The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Week 11 Preview

Full schedule and links

Marquee meets

[6] Utah @ [8] Georgia
Saturday, 4:00 ET, SECN+

We’re getting the band back together! The old classic is upon us again, and this year’s edition should provide a telling comparison at a critical moment as both teams start to ask “Are we top 8? Are we top 4?” questions of themselves.

Utah will certainly have hopes of making the top 4 and competing on the final day of nationals—and beating Georgia on the road is exactly the kind of thing a top-4 team needs to be able to do. Meanwhile, Georgia will absolutely see itself as a nationals-qualifying team, but it’s right on the cusp right now at #8. A win over Utah would tell us that Georgia is closer to the good side than the bad side when it comes to dividing 8 from the rest.

Under neutral circumstances, Utah is your favorite here, but the meet taking place in Georgia pretty much levels things. How level? The total of Georgia’s three counting home scores for NQS is exactly identical to the total of Utah’s three counting road scores.

Of course, all eyes will be on beam since it has been a “U OK?” event for both teams this season. Georgia likely has the higher peak potential score on beam because of built-in execution, at least when gymnasts like Oakley and Baumann are on (plus that thing where the judges ignore grabbing the beam sometimes), yet Georgia has also proven at this point to be the more terrifying of the two beam lineups. Much will depend on whether Georgia can cut out the leg-up, seasickness wobbles that seem to plague the lineup most weeks.

But it’s not all about beam. Recent developments on bars have given that apparatus special significance here. Theoretically, you’d consider bars an area where Georgia could make up the ranking difference on Utah since Georgia has spent the season being stronger on bars than its ranking suggests, but we learned this week that Emily Schild is out for the season. Not ideal. Schild was part of the very specific six required for Georgia to excel on bars, and she’ll have to be replaced by Rachael Lukacs, who can do the job to set a baseline score but performed what was basically her best possible routine last week for 9.825 and is going to be in the 9.7s more often than not. It puts more pressure on the remaining five, and we haven’t seen all five of them hit bars in the same meet in a full month.

The way Utah has been landing on vault recently, you expect Utah to snatch the higher score on that event despite showing one fewer 10.0 start. (Battle DTY should also be interesting because if the judges go high for Lukacs in the first rotation, they’ll have to go higher for Skinner in the second—the same phenomenon that got Shallon Olsen her season high in the Georgia/Alabama meet). Utah will be quite eager to establish a lead in the first half of the meet because…Georgia, home, senior day. We can fully expect a flurry of 9.950s in the final floor rotation, so the meet will turn to Advantage Georgia if Georgia is anywhere close toward the end.

[11] Alabama @ [1] Oklahoma
Friday, 7:00 CT, FS Oklahoma

Alabama, Alabama, Alabama. What are we going to do with you? Alabama has fallen to 11th in the rankings and is now fully dependent on Kentucky missing its meet this week to have a shot to get into the evening session at SECs.

That doesn’t mean that this performance and score have lost significance for Alabama, though. In addition to needing at least a 196.825 to put a smidge of pressure on Kentucky and have a chance to gain a spot or two in the rankings, this meet looks to be a final chance for Alabama to show what its scoring ceiling could be. This is senior night for Dowell and Lehrmann. It would basically be a shock if Lehrmann doesn’t get a 10 on bars and Dowell doesn’t get a 10 on floor. This isn’t going to be some “Maddie Desch goes 9.2 for a hit beam routine” January meet. If you can’t get a huge number at this meet, you’re not getting one this season.

Oklahoma did not put up a great one in its Monday meet against Iowa State—Trautman still out, Nichols doing on bars, a couple missed routines that had to be dropped—and while that probably doesn’t mean a ton in terms of expectations for the performance against Alabama, it does mean that we still have to be on lineup watch for Oklahoma. Oklahoma continues to have to put up B+ lineups on most events in most meets.

At the same time, Oklahoma can also break the all-time RQS record with a 198.300 at this meet. So, you know, they’re really struggling or whatever.

Utah State @ [2] UCLA
Saturday, 4:30 PT, Pac-12 Network

Perhaps the real calm confidence was the friends we made along the way.

Yep. It’s the Miss Val farewell meet. UCLA’s home finale, in which the Bruins will compete against the concept of being extra. And also Utah State. Every expectation we have is that UCLA will score 205 in this meet, during which the entire floor lineup fully Shevchenkos and still gets straight 10s. (It’s senior day too!) But of course I have an additional wish list of things I expect to take place during the series finale of VAL!

