University Park, PA Regional Preview

This marks our first weekend without gymnastics since December. What are we even supposed to do with ourselves? Socialize with people? About things? Address responsibilities? Guh. Incorrect. Instead, let’s emotionally prepare ourselves for next Saturday, my favorite day of the gymnastics year, by breaking down each regional. Good idea? I think so. I’ll begin with the #1 seed Florida Gators and the Penn State Regional beginning at 4ET/1PT.

Competing teams (starting event)
[1] Florida (bye before bars)
[12] Oregon State (bye before floor)
[15] Penn State (vault)
[23] New Hampshire (floor)
[29] Kentucky (bars)
[35] Maryland (beam)

Competing individuals are from Brown (Diana Walters, Caroline Morant, Michelle Schnayder), Pittsburgh (Brittney Harris, Maebelle Pacheco – vault, Katie O’Rourke – beam and floor), Bridgeport (Lissette La Fex), and Cornell (Melanie Jorgensen – bars).

The Favorite

Another year, another #1 Florida team. The 2014 season marks the fourth consecutive time Florida has entered regionals as the #1 overall team in the country. Aside from the near-disaster beamtastrophe in 2011 after which the team just barely squeaked through by .025, Florida has worn the #1 crown comfortably at regionals, and this competition should be no exception. Sure, I could try to concoct possible scenarios where Florida counts 11 beam falls and gets into trouble, but that’s a waste. The Gators should advance by a hefty margin and probably won’t garner that much attention on the day. We’ll all be too focused on the legitimate, clawing fights for nationals spots.

There will be plenty of time to talk about Florida in the weeks leading up to nationals, but I still have an area or two I want to keep an eye on as we gauge whether the Gators can repeat as champions, especially coming off the loss at SECs. Florida didn’t have huge problems in that competition, but they showed some ragged qualities and uncharacteristic mistakes here and there that indicated a step down in quality from the stellar performances they had leading up to SECs. Claire Boyce falling on a rudi, Bridgey going OOB in the deciding routine, a couple lackluster landings on beam dismounts, these were unexpected errors, but not trends. It’s not really a thing until it happens again. But, if there’s one area I do want to watch for Florida at regionals, it’s vault and the progression of those landings. They’re still missing sticks and giving away tenths in most of those routines, and that’s been happening fairly frequently.

Now, we saw the exact same thing last year, with Florida looking predominately blah in the vault landing department at SECs and then bringing themselves into line after that. By Super Six, Florida had far and away the best vault landings of any team. They should pull things together again this year, but this Florida vault team is not as strong as last year’s group, so it will be interesting to see if they can progress in the same way. They can’t be in a position of giving up multiple tenths to Alabama and LSU on vault like they did at SECs. 

But really, let’s get to the main story of this regional.

The Contenders
Going into the season, I thought Oregon State would be a borderline candidate to make regionals and that Penn State was not going to be a legitimate contender as a result of the significant routine quality they lost after last year. One of them is going through. Oregon State is about where I thought they would be, but Penn State has certainly overperformed expectations to make a fairly believable argument that they can advance out of their home regional. If this were at a neutral site, Oregon State would have a small but definite edge, but with Penn State at home, this second spot is completely open. Wouldn’t it be funny if after all those years of Sharaya Musser leading the charge, Penn State were to make nationals the year after she leaves? Oh, gymnastics.

Oregon State has managed some strong team scores throughout the season, but it’s hard to be overly enthusiastic about their chances coming off a sluggish performance at Pac 12s that didn’t get all that much attention because it was overshadowed by UCLA’s more high-profile sluggish performance. The Beavers didn’t make any major mistakes, but the whole thing was very 9.825. They couldn’t beat the home team with that performance, and they won’t beat Penn State with a similar one. If Oregon State finishes third, it would mark a second consecutive year of missing nationals. For a program that should consistently be near the top, two straight years out of nationals is not OK. To avoid such a fate, the Beavers will have to lean on their old friends the uneven bars. Bars is not as strong for OSU this year as it has been in recent years, but the event can still provide an advantage. Erika Aufiero is a star with a DLO like a warm hug, Chelsea Tang is a sturdy thing who can stick for a 9.900, and the occasional hit from Brittany Harris or Hannah Casey can bring in a top number. A .150-.200 advantage on bars is vital to Oregon State’s chances of advancing. Penn State has some 9.8s in that bars lineup but will very much be relying on Kassidy Stauder for a 9.900 to keep them near the same pace. 

Beam has also been an unexpected comfort for the Beavers this year. It hasn’t always been that way lately, but they have hit beam fairly consistently for much of the season, at least in the staying on the apparatus kind of way. Maddie Gardiner has added her precision and elegance to the mix to take the lineup to a more visually interesting (and higher scoring) place. Penn State has not hit as regularly, including counting a fall at Big Tens, so being able to put up six hits could be a boon to Oregon State.

