The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Minneapolis Regional Preview

April 7, 4:00 CT, University of Minnesota

Qualifying to nationals: Top 2 teams, top 2 all-arounders not on advancing teams, any event winners not on advancing teams

Teams (starting event)
[1] Oklahoma (floor)
[12] Kentucky (beam)
[13] Denver (bye before floor)
[24] Minnesota (bye before bars)
[28] Iowa State (bars)
[35] Iowa (vault)

Individual competitors
Lisa O’Donnell, UW-Whitewater (AA)
Tori Erickson, UW-Eau Claire (AA)
Brooke Terry, UW-Stout (AA)
Samantha Wiekamp, UW-La Crosse (AA)
Mikaela Meyer, Utah State (VT)
Madison Ward, Utah State (VT, FX)
Anna Salamone, Air Force (UB)
Brittany Jeppesen, Utah State (UB)
Autumn DeHarde, Utah State (BB, FX)
Emily Briones, Utah State (BB)

The favorite

The excitement brewing in this regional will come from the fight for the second spot. For the first position, Oklahoma is expected qualify and do so very comfortably. So inconsiderate. With Oklahoma typically scoring a full point better than the peak results of the #2 and #3 teams here, the Sooners would be able to count at least one fall (and probably two) and still advance. At the Big 12 Championship, Denver finished .700 behind Oklahoma, a very strong performance and respectable result but one that would still give Oklahoma more than a fall worth of leeway if repeated here.

More pressing in Oklahoma’s regional performance will be the chance to observe whether openings still exist in these lineups, ones that other top teams might wriggle their way through come nationals. We have seen those crop up from time to time this year. Small openings, but openings nonetheless: a couple fulls on vault that might be only OK, a couple lower 9.8s on floor, some scoring inconsistency coming primarily from the young’uns. The other regional #1 seeds would like to see those issues maintained at regionals so that Oklahoma arrives at nationals not as BEST SCORING TEAM RQS RECORD OMG but as a top-seeded team that could be vulnerable on the day.

The fight

But here’s where it really gets good. There is so little separating Kentucky and Denver in this qualification race that it could reasonably go either way, and a hit meet from both would be very much a 50/50 prospect. Neither result would rank as a surprise based on what we’ve seen this season, and not qualifying for nationals will feel an unfair outcome for either team based on the seasons they’ve had.

Both teams are extremely capable, and if Oklahoma weren’t Oklahoma, you’d think even a #1-seed upset could be in play for this group.

It’s particularly tough on Kentucky to get dropped to such a challenging regional (the exact same 1-12-13 regional that Kentucky failed to advance from last year) since Kentucky spent much of the season ranked 8-9, heading toward what would have been a more comfortable setup. It was ultimately a lack of bigger 197 home scores that pushed Kentucky down to #12. In that regard, Kentucky will hope that not resting on home crack means the team’s high 196 RQS is more accurate than some of these other high 196s, better reflecting postseason scoring potential, though Denver’s 197 achieved at Big 12s also speaks well for that team’s ability to record big numbers in “unfriendly” confines.

For a sense of how close this thing is, Kentucky leads Denver in overall RQS by .015, but if you go by combined event RQS, the advantage switches to Denver by .040. Denver is the better-ranked team on vault and bars, while Kentucky is better on beam and floor. The 50/50 action continues.

Kentucky’s significant asset in this contest is the heartiness of its roster. At this point, Kentucky has 12 competing gymnasts, whereas Denver has just 8 and at times this season has struggled to put together full lineups of six. Kentucky, then, has enjoyed more luxury to weed out the 9.7s, while Denver is forced to use a few more of them, putting up a couple 9.750s to fill out vault and floor. Even in the conference championship performances, where Denver scored a fantastic 197.075 compared to Kentucky’s good-enough 196.550, Denver still had more routines score under 9.800 than Kentucky did.

