The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Illinois Regional Preview

I have a fun idea. Let’s put all of the most dangerous lower-ranked teams in the same competition and make it way deeper and more competitive than any of the other regionals. WHEEEEEEE!

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

Teams (starting event)
[5] UCLA (bars)
[8] Oregon State (vault)
[17] Iowa (bye before floor)
[19] Illinois (bye before bars)
[22] Eastern Michigan (beam)
[26] Ohio State (floor)

Nicola Deans, Michigan State (AA)
Rachael Underwood, Western Michigan (AA)
Anna Corbett, Western Michigan (AA)
Ashley White, Centenary (AA)
Jovannah East, Bowling Green (VT, BB)
Lauren Feely, Bowling Green (VT)
Jessie Peszek, Western Michigan (UB, BB)
Hailee Westney, Michigan State (UB)
Elena Lagoski, Michigan State (FX)
Kira Frederick, Michigan State (FX)

The favorites – UCLA and Oregon State
This meet is on a low simmer right now. It has the potential to get delicious. Illinois just scored 196.8 at Big Tens, Iowa scored 196.7 at the same meet, and Eastern Michigan just won MACs with a 196.5, a score that would have qualified from three of the six regionals last season. But, whether this regional is thrilling chaos or super boring will be entirely up to UCLA and Oregon State.

Despite the challenges posed by the #3, #4, #5, and #6 teams in this meet, the Bruins and the Beavs still control their own destinies and can assure qualification simply with their normal performances. UCLA had a weak meet at Pac-12s—not counting a fall but with enough errors to be equivalent to counting a fall—and still scored 197.100, higher than the season highs of all teams in this regional other than Oregon State. That tells us UCLA does have wiggle room but won’t want to cut it that close. The vault situation with the Kramer 1.5 will be fascinating to watch. What confidence is there in these 1.5s? Having 1.5s seems essential if UCLA is going to challenge for more than just a Super Six place…but not if they’re falls.

Because Oregon State does not have the same history of 10s at the end of the lineup to save a rotation even if there’s an early disaster, there will be less of a buffer than UCLA has in the event of an implosion. Counting a fall would put Oregon State very close to what Iowa/Illinois/Eastern Michigan have been scoring for hit meets lately, but save a mistake of that magnitude, Oregon State really should be able to outpace the other teams. The last four meets have all been over 197, and the quality of the performance from Pac-12s will not even have to be duplicated for the Beavs to get through here.

Oregon State has made nationals just once in the last four seasons, which isn’t good enough. Despite this being a deep regional with several very dangerous teams, this remains Oregon State’s clearest-cut opportunity to make nationals in several years for what is probably the program’s most competitive squad since that  Mak/Stambaugh/Vivian/Ranzy season. It needs to happen this year.

The spoilers – Iowa and Illinois
Even though we have two favorites here, this is far from an open-and-shut regional.

Illinois may be cursing its luck because, as an unseeded team, it could have been placed with any of the regional groups, several of which would have provided much juicier prospects for advancing as a host team than this one does. Here, it will take not only beating either UCLA or Oregon State but also fending off teams with similar scoring capabilities like Iowa and Eastern Michigan.

Still, Illinois and Iowa are both among the most dangerous floaters in any regional and will be right in this if a crack emerges in UCLA or Oregon State. Not like we haven’t seen that happen before. And by that, I mean it happens most years.

For both teams, the significant stumbling block has been vault. Illinois has a full lineup now and may not have to vault an auto-9.6, though like Iowa there’s a tendency toward piking and bouncing that can send the majority of the lineup down into the 9.7s. It would be very difficult to overcome a vault rotation of 9.7s and contend in this regional, but still, watch those scores. If either team does manage to get through vault with a reasonable total over 49, then the upset will start to look like a more believable prospect.

The most important scores for Illinois, however, will come on beam, where the Illini rank second in this region, behind only UCLA. The Leduc, Hodan, and Horth scores are the most nationally competitive gymnastics on Illinois’s team (along with Horth’s bars) and will have to come through if a high 196 is to be earned here. Being at home may not be the hugest deal for Illinois (both of Illinois’s best scores this season have come on the road), but it could help drive up some of those occasionally 9.9 anchor routines.

Unlike Illinois, which ranks second and third, but also fifth, on some events within the region, Iowa ranks fourth across the board on each and every piece. Yet, Iowa is the #3 seed because of a lack of those low points. For the most part, Iowa will look to go through smoothly and steadily, not necessarily top-two on any event but avoiding any clunker scores in order to position itself 196ishly enough to take advantage of a miss from UCLA or OSU. Still, Iowa will also look for a couple big-score moments, like Metcalf on bars and Drenth on beam, since it’s likely to take those in addition to a lack of clunkers to advance barring a truly significant implosion from someone else.

