The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Regionals Preview Part 3: Michigan Regional

Play-in: April 4, 3:00 ET
Semifinal #1: April 5, 2:00 ET
Semifinal #2: April 5, 7:00 ET
Regional Final: April 6, 7:00 ET

Item 1) Emotionally prepare yourself that if you aren’t willing to go with the Flo, you won’t be able to watch this one.

Qualification procedure: The winner of the play-in advances to semifinal #2; the top 2 teams at each semifinal advance to the regional final; the top 2 teams at the regional final advance to nationals; the top all-around gymnast and top gymnast on each event on April 5 (who are not part of a team that ultimately qualifies) advance to nationals as individuals.

Semifinal #1

[7] Michigan, [10] Alabama, [23] Penn State, [26] Ohio State

Much of the anticipation for this loaded Michigan regional centers on the potentially insane regional final (we’ll get there in a second, don’t worry), but first some thoughts on the semifinals. In the first semifinal, Michigan and Alabama will be asked to fend off what should be reasonably 196ish challenges from Penn State and Ohio State.

Both are expected to do so. Save for that bars blip at Missouri, Michigan has been going into the 197s for the last month and a half, and Alabama…well it looks like Alabama is finally starting to get itself together for gradually increasing 197s of its own. These two went 197.400 and 197.350 respectively at their conference championships, and repeats of those performances will advance to the regional final. Alabama’s slow start to the season still lingers in the mind, but all of those 196.8s that we lamented early in the season because they weren’t 197s would still be a fine advancing score in this semifinal.

Penn State has been scoring into the 196s regularly enough lately to expect to reach that mark again at regionals and establish itself as the upset threat in this semifinal. Watch out for bars. With the strength of Bridgens and Garcia in that lineup, Penn State can legitimately look to beat Alabama there, hoping that gives the team enough of a foothold in the meet to take advantage of an Alabama mistake that might crop up elsewhere.

Lately, Ohio State has struggled to rise to the quality of its first-month performances, scores that had the team in the top 15 for a time. Of course, the late-season injury to Jamie Stone is the biggest and most compelling reason Ohio State has been a little more 195.8 than 196.2 lately. There’s no replacing those scores, and OSU has found it difficult to come up with a sixth hit in a few of those lineups. Still, there’s enough 9.850 gymnastics on this team that Ohio State can have a realistic goal of rising back into the 196s.

Presumably, Ohio State and Penn State will be fighting each other to become that next-best team, and in that comparison, Ohio State is the more depleted side, having to use a couple “we’re putting this 9.650 in the lineup but need to drop this score.” At the same time, there are similarities between the two, particularly that Ohio State also excels on bars—Swartzentruber’s routine is fairly unheralded but fantastic—and can adopt the same strategy as Penn State, hoping to be the team that does surprisingly well on bars and can therefore threaten a team that makes a mistake.

Semifinal #1 – Score Comparison
RQS: 197.320 [1]
Season high: 197.750 [1]
Season average: 196.842 [1]

VT RQS: 49.305 [1]
VT average: 49.185 [2]
UB RQS: 49.355 [1]
UB average: 49.233 [1]
BB RQS: 49.385 [1]
BB average: 49.210 [1]
FX RQS: 49.385 [2]
FX average: 49.213 [2]

RQS: 196.990 [2]
Season high: 197.350 [2]
Season average: 196.658 [2]

VT RQS: 49.235 [2]
VT average: 49.196 [1]
UB RQS: 49.235 [2]
UB average: 49.192 [2]
BB RQS: 49.270 [2]
BB average: 48.965 [2]
FX RQS: 49.410 [1]
FX average: 49.306 [1]

Penn State
RQS: 196.070 [3]
Season high: 196.775 [4]
Season average: 195.594 [3]

VT RQS: 48.970 [3]
VT average: 48.796 [4]
UB RQS: 49.220 [3]
UB average: 49.079 [3]
BB RQS: 49.005 [4]
BB average: 48.760 [4]
FX RQS: 49.135 [3]
FX average: 48.958 [3]

Ohio State
RQS: 195.990 [4]
Season high: 196.850 [3]
Season average: 195.519 [4]

VT RQS: 48.955 [4]
VT average: 48.900 [3]
UB RQS: 49.150 [4]
UB average: 49.021 [4]
BB RQS: 49.040 [3]
BB average: 48.767 [3]
FX RQS: 49.045 [4]
FX average: 48.831 [4]

Semifinal #1 – Rotation-by-rotation NQS
Rotation 1 – Michigan VT, Ohio St UB, Alabama BB, Penn St FX
1. Michigan – 49.305
2. Alabama – 49.270
3. Ohio State – 49.150
4. Penn State – 49.135

If Alabama gets through beam with a strong score and sits in a top-2 position, a major avenue for a potential upset here will be closed. We’ll know whether we have a meet pretty early on.

