On to the last one! Ah, the 6-7 regional. Doesn’t it seem like UCLA and Michigan are always in this regional? It hasn’t been this exact setup, but either UCLA or Michigan has been in the 6th seed’s regional every year since 2010, which is as far back as I have the energy to look. Weird. Meaningless, but weird. It’s like their home. And they both should feel pretty comfortable in this competition. This regional is right in the heart of the busiest part of Saturday, beginning at 6:00 ET/3:00 PT, so UCLA and Michigan will have to put together some really good catastrophes to be sure to garner our attention over three other simultaneous meets. UCLA, I believe in you.
Competing teams (starting event)
 Michigan (bars)
 UCLA (bye before bars)
 Arizona (beam)
Central Michigan (bye before floor)
Ohio State (floor)
Competing individuals are from Western Michigan (Anna Corbett – AA; Kelsey Hood – AA; Jessi Buis – vault; Jessie Peszek – bars), Eastern Michigan (Anna Willette – AA; Carrina Lo Bello – AA), Bowling Green (Alyssa Nocella – AA), and Kent State (Rachel Stypinski – beam, floor).
Michigan and UCLA
I’ve been waiting to say that I was wrong about Michigan until the important meets actually happen, but I’m pretty sure I was wrong about Michigan. I thought this would be a ranked-10th, just-happy-to-make-nationals kind of season, but it has been much better than that and the expectations should be much higher than that. Michigan has been the most reliable and consistent team in the NCAA this year and has the distinct honor of being the only team to have scored a 49 on beam in every single meet. Consider my jaw on the floor, especially given the way beam has gone the last couple seasons, keeping them out of Super Six for two straight years and keeping them out of nationals the year before. It hasn’t been pretty. Now it’s pretty! Or at least safe!
And now, as if I haven’t sufficiently jinxed this team enough, qualification should be a very comfortable assignment. Michigan’s low this season is a 196.600, and that score is almost always good enough to make it out of regionals. I expect a solid 197. The more interesting thing for the Wolverines right now (as long as there are no falls on Saturday…), is where they stand in the Super Six race. Right now, they’re 6th in the country and seeded to make the final, which would be a huge accomplishment, but that spot seems so wildly up for grabs. Among these contending teams from #6 on downward, there’s very little difference at the moment, so hopefully we’ll learn a little bit more about which teams have the most Super Six in them based on these regional performances. We’ll get a pretty good sense of it by directly comparing Michigan and UCLA here.
In the race to win this regional, it’s going to be Michigan’s solidity against UCLA’s star power. UCLA has more potential 9.950s. If we take the season as a whole, UCLA has recorded 26 9.950s to Michigan’s 15, and the two teams that have competed in the same number of meets and recorded nearly the same RQS. Michigan’s scores tend to be more even, while UCLA tends to ride the huge potential at the end of the lineups. For the Bruins to come out on top in this meet, those stars will have to show up, especially on beam and bars. If the big, bad beam trio hits to capability, Michigan doesn’t have the scores to match. That’s UCLA’s best opportunity to open up a lead. On bars, UCLA is very reliant on Peng and Peszek to hit and stick to get the scores. Bars should be the most interesting event comparison (and we’ll get it right at the start of the meet) because Michigan has the stronger comprehensive lineup, while UCLA anchors with the two biggest potential bars scores in the regional, or two of the three with all deference to Brianna Brown. Peng and Peszek can get those 9.950s.
That’s why UCLA can’t afford any more falls from Peng. Even if the other five performances are hit, they still can’t afford a fall from Peng because her routine is too valuable. Her routine is the thing that keeps them competitive and keeps them from landing in 49.225 purgatory. UCLA is most vulnerable on bars, and Michigan will need a better score there to feel truly comfortable about winning this one.
That’s especially true because the two teams are pretty even on vault and floor. UCLA is ranked higher on vault, but now Michigan has Sheppard getting back to full strength. Michigan is ranked higher on floor, but now UCLA has Peszek back in the lineup. So it mostly evens out.
As for qualification, neither UCLA nor Michigan have any business failing to advance out of this meet, but as we know, UCLA always finds a way to make things scarier than they’re supposed to be and give everyone heart attacks. Recall last season when UCLA and Utah were supposed to cruise through the Arkansas regional, and then UCLA counted a fall on bars and only ended up making it out by the grace of a couple tenths and an Arkansas beamtastrophe.