The other spoilers – Eastern Michigan and Ohio State
All the teams here have the potential to be regarded as spoilers and would be exactly that in other regions. Eastern Michigan has become a reliably 196 team in the second half of the season and is in a remarkably similar position to last year, when they were regarded as an outsider in a competitive region, entered ranked 24th (this season, 22nd) on the heels of a 196.425 victory at MACs (this season, 196.500), and ended up scoring a 196.250 at regionals that came only a couple tenths away from advancing.

The new geographical draw, however, was not kind to Eastern Michigan this time around. Last season, as the #24 team, EMU was the 4th-ranked team in its region, but this year as the #22 team, EMU is the 5th-ranked team. That’s one additional better-scoring team that EMU would need to have mistakes in order to advance. As well as Eastern Michigan can score, advancing will still take struggles from three teams in the UCLA/Oregon State/Iowa/Illinois pack, which is quite a lot to ask.

EMU ends on its most important event, bars, and will hope ending there provides an opportunity for Valentin and company to take advantage of rising scores and get the kind of total that will bring on a last-minute, end-of-meet upset.

If you look at the numbers below, every team in this regional has at least one scoring category in which it ranks in the top 3. For Ohio State, that’s vault. This isn’t much of a power-event region, so if the other challengers really do struggle on vault as they have at times this year, Ohio State could use a more competitive score there to become a chief challenger. It’s not the most likely outcome, but that opening does exist. Really, Ohio State got the worst of the draw as a solidly ranked #26 team that happened to be placed with five better teams.

Unlike some of the other regionals, each of the teams in this meet will put forward at least one very strong all-arounder with a shot to make nationals.

If we assume that UCLA and Oregon State go through, that takes Kocian, McMillan, and Gardiner off the table but doesn’t simplify the affair all that much. Lizzy Leduc has turned into a star this season for Illinois and seems the most likely of the candidates to qualify in the AA, but Iowa will put up Angel Metcalf and hopefully Mollie Drenth as well, though Drenth has not competed bars the last couple meets. Both have 39.3s this season, which is a realistic qualifying score. Not to be overlooked at all is Alexis Mattern of Ohio State, who has that critical 10.0 start on vault and has managed to reach the 39.400 zone a couple times this season. The trick for Mattern will be getting through beam. That’s the one stumbling block, but with a good hit there, she turns into a favorite.

EMU will put up Catie Conrad as its AAer, who suddenly went 39.350 at MACs, so while she seemed to be an outsider in this race, she’s wiggling herself right in as well. For her, the questionable event is vault. That’s the one where she must avoid the 9.7 zone to have a real shot. Nicola Deans for Michigan State may also at least verge on the conversation here. We know she has the floor. She just needs the other events. It’s similar for Rachael Underwood for WMU. She’ll have the floor and vault but needs non-9.7s on bars and beam to be somewhat competitive.

Kendall Valentin’s and Mary Jane Horth’s hopes to advance to nationals for uneven bars did not enjoy being placed in the same regional as Peng and Ross.

Rotation-by-rotation RQS

Rotation 1 – Oregon St vault, UCLA bars, E Michigan beam, Ohio St floor
UCLA – 49.460
Oregon State – 49.195
Ohio State – 49.120
Eastern Michigan – 49.030

UCLA begins on its strongest and highest-scoring events in the first two rotations and will have the opportunity to run away and hide early, allowing vault to get a little meh at the end of the meet and not have a major influence on the outcome. A 49.4 is the target zone.

Rotation 2 – Ohio St vault, Illinois bars, UCLA beam, Iowa floor
1. UCLA – 98.955
2. Ohio State – 98.175
3. Iowa – 49.205
4. Oregon State – 49.195
5. Illinois – 49.095
6. Eastern Michigan – 49.030

Iowa begins on one of its higher-scoring events and will want to be ahead of Oregon State and Illinois at this point since there won’t be as many high-scoring opportunities later in the meet. Illinois doesn’t have a great RQS on bars but can be strong there and needs a competitive score, comfortably over 49, to be legitimately in the upset game. Vault is typically Oregon State’s lowest-scoring event, so if they’re ahead of Iowa/Illinois/Eastern Michigan at this point, even if it’s pretty close, they’ll be pleased with that.