Rotation 2 – Penn St VT, Michigan UB, Ohio St BB, Alabama FX
1. Alabama – 98.680
2. Michigan – 98.660
3. Ohio State – 98.190
4. Penn State – 98.105

The one event where Alabama has the edge on Michigan is floor, and the NQSs tell us that Alabama should have the lead after two events. That edge is not so significant here because both should be comfortably top 2 at this point, but it will be significant in the regional final.

Rotation 3 – Alabama VT, Penn St UB, Michigan BB, Ohio St FX
1. Michigan – 148.045
2. Alabama – 147.915
3. Penn State – 147.325
4. Ohio State – 147.235

The third rotation, on bars, is where Penn State is supposed to make its move on Ohio State. This rotation will tell us who ends up being the most likely upset candidate if things go wrong for one of the top teams.

Rotation 4 – Ohio St VT, Alabama UB, Penn St BB, Michigan FX
1. Michigan – 197.430
2. Alabama – 197.150
3. Penn State – 196.330
4. Ohio State – 196.190

In the end, Michigan and Alabama are supposed to have buffers of more than a fall. A bit disheartening for the other teams in the semifinal.

Semifinal #2

[2] UCLA, [14] Nebraska, [27] West Virginia, [PI] Illinois/CMU

The second semifinal looks to be similar to the first one in that the most likely outcome is a fairly straightforward cruise for the top 2 teams. But also Nebraska.

We’ll dispense with UCLA quickly here because, like the other very top schools, UCLA would have to count an excessive number of falls to be in danger of missing out on the regional final. At least two counting falls, probably three. It’s going to be fine. For its part, Nebraska has a much higher ranking and much higher peak scores than the other teams here and should advance, but this is still not a risk-absent lineup. Plus, Nebraska did just lose to Illinois last week at Big Tens. That’s a pretty compelling argument for this semifinal not being open and shut. If Illinois gets through the play-in, it will have every reason to think about beating Nebraska for a second week in a row.

Now, the Nebraska team we all experienced at Big Tens counted three 9.7s on vault and a 9.6 on beam, so it’s not exactly a faithful representation of how this team would perform on a stronger day. It is, however, a faithful representation of the danger inherent in these Nebraska lineups. There might be a fall on a 1.5 on vault. The bars lineup has some risky options, even if the return of Orel has solidified things. Hitting has not been a guarantee all season.

To best position itself to be the team to prey on a potential Nebraska error, West Virginia will have to improve on its performance from Big 12s, a meet that featured too many counting 9.7s to get above the 196 marker. Kirah Koshinski (duh) and Jaquie Tun have been dreams this year, but they can only pull a lineup into the 49s if there are enough 9.800s around them. Watch those 3-4 spots in particular because with such dangerous play-in teams at this site, a repeat of that Big 12s score shouldn’t be enough for third place here. West Virginia will have to work to get past Illinois/CMU, let alone to challenge the seeds.

With Illinois and Central Michigan as the top 2 teams in the play-in meets, this regional provides the best opportunity for a play-in team to continue its run through to the final day. If Illinois gets through Thursday, the plan will be an exact repeat of Big Tens in every single way. Illinois nailed bars and beam at that meet, and Nebraska was shaky enough on vault for it to matter. The major contextual difference here is that Illinois would have the disadvantage of competing for a second consecutive day, but that’s why teams like Illinois build two-meet weekends into the schedule, to prepare for this exact situation. Illinois just competed in a two-meet road weekend a mere fortnight ago—under major pressure for scores because regionals was not assured—and improved by a half point in the second meet from the first.

Central Michigan’s recent newsiness has once again been about the Jerry Reighard situation rather than the gymnastics (we learned this week the reason he was placed on administrative leave—breaking really obvious and necessary athlete health and safety rules that all coaches have to follow and what did you think was going to happen, and that this was only the most recent of the issues). But also, the team. If Central Michigan gets through Illinois, there’s every reason to think of CMU as the team best poised to pounce on a miss. CMU and West Virginia have recorded scores within two tenths of each other each of the last four weeks and are overall very similar teams. That could go either way.

But really, this one comes down to Nebraska’s performance. The consistency of Nebraska’s gymnastics will decide whether this is interesting or not.

