National Championship Preview Part 1: Western Semifinal

By the magic of the draw (and by magic, I of course mean trash), the semifinals have been divided by conference and geography, with the eastern-ish teams from the SEC and Big Ten placed in the evening session and the western-ish teams from the Pac-12 and Big 12 placed in the afternoon session. It’s pretty racist.

We’re a little more than a week away from nationals now, so to begin preparing, here’s a preview of the race to qualify to Super Six from the first semifinal, the one that appears the more straightforward of the two but is certainly not open-and-shut.

April 14, 12:00 CT

Teams (starting event)
[1] Oklahoma (bye before floor)
[2] Utah (vault)
[3] UCLA (bye before bars)
[4] Oregon State (floor)
[5] Denver (beam)
[6] Washington (bars)

Jessica Yamzon, Arkansas, AA (rotating w/ Utah)
Alexis Mattern, Ohio State, AA (rotating w/ UCLA)
Shani Remme, Boise State, AA (rotating w/ Washington)
Angel Metcalf, Iowa, AA (rotating w/ Denver)
Katie Becker, Auburn, AA (rotating w/ Oklahoma)
Haylee Young, Iowa State, AA (rotating w/ Oregon State)
Braie Speed, Arkansas, VT (rotating w/Oklahoma)
Samantha Cerio, Auburn, UB (rotating w/ Utah)
Clair Kaji, Iowa, BB (rotating w/ Utah)

As much as a sure thing to qualify to Super Six exists, Oklahoma is it. Oklahoma’s score from regionals was nearly a point better than any other team in this semifinal and was .625 better than any other team in the country. The margin for error the top teams usually have heading into regionals is what Oklahoma has in the semifinal. Counting a fall would be fine, and that’s pretty rare for nationals.

My primary areas to watch at regionals were vault, where Oklahoma responded with basically-almost sticks from Dowell, Jackson, and Nichols for 49.575, and the Maggie Nichols AA, which she did and scored 39.750. So, I’d say both of those were a check mark. A dose of floor landings was the only knock on Oklahoma’s regionals performance, which would serve them very well if replicated at nationals. I’ll get into the title race in more detail in a later preview, but it would be quite the ridiculous shock if Oklahoma were not to advance to Super Six somehow.

UCLA and Utah
Both UCLA and Utah are numerically favored to qualify to Super Six, so it’s not really a fight between the two (although when isn’t it a fight between the two?), but neither team is safe from the upset monster. UCLA’s regionals score was fourth-best among the teams in this semifinal, while Utah nearly lost to Denver even with a hit meet. Both teams have improvements to make in the intervening weeks to be at all comfortable fulfilling the expectations of their rankings.

The Utes should be worried about giving up too much ground on bars and beam since they rank below UCLA there, lost both events to Denver at regionals, and could be vulnerable to Oregon State depending on the day. From the bits and pieces we were shown on the regionals broadcast, tightness seemed to be the theme on those events, particularly that epidemic of short final handstands followed by hops back on bars dismounts. You can get away with that at regionals, but not at nationals if one of the challenging teams is having a real day.

It wouldn’t be the end of the world if Utah places, say, fourth overall on bars/beam since vault and floor can make up for it, but they’d rather not put that much pressure on those lineups. Especially because “those lineups” is basically “Skinner.” We know she’s going to do damage on those events, but Super Six hopes cannot rely exclusively on Skinner taking a 49.1 and making it a 49.3 (especially on vault, which needs to be more than 9.825s until Skinner). To avoid leaving too much work to do on floor at the end of the meet, Utah will want those 49.3s on bars and beam to ensure outpacing what the 4, 5, 6 teams will score.

UCLA’s route to Super Six is fairly simple: run the score up on bars and beam to get the total comfortably into the 197s without requiring too, too much from vault and floor. The floor rotation is far from tragic, but it’s also not a guaranteed 49.4 the way many nationals floor lineups will be. The more progress the Bruins can make toward Operation 197.5 on bars and beam, the more relaxed those floor and vault rotations become and the more likely qualification becomes.

