April 20, 6:00 CT
Teams (starting event)
 Oklahoma (beam)
 Utah (vault)
 Florida (bars)
 Washington (floor)
 Cal (bye before floor)
 Kentucky (bye before bars)
Morgan Lane, North Carolina – AA (rotating w/ Oklahoma)
Elizabeth Price, Stanford – AA (rotating w/ Utah)
Cami Drouin-Allaire, George Washington – AA (rotating w/ Florida)
Shani Remme, Boise State – AA (rotating w/ Washington)
Rae Balthazor, Illinois – AA (rotating w/ Cal)
Lexy Ramler, Minnesota – AA (rotating w/ Kentucky)
Denelle Pedrick, Central Michigan – FX (rotating w/ Oklahoma)
Shannon Hortman-Evans, BYU – UB (rotating w/ Utah)
Meaghan Sievers, Iowa State – VT (rotating w/ Cal)
As in the first semifinal, the second semifinal has a clear, built-in delineation between two sets of three teams. We have the ranking favorites, former champions, and famous programs in Oklahoma, Utah, and Florida, and then we have the upstart challengers in Washington, Cal, and Kentucky.
Before this year, the three bottom-ranked teams in this semifinal had reached NCAA/AIAW nationals a combined ten times (Washington eight times, Cal twice), and only twice in the current millennium (once each for Washington and Cal). As for the top three teams combined…well counting that took too long and I got bored.
Anyway, it’s around 100. So…it’s more.
Washington, Cal, and Kentucky are still newbies to this level of competition, each one looking for some way to make the Oklahoma jump—an upset in the semifinals to get into Super Six is exactly how you start to make that jump. The actual scores from this year are of course more relevant than the history of the programs, but the scores tell the same story. A 197.0 would be a fantastic performance in the semifinal for Washington, Cal, Kentucky and would constitute a miss for Oklahoma, Utah, or Florida, which is why they’ll enter as the favorites.
How the upset happens
Washington under-performed at regionals and ended up being fortunate in its draw that a 196.275 advanced out of Penn State since that score would have been eliminated from several other regional competitions. The scores from various regionals are not necessarily directly comparable—all of Washington’s vault scores were stuck in the 9.7s when some would have been 9.8s at drunker meets, those early beam scores looked disproportionately low—but it does serve as a warning sign that a repeat of that regionals performance will not come close advancing from this semifinal and would allow the top teams to have major mistakes and still qualify—or at least outscore Washington.
The Huskies do not have as many sure-thing 9.900s as the other teams in this semifinal, so the path to a 197 and becoming “the upset team” will be built on a full-roster effort of stuck landings to ensure that the lineup story is 9.825s that rise to 9.875s (a 9.850 average is exactly 197.000) rather than 9.775s that rise to 9.875s. At regionals, Washington had a full-tenth step/lunge on every vault, and that’s not going to make for a competitive total that starts with 9.825s and rises, even at a cracky meet.
Washington must stick to allow the strength of beam and floor carry it to the top of the challenging pack—the Huskies have a better RQS than Utah on beam and have been more consistent than Florida on floor, which is something they can hold onto heading into this meet. There are openings where Washington can look like a top-3 team.
Cal has been outscoring Washington lately (at regionals, at Pac-12s) and will therefore like its chances to jump up and establish itself as the #4 team ready to take advantage of a bad day. It was Cal that beat Utah during the season and finished four-tenths back of the Utes at Pac-12s, which will provide some glimmers of hope for semifinal glory, though finishing .750 back of Utah at regionals tells us that it will still take a status-quo-deconstructing moment to liven this semifinal up.
An interesting note: Cal is the only team among the entire regionals group of 36 for which vault was the highest-scoring event this season (by RQS). That’s extremely rare in the 9.950-start era because nearly every team (including Cal) is starting from a multi-tenth hole compared to the other events, and yet Cal still scored better there. Now, much of that is the result of inconsistencies on the other events that have driven down the scores, but it also speaks to the opportunity Cal has to develop an advantage over the other challengers with the 10.0 start from Robinson, with the power of Williams, with the higher likelihood of going 9.850 for fulls in the middle of the lineup. You wouldn’t necessary look at that lineup and go “OMG THE VAULT ADVANTAGE,” but there is one. And by contrast, vault has been the lowest-scoring event for both Kentucky and Washington this year.
Like Washington, Cal will worry about getting friend-zoned by the judges for 9.800s a little too far into the lineup (especially on the events where Washington has enjoyed the scoring advantage, beam and floor). But heading into nationals, Cal will be more focused on resolving what’s happening on bars, both in terms of landings and who the six lineup members even are. The miss from Sofie Seilnacht in the 6th position at regionals could have spelled disaster had Krippner hit beam for Auburn, and even though the fall was dropped, it still led to a counting 9.750. These teams cannot afford a number like that if they want to get a 197 at nationals and challenge for Super Six. They don’t have the luxury of even dropping a fall, let alone counting one, because all the best possible routines have to count on every event.