The flip side is Denver also possessing the bigger individual numbers. Using that same conference championship example, Denver received seven scores of 9.900+ compared to Kentucky’s three. Denver’s approach will be to use big at the end of lineups to gain an advantage. Vault specifically emphasizes this dynamic. Denver has two 1.5s (Karr, Brown) to Kentucky’s one (Korth), though Kentucky’s earlier fulls likely have better scoring (and stick) potential, which could make up for anything given away toward the end of the lineup.

Kentucky must depend on consistently 9.850ing its way through lineups to build up that advantage, then letting beam do its job—still Kentucky’s most nationally competitive event and the most likely place to develop an advantage over Denver.

Denver’s secret weapon here is Lynnzee Brown, who continues to add more events in her return from injury—just in the nick of time. At Big 12s, Brown hit her Y1.5 for the first time since her injury, the vault that can give Denver an advantage on that piece (in the event Karr and Korth cancel each other out, which may happen throughout the meet). If Brown is able to return on floor for regionals, where she hasn’t competed since a 9.950 on February 3, that could flip Kentucky’s ranking advantage there and once again give Denver a little more big at the end of its lineup.

Of course, if someone falls apart on an event, that’s it. Both teams have exactly eleven sub-49 rotation scores this year, but Denver has counted falls six times to Kentucky’s three—recall those January bars disasters. If no one falls apart, this thing will be decided by very minor degrees.

The spoiler

A 196-capable host team? It’s the dream of upset-monkeys like us. Minnesota should not be entirely discounted when we consider the fight between Kentucky and Denver, having scored 196+ on six occasions this year, including 196.675 at its most recent home meet. That will strike fear into Denver and Kentucky because it wouldn’t even take a miss (just a slightly bouncy performance) for those teams to go sub-196.6 and suddenly be in danger of a #4-team upset.

Of course, “#4-team upset” isn’t exactly a thing. An unseeded team hasn’t advanced to nationals since the great Kent State-enining of 2011, when Kent State made it as the #6 team in its regional (though ranked 24th at the time).

Minnesota’s greatest asset this year has been bars, where Lu and Ramler will deliver the two strongest non-Oklahoma routines in the entire competition. On bars, it’s very believable for Minnesota to have the second-best score in the meet, and that’s exactly what must happen for Minnesota to have a chance. (We’ll know early on if Minnesota is in this thing because bars is Minnesota’s first event.) The primary concern for Minnesota’s competitiveness here will be vault, where things can get pretty 9.7, especially in the absence of Loper. It’s difficult to see Minnesota getting out of this regional, even at home, if vault is sub-49. These other teams are just too good.

The vault and floor scores account for Minnesota’s status as a definite underdog here, but not a preposterous underdog.

The Iowas

It’s a hard-knock draw for the Iowas, two more 196-capable teams, because if any “on a good day, you never know”-style team does end up getting through, it figures to be the host Minnesota. Meanwhile, the Iowas have to go up against a bunch of higher-scoring teams without the benefit of any kind of home-gym booster.

Iowa State is at a point where it should go into any meet expecting to score something around 196.0. With the high-9.8 ability of Young and Sievers, that’s a realistic number, and if everything falls in ISU’s favor (fall being the operative word), it’s a score that can challenge. Still, it would take a lot of help from multiple teams. At this point, it’s unlikely that Iowa State has the beam to challenge the 196.7+ score it should take to advance from a hit meet, a score that would be very difficult to get with a 48 event.

Iowa State will, however, expect to score better than Minnesota on vault and floor, the path for Iowa State being to use a scoring advantage on those pieces to set itself up as the best of the 4-6 teams and therefore the most likely to take advantage of a seeded mess.

As for Iowa, it has been a deflating season overall, saved by a very solid 196.400 at Big Tens that sealed a spot at regionals, a spot that had looked very tenuous until that moment. In that respect, it’s a  relief for the Hawkeyes simply to be here since missing regionals would have been a huge disappointment following the success of 2017.

