it or not, that is a factor.

Part of proving that they are a 197 team at nationals will be showing that they are more than a one-way monkey with vault. Minnesota is brilliant with the vaulting, and those Yfulls at the end of the lineup from regionals will challenge any team in the country in both form and landing. To have any shot at advancing, the entire lineup must vault with equivalent excellence next weekend. The other strength should be floor, but there were a few too many uncontrolled landings at regionals to warrant 9.9s. They’re probably going to need to be at least 49.300 on floor to keep within range because all the teams ranked above them should be going 49.400+. Georgia is the one doubt there, so Minnesota will be looking to pounce on them. 

The Gophers get through beam, and it’s never going to be a major scorer. That’s fine for most of the season but becomes a problem once we get to the postseason, where even teams that struggle on beam like LSU are finding ways to squeeze out 49.3s. It’s not that Minnesota cannot afford a fall; they cannot afford wobbles or checks if they want to capitalize on another team’s mistakes. This is especially true because of the concerns I have about bars.

The 49.250 from regionals was far and away the strongest road bars score of the season, but in watching those routines back, I still see a lot of problem areas. The performances had a number of short handstands and issues of form throughout in addition to some composition choices as far as turning elements that will always incur deductions. I don’t care for half turns in general because they break the momentum without involving a challenging element, but in all but the very best hands, they are also deduction traps that rarely get completed in handstand. The dismount landings at regionals were strong overall and certainly helped bring the scores up. Sticks will be absolutely imperative.

Minnesota begins on bars, which could be a problem. The judges might not be feeling too charitable about the first routines they see in the whole competition. If the Gophers can get through bars and beam and reach the halfway point still in sight of Georgia Georgia (or bettering LSU on beam), then keep an eye out.

[9] Stanford
Remember this? Nationals again, please.

While ranked lower, Stanford enters the competition from a position of greater strength than Minnesota. This is part perception/reputation and part talent-level. Stanford is always expected to reach this stage and peak at this stage, but at the same time, when hitting to capability, Stanford has more 9.9s in the lineup.

This team is somewhat the opposite of Minnesota on bars. At regionals, the routines were brilliant on the bars themselves and looked lovely and 9.900 until the dismounts, which were tenth-bleeders. Stanford has no business being not excellent on this event. Hong, Vaculik, and Shapiro should be consistently going into the stratosphere, but that has occurred far too infrequently this season. Hong and Shapiro both gave away significant ground with those landings at regionals, and since they have the highest scoring potential, the team cannot afford their being anything but excellent. Stanford certainly needs to be top three on bars in this session to feel comfortable.

To make up for that sluggish start on bars at regionals, Stanford received some gifts on vault. They certainly cannot expect to get another 9.900 from Rice for a vault with that degree of bounce back on landing, and I have to think that the 49.425 is an untenable pace. Ashley Morgan did, however, hit her Yhalf with much improved control over Pac-12s, which was vital in establishing the scoring pace and lifting up her teammates. At nationals, they cannot abide an “I’m flying” landing from her for a 9.700 because it stunts the scoring for the whole team. Hong and Dayton are the two realistic 9.9 possibilities in the lineup, and both must stick. While Stanford is unlikely to catch Florida, LSU, or Minnesota on vault, they must remain close enough to be able to pounce during the more Stanfordy events, bars and beam. If Georgia is missing those Y1.5 landings for 9.850s again, Stanford could even gain some ground with sticks at the back of the lineup. 

Beam must be the event. Stanford is far too talented on beam to have any business being in the bottom three here. They should be scoring right with any other team. Vaculik provided a big, big hit at regionals, and her overall sturdiness was the most important victory of that meet. A reliable hit from her is everything. Unfortunately, I think the team is impeded somewhat by the lineup composition, which has clearly been organized for sturdiness instead of scoring potential. Hong, Spinner, and Shona Morgan have the highest potential on the team, but they are all buried in the lineup, which hurts their 9.925ishness. Stanford finishes the meet on beam, which is a fairly good position for them, certainly better than it would be for some other teams.

And they may have quite some ground to pick up at the end of the meet after beginning on floor, their biggest obstacle. With all the injuries Stanford has suffered, they do not have enough depth to feel comfortable about the lineup at all. Hong and Shapiro are being relied upon for 9.875+ scores on an event that should be great for both but is the most troubling because of sturdiness and injury concerns. Ashley Morgan has been scoring 9.9s this year as usual, but she must be more than a 9.900 because the success of the rotation may be riding solely on her score.    

It’s going to be a tough battle, but Stanford has peaked at this point in the season before. After vault and floor, they probably need to be somewhere around 98.600 to stand a good chance of challenging with clean bars and beam rotations.

[12] Illinois

Like Minnesota, Illinois can also take a “Whee! Nationals!” moment, but honestly that moment can last quite a bit longer than Minnesota’s. It actually seems like it would be kind of fun to compete at nationals knowing it would require nothing short of an indoor blizzard during all the other beam rotations to get out of semifinal day, and that is largely the case for Illinois. Therefore, the Illini should be able to compete with complete relaxation and joy, but that doesn’t always happen. When Illinois made nationals in 2011, they had a roughly rough sub-48 on the beam with a leadoff fall from Alina Weinstein. How far she has come. She is the star of this team, and the rest of the gymnasts could seriously considering getting her a cake or a gold cape or a flying car or something as a thank you for taking them to nationals.

By and large, Illinois is a 196 team that was able to capitalize on the profound implosion by Nebraska on three events in order to slide into nationals. The regionals performance is about what we can expect from the Illini again at nationals with a few places for improvement. Bars can be .050s better here and there, and they clearly underperformed on floor with a fall from Fujinami and an unexpected 9.7 from See.

To be fair, in recent years a low 196 has managed to advance to Super Six. However, this is not one of those years. Not with the way we’ve been scoring. Illinois is not capable of the 197 it should take to advance.

Weinstein has a shot at placing in the top 10 in the AA and can possibly make FX finals as well as BB finals if that very strong, very important routine from regionals is any indication. I could also see See (I apologize) contending for floor finals if the qualifying score is 9.900, but I don’t think it will be with Florida and LSU likely bumping the cutoff to at least 9.925.

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