Before we get into the schedule and weekend preview, a few notes on the development of the week, Jess’s fantabulous interview with McKayla Maroney and a metric ton of pillows in which Maroney announced her don’t-call-it-a-retirement, which she will be expressing by retiring. In case you’ve been living under a rock on Pluto, here it is.
Obviously, I’m obsessed with it. The biggest news here is her discussion of AOGC and Artur and Galina, and I love that she had the giant steel ovaries to say exactly what was wrong about their treatment of her and exactly what is wrong about the treatment of the
livestock athletes through the camps and tours. Not being allowed to smile or look at people? Horrible. All the athletes feeling afraid to eat at the ranch? Horrible. Not having her injuries taken seriously? Horrible. We have a tendency to gloss over terrible treatment of gymnasts with a “the kind of stuff that happened in the 80s and 90s” nonchalance, but clearly it’s still happening. Your move, USAG.
But also, getting in trouble for doing Yurchenko double backs at the ranch? Awesome.
Top 25 schedule
Expect things at the very top to remain steady this week with many of the top teams competing at home and unable to drop their nasty road scores. Oklahoma at #1, Florida at #2, and Alabama at #3 are all guaranteed to retain those positions after this weekend. Beyond that, things get a little interesting with the next four teams, Michigan, Utah, UCLA, and LSU, who are capable of ending the weekend in really any order. With those 196.9s, Michigan has been safe at the top since the season began, but now the Wolverines are a little vulnerable to all other teams that are matching their couple mid-197s and high 196s. Pay particular attention to LSU in 7th. With a 195.825 road score to drop on this visit to Florida, the Tigers look very likely to zoom way up.
While those four may change order, the current top 7 are guaranteed to remain the top 7 for another week. Georgia has a road 195.350 to drop and can close the gap significantly, and do so even with another 4/6 beam rotation, but getting this Georgia team ranked where it should be is going to be a multi-week process. Still, with even just a 196.100, Georgia would be guaranteed to jump ahead of Arkansas for 9th.
Stanford doesn’t compete until Monday night, so it’s quite possible in the new rankings that we could see the Cardinal dropped by the likes of Denver, Nebraska, and Cal, making Monday’s meet for Stanford all the more important to avoid a yucky ranking. There’s no more margin for error. One more bad meet, and Stanford is counting a 195 for RQS. The score on Monday is similarly critical for Oregon State, the #17 team that could theoretically move as high as #12 and pass Stanford if everything falls just right.
Big fat showdown #1: LSU @ Florida
LSU will be itching for the upset here, and while Florida is ranked significantly higher at present, there’s not all that much between the teams. Florida is the pick because of the nature of scoring in Florida and the way we all know floor is going to go, but Florida Scoring is usually a boon for both teams and one that LSU can take advantage of as well, at least to some degree. Regardless of the result, this is a massive opportunity for a road score that LSU cannot let slide.
These teams are pretty evenly matched in many categories. Slight edges here and there. Vault probably goes to Florida very slightly for having the big four of Sloan, Boren, Baker, and McMurtry, even though Gnat’s DTY is the most likely to go 9.950+. Similarly on floor, LSU has the more difficult and complete lineup especially with the return of Savona, but we can expect that to be mitigated by home-floor advantage.
Florida’s real path to victory goes through bars. It’s the one event where Florida has a clear edge and is categorically stronger than LSU, with potential 9.950s from Sloan, Caquatto, and…McMurtry…that LSU can really only match by Finnegan having one of her great ones. Florida can realistically gain multiple tenths because of bars, which would be decisive in an even battle like this. The closer LSU keeps it on bars, the better things will look for the Tigers because they’re at least in with a shot of showing stronger routines on the other three.
Big fat showdown #2: Michigan @ Oklahoma
This is an important meet for Michigan. The Wolverines have faced a couple strong teams this year, but the January meet against Georgia was one of Georgia’s meltdowns, so it’s not a tremendous indicator. This will be Michigan’s first match-up with a team that actually looks Super Sixy, and while Oklahoma should win, this is an opportunity for Michigan to restore consumer confidence in that beam rotation and prove that there isn’t a significant quality gap between them and the #1 team. That would go a long way toward making Michigan a more comfortable Super Six pick rather than a borderliner/possible repeat of last season.
