National Championship Final Notes

To round out nationals for another year (8.5 months away…), here are a few residual thoughts that have been rattling around my head since returning.

  • Largest margin of victory since 2006

The general sentiment about Super Six, from me and I think everyone: Oklahoma was ridiculous.

This was not supposed to be a blowout year. This wasn’t like some of those Kupets/McCool/Heenan seasons for Georgia, or UCLA in 2010, or Florida in 2013 (before counting a fall and making Super Six much more interesting than it had any right to be), where there was a clear #1 team that really should win by a lot.

Super Six 2017 was supposed to be extremely close between Oklahoma and LSU, but instead we were treated to a romp thanks to a comically excellent performance (particularly on beam) from Oklahoma, the only team to perform better in Super Six than it did in the semifinal. It’s very rare to see a team look that good and bring season-best gymnastics at Super Six, but that’s what Oklahoma did. Usually, Super Six brings performances more like what LSU showed.

  • LSU, LSU, LSU

I expect the postmortem on what happened to LSU’s title chances will be the primary topic occupying NCAA gym conversations for the next 8 months, so here’s my initial take.

On the semifinal day, LSU was the #1 team, a combination of LSU having probably its best performance of the season and Oklahoma delivering to potential on only one apparatus. If it were a one-day competition, LSU would be the national champion. On the flip side, after Super Six I heard a lot of “if only LSU had repeated the semifinal performance at Super Six…” which I’m not sold on. I still say Oklahoma’s Super Six performance would have won, but pair it with LSU’s semifinal and we would have been gifted the very, very close competition I think we all deserved.

This is what I saw from LSU: About an hour and 45 minutes before Super Six begins, rotation two of the warmup gets underway with LSU on floor, and my brain instantly went, “Uh oh.” Uh oh because they were sooooo excited. Even by NCAA gymnastics standards. They were five-year-old-just-got-into-the-Halloween-candy excited. There was so much screaming, and so much bouncing/dancing, and so much adrenaline that I was concerned they would come out and be too pumped to control their gymnastics and would try to be special instead of being normal.

Now, perhaps that was an issue in the first couple floor routines with those uncharacteristically uncontrolled landings (it’s impossible to know without being in someone’s head, but this LSU team doesn’t typically bounce around like that). Many teams did have trouble controlling their landings on this very bouncy floor, but LSU did not have that issue in the semifinal and is usually quite at home—literally—on a very bouncy floor.

(Fun fact: In five of the last six years, the team starting on floor in Super Six has had at least one OOB, and Utah kept up the tradition by starting on floor this year with two OOBs. LSU had one of its own in the second rotation—its first event of the meet—from Sydney Ewing, her second Super Six OOB in as many years.)

After those first couple floor routines, however, I saw a team that was desperately trying to make up tenths. Ashleigh Gnat’s double pike is one of the biggest in NCAA. Girl shouldn’t ever land short, but it looked like she was going for a stick to try to make up tenths and turn her usual 9.950 into a 10.000, which ended up making for a bigger error. (And then that judge said, “WE FORGIVE YOU, 9.950” because I can’t even…) On vault, we also saw several short landings from people who don’t ordinarily do that and who didn’t do that in the touch warmup, incurring way more deductions than they should have and basically ending the meet after three rotations.

  • Schedule, schedule

A team competing in the second semifinal ends up winning Super Six about every other year, including Oklahoma last year with the same time schedule, so I’m not sold on the argument that the format favors the teams competing in the first semifinal.

Sure, they have more time in between actual competitions, but the coaches whose teams competed in the first semifinal were not happy about their schedules either, particularly because all the individual awards are given out Friday night following the second semifinal now. Those teams in the first semifinal had to arrive at the venue at 8am, and by the time the individual awards were finished at the end of the second semi, we were closing in on 11pm, at which point the event winners hadn’t even started their media availability yet, which is a crazy-long day for the teams who compete early. Backstage at that point was basically a competition to see who could be the crankiest and the hungriest. (It’s like my Super Six! I did really well. Definitely hit to potential.)

  • Florida’s semifinal vault rotation

That was the strongest vault rotation, and probably strongest rotation overall, I saw at nationals. There were other coaches coming up and saying it was the best vault rotation they had ever seen, a rotation that culminated in Alex McMurtry being like, “I’m Alex McMurtry, and I haven’t done a single DTY in a whole month, and I’ve only done five all year, and I’m just going to throw it out right now and stick. Bye.”

Florida will be displeased at not being able to recreate that vaulting in Super Six, where even one gymnast landing at the same level as in the semifinal would have given Florida 2nd place outright.

