Arkansas Regional Preview

April 1, 5:00 ET/2:00 PT

Teams (starting event)
[4] Utah (bars)
[9] Denver (vault)
[16] Cal (bye before floor)
[21] Auburn (bye before bars)
[27] Arkansas (beam)
[28] Central Michigan (floor)

Individuals
Mikailla Northern, Illinois-Chicago (AA)
Alexis Brawner, SEMO (AA)
Ashley Potts, Northern Illinois (AA)
Katherine Prentice, Northern Illinois (AA)
Kierstin Sokolowski, Lindenwood (VT, BB)
Schyler Jones, Texas Woman’s (VT)
Courtney Dowdell, Northern Illinois (UB, FX)
Jamyra Carter, Northern Illinois (UB)
Nichelle Christopherson, Arizona State (BB)
Gabrielle Cooke, Illinois State (FX)

The favorite – Utah
Utah should feel pretty comfortable heading into this regional. Reproducing the routines from Pac-12s would allow plenty of wiggle room for mistakes to crop up here and there and still not compromise qualification.

It is, nonetheless, a challenging group of teams. Denver had a streak of six-straight scores of 196.9+ snapped at Big 12s, and Cal was on track for a 196.8 at Pac-12s before counting a beam fall. It’s typically difficult to keep up those scores at regionals, but Utah should nonetheless anticipate seeing two challengers score toward the high 196s and would therefore need a 197 to feel truly safe. A 197 is not a difficult ask for Utah, but we have seen Utah fall to the mid-196s away against Georgia and Oregon State in the last couple months, meets that did not include counting falls. That’s the kind of performance that must be avoided because a mid-196 would make Utah vulnerable.

In terms of using regionals to judge national competitiveness, Utah is working from a start-value disadvantage on vault, one that was compounded by McNatt’s injury at Pac-12s (Merrell’s 1.5 wasn’t in the lineup, though I expect she’d come back in now). The likes of Lewis and Rowe must continue landing as well as they did at Pac-12s to try to mitigate that SV disadvantage. If they start hopping, those vaults get into the 9.825 zone very quickly and would give up multiple tenths to the teams with three, four, and five 10.0 starts. A best-level Utah would also reduce a tendency toward leg separations on bars, which is a major difference-maker between bars rotations among the strongest teams.

The fight – Denver v. Cal
It’s a #9 seed against a #16 seed. Denver leads Cal by five tenths in overall RQS and leads on every individual event, all of which is supposed to tell us that this should be a fairly comfortable road for Denver. But we’re smarter than that. Once Cal figured out lineups that can allow the team to survive the Toni-Annpocalypse, they’ve been performing at the high-196 level. Meanwhile, Denver has spent the same portion of the season hovering around the 197 mark, which is still an advantage but not close to a prohibitive one. A mistake, even a “counting a 9.650” level mistake, would swing this one.

Last season was supposed to be Denver’s year—the final season of Nina McGee—but mistakes on beam at regionals dashed those hopes. This season, Denver has come back a heartier team with different strengths, without the high of a possible 10 on floor but with reinforced bars and beam lineups that don’t look as vulnerable as they did last year. Karr has rightfully received most of the credit for this, though the presence of that weekly 9.8 from Ogden on beam has been just as instrumental in creating a complete and competitive lineup.

Perhaps unexpectedly, bars and beam have been Denver’s highest-scoring and most useful events this year, but Cal will expect to put a dent in that advantage at regionals. Cleanliness on beam is a major strength for this Cal team (as long as a first-position fall doesn’t turn everyone crazy again), so ending the meet there is not the burden it will be for some of the other #3 seeds attempting to mount a coup. Overcoming the ranking deficit on bars will be the greater challenge for Cal since there are areas in most of those Cal routines that can bring them down to 9.800-9.825, whether it’s handstands or legs or landings. For Denver to have a truly good shot at advancing over Cal, it will mean taking bars.

