Behold! The part that sort of matters before the part that really matters!
That’s right, the conference championships are upon us once again, our first tentative toe dipped into the waters of the championship season, with trophies on the line and four-judge panels back to try to weed out the most erratic of Carols, but without losers getting eliminated just yet.
With a dozen separate college championships being contested this weekend, I’ve split the preview up into two parts. Let’s begin with Part 1: Some of them! (The theme of part 2 will also be some of them.)
Afternoon: Washington, Arizona State, Stanford, Arizona
Evening: UCLA, Utah, Oregon State, Cal
The typical dynamic of the Pac-12 Championship is skewed to some degree this year. Rather than the usual “Utah or UCLA? Where she stops nobody knows!” outlook, we have a true favorite for the Pac-12 title this season in UCLA. The Bruins outrank the Utes on three of the four events, defeated Utah (in Utah) at their dual meet this season, and lead by more than a fall in NQS. Now, I don’t think UCLA can actually count a fall and still win this meet in real life, but that’s what the rankings tell us.
UCLA’s biggest asset compared to Utah will come on beam, where UCLA has the potential to put together a lineup that begins in the 9.9s and stays there, while Utah is more likely to remain in the 9.8s for most of the lineup apart from the bookends. Add that to the Flatley-Kocian-Ross trio on bars, and what at this point is just an auto-10 from Ohashi on floor, and UCLA will have several areas in which to build up the scoring advantage against Utah.
The concern for UCLA is if the performance at Vallapalooza was more than just an emotional one-off, because that performance was not good enough to win Pac-12s. In the meet against Utah State, we saw how reliant UCLA has become on Ross hitting vault because once she missed, suddenly some uncontrolled landings on other Y1.5s had to count, and UCLA barely broke 49. That’s not going to cut it compared to a Utah team that has the more reliable landings on its big-difficulty vaults from Skinner and MMG.
What Utah has been able to create this season is four lineups that should start from 9.850 and go from there. When Lee sticks, when Roberts does her usual cleanest routine in the lineup work on floor (fight me), they’re establishing a pretty high baseline. That’s a main reason we haven’t seen Utah fall below 197 this season, because the lineups are almost never fighting against that lead-off 9.775. There’s always something very usable to count. It’s still going to make Utah vulnerable to a team with lineups that start at 9.900 like UCLA can put up on a few events, but it’s also why Utah shouldn’t have much trouble finishing top 2 here with a hit meet.
For Oregon State and Cal participating in the evening session, finishing in 3rd place and beating the other one is the goal performance. That would be a very solid result, and anything better than that would simply be an awesome bonus. Mostly, they’ll be keen on the score. Cal needs 196.850 and Oregon State needs 196.875 to clinch a seeded spot at regionals. Especially if the scores rise into the evening session, you like the chances for both teams to achieve that mark, but it’s worth noting that Oregon State hasn’t scored that high in more than a month. So not a given.
In the battle between these two, Cal is ranked higher on vault, bars, and beam—with vault a particularly substantial realm of contention because last week we saw Oregon State debut a Y1.5 from Lacy Dagen to try to get up to three 10.0 starts (which would match Cal’s number), but she fell. Do they take the risk by going for it again in a championship meet knowing that Cal has recorded the bigger scores on vault this year?
Based on recent performances, Cal will expect to bank the bigger score of these two on bars and beam. While Cal has had its consistency problems on bars this year, so has Oregon State. It also like every time you look, Oregon State has some random 9.6 on bars from someone who shouldn’t be scoring 9.6, which has kept Oregon State with a peak of just 49.225. With Emi Watterson and Nina Schank for Cal able to go 9.9 just by blinking, you like Cal’s chances there given a hit rotation. Oregon State’s most compelling advantage event is floor, where the scores have come time after time this season for what should be an entire lineup of 9.8s, that then travels into the 9.9s with Lowery and Yanish. Floor is the event where Cal will most miss Toni-Ann Williams, who would normally provide that equivalent huge anchor score, and where Oregon State will look to gain an edge. But we’ll also see if Cal’s new-look lineup order works as well as it did last weekend in order to make up some of that ground.
Rotation 1 – UCLA vault, Utah bars, OSU beam, Cal floor
1. Utah – 49.395
2. UCLA – 49.335
3. Cal – 49.210
4. Oregon State – 49.160
Utah will view it as essential to have the lead after one event if it hopes to pull off the upset since UCLA starts on its least-sure event in terms of the high scores coming.
Rotation 2 – Cal vault, UCLA bars, Utah beam, OSU floor
1. UCLA – 98.885
2. Utah – 98.680
3. Oregon State – 98.490
4. Cal – 98.405
UCLA, meanwhile, will view it as essential to have regained that lead after bars since UCLA on bars while Utah is on beam should be the biggest single rotation advantage UCLA enjoys in the meet. Oregon State will also look to be ahead of Cal after two pieces since it will have already competed on its strength, floor.