Yet, that 196.400 also serves to give Iowa a little glimmer of hope because, repeated, that would be a very “you never know” kind of score. We see 196.4s go through from regionals all the time, and Iowa has what should be a solid collection of 9.850s befitting a team ranked in the mid-20s, rather than one fighting for its regional spot. That’s why Iowa’s flat performance all season has been so surprising. Still, concerns about whether the consistency is there, the vaults are there, and enough 9.8s are there across the lineups keep Iowa lower down the list of possible upset teams.

Yikers. Minnesota is not going to be a fun one to try to get out of individually. This regional alone boasts 5 of the top 15 ranked all-arounders in the country—the most of any regional. If we assume Oklahoma’s qualification as a given, that leaves Maddie Karr (#5), Lexy Ramler (#13), and Mollie Korth (#14) as the top three AAers in the competition.

The most likely qualifying pair would be whichever two gymnasts in that group of three don’t advance with a team. If it’s Oklahoma and Kentucky, then Karr and Ramler go individually . If it’s Oklahoma and Denver, then Ramler and Korth go. If it’s Oklahoma and Minnesota, then Karr and Korth go. Theoretically straightforward, but that’s not the extent of the all-around picture in this one.

Kentucky doesn’t have its BIG FOUR all-arounders this year because Dukes and Stuart haven’t been competing all the events, but if Kentucky doesn’t go as a team, it could still sweep the AA spots for a third straight year with Alex Hyland (#25) another likely qualifier. Hyland has gone to nationals as an individual in each of the last two seasons (with Dukes in 2016, Korth in 2017) and would be a likely nominee for a third trip.

If Denver doesn’t qualify and Lynnzee Brown does add back floor, don’t forget about her as an option. Brown went 39.4+ in three of five meets before her injury and can score right up with the top all-arounders in this meet. The other major individual spoiler will be Haylee Young (#32) of Iowa State, who has gone into the 39.5s once this year and should challenge the advancing scores with a hit. Keep people like Young in mind because if a top contending team doesn’t go through, it’s often because a major AAer had a bad one.

Those should be your top challengers for the AA spots, but there is a collection of fairly evenly scoring all-arounders that will be ready to take advantage of mistakes with 39.2s of their own, like Mia Sundstrom (#50), Charlotte Sullivan (#55), Kelsey Paz (#57), Meaghan Sievers (#60), and Nicole Chow (#71).

Qualifying as an individual event competitor is so incredibly difficult because you have to win the event, so in this case that means beating Oklahoma’s whole lineup. It’s super tough, but it does happen. So, keep Ivy Lu of Minnesota in mind as someone who could at least tie Oklahoma on bars (or beam). She is ranked in the top 5 on bars after all. Plus, there are some possible 9.950s waiting out there for Karr, Ramler, and Korth should they not get in for AA.

Rotation-by-rotation RQS
Rotation 1 – Iowa VT, Iowa St UB, Kentucky BB, Oklahoma FX
1. Oklahoma – 49.530
2. Kentucky 49.295
3. Iowa State 49.075
4. Iowa 48.925

Essential for Kentucky in the first rotation will be recording a beam score that provides separation from the Iowas to lower the possibility of a crazy upset.

Rotation 2 – Oklahoma VT, Minnesota UB, Iowa St BB, Denver FX
1. Oklahoma – 99.065
2. Iowa State – 98.085
3. Minnesota – 49.300
4. Kentucky – 49.295
5. Denver 49.295
6. Iowa – 48.925

Minnesota must be ahead of Kentucky and Denver as the RQS (barely) predicts here because Minnesota will give back tenths in subsequent rotations. If Minnesota is sitting 5th after two rotations, it will be exceptionally tough to make up those tenths on the remaining events.

