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Nationals Preview Part 3: The Individuals

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The individual titles for the all-around and apparatuses are awarded on Semifinal Friday, which ensures that everyone will kind of forget they exist while focusing on team qualification standings—and then three minutes later, everyone turns to everyone else and says, “Oh yeah, wait, who won vault?” It’s a national tradition.

This year, we’re primarily rooting for having fewer than six people tie for the bars title. And by fewer, I mean more. The real goal of the event titles is to have so many people tie for a single spot on the podium that they have to Jenga it, and hilarity ensues. I really feel like floor is going to come through for us this time around.

But first…

All-Around

The favorite
Maggie Nichols – Oklahoma
RQS: 39.830
High: 39.900
Ranking: 1

For the second straight year, Nichols enters nationals as the favorite for the title and clear #1 in the country, which she accomplished this season with a record-breaking 39.830 RQS, eclipsing Jeanette Antolin’s total of 39.795 from 2004.

Only 16 gymnasts in NCAA history have scored over 39.825 in the all-around on even a single occasion, and Nichols’ RQS is higher than that. If Nichols hits, she is a heavy favorite—though not an exclusive favorite—for the all-around title.

It was a fall on beam in the semifinals that dropped Nichols out of contention last season, but Alex McMurtry ultimately went on to score so high in the second semifinal that the fall from Nichols didn’t matter. McMurtry would have won regardless. (I think I’ve heard/maybe said before that the fall cost Nichols the all-around title, which is not correct.) The only thing the Nichols fall took away was any controversy over who the rightful winner was. 
The challengers

MyKayla Skinner – Utah
RQS: 39.695
High: 39.725
Ranking: 2

As the current #2 in the country, Skinner will be right there. She anchors Utah on every event this year, which should help bring up the scores compared to last season when she led off on bars. Skinner will expect a 9.9 on every event to get herself a competitive total.

The main obstacle for Skinner ends up being the difficulty she performs, which makes it harder to stick—particularly on vault and beam. That accounts for Skinner’s high score for 2018 being well lower than the other top challengers despite her #2 ranking. We’ll often see Skinner take a one-tenth slide back on her DTY and score 9.900 for it, a very good score, but a streak of 9.900s probably isn’t going to win the all-around title this year. Skinner will be looking for a couple sticks to boost herself higher into the 9.9s.

Alex McMurtry – Florida
RQS: N/A
High: 39.825
Ranking: UNR

The defending champion has the potential to get a gigantic number, as we saw last season at nationals (and as we just saw at regionals, when she hit a big and complete all-around for the second time this year). McMurtry is a strong contender for multiple individual event titles and typically has the highest score in meets on at least vault and bars.

The one question for McMurtry is (as usual) floor, where she’s limited physically in the numbers she can do and has thrown in couple weaker routines in the five floors she performed this year. It’s a miracle she has been able to compete postseason floor these last three year, but she’ll have to get through with secure landings and probably the top score in the lineup to have a real shot at the repeat.

Elizabeth Price – Stanford
RQS: 39.685
High: 39.825
Ranking: 3

Can Price do it without a team? That’s the question. Theoretically, it shouldn’t be an issue because every routine should simply be judged on its own merit and AHAHAHA I do say the silliest things. It has been 23 years since a non-team individual won the all-around title, and Price is the most realistic contender to do it in quite a while.

Price will be rotating with Utah and therefore going after Skinner on each event, which may allow her to draft off the back of the Utah scores. Regardless of who she might be rotating with, however, Price should be able to get very competitive scores that go safely into the 9.9 zone on three events. The question is beam, which has always been Price’s biggest challenge. She has some built-in deductions there and a difficult-to-stick landing, but if Price can nail the dismount and get through beam with a 9.900, then her 9.950+ potential on the other events can still carry her through to a title total.

The spoilers
Someone from LSU
Finnegan RQS: 39.645
Finnegan High: 39.775
Ranking: 4

Hambrick RQS: 39.615
Hambrick High: 39.725
Ranking: 7

Edney RQS: 39.530
Edney High: 39.775
Ranking: 10

But which one? Expect at least one from LSU to get a score that realistically challenges the top gymnasts, and with all four of the very toppity top contenders competing in the second semifinal, LSU looks the most likely team to have the temporary all-around leader at the end of the first session.

Finnegan enters as the highest ranked of the three, and we know she can get absolutely huge scores on several events. The only real caveat to her title ability is performing a full on vault and doing so in the first position. While it’s an excellent full, it will often get 9.850ed, which is probably not a score that can be used for an AA winner.