Rotation 3 – Iowa vault, Oregon St bars, Illinois beam, E Michigan floor
1. UCLA – 98.955
2. Oregon State – 98.460
3. Illinois – 98.385
4. Iowa – 98.200
5. Ohio State – 98.175
6. Eastern Michigan – 98.030

Look how closely packed RQS says the 2-6 teams should be at the halfway point. This is why I’m so excited for this regional. It won’t take a whole lot to upset the presumed order of things, and it could come from a number of places. Rotation 3 is critical for Illinois, beam being its strong event, particularly because Illinois ends the meet on a weakness. The push needs to happen early.

Rotation 4 – E Michigan vault, Ohio St bars, Oregon St beam, UCLA floor
1. UCLA – 148.390
2. Oregon State – 147.765
3. Ohio State – 147.265
4. Eastern Michigan – 146.865
5. Illinois – 98.385
6. Iowa – 98.200

Oregon State’s RQSs rise through the meet, from its lowest on vault to its highest on beam and floor, so rotation four is where OSU will really look to start separating from a chasing pack that may seem a little too close for comfort in the first half.

Rotation 5 – UCLA vault, Iowa bars, Ohio St beam, Illinois floor
1. UCLA – 197.640
2. Ohio State – 196.075
3. Oregon State – 147.765
4. Illinois – 147.615
5. Iowa – 147.345
6. Eastern Michigan – 146.865

Oregon State and Iowa both finish on their best-scoring events, while Illinois finishes on its worst. For Illinois to have any shot, that means being ahead of both OSU and Iowa at this point (and by more than a couple tenths). Iowa wouldn’t necessarily mind being behind Illinois here, even by the three tenths predicted by RQS, but would have to be ahead of Oregon State, since Oregon State’s floor will be expected to outscore Iowa’s beam.

Rotation 6 – Illinois vault, E Michigan bars, Iowa beam, Oregon St floor
1. UCLA – 197.640
2. Oregon State – 197.085
3. Iowa – 196.600
4. Illinois – 196.490
5. Eastern Michigan – 196.080
6. Ohio State – 196.075

Because of the rotation order, Oregon State may spend much of the meet looking uncomfortably and misleadingly close to Illinois and Iowa, but the final margin is expected to be somewhat comfortable given hit meets. It simply may not materialize until the very end. That’s why Oregon State is considered a favorite here, rather than being in a fight with Illinois and Iowa. The Beavs should be able to qualify on their own terms.

By the numbers

[1] UCLA
RQS: 197.500 [1]
Season high: 198.125 [1]
Season average: 197.150 [1]

VT RQS: 49.250 [1]
VT average: 49.223 [1]
UB RQS: 49.460 [1]
UB average: 49.395 [1]
BB RQS: 49.495 [1]
BB average: 49.370 [1]
FX RQS: 49.435 [1]
FX average: 49.161 [2]

[2] Oregon State
RQS: 197.115 [2]
Season high: 197.475 [2]
Season average: 196.600 [2]

VT RQS: 49.195 [2]
VT average: 49.141 [2]
UB RQS: 49.265 [2]
UB average: 49.084 [3]
BB RQS: 49.305 [2]
BB average: 49.164 [3]
FX RQS: 49.320 [2]
FX average: 49.211 [1]

[3] Iowa
RQS: 196.510 [3]
Season high: 196.725 [4]
Season average: 195.802 [4]

VT RQS: 48.995 [4]
VT average: 48.888 [4]
UB RQS: 49.145 [4]
UB average: 48.898 [5]
BB RQS: 49.255 [4]
BB average: 48.946 [4]
FX RQS: 49.205 [4]
FX average: 49.069 [4]

[4] Illinois
RQS: 196.365 [4]
Season high: 196.875 [3]
Season average: 195.933 [3]

VT RQS: 48.875 [5]
VT average: 48.777 [5]
UB RQS: 49.095 [5]
UB average: 48.869 [6]
BB RQS: 49.290 [3]
BB average: 49.194 [2]
FX RQS: 49.230 [3]
FX average: 49.094 [3]

[5] Eastern Michigan
RQS: 195.970 [5]
Season high: 196.500 [5]
Season average: 195.302 [6]

VT RQS: 48.835 [6]
VT average: 48.698 [6]
UB RQS: 49.215 [3]
UB average: 49.117 [2]
BB RQS: 49.030 [5]
BB average: 48.675 [5]
FX RQS: 49.000 [6]
FX average: 48.813 [6]

[6] Ohio State
RQS: 195.825 [6]
Season high: 196.450 [6]
Season average: 195.593 [5]

VT RQS: 49.055 [3]
VT average: 48.980 [3]
UB RQS: 49.090 [6]
UB average: 48.959 [4]
BB RQS: 48.810 [6]
BB average: 48.668 [6]
FX RQS: 49.120 [5]
FX average: 48.986 [5]

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