After this weekend, a number of teams will be halfway done with their regular-season schedules. Why yes, we did just start this two seconds ago.
Top 25 schedule
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Arizona State @  Stanford
Friday and Saturday. On Friday, my focus will be Florida/Georgia, the TWU meet featuring Oklahoma and Auburn, and Arkansas/LSU, with perhaps brief check-ins with Kentucky/Arkansas. Saturday is all about the Utah/UCLA rivalry. Also on Sunday, check your cable options if that’s your kind of thing because Oklahoma’s second meet of the weekend will once again be broadcast on some really random networks. Otherwise, just spend the day making fun of handegg like a normal.
-Coming off the pile of gold doubloons falling from the ceiling that was Florida’s meet last Friday, it’s hard to envision any kind of drop in quality coming into the Georgia meet. The Gators will be major favorites against the have-we-stopped-reeling-yet Gymdogs. As the road team, however, Florida may be hit with a reality stick this time around as to what scores they’re really earning for hit routines. Because Georgia has never exhibited crazy scoring. Never ever. I don’t know what you’re talking about.
If Georgia is to pull off the upset, it will probably take Florida counting a mistake, but it will also take winning vault. That’s the one event where Georgia may find an opening. While Florida displayed much-improved landings over the weekend, and Georgia the opposite, Georgia has a touch superior difficulty and the real capability to stick for 49.5s, especially at home, which not that many teams have. If Florida’s vault landings return to mid-January level, Georgia could gain some very valuable early tenths.
Of course, we can’t go much further without talking about Georgia’s beam. It’s the all-important factor that will decide whether this meet is even in the vicinity of close. Last weekend, The Gymdogs graduated to just one fall, which was a laudable achievement, but they must take the next step and actually hit six whole routines this time. That’s the short-term goal, but one that’s immediately necessary with a tough opponent like Florida. The long-term goal, which could be decisive when evaluating postseason aspirations, is not just getting six hit routines but getting them from the six highest-potential scorers. Keep watching the lineup members and order. If Georgia is forced to compromise too much scoring potential in order to get a hit rotation, by removing pretties or moving top workers to early spots (my most loathed of strategies), that’s almost as bad as having a fall.
As for the other events, Georgia has impressed so far on bars and floor. This was the least terrifying January floor performance of the Durante era, and bars looks much stronger than I thought it would based on preseason showings, with a particular gold star to Gracie Cherrey for cleaning up her DLO so dramatically in a short period of time. The question going forward for Georgia on bars will be Brandie Jay’s dismount. She’s capable of a big score on bars but doesn’t have the most pristine form or handstands in the world. Couple that with a DLO 1/1, difficult to stick and maintain body shape, and she’s always on the verge of getting dropped down to 9.800, a score that looks comparatively harsh against the rabble of much less inspiring 9.800s that we see all over the place. The team needs a 9.900 from Jay pretty much every time, so when will be the time to introduce a more cynical, simpler dismount so that she can join the ranks of stuck dismounts on this team? The Gators have more of those likely 9.9s, even for Piked Giant McGee, which will give them the bars edge.
On floor, I still think Florida is suffering from a case of the half-a-lineups, in spite of the score last weekend, but the big routines from Baker and friends will likely overshadow what Georgia has to offer. That’s why vault is so important for the GymDawwwwwwwwwgs. I added extra w’s because I can’t take it seriously.
-Oklahoma heads to TWU looking for another nice road score (we’re going to have to start paying attention to the RQS outlook soon), though the main story of the meet will be how Auburn recovers from breaking into all the pieces last time out. With Arkansas eager to retake the spoiler role this season, Auburn cannot afford to replace these new missing routines with 9.700s and still be competitive. Auburn spent the preseason talking about the great depth on this team, so…time to prove it. The good news is that the loss of two vaulters coincides with the return of Kait Kluz on vault, which should mitigate the problem and may actually end up as an upgrade. Samantha Cerio will be called on to replace Engler on bars and beam. She’s a JO bars champion, so theoretically, the team should be able to absorb these injuries.