Breaking the 49.4 zone is way too attainable for UCLA on bars and beam, and while we saw that prophecy fulfilled on bars at regionals—in a critical recovery from Pac-12s—beam cropped up as the problem with a slew of wobble-burgers and then the Ohashi fall. Oh, UCLA. It’s always something. Not getting the expected beam score accounted for UCLA going sub-197 and cannot be repeated at nationals. High 196s do often get through, but you can never assume it. Also, Sonya Meraz should be in the beam lineup. #itiswritten

More than anything else, the overall meh-ish-ness of vault has been the difference between UCLA as the “probably should qualify to Super Six” team we see before us and the title contender many expected UCLA to be going into the season. The Bruins are not suddenly going to be one of the top vaulting teams starting at nationals, but they must improve on that bounce-house at regionals. These days, if you want to go to Super Six and you’re vaulting a full, you have to be able to stick it.

The biggest concern for any of these teams is, of course, counting a fall, and neither UCLA nor Utah will be able to get away with counting a fall and still advance to Super Six. But, at this point in the year, the challenging teams are too good to allow UCLA/Utah to throw in 49.1s either, which would be almost as wholly devastating to their chances.

Oregon State
Oregon State will essentially want to scrap that regionals performance. Aside from beam, it really wasn’t competitive and, duplicated at nationals, would not see Oregon State advance to Super Six. Still, based on scores throughout the season and the performance from Pac-12s, the Beavs probably still rank as the most realistic spoiler here and the most likely team to take advantage of misses or bounces from the favorites.

Other than just sitting around and waiting for a fall, Oregon State will have to nail some vaults. They were able to beat UCLA on vault at Pac-12s by nearly two tenths because of superior landings (and having three 10.0 starts), and even on a weak day at regionals, they scored similarly to UCLA’s own weak vaulting day. Vault is not Oregon State’s good event exactly, but if they don’t create an advantage over UCLA because of vault, it’s hard to see them finding it across the other pieces. If Utah, however, proves the more vulnerable of the favorites, then a stronger beam lineup is Oregon State’s route in and opportunity to pick up tenths that can be used to withstand the other pieces.

The cracks in the armor exist. Oregon State has victories over both Utah and UCLA this season, and in neither case did the losing team count a fall, which should provoke optimism in the Beavs that they can beat at least one of them again. At the same time, both teams had weak meets those days, and if they do hit normally at nationals, they have the higher peak scores. OSU doesn’t necessary have to wait for falls but will need to be given openings so that those potential one-event advantages, be it vault or beam, actually mean something.

For Denver, making it back to nationals is a tremendous accomplishment and renders this season an unequivocal success, even if they show up to nationals, TP the bars, throw the vault into the pool, and go home. There’s a 94% chance that won’t happen, but even a few days ago, Denver qualifying would have seemed like a “nationals is enough” scenario. And yet, that 197 at regionals, the third-highest score among these six teams and just one tenth behind Utah, renders Denver a more and more realistic threat for a spot at Super Six. Denver. Super Six. Yep, these are words that are happening.

Now, it will take help. Denver has peaked out around 197.1 this season for it’s best showings, of which there have been many. Denver has more low 197s than it knows what to do with. The highest semifinal score ever to miss out on Super Six is 197.025 (Michigan 2015, Utah 2014), so another 197.1 would be a tremendous challenge to the favorites. Still, there are four other teams in this semifinal capable of besting that by several tenths on a hit day, so Denver will need a couple of them to be regionals-style flat in addition to hitting its own masterful performance in order to get through.

A danger for Denver that has cropped up is a tendency toward 49.1-49.2 on vault and floor. Until this moment, that had been “great job, Denver, 49.1s!” but now that we’re evaluating Super Six prospects, that’s a low total. Watch out for those rotations in the middle of the meet. If Denver is to become the favorite upset choice, those scores need to be at least in the high 49.2s and probably 49.3s.