  • McMurtry’s AA win

Speaking of, Alex McMurtry is probably a witch. Watching her not warm up DTYs and barely train floor, all the time with a Living Spaces full of cushions taped around her body like she’s living my dream life, reinforced what a bizarre achievement her all-around success is. Now, I still have issues with bars (and it’s quite frustrating to me that she can get a 10 for that bars routine but not get one for that semifinal DTY because…what world am I living in?), but for someone whose JO bars caused me to invoke the word “Brestyan’s” when describing them, it’s a remarkable feat. Alex McMurtry was the hero of this meet, and the joy that exuded from the arena when she landed her final floor pass could be bottled and sold in a back alley.

In a way, it’s good that Nichols fell on beam because McMurtry’s score would have defeated her in the AA anyway, and can you imagine?

  • Equipment

I mentioned the bounciness of the floor, but there was an actual issue when it came to the uneven bars, which were not originally in acceptable shape (work on your stamina, bars apparatus). The problem was noticed immediately, which prevented any kind of Sydney-2000-what-is-wrong-with-you-people situation, but it meant that podium training had to be delayed by about an hour while the bars were fixed. If you’ve ever wondered whether NCAA bars coaches are capable of murder, I can confirm the answer is a hearty yes.

  • A more pragmatic UCLA

While it may have been half-prompted by injury, I was pleasantly surprised to see UCLA get real and step down the difficulty on beam for Peng and Ohashi, with Peng dropping the punch front and Ohashi competing a bare-bones routine. It may be more fun to try the difficulty, but that’s not what NCAA gymnastics is and that’s not what the code rewards (unless you can actually hit it each time). It’s why we don’t have D scores. We’re here for the perfection. At some point, you have to be pragmatic and go for the scores. And honestly, not having to complain about Peng Bonus during Super Six was a victory grander than any punch front could ever be.

  • Event finals

I was never the biggest supporter of event finals when they existed. Event finals were an endless day of too many qualifiers—and often bizarre qualifiers—who were extremely fatigued and clearly cared way less about these finals than the team competition. But, I would have preferred a tear-down and a re-format rather than eliminating the day entirely, and it was clear at nationals that I’m in the minority on team “boo event finals” anyway, with most people advocating the return of the previous format intact.

Certainly, the current system isn’t working either and has just as many problems as event finals did. The billion-way tie for bars champion may have been deliciously hilarious when they all had to try to cram themselves onto the podium together, but it’s also super dumb to have that many event champions. What’s even the point of awarding the title? The award ceremony for the event and AA champions was also endless in a completely unnecessary way.

  • NEBRASKA

Nebraska performed excellently in the semifinal, so clean, controlled, and precise and among the very few teams that didn’t seem to struggle with that floor.

It’s a real shame that they couldn’t be rewarded with a Super Six place because they probably would have advanced from the first semifinal. There’s always one. In the second semifinal, it would have been nearly impossible to challenge Alabama without an Alabama mistake on beam at the end, but Nebraska’s landings on those last two vaults really hurt as well. The meet had been going basically as well as anyone could have dreamed until that point, but short landings and major steps on the final vaults kept Nebraska farther away from Alabama than the overall quality of the performance merited. Lambert’s floor routine has a legit argument as the strongest set in that entire semifinal. It was certainly the most entertaining.

  • But then there’s Alabama

It all seemed so typical, Alabama finally showing up in the semifinal, vaulting a million times better than at regionals, and earning that spot in Super Six. Because of course they did. Even Michigan’s falls on beam ended up being irrelevant because Alabama would have advanced anyway given the strength of its performance.

And then Super Six happened. Dana Duckworth was wearing some kind of cape contraption, and that’s the best thing that can be said about Alabama’s performance, which got bleak quickly. Very un-Alabama.

  • Dear floor judges…

WHAT. But like…what.

It started out fine. For like a rotation and a half in the semifinals. And then it got super cracky almost immediately. By the time we reached the end of the first semifinal, the floor judging had gone past the point of no return with 9.9s flying for routines that had no business going anywhere close to the 9.9s. At that point, the judges had already painted themselves into a corner because if pedestrian double pike routines with slides on landings were worthy of 9.9125 and 9.9250, then how do you possibly score the best routines coming later? And if you’re giving all six routines in any lineup scores of 9.900 and greater, then your standard fundamentally isn’t strict enough to properly reward the best gymnastics or separate routines from each other. These routines aren’t all the same.

  • But also, dear teams…

I get that you’re going to see your own routines with rose-colored telescopes, and that’s fine and normal. Be obsessed with yourself. It’s good. A little score saltiness never hurt anyone. But, unless you’re talking about the first rotation of the first semifinal (which I thought was scored appropriately yet noticeably tight), you weren’t underscored. You just weren’t. At all. And if the routine in question would have scored a tenth higher at home, that says more about your home scoring than it does about the evaluation of this meet, which was not strict and not unfair in its ranking conclusions.