Cal has been dropping a lot of falls on bars this season, including in five straight meets. A six-for-six lineup on bars has happened only three times, and nationals would have to be the fourth time. It’s a difficult position, however, because Cal cannot in any way play it safe and hope to advance. All risks must be taken to get the highest possible score, which is often contradictory to the idea of a securely, reliably hit lineup of six. Although that can also be freeing. If there is no “safe, reliable” version of this lineup because every borderline option has been falling, then there should be no worry about throwing up the one with the highest scoring potential.
It has been a long time coming for Kentucky and nationals, but Kentucky will have to resist the urge to be satisfied with its historic accomplishment. There’s more. Outscoring Cal and Washington and establishing itself as the upset favorite is quite a realistic goal here. At regionals, Kentucky went 197.050, which comfortably outpaced what Cal and Washington scored despite Kentucky’s lower ranking and lower scoring peaks during the season.
Repeating that performance and that score in the semifinal would be a more-than-respectable performance and is really all Kentucky can ask of itself, even though it’s not necessarily a Super Six-qualifying total. Last season, Nebraska set a new record for the highest semifinal score ever to be eliminated at this stage with 197.2125, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see that record broken again in 2018. Kentucky has peaked at 197.100 this year, which is why even if Kentucky pulls out a second-consecutive excellent showing, there will still be some reliance on other teams making errors.
Most encouraging for Kentucky is that the areas where the team looked most likely to see flat numbers at regionals were bars and floor, which proved to be Kentucky’s best scores. Meanwhile, the event that’s supposed to be Kentucky’s big strength, beam, ended up being the problem. Kentucky will look at that 49.025 on beam and say, “We can do much better than that.” And it’s true. The beam routines from Dukes and Hyland are the most impressive moments of gymnastics Kentucky performs, but this also makes two straight meets where Kentucky has under-performed expectations on beam. Not having an amazing beam is not an option for Kentucky at nationals.
So in summary, just do everything perfectly on every event and you might get an upset. YOU’RE WELCOME.
How the upset doesn’t happen
The theme of the upset section was “if someone else messes up, then…” which speaks to the higher scoring potential displayed by the top three teams, all of which will feel that if they even hit a B-meet, they’ll be OK. Of the top three teams, Utah had the lowest regionals score with 197.475 for what was a B-meet, and that was still nearly a fall better than Kentucky’s regionals score.
Still, we’re not necessarily in “you can count a fall” territory for all the top team in this semifinal (although Oklahoma likely could) because the level of competition is too high. But we’re close to it. The top teams can have blah moments and hoppy landings and counting OOBs and still get through.
Oklahoma continues to record the best scores in the country on a weekly basis and will head to nationals as the Super Six favorite. This semifinal, as long as it’s not a total disaster, is more about how impervious Oklahoma may or may not be to a challenge. The eye test (but not the score test) tells us that Oklahoma is not quite as strong as it was last season. It’s a matter of small degrees, but those vault and floor lineups are missing the Capps presence this year. They’re a little bit more likely to go 9.825 or have a half-miss from some of the new members of the lineup in the first couple spots.
Does that carry through at nationals? Is that enough of an opening for another team to pounce on, or are the other teams just as likely to go 9.825 and so there’s no advantage to be taken?
Watch out for how those small issues might be addressed (or not) in the semifinal. Schoepfer has improved her landings on floor tremendously in the second half of the season, but that 9.700 from regionals is not a score Oklahoma even wants to drop, let alone count. Marks came in for Showers on vault for 9.800 at regionals, which is not necessarily a spot-securing score either, keeping that lineup in a state of flux. There are still some adjustments to make.
Presumably Oklahoma goes through to Super Six, so in the semifinal, we’ll all be eagle-eying these routines in particular to see if anyone is underperforming in a way that could make things more interesting in Super Six. The burden of being the favorite.
Because the semifinals are all about the upset, the game of “which team looks the most vulnerable” is on every channel and neither Utah nor Florida want to be the winner. The argument for Utah as the more likely upset team would be the regionals performance for 197.475, which featured errors like a counting 9.7 on beam and saw Utah drop behind Florida in the NQS rankings (RQS + regionals score) heading into nationals.
What works in Utah’s favor is consistency. The Utes have been remarkable in their ability to avoid counting falls this season and have just two rotation scores in the 48s all year (the first two meets on beam). It’s a departure from the not-so-distant past where it seemed like every meet was a beam heart-attack. Instead, that performance from regionals was the closest Utah has come to a beam heart attack in quite a while, and it still wasn’t one. That bodes well for Utah in a semifinal where we’re looking for clear mistakes that bring the top teams down to the level of the challengers. Utah has avoided those all season, and its “off days” would probably still be good enough here.