Denver’s best-ever national finish was 11th place, accomplished twice. That should be improved upon this season.

Like Denver, Washington’s everything was made simply by reaching nationals this season, though it had been a longer time coming. Denver hadn’t been to nationals since 2008, but Washington hadn’t been since 1998 (though Washington’s record 7th-place finish that season will be a much more difficult mark to break).

We know Washington has the beam, and those 49.250s on bars and floor from regionals were very respectable totals, but Washington also faces the biggest uphill climb to Super Six. Washington has reached what is typically considered a Super-Six-qualifying total on the road only once this year—at Pac-12s—where they still finished behind both Utah and Oregon State. Qualification is in the hands of others because even if Washington returns to that best-meet-ever low 197 zone, they’ll also have to hope for clunkers from three whole teams.

Still, Washington should expect to improve on that 196.550 from regionals (beam is typically better and the vault landings were totally out of control and almost gave away qualification), so nudging closer to the 197s isn’t out of the question.

Rotation-by-rotation RQS

Rotation 1 – Utah vault, Washington bars, Denver beam, Oregon St floor
1. Utah – 49.345
2. Oregon State – 49.320
3. Denver – 49.295
4. Washington – 49.135

The story of the first rotation will be the bottom-three positioning for the upset. Who gets closest to Utah? Does anyone pass? With Oregon State on floor—its best RQS and an event that needs to be well into the 49s to have hope for a high total—being near/at the top of the standings is the most important.

Rotation 2 – Oregon St vault, UCLA bars, Washington beam, OU floor
1. Oregon State – 98.515
2. Washington – 98.435
3. Oklahoma – 49.605
4. UCLA – 49.460
5. Utah – 49.345
6. Denver – 49.295

UCLA’s rotation order does provoke some fear of ending the meet on a whimper again, so it’s important for the Bruins to deliver on bars early and be ahead of (or on track to be ahead of) everyone except Oklahoma at this point.

Rotation 3 – OU vault, Utah bars, UCLA beam, Denver floor
Oklahoma – 99.045
UCLA – 98.955
Utah – 98.720
Oregon State 98.515
Denver – 98.515
Washington – 98.435

Halfway RQS says Denver should be tied with Oregon State in the upset race, with Washington not far behind. But, because Denver and Washington both still have to vault—questionable events for both and overall the lowest-scoring event in NCAA—they’ll want to be ahead of Oregon State at this point.

If UCLA is anywhere near Oklahoma after three, they’ll feel very comfortable heading to the second half.

Rotation 4 – Denver vault, Oregon St bars, Utah beam, Washington floor
1. Utah – 148.090
2. Oregon State – 147.780
3. Denver – 147.770
4. Washington – 147.725
5. Oklahoma – 99.045
6. UCLA – 98.955

This rotation is about Utah’s beam because, after the fourth rotation, both UCLA and Utah will be done with bars and beam (i.e., the biggest opportunities for a fall to be gifted). While the other three can still gain ground in the final couple rotations, we should know at this point whether we have a meet or not.

Rotation 5 – Washington vault, OU bars, Oregon St beam, UCLA floor
1. Oregon State – 197.085
2. Washington – 196.765
3. Oklahoma – 148.620
4. UCLA – 148.390
5. Utah – 148.090
6. Denver – 147.770

Utah ends on a much stronger event than UCLA does, so if those two are positioning to see which team is the old gazelle at the back of the pack ready to be picked off by the hyenas, UCLA will want a comfortable advantage after five.

Rotation 6 – UCLA vault, Denver bars, OU beam, Utah floor
1. Oklahoma – 198.140
2. UCLA – 197.640
3. Utah – 197.585
4. Denver – 197.085
5. Oregon State – 197.085
6. Washington – 196.765

Denver has the advantage of being the only non-favorite team to compete in the final rotation, so if the scores are excitement-building, that favors Denver, especially on its highest-scoring piece. Event RQS has Denver and Oregon State finishing exactly tied, and exactly a fall behind Utah, which beautifully illustrates both how close this thing could get, and also the edge the top-three seeds should have given hit meets.