With a hit meet, Michigan is certainly capable of taking advantage of any Oklahoma error and changing the script, but Oklahoma has an increased level of precision across pretty much all the events (ranked #1 on every single piece) marked so far by crisper split elements and landings. Michigan will be looking at perhaps floor difficulty and amplitude as a place to show an advantage, but the meet is primarily in Oklahoma’s hands.
Big fat showdown #3: Georgia @ Alabama
Ah, the original showdown. It’s not the same as it used to be, when it was the SARAH AND SUZANNE RUMBLE instead of the How Many Ns Are In Dana Cup, but this should still be an entertaining and worthwhile clash. Of course, it’s hard to make any prognostication beyond Georgia beam because of Georgia beam. The Gymdogs had a relapse last weekend and absolutely must get back on the wagon. Away against Alabama is not exactly the easiest place to do that. I’m interested to see what happens with Georgia’s lineup this time, particularly with Babalis. She has competed in every meet but has reached 9.8 just twice in eight attempts, which normally would be cause to pull someone from the lineup, but the available replacements like Schick and Cherrey haven’t been better. Is the current six just the six, sink or swim, or is it still worth mixing and matching to see if there’s something better.
If Georgia does hit beam, we’ve got ourselves a serious meet. In total across the other three events, Georgia trails Alabama by just .037 on season average and not all that much more on RQS. There hasn’t been much to differentiate between them on the other pieces. They have equivalent difficulty on vault, though Jay has been the most reliable 9.900+ on either team this year, while Alabama proved at last week’s meet that any bars discrepancy may be fading, especially if Winston and Brannan keep pulling out 9.975s. On floor, Alabama should be stronger with more and bigger options (and at home), but a tendency to get stuck in the 9.850s has blunted some of that advantage in multiple meets this year. So in all, even if Georgia actually hits beam, it may still come down to beam as the biggest method of differentiation between the two sides. If Alabama actually gets the 9.9s that workers like Sims, Winston, and Guerrero are more than capable of, even a hit from Georgia may not be enough.
The Pac-12 takes over on Saturday, and while the result of UCLA/Arizona State is not in doubt, there are still a couple interesting things to watch there. Bizarrely, Arizona State has managed the feat of looking better than last year while doing worse. At this point last season, ASU had three 194s and a 195. This year, it’s two 194s. It’s always something, usually involving counting an 8 on bars. I’m not convinced this is a regionals team yet, but Dr. Rene Lyst’s squad is better than #46.
UCLA is still ranked #6 and still doing fine, but last week’s absence of not only the broken-sternum twins, Ohashi and Mossett, but also Peng and some of Meraz made the team the team pretty flat and threadbare, especially on the events that were already issues, vault and bars. The remaining stars got the essential 9.9s to save the score, but the lack of Ohashi beginning to wear. She’s supposed to be on the way back and is a possibility for this weekend, and none too soon. This team is already without Toronjo this year and absorbing a limited Peng and would absolutely not be able to withstand missing Ohashi when things start to matter.
The Utes head to Cal this weekend somewhat reeling themselves with Delaney out and Partyka limited. That’s going to put some serious pressure on the vault and beam lineups in particular where yet more backups will be expected to nail routines. It’s not going to be a postseason-lineup Utah, but it’s still a Utah capable of a useful score at a point when low 197s are becoming the norm. It’s time to break out for a higher number, and that should still be the mission even with a somewhat depleted group. On the other side, which Cal shows up, Good Cal or Bad Cal? Toni-Ann 9.950 on floor Cal, or What’s A Beam Cal? The showing last week against Oregon State was flat, sloppy, and did not reflect the team of high 196s that entered that arena. Like Michigan and Georgia, Cal is under a microscope after those mistakes to see whether this next showing can become a recovery meet.