Regionals Preview Part 1: Dual-or-Die

I’m beginning this year’s series of regional previews with a look at the Thursday meets. The first round. The sudden death. The do-or-die duals.

I’ve been excited about these meets from the minute the new format was announced because we’ve never had this kind of win-or-go-home stakes in a dual meet before—nor have most of the teams in this section of the rankings ever been the actual focus of postseason elimination competition before. You’ve never cared as much about NC State’s vault rotation as you do right now. Or will in a second after we talk about it over cocktails. Do you not have a cocktail right now? Get it together.

So here’s what we have.

Thursday, April 4
3:00 ET/12:00 PT – NC State v. New Hampshire (@ Georgia)
3:00 ET/12:00 PT – Illinois v. Central Michigan (@ Michigan)
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – George Washington v. Lindenwood (@ LSU)
6:00 ET/3:00 PT – Iowa vs. Arizona (@ Oregon State)

There’s still too much overlap of competitions. All four should be spaced out in exact two-hour intervals like in a sport. NCAA gym has never really understood the idea of a national schedule instead of a site-specific schedule…because what is this new-fangled intranets box? But baby steps. We’re moving in the right direction.

For most of these teams, escaping the snaggletoothed maw of the qualification drop zone and advancing to regionals was, in itself, the victory. They did the job and can breathe easier. And in previous seasons, that would have been more or less the end of it. OK, you made regionals, and now you can go compete there, and it doesn’t really matter how you do because you’re not going to beat Georgia anyway, and then you inevitably lose and go home. Clap, clap, done.

Now—even though no one expects these teams (with the potential exception of Illinois) to advance to the regional finals—there’s an extra postseason victory that’s realistically within the grasp of all 8.  They’re all in it, with something to compete for, and it’s going to get tiggggghhhhttt.

NC State v. New Hampshire

NC State comes into this one as the ranking favorite, but by only the smallest of margins. In fact, New Hampshire just upset NC State by nearly 7 tenths at the EAGL championship—with the caveat that New Hampshire hosted and the margin may be a little misleading. Though the result is not. New Hampshire was the better team that day. As overall season performance leans toward NC State, and recent performance leans toward New Hampshire, it’s reasonable to find a balance pretty much right in the middle, and the event scores agree with me.

Event scores
Vault – NC State 48.890, New Hampshire 48.830
Bars – NC State 49.030, New Hampshire 48.905
Beam – NC State 48.955, New Hampshire 49.015
Floor – NC State 49.090, New Hampshire 49.110
Total – NC State 195.965, New Hampshire 195.860

Overall, the events give a tenth-of-a-point edge to NC State, but New Hampshire won’t really mind too much because UNH will expect to invert the ranking situation on vault. New Hampshire comes into vault with a .150 SV advantage, delivering a 10.0 from Carroll, four 9.950s, and a handspring front pike from O’Leary that starts from 9.9 but will outscore most of the Yfulls in the meet. With NC State having to open its own vault lineup with three tucked Yfulls, New Hampshire looks a solid bet to win that event.

And if New Hampshire follows that up by making the ranking prophecy come true on beam and floor, then the upset will look very ripe. We’ve come to know New Hampshire most of all for its beam quality, which is delivering again this season, and if it does once again at regionals, floor becomes an absolutely vital apparatus for NC State to flip. Which is very possible. New Hampshire shows a few more E passes (and is successfully employing the open-with-difficulty strategy by putting O’Leary’s double front and Winer’s FTDT in the first half of the lineup), while NC State is hoping to counter with consistency on landings from its majority double pike lineup—then can look to Alex Phillips to deliver the high floor score on the day if the double Arabian landing is on.

The biggest single scoring advantage across the events comes in favor of NC State on bars, built on crisper routines, more legs-together positions, and bigger stuck dismounts. New Hampshire’s lineup has a tendency to throw in a few more foot and leg things, which NC State is counting on, but those issues are also often erased by Mulligan going a realistic 9.900-9.950 for her anchor routine, which NC State would rather not have to count on.

Illinois v. Central Michigan

Of all the teams, Central Michigan is allowed to be the most annoyed by how the draw came out. CMU is the #2-ranked team in the play-in meets and would defeat most of the teams in this post, yet has to go up against the #1 team in Illinois, a team that just went 196.650 at Big Tens and would be ranked in the better part of the 20s if the season hadn’t started so poorly. That’s why this meet is in Illinois’s hands. If Illinois scores the way it is capable of scoring, it will advance to Friday even if Central Michigan has a strong day of its own.