By the numbers

[1] Oklahoma
RQS: 198.010 [1]
Season high: 198.350 [1]
Season average: 197.858 [1]
Regional score: 198.075 [1]

VT RQS: 49.440 [1]
VT average: 49.406 [1]
VT regionals: 49.575 [1]
UB RQS: 49.575 [1]
UB average: 49.508 [1]
UB regionals: 49.550 [1]
BB RQS: 49.520 [1]
BB average: 49.452 [1]
BB regionals: 49.500 [1]
FX RQS: 49.605 [1]
FX average: 49.492 [1]
FX regionals: 49.450 [1]

[2] Utah
RQS: 197.550 [2]
Season high: 197.925 [3]
Season average: 197.166 [2]
Regional score: 197.150 [2]

VT RQS: 49.345 [2]
VT average: 49.268 [2]
VT regionals: 49.250 [2]
UB RQS: 49.375 [3]
UB average: 49.211 [3]
UB regionals: 49.275 [4]
BB RQS: 49.370 [3]
BB average: 49.302 [3]
BB regionals: 49.175 [4]
FX RQS: 49.495 [2]
FX average: 49.384 [2]
FX regionals: 49.450 [1]

[3] UCLA
RQS: 197.500 [3]
Season high: 198.125 [2]
Season average: 197.150 [3]
Regional score: 196.800 [4]

VT RQS: 49.250 [4]
VT average: 49.223 [3]
VT regionals: 49.075 [4]
UB RQS: 49.460 [2]
UB average: 49.395 [2]
UB regionals: 49.425 [2]
BB RQS: 49.495 [2]
BB average: 49.370 [2]
BB regionals: 49.025 [6]
FX RQS: 49.435 [3]
FX average: 49.161 [4]
FX regionals: 49.275 [3]

[4] Oregon State
RQS: 197.115 [4]
Season high: 197.475 [4]
Season average: 196.600 [4]
Regional score: 196.150 [6]

VT RQS: 49.195 [5]
VT average: 49.141 [4]
VT regionals: 49.025 [5]
UB RQS: 49.265 [5]
UB average: 49.084 [5]
UB regionals: 48.850 [6]
BB RQS: 49.305 [4]
BB average: 49.164 [6]
BB regionals: 49.250 [2]
FX RQS: 49.320 [4]
FX average: 49.211 [3]
FX regionals: 49.025 [6]

[5] Denver
RQS: 197.040 [5]
Season high: 197.150 [6]
Season average: 196.533 [5]
Regional score: 197.050 [3]

VT RQS: 49.255 [3]
VT average: 49.046 [5]
VT regionals: 49.225 [3]
UB RQS: 49.315 [4]
UB average: 49.160 [4]
UB regionals: 49.350 [3]
BB RQS: 49.295 [6]
BB average: 49.187 [5]
BB regionals: 49.225 [3]
FX RQS: 49.220 [6]
FX average: 49.140 [5]
FX regionals: 49.250 [4]

[6] Washington
RQS: 196.735 [6]
Season high: 197.175 [5]
Season average: 196.348 [6]
Regional score: 196.550 [5]

VT RQS: 49.040 [6]
VT average: 48.975 [6]
VT regionals: 48.875 [6]
UB RQS: 49.135 [6]
UB average: 49.003 [6]
UB regionals: 49.250 [5]
BB RQS: 49.300 [5]
BB average: 49.253 [4]
BB regionals: 49.175 [4]
FX RQS: 49.290 [5]
FX average: 49.118 [6]
FX regionals: 49.250 [4]

17 thoughts on “National Championship Preview Part 1: Western Semifinal”

  1. UCLA news for Wednesday, April 5: Katilyn Ohasi rolled her ankle at practice and is getting checked out by doctors. It’s questionable how serious the injury is… Stay tuned.

