Nationals Capsules Pt. 4 – Circus of the Seeds

What’s the good of being a top seed if it doesn’t feel like it? This session is anarchy, and a seeding in the top three means almost nothing. Could the top three still advance? Of course, you imbecile, but that is no more likely than a number of other scenarios.

We’re nearly there now. Just hold on a few more days. It’s about to get very good.

[2] Oklahoma

It has been a good long while since a top seed in a semifinal failed to advance to Super Six, and while the path for the Sooners looks strong, they by no means enjoy the same level of comfort and self-determination that the Gators do. If we look at the Sooners’ road performances this season, just once have they broken that crucial 197.500 barrier that teams will have to reach to begin to feel a degree of comfort in this session.

Oklahoma’s home regional performance was marked by a number of strong scores but an absence of huge scores. Only one routine, Mooring’s vault, reached as high as 9.925. The 197.375 final score was built on a foundation of many, many 9.875s and 9.900s. While that scoring will not be good enough to contend during Super Six and will have to be improved through (guess what?) better landings, that level of scoring can be more than manageable in a semifinal scenario. For instance on bars, the Sooners underperformed their RQS at regionals, but repeating a 49.400 on that event will certainly put them in the top half of teams and could be strong enough to win the session on the event.

I expect bars to be the most reliable event for Oklahoma, which perhaps could allow some distance over Alabama and will most likely provide a good buffer against UCLA and Utah should it be needed. The only time I saw Oklahoma actually struggle on bars this season was as a result of rather significantly missed landings from Olson and Spears. Stick those final dismounts, and the score should be pleasing. Floor was the other stronger event from regionals, and some concerns over Brewer’s landing consistency notwithstanding, I expect to see a confident, controlled rotation. These routines don’t hit you over the head with power or difficulty, so conservative judging in that very first rotation could be an issue. If the judges are sticking in the 9.850 area for these routines, which is quite possible, Scaman’s performance will gain significance. She is a step higher in difficulty and power than the rest of the team, so she’s the most likely to shake out a 9.950 from an icy panel and ensure a healthy rotation.

The Sooners did not land well on vault at regionals, recording just one stick and showing a rather surprising lack of control. They rely significantly on those landings, so keep an eye out. Also, watch the body position on landing and how the judges feel about that. That rotation could be anywhere from 49.100-49.500 depending on both of those factors, and the degree to which the judges evaluate amplitude and body position on landing for all the teams will be very influential in the overall result. I’d like to see a bit more separation than we saw during the season with all the 9.925 parades.

The Oklahoma beam rotation is in a state of flux. Olson had been struggling mightily with her consistency (and has never been a true beamer), so she was removed from the lineup when Kmieciak returned. At regionals, Kmieciak performed fourth, however, instead of in her normal leadoff position. The Sooners ended up counting her 9.725 after Clark also received a 9.700. Apart from the hit at Alabama, it has been many weeks since we’ve seen a strong Oklahoma beam rotation. I’m not willing to give up on this as their best event, yet. This is best opportunity for the Sooners to cultivate a multiple-tenth advantage in this session, and the score cannot be a paltry 49.100 again. I’m betting it won’t be.

If floor and vault go well, and Oklahoma is in a top-two position at the halfway mark, I think it is unlikely that they will give a lead away on bars and beam. In evaluating their level of competitiveness for Super Six, count the number of 9.9s. It was seven at regionals, and it’s going to need to be more like ten or eleven to even hope to challenge. 

[3] Alabama

Alabama is doing what Alabama does, riding close through the postseason before pouncing on a mistake, however minor, at the end. Like Oklahoma, Alabama cruised to a regional victory but did not perform overwhelmingly impressively in the process. They showed enough breaks in that meet to allow for some degree of concern. Still, I fully expect Alabama to advance to Super Six and to be at least consistent enough to keep the Gators on notice.

If things go wrong for Alabama in semifinals, it will be because of three reasons: the bars handstands, the vault lineup decisions, and the early beam consistency. Those handstands on bars are  well-covered territory, but I’m still not convinced anyone but Sledge and Priess has high scoring potential in a nationals context. DeMeo’s consistency is also a slight worry. A bunch of 9.850s from the middle of the lineup would be fine for Friday, but it would not do at Super Six. They should be living in handstand in training at this point.