Event scores
Vault – Illinois 48.950, Central Michigan 48.860
Bars – Illinois 49.100, Central Michigan 48.865
Beam – Illinois 49.150, Central Michigan 48.955
Floor – Illinois 49.110, Central Michigan 49.080
Total – Illinois 196.310, Central Michigan 195.760

Central Michigan, however, would like to submit for your notice that it has gone 196 in two of the last four meets. That should tell us that CMU has the routines to be able to pounce on a semi-mistake or a full mistake. And we sure have seen Illinois go disaster-town plenty of times this season. Not just on beam, either. That vault lineup went 48.450 three weeks ago, and if something like that were to happen again, Central Michigan would pull out Denelle Pedrick’s DTY, take that lead, and run. We’re going to see a couple rotation scores in the 48 here, and that’s not a disaster, but a 48.5 rotation means a loss. For either team.

What Illinois has going for it, and what makes the team capable of an unassailable score in the mid 196s, is the starring routine (or two) on most events, particularly on bars. Those 9.9s from Howell and Otto can put the total well over 196 pace as long as the others deliver enough 9.800s, which would make Illinois very tough to catch.

George Washington v. Lindenwood

Both George Washington and Lindenwood got the draw they wanted, the one that presents the best opportunity to advance. But, of course, only one can. It’s like they both participated in the Gymternet Favorites Semifinal last weekend, where they ousted UIC to get the final two spots at regionals, and now they must go head-to-head in the Gymternet Favorites Final.

Because Lindenwood is a DII squad that’s more often than not going to score around 195.3 for a solid meet, it’s easy to lean toward George Washington as the favorite, but the scores tell us that this should be the closest of all the play-in meets with almost nothing to separate the two over the course of the season.

Event scores
Vault – GW 48.835, Lindenwood 48.865
Bars – GW 48.915, Lindenwood 48.815
Beam – GW 48.865, Lindenwood 48.905
Floor – GW 49.020, Lindenwood 49.020
Total – GW 195.635, Lindenwood 195.605

The margin is less than a step.

The best argument for George Washington comes in the form of its recent performances. In its last two meets, GW has gone 196.025 and 195.825, scores that were necessary to avert what looked like a nasty fate only a few weeks ago—and scores that should outpace a Lindenwood hit. Lindenwood’s valiant meet at MICs to snatch a regionals place came with a 195.350, a score that’s unlikely to keep the run going in the play-in, even if the scoring at MICs looked tighter than at EAGLs.

Expect both teams to excel more in the second half of the meet than the first—so the first half is really just about not giving the farm away. There’s probably going to be a lot of back-and-forth 9.7s in those first two rotations, which is fine. On Friday, a 9.7 is a bad score, but on Thursday, you take it. If there’s a counting 9.6, however, then we’ve got a problem. Any kind of lead at the halfway point for either team would be a dream because overall-lineup-wise, it’s supposed to be pretty close. Those vault lineups in particular are of very, very similar quality and composition.

Most important for Lindenwood’s chance at the upset will be floor. On the occasions when we’ve seen Lindenwood record the kind of total score it will take to win a play-in, it has come with a floor number comfortably over 49. If the judges are feeling pretty “this is a 9.700” about Lindenwood’s floor routines the way they were at MICs, I don’t see Lindenwood winning without help. But over the last month or so, we’ve also seen multiple occasions when the lineup is majority 9.8s, and that would keep Lindenwood right in it—especially if GW finds that the supporting scores for Zois and Crasa have gone missing again.

A big Lindenwood question: what of the injury to Courtney Mitchell that led her to be carried off the floor at MICs? She was their best all-arounder this season and provided a critical score on every event. Does Lindenwood still have the routines to get a high 195?

Iowa v. Arizona

Iowa and Arizona will have the afternoon to themselves on Play-In Thursday since the other meets will have wrapped up by the time this one begins. And it should be deserving of all those eyes—a close meet between two teams separated by only .005 in NQS and with identical strengths and weaknesses.

Event scores
Vault – Iowa 48.890, Arizona 48.825
Bars – Iowa 49.095, Arizona 49.055
Beam – Iowa 48.860, Arizona 48.915
Floor – Iowa 49.215, Arizona 49.180
Total – Iowa 196.060, Arizona 195.975

For both teams, this season has been all about bars and floor. Floor is, against all odds, Arizona’s best event. Suddenly. From looking in preseason like the lineup maybe had three usable routines, this has become Arizona’s most cohesive collection of 9.8s across the events, and even though bars hasn’t been…awesome all the time…a lineup with the 9.9 potential from Spencer and Berg really has no business putting up some 48.7-with-a-fall like it did at Pac-12s.

Iowa, however, enjoys the higher NQS on both of those events and typically expects to win those two pieces if its to have a successful day, especially with those big, precise, nationally competitive bars routines from Chow and Kampschroeder that led Iowa over 196 at Big Tens. But both teams aren’t going to win those events, so something’s got to give there.

Or not. Because let’s be honest, we’re all super scared of beam for everyone. Arizona’s implosion at the Pac-12 Champs is still fresh in the mind, while Iowa nearly suffered the same fate at Big Tens and has broken 49 on the event just once all season. Beam is an inescapably risky proposition for both teams, and if you were to invent a one-week time machine and come back to tell me that this meet is decided exclusively by who falls the fewest times on beam, I would not be surprised at all.

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