    Not saying it’s going to happen, but I’d love to see the three qualifiers from Semi 1 be:
    Oklahoma (obviously)
    Oregon State
    With Washington placing either fourth or fifth (I love the Gymdogs but it’s not realistic for them to make Super Six without a meet full of disasters which nobody wants).

  2. UCLA’s recent Snapchats show Fish training a DTY and Pua doing a 1.5, so maybe they’re scrambling together some 10.0 starts to be more competitive at nationals? (I don’t want to have to say “yikes,” but…)

    1. Yes, but UCLA seems to show these training upgrade videos every year and nothing materializes. It is starting to seem like they send out the clips of upgrades just to keep people talking about UCLA.

      1. When I said “recent” I meant just the other day. But you’re right, could mean nothing

    2. Doesn’t Pua already compete the 1.5? I believe they have 1.5 from Kramer and Pua. Both are not fantastic and unreliable. Fish’s FTY has been pretty suspect on its own so I’m not sure about the DTY.

      Really, I would have expected Kyla to at least do the Oml…vault that I cannot spell.

      1. I still can’t believe that they’ve only had 2 gymnasts do 10.0 start value vaults this year, and neither of those gymnasts are one of their 9 former international elites. I know not every single one of those 9 gymnasts would have been able to train and compete a 10.0 vault (Peng, for example, can’t vault because of her knee), but the fact that none of them have is not what I would’ve expected. It’s mind-blowing to me that a team with so much talent has attempted only 7 10.0 vaults in 12 meets this year.

  3. Is anyone willing to stream the first semi because it’s not being shown in the U.K. (Whyyyyy) and I can’t get an Espn account for some reason.

    1. I think ESPN are doing it. Just in the UK, it’s only showing Semis 2 and Super Six (unconfirmed but why would you not) which sucks, because I have to now persuade my parents to let me stay up until 3:30 am. Thanks.

  4. Hey so gymnastics fans, I don’t follow UCLA on snapchat, but after hearing about Ohasi and those vaults- keep me/us updated please!

  5. I’m betting Ohashi will be out of the floor lineup and only on beam. Not too good for UCLAs already fall-ish floor. Ohashi was one of their only gymnasts who consistently hit / didn’t fall on a double pike. I’d love an upset, but I’d also love for Oklahoma/UCLA/Utah to face it off at nationals because that would be awesome. Combined with LSU and whoever else qualifies. (I’m hoping Michigan and Georgia)

  6. I know there’s no such thing as a “safe score” (short of a 200), but do you think 197.025 will continue to stand as the highest score not to advance? If that’s the case, then teams scoring 197.1ish should feel pretty good, but no guarantees.

    What do you all think?

    1. No. Not if Semifinal 2 is a “hit” meet from all six teams. Nebraska could finish sixth at 197.150. And if Alabama and Michigan battle routine for routine with only one of them making Super Six (assuming LSU and Florida make it) their scores could be 197.650 to 197.625.

      Personally I’d love to see Alabama and Michigan make Super Six along with LSU (and Oklahoma, Denver, Oregon State). Just for something different. Plus, OU vs LSU just has to happen.

  7. I really don’t think any team is safe, because most teams right now are pretty heavily bandaged. Oklahoma is the only team that has maintained consistency and is by far the team to beat. However, two or three years ago, Oklahoma had a great team and kind of sucked it up on beam. With inflated scoring this season, let’s look at the Washington Regional. Oklahoma competed against #12 and #13. So, when the judges give 9.8 to a Washington gymnast for a floor score…Oklahoma is going to automatically be at 9.9 and 9.95. Their execution is better even with non-sticks. 198 will not be their score at Nationals. Nationals brings all sorts of head case moments…think Utah on beam last year. Bring on the excitement! Thanks Spencer for your blogging

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