This vault lineup is all over the place. Gutierrez and Sledge were still not able to go at regionals, but for Alabama to cultivate the kind of advantage they are capable of (they should be winning this event), both will need to be in the lineup. Jacob has improved on vault but lacks the scoring potential of the others. Williams remained in that first position at regionals and once again had the best vault on the team. This could become a problem later. Don’t bury your 9.950s.

A newer problem is the early beam lineup. Kayla Williams has looked as solid as Kayla Williams for most of the season, but she has been a ball of 9.7s a few times lately. Milliner is usually quite secure in that leadoff position, but Clark had a fall at regionals and DeMeo has many risky features to her routine. If Alabama gets through those four without having to count anything under 9.800, they’ll be set going to floor. They begin the meet on bars and beam, and if they’re averaging 49.300s on both events, that will probably be enough to carry them through since I do expect lots of 9.9s to come from the power events.

If Alabama is to challenge for the eventual championship, these concerns will become heightened because they must not just be addressed for 9.825s but conquered for 9.875-9.900s. In addition, the late routines cannot tolerate any slight errors. At regionals, half of Alabama’s 5th and 6th routines scored 9.850 or under while just one of Florida’s went as low as 9.900. Championship-contending teams are always expected to put up the huge scores at the end of lineups, and Alabama must eradicate those errors for nationals in order to keep pace. No 9.775s for Milliner on vault or 9.800s for Jacob on floor.

[6] UCLA

For the Bruins, it’s all about the Zam. With all the injuries, UCLA has been shoved into a position of relying preposterously heavily on Vanessa Zamarripa, and it’s a testament to her talent that she has carried them to a #6 seed. Any analysis of UCLA’s nationals prospects must begin with a discussion of her now-famous foot injury at regionals. There was a slip on the beam dismount, then a limp, then a hit floor routine, then a boot, then a steel plate, then some missed training, and I’m pretty sure Angelina Jolie is starring in the film adaptation entitled Vanessa Zamarripa: A Foot Called Hope. Anyway, she’ll be back for nationals. She just has to be. (Otherwise, the team might arrive wearing white flag inspired leotards.) The major question is how this injury will affect her landings. Will she be able to control them at all?

Vault is the biggest concern in that regard because the first three vaulters in that lineup are very likely to be bogged down around 9.800, which will not score competitively with the contending teams in this session. Sticks from Baer and Courtney and a 9.975-10.000 from Zamarripa will be necessary to keep the Bruins with the other teams. If Zamarripa is capable of only one of her bad ones for 9.900, UCLA will have lost a major tool in remaining competitive.

In addition to the depth issues on vault, the flood of injuries to this team has ensured that some lower scores will be counting on the other events. Too many of the gymnasts in the bars and beam lineups are scoring 9.775-9.800 too regularly to expect that will suddenly go away at nationals and everyone will be swimming in an indoor pool of luxurious satins and 9.875s. A few of those bars routines, particularly Wong’s and De La Torre’s, have a faint glimmer of going 9.900, but 9.850s are probably more realistic for them. That means Zamarripa must have that dismount together in spite of her foot. She got a 9.875 at regionals after landing lowish and hopping forward, so the judges are going to be very willing to give a big score.

Nearly the same situation applies on beam but with the added help of Danusia Francis. Everyone should be rooting for a big score for her in semifinals because she needs to be in beam finals for the vague hope that some brave hero will talk her into competing her sideways side aerial. Otherwise, what’s the point of anything? The Baer score is also crucial. We know we’ll see some 9.825s for hits from Wong and Courtney, so another Baer 9.875 could be a helpful tool toward 49.300, which should be the target number.

The Bruins can get through bars and beam, but I don’t have a ton of optimism for big scores, which makes the floor rotation all the more vital. Sadiqua Bynum has risen from the grave to return to the lineup, and she hit her best routine of the season for 9.850 at regionals. These early routines aren’t what we’ve come to expect from UCLA, but they are 9.850 capable when the tumbling is on. Alyssa Pritchett is a nice little standard candle on floor in that she performs predictably every time, so we can judge the level of the scoring compared to previous meets. Away judges never feel very 9.950 about her routine, but it has happened twice at home this year. A Pritchett 9.950 will be the cue that this might just turn into UCLA’s day.

UCLA must have a significant lead on Michigan at the halfway point. We’re talking multiple tenths. This will be accomplished by several Bruin beam 9.875-9.900s. Without that lead, they will probably bleed tenths on the final two events and will struggle to advance.

[Also note that tomorrow (April 17th) marks the opening of the spring NLI period, so keep eyes out for announcements.]