On the power events, Denver boasts several high scores—Karr’s 1.5 is the most reliably 9.9 score for either team on vault, and Karr and Addison have twelve 9.9s between them on floor this season—but the primary struggle has been filling out a full lineup. Denver can’t afford a weak landing from any of the five primary vaults because all of those scores have to count. Floor suddenly has reinforcements from Claire Hammen, who scored 9.800 at Big 12s to provide a little more stability, but there’s still risk and a tendency toward 9.7s in the early lineup before those 9.9s roll around to save the day.

Cal doesn’t have the same sure-thing 9.9s on vault and floor. No gymnast on the team has more than three 9.9s on vault or floor this season, so Cal will instead expect to use early- and mid-lineup 9.850s (the type that earned a 49.300 floor score in the first session of Pac-12s) to create an advantage over Denver that can be maintained through all six spots. Putting together a fully functioning vault lineup must therefore be a major focus because, while Cal does still have a few 10.0 starts in there, the strains on depth from the injuries to Williams, Keelen, and Leg-Event Seilnacht show in the replacement vaults. They can’t afford 9.750s if they’re going to catch Denver.

The spoiler – Auburn
It hasn’t been a good season for Auburn. The departure of the Caitlin Atkinson/Lexus Demers class was always going to knock the team down a peg or two, and the injury to Abby Milliet on top of that has made it very difficult to remain competitive. Still, I’m not counting Auburn out of this thing. It will take help from the other teams, but there’s still no reason all of Auburn’s apparatuses shouldn’t be over 49, which would be enough to stay relatively close.

In fact, Auburn’s season-high 196.550 from the first session of SECs may very well be the kind of score it takes to advance in the second spot at this meet. Across the conference championships, that 196.550 was the second-highest score of any of the teams in this regional, ahead of Denver’s 196.475 and Cal’s 196.300. (Cal will also be emboldened by this information, however, since Cal’s number includes counting a fall while Auburn’s and Denver’s do not.)

And the rest – Arkansas and Central Michigan
Arkansas looks at Auburn’s struggles this season and says, “That’s adorable.” The Paige Zaziski transfer followed by the Amanda Wellick injury has decimated the lineups, making it very difficult to cobble together six competitive routines on each event, let alone six that will challenge for a spot at nationals. Arkansas has made a habit of being a dangerous spoiler when it hosts regionals (which feels like it happens every single year), but this year the full collection of routines just isn’t there to challenge hit meets from the teams ranked above. Even if things do get sloppy, Auburn looks better poised to be the team to take advantage, so Arkansas has to root for even more mistakes from the others.

At 28th, Central Michigan is among the strongest #6 teams in any of the regionals and would have been a #5 seed in previous years. Expect CMU to stay in contention to score a 196 and finish higher than 6th, even if a qualification spot is out of reach. Watch out for that opening-rotation floor performance since a parade of 9.9s from Hilliker and Clements has CMU scoring better on floor than most of the other teams in this meet. They may bemoan having to start there.

Individuals
I made a mistake in proclaiming the Florida regional sparse when it comes to AAers. This regional shows us what sparse really means.

If Denver doesn’t advance as a team, then Maddie Karr would be a heavy, heavy favorite to take an individual AA spot, and teammate Julia Ross would be the likely choice to go alongside her. They are this regional’s highest-ranked non-Utah AAers by quite a margin.

If Utah and Denver do manage to fulfill their seedings and advance as teams, however, this thing is wide, wide, wide open. That’s because Cal doesn’t compete an all-arounder and Auburn’s sole all-arounder is Katie Becker, who has been forced into that position because of roster necessity but hasn’t yet broken the 39 barrier.

Instead, we turn to Central Michigan’s Kasey Janowicz, who only returned to the all-around a couple of weeks ago but has already recorded two 39.400s in that span and suddenly looks like a favorite for AA qualification. Jessica Yamzon should also be in the mix. She has been a savior for Arkansas this season by competing the AA every week, usually recording totals in the lower 39 zone. Typically, that wouldn’t get a spot at nationals, but in this regional she’s a real contender.