That all sounds well and good, but the best argument for a Penn State triumph comes when we look to the floor. Oregon State just doesn’t have the 9.9s. They’re hurt in the amplitude argument, especially when going against some of the most powerful teams, and get stuck with a lot of 9.825s and 49.1s. They have recorded only a couple 9.900+ scores all season, whereas Penn State got three at Big Tens alone. Lindsay Musgrove has been the Nittany Lions’ biggest floor scorer, and they’ve also been helped by former junior elite Emma Sibson, who has provided significant value both on floor and vault this season. She’ll be a gymnast to build around for years to come. Sibson was one of those juniors everyone was obsessed with for 30 seconds in 2009 and then kind of disappeared, but she’s back and has found some desperately needed 9.9s for this team.

The difference on floor (PSU is ranked 9th, OSU 19th) is exacerbated by the rotation order. Oregon State’s first event will be floor while Penn State ends there, which adds an additional boost to Penn State if we see scores rise throughout the meet. Rotation order could be a difference-maker if Penn State is on a roll and gets the 9.9s to start flying at the end of the competition, as we have seen very often this season in the year of high floor scores. I don’t often buy into the advantage of rotation order as much as some, but considering the order for the #3 seeds compared to that of the #2 seeds, coupled with some #3 seed hosts, it could become a factor in several meets next Saturday.

As the meet goes on, keep in mind that the Beavers will start on their comparatively weaker apparatuses, floor and vault, while ending on what have been stronger pieces this year, bars and beam. Trailing early wouldn’t be unexpected. Penn State will hope to take advantage of that and build up a lead while starting on vault, though as mentioned, their biggest asset will be finishing on floor. Either team would be happy getting through the first two events with something like a 98.500. That would be solid. Oregon State will then look to take over a lead when they move to bars and Penn State goes to beam. It’s advantage Beavers at that point, and they’ll hope to put a couple tenths in the bank there and try to hold that advantage at the end when finishing on beam against Penn State on floor. Expect some lead changes and hopefully some nail biting.
Individuals/The Others
It’s exceptionally challenging for the bottom three seeds at any regional to advance. It usually takes two implosions, which is quite rare. We don’t often get Kent State 2011 situations. We might then say that the realistic focus for these teams is advancing individuals instead, but it’s also quite difficult for lower seeds to advance individuals given the state of the rules. 

The top two AAers who don’t qualify with a team will advance to nationals, along with any individual event champions who also do not qualify with a team. It usually takes a 9.950 to win an event at a regional, which we almost never see from a lower-seeded team. In this regional, you might very well be a floor standout, but making nationals requires beating Kytra, so good luck. 

In the all-around conversation, the most likely outcome from this regional is that the advancing individuals will come from either OSU or PSU, whichever doesn’t make it as a team. Both boast a number of competitive gymnasts doing all four events. If Oregon State doesn’t go, expect Tang to qualify, along with either Gardiner or Harris. I’d go with Gardiner, but it would be close. Similarly, if Penn State fails to go, expect Stauder to qualify (currently 18th nationally), along with one of her bushel of AA teammates like Sidney Sanabria-Robles or Krystal Welsh, who can both regularly get 39.2s or 39.3s.

#5 seed Kentucky’s best individual hope is Audrey Harrison, who has done the AA at every meet this season, topping out at a 39.325, and can be a solid 9.8 on each event. Kentucky is ranked all the way down at #29, a regression from last year’s strong finish at #19, and it always seems to be something for this team this year. At SECs, it was a collapse on what had been their best event, floor. Losing Alexis Gross to injury has been gross (bing!), but still this team should be a 196. I’d say they’re one of the better bets to outperform their seeding and should finish 4th here.

New Hampshire is the true #4 seed and came on late this season, finally getting rid of some nasty early scores once March rolled around to move all the way up to an impressive #23. UNH is one of those teams that has really benefited from home scores, however, and will likely find those 196s much tougher to match on the road in a regional. Last year, only 3 of the 18 teams in the bottom-three seeded positions managed to outperform their RQS at regionals. New Hampshire’s individual candidate is all-arounder Meghan Plieger, who has put up a couple lower 39s this season.

Maryland just edged out a few other teams to sneak into regionals at the last minute, so making it this far is the victory. 2014 has not been nearly as strong as 2013, when the Terps also found themselves in Florida’s region, but as the #4 seed instead of the #6. This year’s Maryland squad was already working without standout 2013 senior Ally Krikorian, but then losing vault and floor star Katy Dodds to an Achilles injury in January completed the process of breaking up the lineups where they had been excelling. This year, they’re led by Stephanie Giameo, whose mid 9.8s have been a savior and whose beam scoring is essential to the team. She can get a 9.9 on beam and a 39.1-39.2 in the AA, so she’s the definite individual to watch during Maryland’s rotations. 

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