1) The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles is invited onto the floor to sing an original a cappella composition entitled “Miss Val Eyes (They Watchin’ You).”

2) Val is lowered from the rafters in a harness to perform a one-woman interpretive dance tribute to her career, during which she is visited by the resurrected hologram of John Wooden, who blows a kiss at her.

3) She is then joined by all her best floor performers from years past, who have been told they’re performing snippets of their most iconic routines while Val raps about Madison Kocian. Except the twist is that Val is going to perform their routines and they have to rap about Madison Kocian.

4) A large fiery cauldron is brought into the middle of the floor ex, at which point all of UCLA’s past champions come out, each carrying a pointe shoe on which they have written a life lesson that Val taught them, and one-by-one, they come up to a microphone, read the life lesson aloud, and then toss the pointe shoe into the fire.

5) Some gymnastics. Not important.

6) Val makes a pre-meet arrangement with Judge #2 to give Kyla 9.950 on beam so that Val can take off her heels and stage a stiletto fight with Judge #2 atop the judges table.

7) Following the meet, a SeaWorld performer in a giant fish costume invites everyone onto the floor for a group dance party (inevitable), except no one does it and it gets weird for a while. And there’s just this fish standing there.

8) Val is carried out of the arena on a golden palanquin supported by four greased up men while Peng Peng Lee sings, “I Will Remember You” and a retrospective montage of the hairstyles plays on the arena screen.

Not too much to ask I think.

Ranking watch

The western quads
[17] Washington/Illinois/Yale @ UC Davis
Iowa/North Carolina/Seattle Pacific @ [15] Oregon State
Illinois/San Jose State/Sacramento State @ [16] Cal

These three quad meets—the first two on Friday, the last on Sunday—have rather significant ranking implications for several teams involved. Washington, first of all, would need to score 196.525 at this meet to remain alive in the race for the Pac-12 evening session. Otherwise, Oregon State and Cal get the spots. That score is far from a given for Washington, especially with the injury to Evanni Roberson (broken toe) putting some pressure on backups in each lineup and bringing the vault group back down to five members as of last weekend. Oregon State is probably the safest of the Pac-12 teams right now since a 196.225 on Friday would clinch an evening spot, but it’s not assured yet.

By the time Cal competes on Sunday, it will know exactly what it needs to do to stay in that evening group (and stay in the top 16 for another week, which is dependent on Nebraska’s performance as well—more on that later), but we do know that a 196.825 would do it for Cal.

The team with the most riding on these meets, however, is Illinois—currently ranked 37th and competing in two of these quads, desperate for a score. But the position is not hopeless. A 195.600 in one of these meets would get Illinois into the top 36 come Monday, and the way things are looking, 195.6s in both of them probably get Illinois to safety. But those scores have been kind of hard to come by this season.

Just behind Illinois in the score-significance race is Iowa, currently sitting in 33rd. This visit to Oregon State is a critical performance because a bad meet—coupled with hits from UIC, Kent State, and Illinois this weekend—would put Iowa right onto the cusp of the drop zone. On the other hand, a good hit for a high 195 or more would allow Iowa to rempve a 194.775 that’s still hanging around and likely move fully into the safe zone heading into Big 10s.

Also with something serious riding on these quad meets is UC Davis. Davis is not out of contention for regionals at this point (#38) but is in trouble, needing a season high in both of its remaining meets, as well as a few convenient misses from other teams to remain above the water line.

[9] Kentucky/[13] Boise State/Illinois State @ [18] Nebraska

Three serious postseason threats will meet at the Masters Classic on Saturday night, with Nebraska the most desperately in need of a score. The road scores haven’t been there for Nebraska so far this season, so a big 196 or a 197 is a must in this final home meet so that the home scores can balance things out a little better. Nebraska still has a road score in the 195s—so will likely be working from behind heading into Big Tens—but how far behind depends on this performance.

As mentioned above, Kentucky is all about the 196.300 at this meet, but that’s a pretty pedestrian expectation coming off a program record last week. Kentucky will now be trying to set itself up to make a late run at the top 8, which is possible—even if it will take a couple 197s in the remaining meets to have a look at knocking Georgia off of that prized rung.

At #13, Boise State is sort of between worlds at this point—still with a shot to get back up into the top 12 and snatch a #3 seeding at a regional (especially if this week’s score goes toward the 197s), but not totally out of the woods in terms of guaranteeing a top 16 spot either since a couple lower-ranked teams will have a chance to pass this week. This score will tell us whether Boise State is fighting with Cal and Nebraska for the top 16, or fighting with Auburn and Alabama for the top 12.



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