A quick glance at Saturday’s schedule reveals that regionals have been planned even more horrifically than usual this year. There will be a point during the day at which five of the six competitions will be occurring simultaneously, mostly because they hate us and want us to miss everything. And by they, I mean the people. The people who do the things. Spread the regionals throughout the day, is all I ask. The silver lining to all of this is that Georgia’s regional begins an hour before all the others, and Georgia starts on beam. That means we can watch that entire emotional roller coaster unfold without distraction. Thank you, Georgia, for your time zone.
Competing teams (starting event)
 LSU (bye before bars)
 Georgia (beam)
 Oregon State (floor)
 Arizona (bye before floor)
 George Washington (bars)
 Michigan State (vault)
NC State (Brittni Watkins – AA; Chelsea Knight – VT; Nicole Wild – BB)
Maryland (Kathy Tang – VT, FX; Abbie Epperson – UB; Macey Roberts – FX)
North Carolina (Morgan Lane – AA; Kaitlynn Hedelund – UB)
Towson (Tyra McKellar – AA; Mary Elle Arduino – BB)
William & Mary (Brittany Stover – AA)
The favorite – LSU
LSU should join Oklahoma and Florida at the same level of heavy, heavy, super favorites to advance from regionals, though the Tigers may feel a little more pressure in this one given the quality of the opposition and the scoring pedigree shown by Georgia and Oregon State, both historically and lately. This competition features the second-deepest collection of 1-2-3 seeds (behind the Michigan regional), so LSU will not be able to afford any mind-losing on beam. These other teams are too capable of taking advantage. Sans any mind-losing and fall-counting, however, LSU will slide through to nationals without forcing DD to punishment-sequin anyone.
The Tigers should have been right in the hunt for the SEC title this year but ended up a step behind Florida and Alabama entirely because of their performance on bars in the first rotation. In fact, if you take the scores from just vault, beam, and floor, LSU wins the competition. Lucky, lucky LSU, they’ll be starting on bars at regionals. You’re welcome. This LSU bars lineup should be quite strong, but as we saw at SECs, it has emerged as the team’s weak event and is still too reliant on Finnegan saving Earth through the medium of toe point for a 9.950. Wyrick hasn’t shown a great deal consistency since returning, Zamardi can often dismount herself down to 9.850, and Priessman has a couple built-in errors on the pak and a DLO that can look troublingly Shades of Shayla sometimes. All of them could score quite well, but they’re walking a fine line between greatness and getting stuck in the 9.800s, as happened at SECs. As we learned, that’s not going to cut it when trying to beat Florida.
The fight – Georgia v. Oregon State
I considered throwing Georgia up into the favorite category with LSU as I do think Georgia should be able to 197 its way through this one, especially at home, but Oregon State proved with its performance at Pac-12s to be among the most dangerous and compelling upset challengers in the country. The Beavs simply suffered the (bad) luck of the draw in getting placed with Home Georgia since the original, non-host-adjusted draw would have seen them placed with Road Denver, where they would have been favorites to qualify. This job is much more challenging. The Beavs will take some confidence that the 196.925 at Pac-12s beat the 196.850 Georgia put up at SECs. Not equivalent meets, no host advantage, etc, but certainly a complication to this regional. On the other hand, Oregon State has not hit 197 yet all year, and in spite of all of the Gymdogs’ problems, they have done so in three of the last four meets and really should at regionals.
The advantages and weakness between these two teams set up rather clearly. Georgia should win vault and floor, vault a pretty sizable margin. Vault is far and away the most compelling argument for Georgia as the favorite, with a lineup boasting three 10.0 SVs and legitimate 9.9s coming from multiple quarters, while Oregon State is often stuck with 9.775-9.825s through the whole rotation. In fact, Maddie Gardiner is the only Beav in the lineup to score over 9.850 this year (Dani Dessaints also did so in the first meet before promptly getting injured to make sure that OSU wouldn’t have any vaulters). Oregon State had its best landings of the season at Pac-12s and will need to bring them again to minimize a Georgia vault advantage that could be three tenths or more.
Floor is a similar, if less stark, story. Oregon State has become pretty solid with the floor landings lately but is still going the 9.850-double pike route. When Box, Jay, and Marino are hitting, Georgia could realistically pick up another two tenths there. It would be tough for Oregon State to overcome this margin, but not impossible. Which brings us to beam. Oregon State’s massive score on beam at Pac-12s was to some extent the result of end-of-the-day drunk judging, but Gardiner, McMillan, and sometimes Risa are able to merit big numbers regardless. Oregon State will expect to gain tenths even against a hit beam rotation from Georgia. Whether it’s enough to make up for vault and floor probably depends on the quality of Georgia’s hit. Even a Georgia beam in the 48.9 range could give OSU the opening it needs to make this meet a thing.