Semifinal #2 – Score Comparison
RQS: 198.010 [1]
Season high: 198.400 [1]
Season average: 197.781 [1]

VT RQS: 49.375 [1]
VT average: 49.265 [1]
UB RQS: 49.590 [1]
UB average: 49.452 [1]
BB RQS: 49.535 [1]
BB average: 49.444 [1]
FX RQS: 49.720 [1]
FX average: 49.621 [1]

RQS: 196.650 [2]
Season high: 197.675 [2]
Season average: 196.250 [2]

VT RQS: 49.155 [2]
VT average: 48.971 [2]
UB RQS: 49.230 [2]
UB average: 49.090 [2]
BB RQS: 49.140 [2]
BB average: 49.035 [2]
FX RQS: 49.305 [2]
FX average: 49.154 [2]

West Virginia
RQS: 195.845 [3]
Season high: 196.425 [4/3]
Season average: 195.473 [3]

VT RQS: 49.050 [3]
VT average: 48.908 [3]
UB RQS: 48.940 [4/3]
UB average: 48.729 [3/4]
BB RQS: 48.830 [4]
BB average: 48.665 [4]
FX RQS: 49.280 [3]
FX average: 49.171 [3]

Illinois/Central Michigan
RQS: 195.805/195.735 [4]
Season high: 196.650/196.250 [3/4]
Season average: 195.160/195.096 [4]

VT RQS: 48.950/48.860 [4]
VT average: 48.721/48.738 [4]
UB RQS:  49.100/48.865 [3/4]
UB average: 48.713/48.752 [4/3]
BB RQS: 49.150/48.955 [3]
BB average: 48.752/48.685 [3]
FX RQS: 49.110/49.080 [4]
FX average: 48.973/48.921 [4]

Semifinal #2 – Rotation-by-rotation NQS
Rotation 1 – UCLA VT, Ill/CMU UB, Nebraska BB, W Virginia FX
1. UCLA – 49.375
2. West Virginia – 49.280
3. Nebraska – 49.140
4. Illinois/CMU – 49.100/48.865

The first rotation presents West Virginia a chance to be in second place, a chance that must be taken for any thought of an upset.

Rotation 2 – W Virginia VT, UCLA UB, Ill/CMU BB, Nebraska FX
1. UCLA – 98.965
2. Nebraska – 98.445
3. West Virginia – 98.330
4. Illinois/CMU – 98.250/97.820

If Illinois advances and is to have a shot and going further, being last after bars and beam would not be an option.

Rotation 3 – Nebraska VT, W Virginia UB, UCLA BB, Ill/CMU FX
1. UCLA – 148.500
2. Nebraska – 147.600
3/4. Illinois/CMU – 147.360/146.900
4/3. West Virginia – 147.270

Nebraska still hasn’t really separated itself at this point, especially from Illinois. And with bars to finish, Nebraska will want a larger margin after 3.

Rotation 4 – Ill/CMU VT, Nebraska UB, W Virginia BB, UCLA FX
1. UCLA – 198.220
2. Nebraska – 196.830
3/4. Illinois/CMU – 196.310/195.760
4/3. West Virginia – 196.100

It shouldn’t be too close, but…

Regional Final

Once again, for the purposes of previewing, let’s assume that the top 4 seeds advance to the regional final. Especially in this case because that meet would be gooooood. UCLA, Michigan, Alabama, Nebraska, with two of the four eliminated? Very here for it.

You still favor UCLA to advance in pretty comfortable fashion. Even if this meet isn’t quite evaluated with the 198-colored glasses we’ve seen on most occasions this year, and even if Michigan, Alabama, and Nebraska all rise to their 197 potential in the regional final, UCLA should still have a counting-fall buffer. Basically, the lineups could perform like they did at Vallapalooza and probably still be OK. What UCLA will definitely not have is a two-fall buffer. So there is some urgency in not falling apart, but with a hit meet, UCLA will advance to nationals.

After that, it gets gritty. Don’t be surprised if a 197 is eliminated in the regional final because Michigan and Alabama will both very much expect to score 197s here—and while Michigan has earned a ranking advantage over Alabama, it’s too close to presume anything as given.

What of Michigan’s status as the home team, then? Er. Historically, Michigan’s home-gym advantage is not nearly to the level of many other teams (though we have seen some exceptions this season). And then there’s the whole home-regional beam disaster of 2016 that’s still fresh in the mind, when being at home wasn’t exactly a huge help. It’s not necessarily a compelling argument to drag a team’s regional history over to later years and totally different rosters, but Michigan’s regional history definitely is checkered: missing out in 2016, then missing out last year when the tables were turned and Michigan traveled to Alabama. Being at home may still provide that little bit of oomph to Michigan in a close race against Alabama, but you’ve got some historical counterarguments against any sense of comfort.

