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]

8 thoughts on “Illinois Regional Preview”

  1. I REALLY hate that individual qualifiers have to win their event. Its a shame that even if Horth places top three on bars that she won’t go to Nationals if UCLA and Oregon State make it through.

    1. I agree. It makes it so that specialists from teams that aren’t going to make nationals are handicapped by the random luck of being in or not in the same regional as a team who has some of the best people on that event in the nation. In the case of Horth, she has to beat 2 athletes who are ranked in the top 5 in the country on bars to advance. It would’ve been 3 of the top 5 in the country on bars if she were in the Washington regional. Whereas if Illinois had happened to be in the Arkansas regional, there wouldn’t be a single competitor there who was ranked in the top 10 on bars. And then if you were a good vaulter, you’d be thanking your lucky stars if you happened to be in the Illinois regional because the highest ranked vaulter in that regional is tied for 16th. It sucks that people who have a chance to be individual event qualifiers have to just hope that they luck into a region that is weak in their event (or at least not super strong).

      1. I think the NCAA should allow individuals to qualify to Nationals if (1) you win the event or place top 2 in the AA at Regionals on a non-qualifying team OR (2) if you finish the season ranked in the top 10 on any individual event or the AA. It wouldn’t add too many more qualifiers, but gymnasts like Valentin and Stypinski would have already qualified to Nationals if they also allowed gymnasts to qualify using the season rankings.

        I like Horth, but she only has 4 scores of 9.900 or higher all year (3 on UB and 1 on BB). She’s ranked 33rd in the nation on UB. It’s not like she’s a guaranteed 9.9+ on UB and her season scores don’t necessarily scream Nationals contender.

      2. @Anonymous I’m not really fond of that method. Gymnastics, like most (if not all) other NCAA sports, has devised a system in which regular season performance cannot get you into the championships. It’ll buy you an easier path, but you have to actually put in a good performance in the post-season qualifying competition to get that spot. I think allowing people who finished in the top 10 to qualify would fundamentally change the way the post-season works. Personally, I’d prefer to have a system in which they took the winner from each region if that athlete was not on a team that qualified, and additionally took the 5 (or some similar number) highest scores from athletes at any regional who did not win the event and whose team did not qualify to nationals. That way, some gymnast who scored a 9.95 in an event wouldn’t be iced out by being in the same regional where a gymnast from a top school scored a 10, but that gymnast would actually have to score well at regionals like all of the teams do when they’re trying to qualify to nationals as a team.

      3. But taking the 5 highest on each event that didn’t qualify would lead to a lot of athletes at Nationals. To me, Nationals should be limited to the best of the best. There are some incredible athletes on teams outside the top 12 teams that qualify, but how many of them have a realistic shot at winning an individual title? Very few.

        If you can’t beat the athletes from the top qualifying teams in the regionals, you probably won’t beat them at Nationals. Thus, usually the athletes that deserve the spot and can win a title advance.

        Also, while we are talking “pie in the sky” ideas for Nationals. I would love to see them start the athletes one at a time like PAC 12s. Gymnastics is the only sport I can think of where they only show part of the competition on TV. Imagine if a quarter of a basketball or football game was cut out? People would think it’s nuts. So show viewers every routine. It builds suspense and makes for a great sporting event. And if that means it should be a final 4 instead of a super 6, I’m fine with that. Teams will have to earn their spot. We already have 36 teams in regionals, which is quite a bit considering how few Division 1 gym teams there are. To me, a team that had such a disappointing year, like Stanford, shouldn’t be awarded with a post-season berth.

      4. @Anon To me, it’s not just about who is realistically going to take the title, though. Clearly it’s not completely about that for the NCAA either, otherwise they would take only individual all-arounders who placed in the top 2 overall in their regionals (with the athletes from schools who qualified as a team included). I’m not saying they should give a spot to everybody who has been reasonably good. That’s why I said only the next 5. That only adds 20 routines to a meet that already had about 200, so I don’t think that’s a crazy increase. I’d also be okay with one person from each event from each regional who is not on a team that qualified. All I want is some method to even out the random luck of being placed in a regional in which one of the teams who qualifies is really good on your specialty event, and then your 9.95 isn’t good enough to make nationals. For example, if Stanford doesn’t put Ebee in the all-around, she has a very real chance of being unable to qualify to nationals on bars because Wofford and Nichols are in her region. However, put Ebee in a couple of other regionals and she’d have a pretty high chance of qualifying (provided she hits, of course). Additionally, if we’re going to go with the argument that you have to be able to beat the best of the best to go to nationals, then you should only qualify as an individual if you posted the highest score (or, say, in the top 5 scores) in the country between all the regionals, including the scores of athletes who qualified with their teams. Otherwise, we allow people with no realistic shot of winning to qualify because they had the good fortune to be in a regional that’s weak on their event.

        In regards to your idea about going one at a time, I completely agree. It’s the national championship. I think we could spare a bit more time so we could actually see everybody compete and not just whichever gymnasts the people running the broadcast deem to be worth watching.

        I also completely agree about the 36 team field being far too large. Some of these teams have no prayer whatsoever. Does anybody actually think a team with a mid-195 RQS has a realistic shot of finishing in the top 2 when 3 teams in that regional have an RQS more than one full point higher, one of which has an RQS over 2 points higher?

  2. Anyone know if and which live streams will be available following the conclusion of each meet for replay?

  3. Thanks so much for these previews. They are great! Strange question, but how long will a typical regional last – 3 hours? I have to work on Saturday and I’m wondering if I can catch the tail end of this.

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