West Virginia Regional Preview

And so we arrive at the last, the infamous 6, 7, 18 regional. This regional has a reputation of being the easiest and least interesting of all because it contains the weakest of the #3 teams and therefore should provide the most straightforward qualification road for the #1 and #2 teams. This reputation exists for a reason. The #6 and #7 teams had advanced every single time since 2004…until last year, when Stanford came in as the #18 team and upset everything.

April 1, 4:00 ET/1:00 PT

Teams (starting event)
[6] Alabama (bars)
[7] Michigan (vault)
[18] Southern Utah (bye before floor)
[20] George Washington (bye before bars)
[23] West Virginia (beam)
[31] Kent State (floor)

Majesta Valentine, West Chester (AA)
Lyanda Dudley, Cornell (AA)
Caroline Morant, Brown (AA)
Libby Groden, Rutgers (AA)
Tracey Person, Pittsburgh (VT)
Kimberly Stewart, Birdgeport (VT)
Taylor Laymon, Pittsburgh (UB)
Daisy Todd, Temple (UB)
Brianna Comport, Bridgeport (BB, FX)
Kaitlin Green, Cornell (BB)
Maya Reimers, Bridgeport (FX)

The favorites – Alabama and Michigan
Alabama and Michigan are supposed to qualify here, and with hit meets, they will. The high score on the road for any of the other teams in the meet is 196.725, a number that Michigan has bested in five consecutive meets and Alabama has bested in seven consecutive. We’ve seen both teams have struggle-bus meets this year, Alabama with that weekend of 195s and Michigan with some early road debacles, but those were centuries ago. It’s the kind of situation where you hear people use optimistic yet baseless cliches like, “we’ve put those mistakes behind us,” which is true right up until it isn’t.

Still, qualification is in the hands of the top two seeds, and both would have to mimic those struggle-bus meets and count a fall in order to throw this chance away. That statement will provide Michigan with panic flashbacks as the case was exactly the same last year, then Michigan counted a fall on beam and still missed nationals by only .050 in what otherwise would have been a smooth and relaxed qualification journey at home.

For Alabama, SECs proved a fine yet somewhat disheartening experience because they hit a solid 197.400 and didn’t count a mistake, yet still ended up 0.675 behind LSU. Not all that encouraging in terms of title prospects. Alabama needs to perform a little closer to the leading teams during regionals and should be able to improve on an SEC performance that featured a couple dropped falls and weak floor landings. We’ll also need to watch the McNeer situation. She was fitted with her robo-wrist in time to return on beam at SECs, but a best-level Alabama would have her on more than one event. They’ve reconstructed that bars lineup quite a lot recently, the latest move being to take out Sims in favor of Guerra, a solid call, but ideally McNeer would have that spot.

For Michigan, things have been progressing nicely over the last month or so. Beam is an impressive event for this roster, and the big scores exist at the end of most lineups to put up a comfortably 197 total. Concerns do remain, notably the early routines on several events. Michigan has a tendency toward higher 9.7s-lower 9.8s in the opening spots, particularly on vault and floor, but in the current score-scape, a Super Six team just isn’t starting lineups with multiple 9.800s. (Because then how do you get your 49.925?!?!?) There’s also the subtly looming threat of inconsistency on bars. In each of the last three meets, Michigan has fallen on bars, every time a different person. Those single falls have been dropped and therefore didn’t influence the final scores significantly, but that remains a potential stumbling block.

The spoilers – Southern Utah and George Washington
Southern Utah and George Washington should both expect to score into the 196s here, even with hopefully stricter regionals judging, but the only way they get into this meet is if they’re allowed in by Alabama or Michigan. Yet, if they are allowed in by one or the other, this regional suddenly becomes an evenly exciting three-way clash reminiscent of what we got from the 6, 7, 18 last year.

Southern Utah has outperformed George Washington on the whole this season, as reflected in the rankings, but SUU has also struggled by comparison recently, the last three meets featuring two mid-195s and a 196.0 on the road. Meanwhile, George Washington has broken the 196 barrier six consecutive times. If the seasons were reduced only to road meets (like this regional), George Washington would take the lead with a 195.941 average to SUU’s 195.683.

Critical in this meet, particularly for Southern Utah, will be beam. Beam has been George Washington’s best event this season, but while I still maintain beam should be Southern Utah’s best event, it hasn’t been on too many occasions. SUU very much needs to outperform its 49.035 RQS, which undersells its talent, to avoid giving up too much ground to George Washington, a team that has made a habit of 49.2ing up beam.