  • I hate neutral venues

They’re no fun at all. Imagine the teams that would have sold out this meet with crowds that weren’t just…the parents or whatever. Can you imagine what the atmosphere would have been like if, say, LSU had hosted? Following next year in St. Louis, nationals are going back to Fort Worth for the next four years, and UGH FOREVER.

  • That time McKenzie Wofford dropped the trophy

The end.

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22 thoughts on “National Championship Final Notes”

  1. I’m a supporter of neutral venues for the sole reason that it pisses off Greg Marsden, who immediately went on a tear after Utah narrowly lost in 2015. Because of course the team that uses “we’re undefeated at home!” as a selling point should be trusted to host Nationals.

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    1. I support neutral venues, but I like Greg Marsden. He loves the sport and has always supported athletes at other schools. Plus, he does fight for many of the same things Spencer discusses on the blog. He’s opinionated, but his experiences add value to his opinions.

      I hope the scores return to somewhat normalcy next year. I think the 10 is a good thing in College…oh Hell…even the Olympics (can I see a green triangle to mean that was good please?). However, the 9.975 for non-sticks regardless of difficulty should not be a thing.

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  2. I’m also in favor of neutral venues just from a fairness standpoint. A team getting a home meet for nationals has always seemed crazy to me. Also, since the Texas legislature is considering their own idiotic bathroom bill, I’m wondering if Fort Worth will even happen. The NCAA had no problem yanking the basketball tournament out of North Carolina.

    A random fact probably interesting only to me: both times Oklahoma and LSU met this year in Missouri, OU won by .65. LSU might be in favor of a venue change.

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    1. Good point about the bathroom bill! I know that California has already passed legislation prohibiting any state funding being used to travel to states with laws that discriminate against sexual orientation/gender identity, i.e. bathroom laws. As of right now, it only applies to laws passed prior to 2016, but I’m sure there’s some provision that updates the “banned” states after some lag. It specifically names the University of California (which, for gymnastics purposes, would include UCLA, Berkeley/Cal, and Davis) as one of the entities prohibited from using funding to travel to the offending states. I know gymnastics isn’t the same as, say, March Madness, but I wonder if NCAA will still make it a policy to pull any events.

      At any rate, though, I’m with others in that I actually prefer a neutral venue, especially for a sport where scoring is more subjective and notoriously higher at home. I also like that it attracts an audience who is actually there for the gymnastics.

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    2. I’m good with neutral venues foe nationals but I don’t think they should be in the south. St Louis Ft Worth there must be other areas. share the wealth It’s much more difficult for the outlying fans to get there. The SEC fan base is huge at nats while other fan areas have a more difficult time getting there. too far to drive and expensive otherwise. Still would rather not have it on campus at a participating school

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  3. I liked the neutral venue. Nationals weren’t that loud, maybe, but it was pretty full and it was a polite and educated audience. SECs (held at far-less ‘neutral’ sites) are WAY TOO focused on one team. Birmingham a few years ago was nuts – no routine got any cheers besides Alabama. That’s not great when all the teams are competing at once.

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    1. I was at the Birmingham nationals and was shocked by a couple of older Bama fans sitting near me who would root for and then cheer falls from other teams. They were more excited for Sloan’s beam fall than for any of Bama’s sticks. Maybe this sort of obsessive fandom would happen anywhere, but it seems more likely to occur at a “non-neutral” site.

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      1. Nebraska may feel that they got jipped. However the 1st session was scored much tighter than the 2nd also the time difference may have had an effect as most meets during the season are at night. So many things can affect gymnastics. Yes they did a great job but who knows what effect the earlier time would have had on them and conversly how the morning group would have been affected by a few mor hours to decompress

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  4. I think that doing Nationals like the men do. The top three teams, the top three all-arounders not on qualifying teams, and the top three on each event that don’t qualify with a team or in the all-around.

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  5. I agree with pretty much everything here. It was super frustrating watching floor scoring. Literally about 80% of routines got at least one score of 9.9. That’s insane. I think something like 23 routines in the 2nd semifinal went 9.875 or higher (meaning 3 scores of 9.9 per routine). Meanwhile, the vault judging was a bit harsh. Several gymnasts had near-sticks with just a tiny hip bend and lost .15-.2.

    I’m not sold on the non-college venue. I’d rather visit 4 college campuses around the country than see the Ft. Worth Convention Center 4 times in a row (call me crazy).

    I miss event finals. I get that some gymnasts qualify who you may not expect and that it takes a toll on the athletes’ bodies, but from a fan’s perspective it’s awesome. I remember a few years ago when Diandra Milliner chucked everything she had in floor finals and the entire crowd went crazy. Same thing when Denusia hit her dismount for the first time ever. I like pulling for big, exciting gymnastics. I get that it’s a team sport, but then why even hand out individual trophies then?