Rotation 3 – OSU vault, Cal bars, UCLA beam, Utah floor
1. UCLA – 148.400
2. Utah – 148.100
3. Cal – 147.630
4. Oregon State – 147.595
When the team with Olympic order is on beam and seed #2 is on floor, that’s typically the best place for seed #2 to pick up ground. UCLA’s beam scoring is such that this may not happen here (NQS tells us that UCLA should expand its lead), but it’s still an opportunity. Cal will expect to make the real move in the third rotation with a hit bars, hoping that Oregon State gets stuck with a few 9.7s during its vault rotation.
Rotation 4 – Utah vault, OSU bars, Cal beam, UCLA floor
1. UCLA – 198.085
2. Utah – 197.555
3. Cal – 196.880
4. Oregon State – 196.670
The big advantage for the top seed comes in the final rotation, getting to compete on the highest-scoring event in college gymnastics (floor) while the #2 seed is on the lowest (vault).
The intriguing part here is the advantage Cal has when using event-by-event NQS despite Oregon State being ranked higher overall. What does that tell us? Basically that best-day Cal has been stronger than best-day Oregon State, but that normal-day Oregon State has been stronger than normal-day Cal. Cal has the higher ability when taking the events in isolation, but has put it together less often so far.
In the early session of Pac-12s, Washington will look to put up the number to beat—and if all the teams were competing at the same time, would have a good shot to score right with Cal and Oregon State. It’s by no means out of the question that Washington could put up a score in the first session than hangs around for 3rd place, but precedent tells us it will be tougher.
The biggest challenge for Washington will be getting the necessary scores on the vault and floor rotations. Those rotations were potential depth struggles to begin with compared to other top-16 teams, and the Roberson broken toe has increased the likelihood of Washington getting 9.7ed to death. To record a total that challenges the evening teams, Washington will need the bars scores to be on fire like they were last weekend and for the beam team to find its peak right about…exactly now.
Arizona State is in the ranking zone where there’s not a lot to play for at conference championships—no chance at the top 16, shouldn’t have to deal with play-ins—but we have seen ASU go 196s in some recent meets and the team can put the pressure on here with a repeat of that result. It will also be worth watching the performances of those who aren’t seniors with an eye toward next season. In the last meet, Arizona State had 15/24 routines come from seniors, which means we’re going to meet a very different team next year.
Stanford and Arizona, while safe in terms of qualifying to regionals in the top 36, are still looking for scores that can get them out of the play-in meets. Stanford has a high enough ranking that it really shouldn’t have to deal with the play-ins, but trying to get ahead of another western team like Southern Utah could be important in terms of geographical distribution. At this point, Arizona at #30 is looking quite likely for a spot in the play-ins, but going 196s here and having some other borderline teams miss could still be enough to avoid that fate.
Rotation 1 – UW vault, ASU bars, Arizona beam, Stanford floor
1. Stanford – 49.240
2. Arizona State – 49.110
3. Washington – 49.005
4. Arizona – 48.915
First, you’ll notice a difference in the rotation order here. As the third-best team in this session, Stanford got third pick for its starting event and chose floor instead of beam, leaving Arizona to start on beam. Perhaps Stanford wanted to start on its best score for a shot at the lead after one event. If this isn’t going to be the Washington session after all, Stanford and ASU can signal that to us with their placements after 1.
Rotation 2 – Stanford vault, UW bars, ASU beam, Arizona floor
1. Washington – 98.270
2. Arizona State – 98.195
3. Stanford – 98.125
4. Arizona – 98.075
The importance of the bars score for Washington. It should see Washington regain the lead after 2 pieces, but look how close Arizona State is at this point. Arizona State would LOVE to be within a tenth of Washington with floor coming next.
Rotation 3 – Arizona vault, Stanford bars, UW beam, ASU floor
1. Washington – 147.395
2. Arizona State – 147.300
3. Stanford – 147.105
4. Arizona – 146.900
If Stanford can survive bars and still be this close to Washington and Arizona State, that’s a victory. Arizona State’s NQS on floor is not that high and therefore ASU is supposed to lose ground to Washington in this third rotation while UW is on beam. If ASU is to have any chance at winning the first session, however, a lead after 3 is essential.
Rotation 4 – ASU vault, Arizona bars, Stanford beam, UW floor
1. Washington – 196.550
2. Arizona State – 196.325
3. Stanford – 196.090
4. Arizona – 195.955
NQS tells us that Washington should only gain ground on everyone else during the final rotation on floor, so the damage anyone else hopes to cause must have been enacted before that.
Big 12 Championship
Oklahoma, Denver, Iowa State, West Virginia
The annual Oklahoma Championship starring Oklahoma has been given a slightly more complicated storyline this year by the rise of Denver. Oklahoma is still exactly as much of a favorite to win the title as it always has been and Oklahoma not winning would be about the biggest surprise of any result at any conference championship, but there’s more going on here than just the Oklahoma show.