Where Southern Utah will expect to separate itself is on bars and floor. Both events have shown more of a tendency toward higher 9.8s, which could provide separation from George Washington should SUU keep the meet close on the other pieces. GW probably won’t get huge numbers on those events but is capable of a lineup of 9.850s. That’s where the scores typically sit when George Washington has a mid-196 day, and it’s what will need to happen here in order to beat Southern Utah since the margin between them is so minimal. Which team stays above the 49.100 plateau more often and avoids allowing its weaker events to drop to 48.9-49.0?

And the rest – West Virginia and Kent State
I hesitate to overlook the host, West Virginia, a team with dangerous potential 9.9s from the likes of Koshinski and Muhammad, and one that recently had a good shot at beating George Washington at home if not for counting a fall on beam. The trouble for West Virginia has been the prevalence of early-lineup 9.700s that keep the team total locked in this purgatory of 195.8s and 195.9s, both at home and on the road. That won’t be enough to make a dent in this meet.

The most important routines for WVU will still be Koshinski’s 1.5 on vault and her possible 9.9 on floor, which can pretty much single-handedly take those events over 49. That will be necessary to challenge for a seat in the upset car. Floor in particular can’t be allowed to pass by with 9.800-9.825s.

Kent State has a similar, but perhaps even more extreme, dependency on floor scores, the team’s only RQS over 49. The floor number will have to be high if Kent State is going to hit the 196 mark. That will be the goal here, along with getting Stypinski to nationals, since beating enough teams to challenge for a top-2 spot seems highly unlikely. I mean, who do they think they are, Kent State 2011?

If Alabama and Michigan do end up running away with this one early, as could very well happen, the meet will have to rely on its individual qualification race to keep our fleeting and minuscule attention spans intact. Fortunately, it should be an excellent three-sided challenge.

Currently, Jillian Winstanley sits at 24th in the AA, Cami Drouin-Allaire is 27th, and Rachel Stypinski is 29th. Winstanley’s season high is 39.550, Stypinski’s is 39.525, and Drouin-Allaire’s is 39.400. They’ve all had great scores and all can outscore the other two on a given day. Only two spots available. For Stypinski, watch the vault. It can get a little 9.7, which would provide an opening for the GW duo. But if Stypinski has one of her good vaults, her potential 9.925+ scores on beam and floor could send her into the lead since Winstanley and Drouin-Allaire tend to peak out around 9.875-9.900 for their best sets. On the other hand, neither of the GW gymnasts has a score consistently lower than 9.8.

If any of them don’t hit, watch out for Zaakira Muhammad from WVU, who has finally made her way into the beam lineup to get herself an AA total. She peaked out at 39.400 in her season AA debut and will be the hometown hope alongside Koshinski’s quest to go as an individual for vault or floor.

But, the 4th-ranked AAer in this regional (not on Alabama or Michigan’s team) is actually Majesta Valentine from West Chester, one of the semifinalists for the AAI Award, who has an RQS at 39.200 and breaks 39 pretty much every week. She may be a serious nominee. We’ll see if she benefits from rotating with Alabama, though the spoils of rotating with a top team in the postseason are unproven.

In terms of other choices, Alex DeMoura also should do all four for GW, though her AA teammates tend to get the higher scores. Southern Utah has put Tyly Bozzutto in the AA a couple times this year, once for as high as 39.375, but she didn’t compete bars at MRGCs and isn’t a given to do all four. Similarly, Alexa Goldberg fills in on floor for WVU when someone else can’t go, which would put her in the AA, though it seems to be more or less a Plan B.

Rotation-by-rotation RQS

Rotation 1-Michigan vault, Alabama bars, W Virginia beam, Kent St floor
Alabama – 49.340
Michigan – 49.290
Kent State – 49.215
West Virginia – 48.890

If West Virginia is going to be in this meet, a four-tenth deficit to Michigan after one rotation won’t cut it. That’s almost an entire fall-buffer just from one piece. Kent State starts on floor and won’t welcome not being able to take advantage of end-of-meet scores there.

Rotation 2 – Kent St vault, GW bars, Alabama beam, S Utah floor
1. Alabama – 98.765
2. Kent State – 98.110
3. Southern Utah – 49.355
4. Michigan – 49.290
5. George Washington – 49.095
6. West Virginia – 48.890

Southern Utah has some huge floor scores this year and, like Kent State, won’t welcome starting there, but if a non-beamtastrophe-based upset were to happen, SUU would need to be ahead of Michigan at this point.