-The second real showdown on Friday features Arkansas and LSU. And boy, has the Arkansas bandwagon picked up a whole heap of steam. That’s what happens when you start the season fit and prepared. You score well, you upset less-prepared teams, and you accrue some of that valuable notoriety and reputation that all but the big-name schools lack. It’s a strategy Oklahoma employed very well for many years. Arkansas looks to have a solid 196 of a roster, but there’s more to prove if this team is truly going to be a threat in the postseason rather than a shooting star that falls back to the pack and finishes 11-13th once the best teams get their acts together. Away at LSU is a very good place to prove things.
LSU is stronger than Arkansas on all the events and should win the meet, with much bigger gymnastics on vault and floor and extra 9.9s on bars and beam that will push them over the top. Although, we do have to keep an eye on beam since it has been a problem in two of the four competitions so far. The Tigers will eventually have to rely on beam as an asset, not just an event to get through, so they need to figure out how to get over THE FRESHMAN LOST HER MIND-itis and figure out who’s actually in this lineup. In the preseason, it looked like LSU would have similar depth on beam as on vault and floor (events which have been able to endure a lack of Savona and barely miss a beat), but now…when is Priessman going to be able to beam? She’s looking more and more necessary.
-The most interesting and least predictable meet of the weekend will be UCLA and Utah. The Utes recorded their biggest score of the season on Monday in their first Kari Lee-free meet, which was an important symbolic performance even though fancy fancy fictional floor scores papered over a couple holes, particularly vault and beam rotations that were not inspiring. UCLA, meanwhile, finally had its annual early-season UCLA road catastrophe, which helps remind us that these are still our Bruins. Phew. As far as the meet went, it actually wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It’s usually a 194. But the longer Katelyn Ohashi is out with her sternum fracture, the harder it will be for UCLA to contend. Even without Lee, Utah still has more depth.
It’s a tough one to pick. Utah showed much, much, much improved floor landings on Monday, catching up with a UCLA team that had scored well on floor in every meet until this most recent showing when the landings completely deserted everyone. Neither team gets the consistency edge there, but UCLA is at home in a major meet, so it’s quite easy to envision a repeat of that “Hallie Mossett gets a 10” scoring from the first weekend as long as the landings are there. In an even somewhat close meet, that could seal it, especially because the Utes end on beam, the event on which they feel the lack of Lee the most. I used to say that Utah was a team of 9.825s on beam, which was true for a couple years in there. Lee and Stover changed that last season, both capable of deserving 9.9s, but suddenly on Monday without Lee and with Stover falling, this looked like a team of 9.825s again.
Contrast that to the Bruins who, even without Ohashi, should dominate beam. But also, let’s talk about Peng’s composition. She’s vaulting, so I know she can use that wrist. It’s time to trash the bluetooth routine and give her something she can hit. UCLA’s path to victory involves winning beam by a real margin and then homing it home with homeness on floor. Utah, by contrast, needs to gain a serious edge in the first half, and since vault is not great for either team right now (minor advantage to Utah), that means nailing bars. Utah’s bars rotation is much more composed, reliable, and consistent than UCLA’s right now and should easily go over 49, whereas UCLA’s, especially in the absence of Ohashi, has form and dismount struggles and remains a nerve-wracking proposition.
In UCLA’s last meet, I was happy to see how much Honest is working on making toe point less of a weakness. The work showed, and even though Stella Savvidou had basically the worst possible college debut you could imagine and fell on every handstand, she’s a worthwhile project and a potential future gem. When she was hitting that first handstand, before she fell, you all had a Zamarripa moment and don’t deny it. The dismount looks like the real obstacle for her because she did a double tuck and cowboyed it pretty seriously, which isn’t so encouraging.
-The rest of the Pac-12ers will bunch together on Monday evening, and the most interesting prospect there is Oregon State’s visit to Washington. Washington used the opportunity of Metroplex to step out of the shadows a little bit, taking advantage of some Texas scoring and showing us what they’re truly capable of, especially on beam and somewhat on bars. Those are the obvious strengths and are both events Washington could conceivably win against Oregon State. In spite of the rankings and general accomplishments, this meet isn’t open and shut.
Oregon State does remain the more evenly balanced team, having displayed relatively consistent 48.800-49.100 scoring potential across all the events so far this year. That should be enough to win, especially because of Washington’s struggles for depth and 9.8s on vault and floor, but I expect it to stay pretty close. The Beavs still lack the 9.9s of a nationals team, so if they’re going to get out of the #15 doldrums, we need to see growth in that department.