Rotation 3 – Denver VT, Iowa UB, Minnesota BB, Kentucky FX
1. Oklahoma – 99.065
2. Kentucky – 98.610
3. Denver – 98.525
4. Minnesota – 98.350
5. Iowa State – 98.085
6. Iowa – 97.995

Kentucky starts with its two advantage events over Denver (beam and floor) and will look for a lead at the halfway point, even if it’s small, since Denver has the RQS edge on the final three pieces.

Rotation 4 – Kentucky VT, Oklahoma UB, Iowa BB, Iowa St FX
1. Oklahoma – 148.610
2. Kentucky – 147.810
3. Iowa State – 147.245
4. Iowa – 147.040
5. Denver – 98.525
6. Minnesota – 98.350

Rotation 5 – Iowa St VT, Denver UB, Oklahoma BB, Minnesota FX
1. Oklahoma – 198.215
2. Iowa State – 196.290
3. Denver – 147.885
4. Kentucky – 147.810
5. Minnesota – 147.500
6. Iowa – 147.040

After Kentucky goes to vault followed by Denver on bars in the 4th and 5th, Denver is supposed to take the advantage, so watch that standard. If Minnesota is this far back after 5, that’s the end. Iowa State would love a score like 196.2-196.3 in finishing the meet here, putting sufficient pressure on Kentucky and Denver to hit the sixth rotation.

Rotation 6 – Minnesota VT, Kentucky UB, Denver BB, Iowa FX
1. Oklahoma – 198.215
2. Denver – 197.095
3. Kentucky – 197.055
4. Minnesota – 196.505
5. Iowa State – 196.290
6. Iowa – 196.170

It’s…it’s going to be close.

By the numbers

[1] Oklahoma
RQS: 198.120 [1]
Season high: 198.375 [1]
Season average: 197.850 [1]

VT RQS: 49.535 [1]
VT average: 49.485 [1]
UB RQS: 49.545 [1]
UB average: 49.525 [1]
BB RQS: 49.605 [1]
BB average: 49.396 [1]
FX RQS: 49.530 [1]
FX average: 49.444 [1]

[2] Kentucky
RQS: 196.800 [2]
Season high: 197.100 [3]
Season average: 196.469 [3]

VT RQS: 49.200 [3]
VT average: 49.121 [3]
UB RQS: 49.245 [4]
UB average: 49.065 [4]
BB RQS: 49.295 [2]
BB average: 49.046 [3]
FX RQS: 49.315 [2]
FX average: 49.238 [2]

[3] Denver
RQS: 196.785 [3]
Season high: 197.300 [2]
Season average: 196.496 [2]

VT RQS: 49.230 [2]
VT average: 49.138 [2]
UB RQS: 49.360 [2]
UB average: 49.077 [3]
BB RQS: 49.210 [3]
BB average: 49.083 [2]
FX RQS: 49.295 [3]
FX average: 49.198 [3]

[4] Minnesota
RQS: 196.250 [4]
Season high: 196.675 [5]
Season average: 195.745 [5]

VT RQS: 49.005 [5]
VT average: 48.909 [5]
UB RQS: 49.300 [3]
UB average: 49.082 [2]
BB RQS: 49.050 [4]
BB average: 48.882 [4]
FX RQS: 49.150 [5]
FX average: 48.873 [6]

[5] Iowa State
RQS: 196.045 [5]
Season high: 196.700 [4]
Season average: 195.752 [4]

VT RQS: 49.045 [4]
VT average: 48.977 [4]
UB RQS: 49.075 [5]
UB average: 48.894 [5]
BB RQS: 49.010 [6]
BB average: 48.838 [5]
FX RQS: 49.160 [4]
FX average: 49.044 [4]

[6] Iowa
RQS: 195.775 [6]
Season high: 196.400 [6]
Season average: 195.231 [6]

VT RQS: 48.925 [6]
VT average: 48.790 [6]
UB RQS: 49.070 [6]
UB average: 48.662 [6]
BB RQS: 49.045 [5]
BB average: 48.796 [6]
FX RQS: 49.130 [6]
FX average: 48.983 [5]

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