    Although some of the scoring was crack-scoring, I think the 1-6 order was correct too. Argue final scores all you want, but we ended up with the correct 1-6 placing based on Super Six performance.

    Is it too early to speculate who will make 2018 Super Six???

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    1. Such a good point about EF being the opportunity for gymnasts to wow with the big difficulty, when the team results are not at stake.

      Take note, Ohashi – do the front aerial-bhs in prelims and super six, save the full for EF.

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  6. I’m sad about the season being over. I’d finally gotten my friends into watching toward the end! Which really underscored the need for four-team rather than six-team meets…. these were guys who watch literally ever major sport, and they were totally befuddled by the system and initially thought that the teams on a ‘bye’ got to go straight to the super six. They also didn’t like that a team could have a fall but not have it count against their score at all. But they all agreed that Peng-Peng Lee was their favorite gymnast!

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    1. Ugh, I’ve always hated that they call them “byes” and this underscored why. That’s not what that word means, NCAA!

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    2. That’s interesting – not dropping a score feels like giving a track relay gold to the team whose four fastest runners use the least total time rather than actually running the race. ie, it’s dropping the score that makes it a team sport. My biggest gripe against elite and I would hate hate hate to lose it in NCAA.

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      1. I see your point. I think their feeling was that having all the scores count would actually be more like running the relay race, while the true analogy would be like letting the relay team cancel out the leg that performed the worst (like if someone dropped the baton). Not running the race would be like just giving the rotation to the team with the best RQS or something.
        I don’t know if I would want it changed, personally. I think being able to drop a score adds to the psychological aspects of competition, plus otherwise teams who had a fall would just be like, ‘ugh’, and maybe give up a bit. And it would make it harder to break into lineups if your score definitely had to count immediately.
        But I do understand how someone would feel that a team that fell 4 times (each time on a different apparatus) performed worse than a team that fell 0 times and would want it reflected in the outcome. I can’t think offhand of any other sport that basically lets you call a mulligan…. several times throughout the event.

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    3. It’s not exactly true that a team isn’t penalized at all if they have a fall in the rotation but is able to drop the routine; scores typically build throughout the rotation, so having a score like 9.25 lessens the chance that your next gymnast will score a 9.9. Also, there are parallels in other sports – three strikes/four balls in baseball; two serves in tennis – so it’s not as if gymnastics is the only sport that allows you to make up for a mistake. Finally, the scoring system in gymnastics – capping a routine at “10” – means you have less opportunity to make up for a bad routine. You can’t score an “11” to offset a 9.2, but a football team can score 28 points in a quarter to make up for being out scored 14-0 in a previous quarter. And in tennis, you can actually win fewer games, say 0-6, 7-6, 7-6, yet still win the match. Every sport has its scoring quirks.

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  7. Zero complaints from me about the crowd not being loud enough – my eardrums are just starting to feel normal again after a little girl shrieked, “MAGGGGGGGIIIIIIIIEEEEEEE! GO OKLAHOMAAAAAA!” into my ears for three straight hours at decibels not previously known to man. (At least we were cheering for the same team.) Definitely not a fan of nationals staying in one place for four years, especially as someone who has to fly to get there – although I can also agree that I don’t want biased home scoring at nationals either.

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  8. The Utah group was sitting in front of Iowa. I have NEVER in my life heard a group of fans that loud. And there were only 30-50 of them! The loudest, most ear-piercing screaming I’ve ever heard. I went to the bathroom and on the way back to my seat congratulated the Hawkeye fans for being the loudest I’ve ever heard and, of course, they all whooped and hollered and celebrated. They were cool and definitely passionate about their team.

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  9. I’ve attended 23 of the 35 NCAA Championships in person, and I prefer a neutral site these days as well. Although, there’s got to be other places besides Fort Worth, right? We’ve been there done that already. Gymnastics has changed, and the fans have changed. I’ve gone to arenas where fans from certain schools have been placed in the farthest reaches of the arena, or in areas with restricted views, just because they’re “supposed enemies/rivals”. I’ve been spat on, had things thrown at me, called some lovely names, etc. It didn’t used to be that way. As the sport continues to grow, and continues to get more competitive, it’s only going to get worse. I think a neutral site the the best answer.

    I thought the floor judging was crazy. I watched one particular judge all night during the super six, and her scoring made no sense AT ALL. She gave out a few 10’s on routines that were great (not perfect, imo) and then 9.8’s on others that were equally as good (Cipra’s). I personally thought there was too much disparity between some of the judges scores on some routines. If one judge is giving a 10, and another is giving a 9.8 on the same routine, somethings wrong.

    I also thought the IOWA crowd was amazing! Loved that! So loud and so much passion for their gymnasts! They were heard, loud and clear! 🙂

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