Of course, assuming a hit Georgia beam is a risky proposition. Georgia seems to have worked out beam, but the old maxim that problems from the beginning of the season tend to manifest again in the postseason exists for a reason. The pressure of an elimination meet changes things and reveals old habits and tensions. “My college gymnastics career is over if I fall right now.” That’s a true, scary thought.
On bars, both teams have developed two strong scores at the end of the lineup, Georgia with Jay and Rogers and Oregon State with Jacobsen and McMillan, who don’t consistently score as high as Georgia’s duo but can still get 9.9s. Georgia’s rotation probably should do better, especially because of valuable supporting players like Snead and Schick, but Rogers’ high-risk routine can occasionally bring that total down and make bars more competitive. Oregon State won’t want to have to rely solely on beam to get an edge in this meet, so it’s imperative that Jacobsen and McMillan do have stick-for-9.9 days to put bars in that category as well.
Oregon State begins on weaker events, so I wouldn’t expect a big early score, maybe something like 98.300 at halfway. If Georgia puts up a solid beam and a normal floor on the first two events, that should warrant a score closer to the 98.500 range, which will be tough for the Beavs to make up even with stronger events in the second half. Oregon State will have to play from behind, but the mission will be to keep it as close as possible, then finish with a Pac-12s-ish beam rotation that at least puts the pressure on Georgia.
And the rest
Arizona is a solid team that found its 196s later in the year, but in a regional that’s this competitive at the top, it would take a confluence of disasters for Arizona to have a chance to sneak up into those qualifying spots. The team is relatively similar to Oregon State, just a step behind, in that the vault scores have struggled to remain competitive this season while bars and beam are where the roster truly stands out with extension and style. Those two event scores may be relatively competitive, but Arizona will also count some 9.7s on vault and floor, which makes it very challenging to maintain a competitive pace.
The emergence of George Washington has been one of the joys of this season, not simply making regionals as they did last year but spending most of the season in the top 25 and becoming a realistic threat for 196s. With none of the current lineup routines coming from seniors and the majority of important scores coming from sophomores, there’s every reason to expect George Washington’s ascent to continue next season and for seasons after. Making some real noise at a regional competition is still several steps away, but individual qualification is a realistic possibility. It will also be interesting to see how vaults like Winstanley’s are scored in the same meet as Gnat, Jay, Rogers, etc. How is hers evaluated directly against the name-brand vaults?
Michigan State was the very last qualifier to regionals, enduring a nail-biting day to stay ahead of NC State by the slimmest of margins. Qualifying was the victory, but MSU has produced some impressively 49 floor rotations over the last couple weeks, so check them out as a team that could/should finish in the top three on floor, especially with ending on that event. A relatively competitive team total that challenges the high 195s is not out of the question in spite of qualifying in 36th.
If Georgia doesn’t make it, then Brandie Jay is of course a likely AA qualifier (Rogers would be as well, but it seems she’s off floor now that Reynolds is back), but if we assume that LSU and Georgia qualify to nationals as the two teams, things get a little interesting. Maddie Gardiner would be expected to take up the Official Chelsea Tang Individual Spot now that Tang has graduated, but Arizona doesn’t compete an AAer, opening up what looks like it’s going to be a guaranteed AA spot for one of the two lowest-seeded teams.
Last year, Cami Drouin-Allaire of GWU pulled off the big upset by qualifying to nationals as an individual, and this year it looks like she and Jillian Winstanley could be in an intra-team battle for an AA spot once again. The two have been swapping places as AA winners and scoring very equivalent totals all season, so it could go either way. Keeping an eye on the back-and-forth scores for those two will be an interesting side story at this regional.
I also wouldn’t discount Lisa Burt of Michigan State who has saved the meet for that team more times than can even be counted over her career. She’s very capable of 9.850ing her way to a strong total. The fourth option for that final spot is probably DeMoura for George Washington, but her scoring potential tends to be a touch lower than that of Drouin-Allaire and Winstanley, so if George Washington is having a good day, expect the CDA and Winstanley totals to be the more competitive ones.
But unless things get really crazy in this competition, it looks like there will be just six AAers (add in Brittany Holmes of MSU) who don’t qualify with a team and are fighting for those two spots, five of whom come from the lowest seeds, so it won’t take all that many mistakes for any of the six to sneak in.