Rotation 3 – S Utah vault, Michigan bars, GW beam, W Virginia floor
1. Alabama – 98.765
2. Michigan – 98.540
3. Southern Utah – 98.445
4. George Washington – 98.315
5. Kent State – 98.110
6. West Virginia – 98.060

Beam is George Washington’s highest-scoring event, but while RQS has the gap narrowing because of beam, it likely needs to narrow more than this for GW to be in the hunt.

Rotation 4-W Virginia vault, Kent St bars, Michigan beam, Alabama floor
1. Alabama – 148.270
2. Michigan – 147.875
3. West Virginia – 147.160
4. Kent State – 147.070
5. Southern Utah – 98.445
6. George Washington – 98.315

Alabama finishes on floor and vault and Michigan finishes on floor, events where we’re relatively unlikely to see an implosion. If we get through rotation four (with Michigan on beam) and the margin in favor of Alabama and Michigan is still more than a tenth or two, it’s pretty much over.

Rotation 5 – Alabama vault, S Utah bars, Kent St beam, GW floor
1. Alabama – 197.610
2. Kent State – 196.035
3. Michigan – 147.875
4. Southern Utah – 147.610
5. George Washington – 147.475
6. West Virginia – 147.160

If it does come down to a fight between Southern Utah and George Washington to see which team can take advantage of an implosion, Southern Utah will want the edge at this point heading to beam. SUU’s beam is not the most reliable of lineups, compared to GW ending on vault, which is a more straightforward event.

Rotation 6 – GW vault, W Virginia bars, S Utah beam, Michigan floor
1. Alabama – 197.610
2. Michigan – 197.315
3. Southern Utah – 196.645
4. George Washington – 196.585
5. West Virginia – 196.095
6. Kent State – 196.035

So…it shouldn’t be all that close. But, the nature of SUU and GW being such similar-scoring teams is that, if disaster strikes, it will be anybody’s game.

By the numbers

[1] Alabama
RQS: 197.355 [1]
Season high: 197.825 [1]
Season average: 196.963 [1]

VT RQS: 49.340 [1]
VT average: 49.244 [1]
UB RQS: 49.340 [1]
UB average: 49.133 [1]
BB RQS: 49.425 [1]
BB average: 49.288 [1]
FX RQS: 49.505 [1]
FX average: 49.298 [2]

[2] Michigan
RQS: 197.135 [2]
Season high: 197.825 [1]
Season average: 196.823 [2]

VT RQS: 49.290 [2]
VT average: 49.214 [2]
UB RQS: 49.250 [2]
UB average: 49.064 [2]
BB RQS: 49.335 [2]
BB average: 49.227 [2]
FX RQS: 49.440 [2]
FX average: 49.318 [1]

[3] Southern Utah
RQS: 196.380 [3]
Season high: 197.025 [3]
Season average: 195.957 [4]

VT RQS: 49.090 [5]
VT average: 49.027 [3]
UB RQS: 49.165 [3]
UB average: 48.964 [3]
BB RQS: 49.035 [4]
BB average: 48.770 [4]
FX RQS: 49.355 [3]
FX average: 49.195 [3]

[4] George Washington
RQS: 196.340 [4]
Season high: 196.725 [4]
Season average: 195.975 [3]

VT RQS: 49.110 [3]
VT average: 48.956 [5]
UB RQS: 49.095 [4]
UB average: 48.848 [4]
BB RQS: 49.220 [3]
BB average: 49.117 [3]
FX RQS: 49.160 [6]
FX average: 49.054 [4]

[5] West Virginia
RQS: 195.920 [5]
Season high: 196.300 [6]
Season average: 195.465 [5]

VT RQS: 49.100 [4]
VT average: 49.021 [4]
UB RQS: 48.935 [6]
UB average: 48.752 [6]
BB RQS: 48.890 [6]
BB average: 48.681 [5]
FX RQS: 49.170 [5]
FX average: 49.010 [6]

[6] Kent State
RQS: 195.720 [6]
Season high: 196.425 [5]
Season average: 195.210 [6]

VT RQS: 48.895 [6]
VT average: 48.695 [6]
UB RQS: 48.960 [5]
UB average: 48.795 [5]
BB RQS: 48.965 [5]
BB average: 48.673 [6]
FX RQS: 49.215 [4]
FX average: 49.048 [5]