The second task for Utah in the semifinal, secondary to continuing to avoid the fall bug, will be to prove that it should be in the national title conversation rather than living on the borderlands between the two zones as it has been for about two seasons now. Utah really should be in that conversation (49.600 on floor at regionals, three 10.0 starts on vault, which has turned out to be a very competitive number this year), but the Utes also haven’t shown quite the “THIS IS AN ENTIRE LINEUP OF 9.9s” on bars and beam the way the winner this year will have to. Those scores just may not be there this season, but it’s a leap Utah would have to make in the semifinal in order to get into the main tier of title consideration.
Also, this is mostly a note for next season, but I’m going to forget by then: Put Reinstadtler after Skinner on beam and floor.
The enigma of the season. Is Florida a potential semifinal upset or a potential title winner? Please decide, Florida.
Florida showed its competitiveness at regionals with a 197.725 for what was an imperfect meet that nonetheless ended up the #2 score nationally. It served as an all-too-rare glimpse at the Florida we expected to see this season, but it was still not a performance that’s going to win a national championship. The floor scores weren’t high enough (Florida lost on floor to Washington, something to keep in mind in this semifinal), Baumann came in on vault for 9.700, and a fall had to be dropped on both bars and beam. Not a super satisfying scenario. But with all that, Florida still recorded 11 scores of 9.9—the same number as LSU and Utah, one less than Oklahoma, and one more than UCLA, showing that Florida should be considered a peer contender at the very least. The peak ability and competitively huge scores are there.
What makes Florida—a roster that really should be scoring these 197.7s at nationals—look vulnerable is exactly what makes Utah not look vulnerable: consistency. We have seen Florida throw in those missed meets and counting falls fairly often this season, which have dropped the team results down into the 196s, scores that would be very dangerous and beatable in a national semifinal context. Florida has counted falls on beam and floor multiple times this year and has seven rotation scores in the 48s compared to Utah’s two.
It’s that looming specter of potential disaster that would be Florida’s undoing because a normal hit for this roster would be very safe. In theory.
Rotation 1 – Utah VT, Florida UB, Oklahoma BB, Washington FX
1. Oklahoma – 49.605
2. Florida – 49.470
3. Utah – 49.440
4. Washington – 49.350
The scores are supposed to fly in the first rotation. If all those top teams are already going 49.4s, it will be very tough for anyone else to invert the order of things, but Washington needs to be around this 49.350 total to stay in the hunt. Leaving more than two tenths to make up after one event would be a warning sign.
Rotation 2 – Washington VT, Kentucky UB, Florida BB, Cal FX
1. Florida – 98.910
2. Washington – 98.455
3. Oklahoma – 49.605
4. Utah – 49.440
5. Cal – 49.255
6. Kentucky – 49.245
The upset-hopers need Florida to stay closer to the group than this after bars and beam (here, Florida is already developing a fall-buffer by RQS). Otherwise, they would be mostly left waiting for Utah to give them a gift. Those 49.2s are solid scores for Cal and Kentucky, but particularly Cal will want to be a little higher at this point because of having already done floor.
Rotation 3 – Cal VT, Utah UB, Kentucky BB, Oklahoma FX
1. Oklahoma – 99.135
2. Florida – 98.910
3. Utah – 98.760
4. Kentucky – 98.540
5. Cal – 98.530
6. Washington – 98.455
Florida starts on better-scoring events than Utah does, so Florida will need to be ahead of the Utes at this point as they jockey for position to see which team is the less vulnerable to the upset. Kentucky still has floor to go while Cal doesn’t, so it’s probably more important for Cal to be ahead of Kentucky here.
Rotation 4 – Oklahoma VT, Washington UB, Utah BB, Florida FX
1. Oklahoma – 148.670
2. Florida – 148.330
3. Utah – 148.080
4. Washington – 147.675
5. Kentucky – 98.540
6. Cal – 98.530
As with the other semifinal, the risk events for the top seeds will be over after the fourth rotation, so those hoping for help will need to have already received that help at this point.
Rotation 5 – Florida VT, Cal UB, Washington BB, Kentucky FX
1. Florida – 197.775
2. Washington – 197.020
3. Oklahoma – 148.670
4. Utah – 148.080
5. Kentucky – 147.855
6. Cal – 147.760
The interesting point here is how close Utah and Kentucky are after 5 rotations, with just two tenths between them. Utah ends on a much better-scoring event than Kentucky does and would expect to extend any lead it has at this point, but if Kentucky is able to snatch back a few tenths here and there and lead Utah after five, it would keep things interesting going to the last event, at the very least.
Rotation 6 – Kentucky VT, Oklahoma UB, Cal BB, Utah FX
1. Oklahoma – 198.215
2. Florida – 197.775
3. Utah – 197.600
4. Kentucky – 197.055
5. Washington – 197.020
6. Cal – 196.990
Event RQSs actually tell a different story here than the overall RQS, which is always fun. Event RQSs promote Kentucky from being the lowest-ranked team to the most likely team to snatch the upset, ahead of Washington and Cal. Event RQSs also switch Florida and Utah, putting Utah closer to the bottom-three teams (reflecting Florida’s higher potential on each event if it truly is an excellent day, but also emphasizing how that state was achieved less often during the regular season).