Denver will be eager to keep things close, much like it did at home in the dual meet between the two when Oklahoma won by just three tenths. That’s the margin a #5 team, one knocking on the door of the team-final places, should see when compared to the top team in the country. It’s easy to understate Denver’s chances because Denver is the upstart team this season and even making nationals as part of the top 8 would be a wild victory and a huge accomplishment (and is by no means a given), but Denver is still the #5 team in the country. A #5 team doesn’t just hope to make the top 8; it expects to make the top 8. It hopes to make the top 4, and we should therefore evaluate Denver with those expectations in mind.
So in that respect, Denver needs to use Big 12s to show that the early scores on vault and floor are not going to get stuck in 9.800 land because 9.800s make it very difficult to record a top-4 kind of total. We know that Karr and Brown have the routines to bring huge numbers on every piece, but on one of Denver’s strongest events like beam, routines also come from Schou and Vasquez for equal or better scores. On vault and floor, it’s more down to Brown and Karr exclusively (though the lovely-twisting front 2/1s on floor should be able to match them if the control is there). This weekend, and moving forward, Denver is going to need other scores to deliver, especially compared to Oklahoma lineups that will start at 9.900.
For Oklahoma, now that Trautman returned on her events last week, Maggie Watch 2019 is the sole name of the game as we look toward the team’s competitiveness for nationals—and as Oklahoma tries to develop a floor lineup that can outscore UCLA’s. When, if, and how well vault and floor come back for Nichols may determine quite a bit. Because we pretty much know what to expect from the rest of the group come the elimination meets. And it’s 9.9s.
Iowa State and West Virginia will be in a fight for third, and West Virginia in particular has a lot riding on this score because WVU is not clear of the play-in meets just yet. West Virginia is looking for a 196 here and looking to stay ahead of geographical peers Maryland and NC State (other teams in the SE region in contention for the play-in).
UIC, Lindenwood, TWU, Illinois State, Centenary, SEMO
In the Midwest Independent Conference, the battle for the title between the top two seeds—UIC and Lindenwood—is going to take a backseat to the battle between those same two teams for a spot at regionals and an opportunity to continue their seasons.
UIC’s goal score here is simple. 195.975. That would ensure qualification regardless of what anyone else does.
Lindenwood’s goal here is a little more complicated because it doesn’t exclusively depend on Lindenwood’s performance. Lindenwood needs to score at least a 195.825 AND beat UIC while UIC does not reach the scoring goal noted above. That scenario would ensure Lindenwood gets through to regionals. (There is also an odd case in which Lindenwood could actually lose to UIC by about a quarter tenth and still advance as long as they both score in the 195.8-195.9 area, but don’t worry about that.)
Those are really tough scores for both of these teams, but if this is a soft meet, they’re doable.
The rest of the teams here—TWU, Illinois State, Centenary, and SEMO—already know that they won’t be advancing to regionals so live it up? They’re all ranked quite a ways behind UIC and Lindenwood, so outscoring either of those teams would be a big victory.
Boise State, BYU, Southern Utah, Utah State
Aside from sounding like a competition they would attend on Make It or Break It, the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Championship has become one of the deeper conference championships in NCAA, with three of the four teams ranked in the top 25 this season.
The contest between host BYU and #13 Boise State should be among the closer battles of any conference championships if their season series is anything to go by. Boise State won on the road by .275 earlier in the year, then BYU exchanged the favor a couple weeks ago, winning at Boise State by .675 after Boise State counted a fall on bars. In this one, Boise State will look to use its traditional strength on bars and its non-traditional strength on beam to develop an advantage, while BYU will look to use some huge floor scores to mitigate that advantage. And Southern Utah will look to go, “Hi us too” if the numbers for the top two seeds don’t zoom totally out of control. Should be a solid meet.
In the scores, Utah State is already out, and Southern Utah should be safely in the medium zone, so Boise State and BYU are the ones looking for a specific number here, Boise State going for 196.725 to ensure a seeded regionals place, and BYU looking for something in the high 196s and then also looking for Oregon State and Cal and Nebraska to be kind of blah at their own meets.
ECAC DI Championship
Temple, Yale, Cornell, Penn, Brown, William & Mary
The Eastern College Athletic Conference has its championship split up into two segments, with the DI schools competing in one meet, and the DII teams competing in a separate meet at a separate location.
All nine teams in the ECAC are out of regionals contention, but there’s still the whole winning a title thing. You know. And in that respect, Temple. Temple comes in as the top seed but has never, ever, ever finished better than third at the ECAC Championship, looking to win its first title and break the two-year winning streak of #2 seed Yale.
ECAC DII Championship
Bridgeport, West Chester, Southern Connecticut
In the DII meet, we have a dynasty. Bridgeport has won this title for 10 consecutive years, and this year should be more of the same as the hosts enjoy an NQS advantage over West Chester and Southern Connecticut of more than two points heading in. West Chester and SCSU have both enjoyed successful seasons, West Chester recording another year in the 61-62 range (when a finish well down into the 70s was the norm not too many years ago), and SCSU recording its program record team score just a few weeks ago—but expect Bridgeport to be on another level again this year.