NCAA women’s gymnastics takes individual titles about as seriously as you take whether Kyndyllegra finished in the top 10 on vault at the Level 6 jamboree this weekend.
They’re pretty much just an excuse to cram 174 people onto a single tier of the awards podium and award a random 8th-place trophy for no reason. Who cares who gets them as long as THEY’RE SMILING THE LITTLE GIRLS I’M SO PROUD OF YOU YOU’RE NOT REAL ATHLETES.
Anyway, all the individual titles are decided on Semifinal Friday starting last year, ensuring that they’re right at the bottom of all of our attention priority lists. But, they’re still competitions where we (the dwindling few) might actually care about who wins, so here’s how the races break down.
Maggie Nichols. Preview over.
The race for the NCAA all-around title has a tendency to be a complete random mess. With all the contenders this closely packed, the cliche of the title being decided by the tiniest step is actually true in this case. This year, a number of people do have a realistic argument for the title, but like Bridget Sloan last year, Maggie Nichols enters as the clear favorite who would need to have an off day in the semifinal to avoid winning the championship. No one else is as likely to go 9.950 on all four events as Nichols. With an RQS of 39.785 (2nd all time) and a season high of 39.925 (4th all time), Nichols is already in a territory all her own.
Oklahoma competes in the first session, and there’s NCAA gymnastics inherited nonsense-wisdom that you’ll often hear about the scores being lower in the first semifinal than the second, which is just untrue. There’s no numerical evidence to support that, and four of our last five national AA champions have come from the first semifinal (Sloan 2016, Hunter 2015, Peszek 2015, Sloan 2013). Afternoon or evening won’t make a difference.
But, if not Nichols, then…
The SEC champion has gone 39.700 and 39.675 in her last two all-around performances and hasn’t scored under 9.900 for any routine in a month. She would be a favorite most years, has a 10.0 vault, doesn’t have a weak event, and boasts the benefit of anchoring three of Florida’s four lineups.
The #2-ranked AAer in the country also has the #2 score this year with 39.775, her chance at an AA title predominantly suffering from happening to be the same age as Maggie Nichols. Skinner has been moved to the front of the bars lineup to stabilize it, a smart move in terms of building scores for the rest of the team but one that also makes her more likely to get a sub-9.9 score than Nichols or McMurtry.
Baker has been limited this season, which means we haven’t seen her in the AA all that much, but every time she has competed, she’s broken the 39.500 barrier. Baker has the big routines, but her lineup position on events other than floor and a tendency toward non-sticks on vault and bars are more likely to put her in the 39.5s and 39.6s than the 39.7s.
Winston is another one of those rare birds without a weak event who is quite a realistic option to go over 9.9 on bars, beam, and floor. Her AA-title hopes will be hurt by vaulting a Yurchenko full (and a tendency to hop out of it), which gets her a 9.825 most of the time. In a year like this, that alone would be enough to fall out of the title hunt.
Our favorite late-blooming AAer ranks third in the country this season. We know she’ll be toward the top of beam and floor, but it is more difficult to see her scoring in the necessary Nichols-range on bars. Capps also has just a full on vault, though she’s more likely to stick it than most of the other contenders who vault fulls, which can make up for not starting from 10.
Kocian really should be among the most likely nominees to win the AA with the 9.950-level routines she’s able to show on three events, though her lack of training time and recent tendency toward bounciness on landings have kept her AA totals lower than what I expect the winning score to be.
It’s a bit surprising to me that Artz is ranked down at 13th in the AA since she’s so likely to get a 9.9 on most of the events. Like several of the top contenders, however, Artz is brought down by vault and a tendency to go 9.825 after hopping on a Yurchenko full. We’ve seen the vault values these last two seasons separate the good from the great much more effectively than on any other piece, which is why I feel so strongly about finding ways to create a 10.000-9.950 start value separation on the other events as well.
Alicia Boren and Amelia Hundley
RQSs: 39.530, 39.490
Highs: 39.725, 39.625
Florida’s other AAers are not to be overlooked, but they’re in the difficult position of not being the top all-around scorers on their own teams. If it’s a big day for Florida, we’ll expect McMurtry or Baker to have the higher AA total. Boren has the scores on vault and floor but may not get the bars number to reach the very top, having hit 9.875 just three times this season. For Hundley, it should come as no surprise that she has developed into a sturdy, reliable 9.850 in the middle of lineups for Florida because of course she has, but in that regard, she’s not typically going to get the huge, huge, hugest AA total.
McMillan is actually quite the compelling nominee for a successful AA result because she has late lineup positions, clean execution, and takes on a starring role for her team, though the idea that she’ll go 9.9+ on every single event, which is what it will take to win the AA, seems less realistic than it does for most of the others.
Earlier in the year, Hambrick would have been higher on this list and seemed a very realistic challenger to be one of the best all-arounders in the country, but her mid-season struggles with consistency and travails on vault have seen her become a little more 9.850y than an AA champion would be. She’s one of those dark horses, though, who has a very high ceiling on all four events and is capable of surprising. On the flip side, she also has the handicap of competing in the first half of all four of LSU’s lineups.
Don’t discount the queen of Denver. She’d have an uphill climb to win a national AA title, but she does have a Y1.5 that has scored 10.000 this season, which several of the top AA contenders cannot match. Getting the big number on bars will be a challenge, but expect Karr to hang around the standings.
That’s already 13 possibilities, which ensures it will be none of them, as the newly AAing Sarah Finnegan or the glorious Maddie Gardiner inevitably slide to the title, but these seem the most likely bets. And by these, I mean Maggie Nichols.
The individual event champions have always been among the least predictable titles in the history of the world, which is only exacerbated by having them decided in the semifinals instead of in their own competition. We all had Katie Bailey’s Yurchenko 1/2 as vault champion last year, right? Right.
At nationals, each of the events will be scored by six judges, the high and the low dropped and the remaining four counted, in an effort to further separate the gymnasts and create fewer ties for event titles. But, we’ll still end up with a bunch of ties anyway because there are easily 10 realistic champions (and 20 more unrealistic champions) on each apparatus.
Because the events champions are impossible to predict or really even preview, last year I initiated Operation Sassmonster, where I declared that the winner of each event would simply be the gymnast who anchored the lineup of the last team going on that event. What with crack and all.
Anyway, I ended up getting two of the four events right (Rogers UB and Sloan BB), which is super sad. But that also means it must be a tradition now.
Floor works out pretty well. This year, Skinner will finish the first semifinal and Baker will finish the second, either seeming like a realistic winner. I’m calling a tie.
On beam, Capps anchors the first semifinal and Gnat anchors the second. Also, very realistic. I have no problem picking Capps as national beam champion and probably would have done so regardless of selection system.
Bars gets a little more…iffy. Julia Ross will finish the first semifinal and Rachel Schick will finish the second. Normally, I’d pick someone from the second half of the Oklahoma or UCLA lineups, but nope. Gotta stick with the plan. Thems the rules. Rachel Schick, national uneven bars champion. You heard it here first. And literally nowhere else.
On vault, UCLA finishes the first semifinal. Oops. I have no issue picking a UCLA gymnast to win bars or beam, but it’s not happening on vault. Michigan finishes the second semifinal, so it looks like Emma McLean is my national vault champion. Over and out.
For actual reference, the event rankings give us the following favorites.
1. K Ross
3. PP Lee
4. K Ross