The #2 team in the country, Oklahoma, will have to trek north to Minnesota for a regional that looks like it will be a tight battle between Illinois and Minnesota for the second spot to advance to nationals. This meet is one of the later starts (7 ET/4 PT), so the Illinois/Minnesota storyline will probably finish out the day be the very last nationals spot decided.
Competing teams (starting event)
 Oklahoma (bye before bars)
 Illinois (bye before floor)
 Minnesota (vault)
 California (floor)
 Southern Utah (bars)
 San Jose State (beam)
Competing individuals are from Iowa (Alie Glover, Angel Metcalf, Sydney Hoerr, Jordyn Doherty – vault, Mollie Drenth – floor), Air Force (Linnaea Hance, Katie Hawthorne – bars, Shannen Kelly – beam), and Wisconsin-Whitewater (Katie Fiorilli).
We’re falling into a few ruts when it comes to rankings. Florida enters regionals as the #1 team for the fourth straight year, and Oklahoma is the #2 team for the third straight year. And much like Florida, Oklahoma should advance with ease. Minnesota’s season high of 197.250, top among the other teams, would be considered a bad meet for the Sooners, who haven’t put up a score below that level since February. For these top few seeds, regionals are about what we want to see heading into nationals.
It’s interesting that we have this collective sense of Oklahoma as a bars and beam, and it comes because visually and anecdotally, that’s where they have excelled. Those routines have been the more memorable and more exciting ones. However, Oklahoma has ranked consistently well on vault and floor over the past five years, claiming the #1 ranking on both events from time to time, so to see them in the top 3 on all the events this year is not unusual and, in terms of basic results, isn’t really a change. What would be a change would be seeing them score more competitively at nationals on those events, which they have not always done (5th on vault and floor at Super Six 2013). We won’t really get an answer to how competitive this Oklahoma team is on those events until nationals, but there is still a sense that they have progressed, with underclassmen like Scaman, Kanewa, and Capps providing a boost of power – Capps with that extra distance on vault, Kanewa with that extra big E pass on floor to support Scaman’s excellent DLO – that makes them somewhat less reliant on sticking to get the scores. Though the early lineup routines will still have to be very precise to stay in range of everyone. A few of those early floor routines looked distinctly 9.800 at Big 12s.
But for all the competitive scoring on vault and floor that we have seen this year from Oklahoma, I still think it’s going to take winning bars and beam for them to win a national championship. For the time being, that’s still this roster’s bread and butter. They may be competitive on vault and floor, but bars and beam – especially beam – is where they will have a chance to separate themselves from any other team. That’s what I want to see at regionals. A team that can win bars and beam at nationals.
This should be a good one. The Illinois and Minnesota clash is the #2/#3 seed showdown pegged as the most competitive, with the least difference between the two teams. It’s the “upset special,” although I’m not sure that the lower seed advancing in this case would qualify as an upset. The teams are so close, and Minnesota is at home and has won both of their meetings so far this year. I would say Minnesota comes in as the favorite here, and Illinois qualify would be the surprise, if a very marginal surprise.
When comparing two teams at a regional, it usually comes down to extrapolating previous results and hoping they hold true when the teams are competing together, but Minnesota/Illinois is an unusual case because they have competed head-to-head a couple times, so we can make more reliable direct comparisons. At Big Tens, the two teams were separated by just .050, and the areas of difference were extremely predictable, with Minnesota building up an advantage because of vault and Illinois erasing that advantage because of bars, evening out to a very small final margin.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if we see a similar situation play out at regionals. It’s the classic clash where Minnesota is the better team on vault and floor, while Illinois is the better team on bars and beam (though both teams are a little terrifying on beam, so I wouldn’t count on it for the success of either). Minnesota can get 49.4s on floor and has done so at home several times this season, usually involving one of Lindsay Mable’s massive scores. Her 9.850 at Big Tens was low by her standards, so Minnesota will feel they can improve on that team score of 49.350. Illinois’s 49.325 at Big Tens, by contrast, was a season high, so give Minnesota the edge on floor if they perform up to their capability.
Minnesota made nationals last year largely because of vault. The 49.525 season high they put up at regionals was the single biggest reason they advanced over Auburn, and “vault” and “single biggest reason” have been going together a lot for Minnesota these last couple years. They can be so strong on vault – boasting the Mable, Covers, Slechta triumvirate of 9.9s that excelled at the end of last season – and the fact that their 10 girl (Mable) got a 10.000 while Illinois’s 10 girl (Amber See) had a fall, was exceptionally significant in the Big Tens final result. Illinois needs season-best hits out of See on vault and floor at this regional to mitigate some of Minnesota’s advantage on those events.