Hambrick is the most complete of the three in terms of having both difficulty and execution and should be kept in mind as a possible winner because she has no weaknesses. Hambrick can good-day go 9.950 on every event. It’s just her early lineup placements on bars and beam (and this unexpected late-season inconsistency on floor landings) that may keep her lower down. But, if you’re asking me to pick who’s leading the AA after the first semi, I’m picking Hambrick.

Edney is the in-team underdog in this one because she doesn’t always have the consistency to get her ranking up there, but she has the routine content and amplitude for a big total if she sticks her 1.5 again. It’s the evaluation of beam leaps that may be her only undoing. That score can lag a little farther behind.

Kyla Ross – UCLA
RQS: 39.625
High: 39.700
Ranking: 6

Ross’s realistic 10.0 potential on bars and beam keeps her up among the top contenders because she can absorb a few more issues on vault and floor and remain competitive nonetheless. Like Finnegan, vaulting just a full is likely a massive obstacle because her full must be absolutely perfect to get her a 9.900, the minimum score necessary to stay in touch. Also keep in mind that Ross didn’t compete floor at regionals—and can get 9.8-ed even when she does go, which may keep her outside the contending numbers.

Makenna Merrell-Giles – Utah
RQS: 39.585
High: 39.675
Ranking: 8

Merrell-Giles has emerged as a legitimate contender for big AA scores this year, often matching Skinner, with the routine content and composition across four pieces to stand out and get large numbers. Truly contending for a title may be a step too far because of some knee form here and there across the pieces and having to go early in some lineups (and before Skinner in all lineups). That can keep the numbers down.

Alicia Boren – Florida
RQS: 39.585
High: 39.675
Ranking: 9

It can be quite tough to get the numbers when you’re not the highest-scoring AAer on the team, and Boren is in the same boat as MMG if the scores are being held for McMurtry on a couple critical events. Boren has the gymnastics, especially on vault and floor, but she has to control that vault landing and must be absolutely pristine on bars to get a big score in the first position. That’s another of those routines that can get stuck a 9.850 even if its great, which is going to be too low to contend this year.


Those are your top ladies. There will be others in contention (the all-around title is famous for being crazy and unpredictable like that time exactly zero people picked Kim Jacob as the winner in 2014), but those ten gymnasts are the most likely to do it.

The next tier (Webb, Williams, Korth, Hyland, Schweihofer, Ramler, L Brown, Snead) can get in, but it would have to be a totally weird day where many people throw in wobbles in order to upset the preordained hierarchy that much.


Events

If the all-around is unpredictable and ridiculous, it has nothing on the events. You could basically throw out any of the top 30 in the country and she’s just as likely as any of the others. Maybe they’ll all win!

It’s traditional around here to engage in Operation Sassmonster, wherein I predict the winners of the event titles using the very scientific methodology of “It’s the Person Who Goes Last.” Unfortunately, Operation Sassmonster got only one of the four events correct last year (after getting two right in 2016), which wasn’t ideal. But we all have off years, Michigan, and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stick with it.

Let’s begin with vault. Nebraska will finish the first session there, while Kentucky finishes the second session, meaning my options for a winner are either Houchin or Korth, both with 10.0 starts. Houchin has scored a 9.975 this year, so I’m going for Taylor Houchin, 2018 vault champion. You heard it here first.

On bars, LSU will finish the first semifinal and Oklahoma will finish the second, providing very likely and realistic options in Finnegan and Nichols. Go me! So, I’m saying we’ll have a tie for the bars title that includes (but may not be limited to) both Finnegan and Nichols.

Beam concludes with Arkansas in the first session (Michaela Burton) and Cal in the second session (Sofie Seilnacht), so congratulations to 2018 national beam champion, Sofie Seilnacht.

The last teams on floor are UCLA in the first session and Utah in the second session, which is very charitable in providing realistic options named Ohashi and Skinner (and then Price follows right after Skinner, going as an individual). So, we will have a three-way tie for the national floor title with Ohashi, Skinner, and Price, all of whom will get 10s. Or maybe 11s.

For your actual edification, here are the real top five on each event heading into nationals.

VAULT
1. Nichols
2. McMurtry
3. Dowell
4. Price
5. Skinner

BARS
1. Finnegan
1. Price
1. McMurtry
1. Ross
5. Lehrmann

(Oh god, even the rankings are giving us a four-way tie)

BEAM
1. Lee
2. Nichols
3. Ohashi
4. Finnegan
5. Guerrero

FLOOR
1. Hambrick
1. Ohashi
3. Nichols
3. Skinner
3. Price

 

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