Arizona, Central Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio State
Based on the scores this season, Arizona is the most likely challenger. There’s a 197.125 in there. There’s a 196.850 in there. Those are very strong scores. The concern for Arizona is the injury factor. On top of the injuries they were already carrying, Allie Flores went down a few weeks ago, stripping each lineup of one of its best scores. Vault in particular has felt the damage. It was already Arizona’s struggle event this season, desperately missing Klarenbach, but now without Flores they are left with a number of 9.750s and have just thrown in Wobma doing a layout because they needed a sixth vault. It’s going to be very difficult to get a competitive score on that event.
While Arizona’s highest score tends to be on floor, because it’s floor, their most impressive event is beam, where they will begin the meet. It’s an opportunity to make an early statement. I don’t see Arizona recording a significant total without a really exceptional beam score. If it’s not exceptional, I think we start shifting attention to the other contenders. Given current form, there’s a lot of parity among the rest of the teams, with Central Michigan recording a higher conference championship total than Arizona.
Central Michigan has come on strong at the end of the season after starting the year horrifically. CMU had been hanging around the top 25 long enough to finally get some attention and preseason poll respect this year, and then they promptly went out in the first meet and got a 2. But, it has been better since then. Taylor Noonan is finally back on beam to give
my fantasy team her school a serious boost of refreshing weekly 9.900 action, and all of those legitimately competitive routines that helped Central Michigan into the top 18 last year, like Moraw and Bolender floor—realistic 9.9s—are starting to come around again. CMU will start the meet well on floor, which is their strongest event and has been a serious 49.300 in the second half of the season. Arizona, Central Michigan, and Ohio State are all starting on good events, so we can use maybe a 49.200 benchmark right away to see who really showed up on the day and who didn’t. For Central Michigan, it’s going to get harder to keep it up once the assignment turns to bars and beam. There’s some real talent in that beam lineup, but it’s woefully inconsistent.
I’m also including Kentucky and Ohio State in this group because Kentucky is the most dangerous of the #5 seeds this year and Ohio State is the host, so why not? On one hand, Kentucky has the quality of a #4 seed and is more talented than this ranking, but on the other hand, this team so depleted now that (like a more extreme version of Arizona) it’s hard to see them putting up four full competitive events. Vault is, again, the biggest struggle because they’re without over half a lineup of usual competitors. The experiment to put Tiara Phipps first at SECs didn’t really work because she has a big vault but got stuck with some lame 9.725. I really like the idea, but sadly no. Just let her anchor.
Unlike the other contenders, Kentucky will end the meet on stronger events, ones that are much more likely to put them into 196 contention. Beam has become pretty good this year, especially with the addition of Waltz to support Mitchell’s extremely solid routine, and those floor landings have come along nicely. Waltz nailed her passes at SECs. If those rotations live up to the billing, low 196s are possible.
This was not really a good year for Ohio State. Ohio State should be better than the 6th seed at a regional, and while they lost a whole host of strong routines from last season, they still have a couple really talented AAers in Harrison and Funches, both of whom had nice results in JO and should be able to lead at least a charge of 9.8s. Ohio State will look to salvage something from the season at this meet, one last opportunity to be at home and put up a little more of an Ohio State type score and not finish last.
If Michigan and UCLA do manage to get through this competition, the AA competition is completely open. For anyone. Seriously, I might win it. That’s because Allie Flores (the top AAer not from Michigan and UCLA), is out and Central Michigan doesn’t compete an AAer. In fact, the highest-ranked AA contender is Alyssa Nocella from Bowling Green. Wouldn’t that be fun? She could do it, though as we know, it’s so challenging to compete without a team suddenly. But keep in mind Waltz from Kentucky. I think she has a real good shot at this thing. There’s also Cindric, the freshman from Arizona who has been shoved into the AA because of all the injuries, and the aforementioned Ohio State standouts who can be 49.300 on good days. They’ll all be in it, and I don’t think it will take a very big high to make nationals from this one. This is where we could see a true unheralded contender advance, the way Kalliah McCartney from Sac State did last year.