Also mitigating a potential Minnesota advantage will be a little event called uneven bars. It’s the clear weak event for the Gophers (#25 in the country), especially in the handstands department – which could have been evaluated more strictly at Big Tens than it was. Bars was a problem from that very first intrasquad video Minnesota released during the preseason, and it remains a problem. Illinois has had some mistakes on bars as well this year, but they have been much more consistent and have multiple people in Sunny Kato, Sarah Fielder, and Mary Jane Horth, who can regularly get high 9.8s or a 9.900. It’s a far less scary lineup overall. Illinois managed a .250 advantage on bars at Big Tens, so the potential for an edge is there, even though it did require Minnesota counting a low score. I have to think that for Illinois to beat Minnesota in Minnesota, they’re going to need one big event where they put up a huge advantage to protect against any potential small home boosts here and there. Bars looks like the most likely nominee for that.
Illinois has also been the stronger team on beam this season, not necessarily in terms of peak scoring potential (though Minnesota being without Hanna Norquist – Supreme Empress of the Full Turn – has been a blow) but certainly in terms of consistency. Illinois hits beam much more regularly, and I’m reminded of the most memorable moment from regionals last year when Illinois hit that very solid final beam rotation to knock out Nebraska, ending with Alina Weinstein’s 9.900. They’re finishing on beam again this year and will hope for a deja vu scenario. I should also note that similar to Penn State, I have been impressed by Illinois’s lack of regression this season coming off the loss of their big star, Weinstein.
When both of these teams hit, we’re usually looking at high 196s, so keep an eye on how close they are to that 197 pace as the meet progresses. The most significant rotations in this meet will be the third and the sixth, so as you’re going along following the other meets, be sure to tune in to this meet for those rotations. In the third, Illinois will be on vault while Minnesota is on bars. That’s when the Illini will need to step up the vault scoring take a lead to have a good chance to win. In the sixth, Minnesota will be on floor while Illinois is on beam, and that’s where the Gophers need to take any lead right back.
Both by ranking and by quality of recent performances, Cal is the strongest unseeded team competing at regionals and therefore warrants some consideration as a possible advancing option. The Golden Bears are certainly the sentimental favorite in all of their competitions now, being in the process of a dramatic program rebirth (that has not yet peaked), but it’s probably a step too far for them to advance to nationals as a team at this point. Cal can definitely merit 196s and should score comfortably into the 196 range at regionals, but they would still need help from both Illinois and Minnesota to move on. It wouldn’t have to be a complete implosion, but it would have to be assistance from multiple teams, which is always hard to bank on. If they’re going to do it, watch the vault and bars scores. Those are the events where they are the most competitive, so they’ll need to cut into leads during both of those rotations and not dig themselves too big a hole when starting the meet on floor, an event that looked a little scattered at Pac 12s.
Regardless of the team showing, gem of the world Alicia Asturias looks like a strong bet to make nationals as an individual, being the second-best AAer in this regional. She regularly goes 39.2s-39.3s and recorded a season-high 39.425 at Pac 12s. I actually think her AA scores could be higher, but she sometimes gets 9.750ed as the beam leadoff for a routine that would get a 9.850 later in the lineup. If Minnesota doesn’t advance a team, Asturias and Mable seem like the clear choices to go as AAers (because we need both of them at nationals – we need it), but if Illinois doesn’t advance, we could see Giana O’Connor or Sarah Fielder go through for them or perhaps an upset from one of the lower-ranked teams.
Southern Utah is regularly one of those teams on the cusp of making regionals, so this year’s #26 ranking is an accomplishment. They didn’t have to scrape for scores at the last minute to get in, but the 196 from conference championships – their first time reaching that plateau and breaking 49 on each event this year – would have helped. Scoring a 196 again would render this meet a victory. And of course they are also putting forth freshman Memory Shettles as a really strong candidate for best new name in NCAA gymnastics. She’ll be fighting for that spot with Tenille Funches, and I expect that to be one of the really good battles on regionals day.
San Jose State is similar to Southern Utah in that they usually just sneak into regionals and did so again this year. The season high of 195.800 tells us that just making it this far was the accomplishment, but if you’re looking for a dark horse AA candidate to follow – especially if the competition ends up being less close than we expect – SJS happily provides a few individuals who can potentially score well. Boise State transplant Bekah Gher, whom you might recall having an excellent beam routine during that decisive 2011 regionals beam rotation, is a top 50 AAer this season, and Cassandra Harrison is not far behind her. With a great day, those two could be in this thing.