Because of the scarcity of options, don’t sleep on the individual qualifiers, Northern, Brawner, Potts, and Prentice, all of whom have scored in the 39.2-39.3 range and rank right with Yamzon in the season’s AA standings. If one of them explodes for a season-high-tying day, she would have a legitimate, non-fictional shot at going to nationals. So for all of you without a horse in this race, keep an eye on those four unattached individuals in pursuit of your heart-warming upset stories.

For individual event qualifiers, MJ Rott could do it with one of her good-landing floor days, and Central Michigan has proven 9.9 pedigree from a couple of its final floor workers, though qualifying for floor from this regional would require beating MyKayla Skinner.

Rotation-by-rotation RQS
Rotation 1 – Denver vault, Utah bars, Arkansas beam, CMU floor
Utah – 49.375
Denver – 49.255
Central Michigan – 49.190
Arkansas – 49.055

CMU and Arkansas start on their best-scoring events and need to be over 49 to have any shot at the crazy upset. Denver would be quite pleased getting through vault with a 49.2. The trouble comes if it gets 49.0y, which would let Cal into the meet.

Rotation 2 – CMU vault, Auburn bars, Utah beam, Cal floor
1. Utah – 98.745
2. Central Michigan – 98.170
3. Denver 49.255
4. Cal – 49.195
5. Auburn – 49.185
6. Arkansas – 49.055

Cal has enough 9.850s on floor to expect better than a 49.1 and will certainly hope to have a lead over Denver after one event. Like the other lower-ranked teams, Auburn starts on its best-scoring piece and needs to be right in the hunt after bars. We’ll know whether this regional is anything more than a three-team race quite early.

Rotation 3 – Cal vault, Denver bars, Auburn beam, Arkansas floor
1. Utah – 98.745
2. Denver – 98.570
3. Cal – 98.340
4. Auburn – 98.280
5. Central Michigan – 98.170
6. Arkansas – 98.045

Note how close RQS says Denver will be to Utah at the halfway point. Now, if Utah gets through beam cleanly, the rest of the meet will feel like smooth sailing, but Denver is supposed to make things fairly interesting. If Cal really does give up this much of a deficit to Denver at the halfway point, they’ll need to start hoping for a mistake.

Rotation 4 – Arkansas vault, CMU bars, Denver beam, Utah floor
1. Utah – 148.240
2. Denver – 147.865
3. Central Michigan – 147.170
4. Arkansas – 146.985
5. Cal – 98.340
6. Auburn – 98.280

It was a 48.5 on beam that broke Denver’s second-seeded hopes last season, so this rotation will be all about seeing if Denver can slay the demon and get through cleanly.

Rotation 5 – Utah vault, Cal bars, CMU beam, Auburn floor
1. Utah – 197.585
2. Central Michigan – 196.045
3. Denver – 147.865
4. Auburn – 147.455
5. Cal – 147.415
6. Arkansas – 146.985

RQS has Auburn ahead of Cal after rotation five, which reinforces that Auburn could be in this meet if things fall just right.

Rotation 6 – Auburn vault, Arkansas bars, Cal beam, Denver floor
1. Utah – 197.585
2. Denver – 197.085
3. Cal – 196.640
4. Auburn – 196.505
5. Central Michigan – 196.045
6. Arkansas – 195.945

Cal relies fairly heavily on beam to get a competitive team total, while floor is Denver’s lowest of its four RQSs, so we may have a break with the norm here. The last-event advantage typically goes to the team on floor, but not necessarily in this case. Cal won’t mind working from behind or having a deficit heading to the final event, but it would need to be a very small one.

It’s worth noting that the event-specific RQS totals promote Auburn multiple tenths over its season RQS of 196.265, indicating that Auburn has quality on each event individually that hasn’t often appeared together in a single meet.