Moving back to the present, Michigan enjoys a ranking advantage over Alabama on vault, bars, and beam, with bars the most compelling of those advantages. As alluded to in the semifinal, Alabama’s bars can get a little 9.850->49.250 because of visits to handstand deduction-opolis, and Michigan will expect to use the scores from Karas and Wojcik to beat that. On vault and beam, Michigan has been more likely to get the big numbers, but those are small, a-single-extended-leg-of Natalie Wojcik-shaped advantages and not an every-meet kind of thing.

One of those two close events will probably need to swing Alabama’s way for the Tide to have a chance at the upset because even though Alabama has recently developed an edge on Michigan with early-lineup floor routines, that in itself probably isn’t enough. Alabama would need to go full Dana Duckworth Beam while Michigan is a little shaky, or really get the vaults to deliver on the landings the way they haven’t yet this year, to make a compelling case.

I don’t mean to frame this entirely as a two-team comparison. Nebraska is supposed to advance to this round and has scored as high as 197.675 this season, a very making-nationals kind of score. The question for Nebraska in this kind of company, however, is whether this can actually be a 197 team on the road. Nebraska’s peak road score this season was the 196.550 from Big Tens. As mentioned above, that 196.550 did not reflect an ideal Nebraska meet by any means, so expectations can be bigger than that…but we haven’t seen it yet. At all. And I don’t really see a score in the 196s, let alone the mid-196s, making it out of this regional final.

In the semifinals, Nebraska will not just have to advance, but prove some new scoring capability to be considered a true contender in the final. Of note, proving new scoring capability in the postseason is sort of Nebraska’s thing. See: nationals 2018 and the victory over Alabama.

Regional Final – Score Comparison
RQS: 198.010 [1]
Season high: 198.400 [1]
Season average: 197.781 [1]

VT RQS: 49.375 [1]
VT average: 49.265 [1]
UB RQS: 49.590 [1]
UB average: 49.452 [1]
BB RQS: 49.535 [1]
BB average: 49.444 [1]
FX RQS: 49.720 [1]
FX average: 49.621 [1]

RQS: 197.320 [2]
Season high: 197.750 [2]
Season average: 196.842 [2]

VT RQS: 49.305 [2]
VT average: 49.185 [3]
UB RQS: 49.355 [2]
UB average: 49.233 [2]
BB RQS: 49.385 [2]
BB average: 49.210 [2]
FX RQS: 49.385 [3]
FX average: 49.213 [3]

RQS: 196.990 [3]
Season high: 197.350 [4]
Season average: 196.658 [3]

VT RQS: 49.235 [3]
VT average: 49.196 [2]
UB RQS: 49.235 [3]
UB average: 49.192 [3]
BB RQS: 49.270 [3]
BB average: 48.965 [4]
FX RQS: 49.410 [2]
FX average: 49.306 [2]

RQS: 196.650 [4]
Season high: 197.675 [3]
Season average: 196.250 [4]

VT RQS: 49.155 [4]
VT average: 48.971 [4]
UB RQS: 49.230 [4]
UB average: 49.090 [4]
BB RQS: 49.140 [4]
BB average: 49.035 [3]
FX RQS: 49.305 [4]
FX average: 49.154 [4]


If things go according to seeding and UCLA and Michigan advance to nationals, then the best candidates to advance in the all-around spot will be Sienna Crouse and Taylor Houchin for Nebraska, or Lexi Graber for Alabama, probably in that order. But there are several other compelling candidates, notably Mary Jane Otto for Illinois, Lauren Bridgens for Penn State, or Denelle Pedrick for Central Michigan. If the reason those seeded teams miss out on nationals is that those top AAers fell, then you open up the conversation to the others.

And of course, if Michigan doesn’t go through, and it’s not because Natalie Wojcik fell, then she’s your favorite for the all-around position.

On the events, vault qualification should get real in this regional. When you have the Nebraska 1.5s, Graber’s 1.5, Shallon Olsen‘s DTY, Denelle Pedrick’s DTY and Kirah Koshinski‘s 1.5, it’s just going to be about the landing on the day.

For the other events, we’ll probably be playing the “anchor routine on the best team that doesn’t advance” game where you look to people like Ari Guerra and Taylor Houchin on floor (and once again add in Wojcik or Karas if Michigan misses out), but I’d also keep an eye on those Penn State bars workers with a chance at an upset.

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