By the numbers

[1] Utah
RQS: 197.550 [1]
Season high: 197.925 [1]
Season average: 197.166 [1]

VT RQS: 49.345 [1]
VT average: 49.268 [1]
UB RQS: 49.375 [1]
UB average: 49.211 [1]
BB RQS: 49.370 [1]
BB average: 49.302 [1]
FX RQS: 49.495 [1]
FX average: 49.384 [1]

[2] Denver
RQS: 197.040 [2]
Season high: 197.150 [2]
Season average: 196.533 [2]

VT RQS: 49.255 [2]
VT average: 49.046 [3]
UB RQS: 49.315 [2]
UB average: 49.160 [2]
BB RQS: 49.295 [2]
BB average: 49.187 [2]
FX RQS: 49.220 [2]
FX average: 49.140 [2]

[3] Cal
RQS: 196.515 [3]
Season high: 197.075 [3]
Season average: 196.145 [3]

VT RQS: 49.145 [3]
VT average: 49.073 [2]
UB RQS: 49.075 [4]
UB average: 48.939 [4]
BB RQS: 49.225 [3]
BB average: 49.093 [3]
FX RQS: 49.195 [3]
FX average: 49.041 [4]

[4] Auburn
RQS: 196.265 [4]
Season high: 196.550 [5]
Season average: 195.898 [4]

VT RQS: 49.050 [4]
VT average: 48.965 [4]
UB RQS: 49.185 [3]
UB average: 49.023 [3]
BB RQS: 49.095 [4]
BB average: 48.871 [4]
FX RQS: 49.175 [5]
FX average: 49.040 [5]

[5] Arkansas
RQS: 195.775 [5]
Season high: 196.375 [6]
Season average: 194.509 [6]

VT RQS: 48.940 [6]
VT average: 48.850 [5]
UB RQS: 48.960 [6]
UB average: 48.741 [5]
BB RQS: 49.055 [5]
BB average: 48.864 [5]
FX RQS: 48.990 [6]
FX average: 48.055 [6]

[6] Central Michigan
RQS: 195.765 [6]
Season high: 196.575 [4]
Season average: 195.018 [5]

VT RQS: 48.980 [5]
VT average: 48.766 [6]
UB RQS: 49.000 [5]
UB average: 48.625 [6]
BB RQS: 48.875 [6]
BB average: 48.559 [6]
FX RQS: 49.190 [4]
FX average: 49.068 [3]

 

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8 thoughts on “Arkansas Regional Preview”

  1. Just a head’s up, your Bars RQS for Denver is off. It should be 49.315, not 49.445. Final score by my calculations should be 197.085 by adding event RQS, so still in second, but a little smaller of a margin.

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  2. I had both Northern and Brawner on my fantasy team this season, so it would be really cool to see one of them go to nationals!

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  3. None of my favorite teams are in this regional, but this is the meet I’m most excited to watch. I’m interested to see who gets that second spot. It seems to be the most wide open of any of the regionals.

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  4. As a Utah fan, I am little anxious about this regional. Utah should be fine, but I just worry that in SEC country, Utah might be judged on a different standard (sort of like that Georgia meet) than the rest of the teams especially those in the SEC. Hopefully we don’t see a repeat of that Georgia performance (both by the Utah gymnasts and the crack judges) 🙂

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    1. About the Utah/UGA meet: Utah deserved the score they received by making multiple small errors. IMO they were judged fairly. I do agree the judges were “on crack” with many of the UGA scores – Georgia deserved to win the meet but the final result should’ve been much closer.

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      1. agree that Georgia deserved the win however the “crack scoring” could damage Utah. Hope for parity. At this stage I don’t care if scores are high or low as long as it’s even across the board.

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    2. Maybe this is just extreme optimism, but I tend to be a little less worried about lack of consistency between the teams in the same meet in the post season. Sure, there may be the occasional routine that seems to have been judged a bit more generously than the rest in that meet, but I’m talking about an across the board benefit for an entire team . I think judges realize that if they judged one team far more harshly than others and their inconsistent judging cost that team a trip to nationals, the NCAA would likely actually look into it and consider sanctioning the judges involved.

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  5. I still like Arkansas to have a strong meet where they could challenge for third or fourth place. I really think with their depth and injury issues a top two finish is out of the question.

    I do like Auburn for the upset though. If Denver and Cal are too focused on each other, the Tigers could sneak in there… Auburn has under-achieved this season but had their best meet at SECs.

    Utah should be safe unless they have a Bar-aster or a Beam-tastrophe.

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