The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Onward to Nationals

Now that a solid 90% of us have had a chance to recover from the Salt Lake Heart Disease regional, we know which 8 teams and which individuals have advanced to nationals. So let’s run through it.


SEMIFINAL #1 – April 16, 12:00 CT

[1] Florida – Bars
[4] Michigan – Beam
[5] Cal – Floor
[8] Minnesota – Vault

If I were to pick a semifinal to be in, this is the one I’d pick. The top 8 teams all advanced this year, so we don’t have a horribly unbalanced semifinal setup like last time where most of the top teams ended up in the first session, but there are fewer juggernauts in this semifinal. Florida and Michigan will be favored to advance to the final and did produce the two highest scores from this group at regionals (Florida’s 197.950 in the semi and Michigan’s 198.100 in the final), but we saw enough shaky moments from both teams at various times—what with Florida’s near apocalypse in the regional final and Michigan’s trouble beam in the regional semifinal—that this one shouldn’t be considered finished.  


SEMIFINAL #2 – April 16, 5:00 CT

[2] Oklahoma – Bars
[3] LSU – Floor
[6] Utah – Beam
[7] Alabama – Vault

Ooof. So this is going to get interesting. If any team feels safe in this group it will be Oklahoma, which proved by outscoring Alabama in Alabama that it should be a step above the chaos, even if no one ends up being a disaster. But honestly every team here will consider itself a favorite to advance. LSU is ranked to make the final, but—putting it at its most charitable—LSU is lucky to be here after a beam rotation in the regional final that should have been about a 49.000 or 49.100 and scored 49.525. Now, when you take into account other overscores for all the teams, the controversy isn’t quite as clear-cut as it seems from that last rotation alone, but Arizona State and Kentucky have at least an argument that the fix was in.

Regardless, LSU’s performances at regionals were not top-4 quality and would be beatable in a national semifinal. Utah outcompeted LSU on both days of regionals and will certainly fancy its chances because of that, while Alabama defeated LSU at SECs—though does have some issues of its own to resolve since Alabama’s final scores at regionals were in the 197.5s (sort of pedestrian in this group) and came with the benefit of some very loose scoring. Like LSU, Alabama would need to improve on regionals to make the final here.   


EVENT DRAW

No aggressively significant developments in the rotation draws, though we do see Michigan starting on beam. That did not go super great in the regional semifinal and will be an early benchmark at nationals. LSU has the same rotation order as it did in the regional final, ending on beam, which…well I was going to say it also didn’t go great for them, but they’re here. So I guess it did.


CHAMPIONSHIP DRAW – April 17, 2:30 CT

For future reference.

Vault – 1st place, Semifinal 2
Bars – 2nd place, Semifinal 2
Beam – 2nd place, Semifinal 1
Floor – 1st place, Semifinal 1

The random draw typically causes ire because it doesn’t necessarily reward performance in the semifinals with the best event order. This year will be no exception because the people who advance from the first semifinal got the duds.


INDIVIDUALS

National individual titles are awarded based on scores in the semifinals, and from this point six judges are used on each event, with four scores counting. That is ostensibly to separate the scores a little more and avoid having ties for event championships. Meanwhile, we had a four-way tie for the vault and floor titles last time.

The four all-around qualifiers making it out of regionals were Lynnzee Brown (Denver), Chae Campbell (UCLA), Kennedy Hambrick (Arkansas), and Hannah Scharf (Arizona State). Of those, Lynnzee Brown should be in the main hunt for the national all-around title. The title race at this point is sort of up in the air depending on whether Trinity Thomas is able to return on all four events at full strength—in which case she would be the favorite—or whether co-favorite status goes to Brown and Lexy Ramler (with a whole host of others, I know, we’ll get there). One thing to watch out for with Brown’s scores compared to normal is that, competing as an individual, her beam routine will now anchor the Florida lineup instead of leading off the Denver lineup. That could change things. 

Historically, discussion of scores rising in the second semifinal at NCAAs has been overstated. In 2019, the scores were much higher in the first semifinal, which corresponded to stronger teams being in the first semifinal. In fact, qualifying teams tend to prefer being placed in the first semifinal because it allows for more rest before the final. That’s especially true this year because the final will be in the afternoon for the live ABC broadcast, which means the teams advancing from the second semifinal will have just 17.5 hours between the conclusion of the semifinal and the start of open stretch for the final (which doesn’t even take into the account the interminable individual awards ceremony that is scheduled after the second semifinal).

But, as for individual scores, it’s worth noting that Thomas, Ramler, and Brown would all be competing in the first semifinal, while many of the members of the next tier like Webb and O’Keefe, and Blanco compete in the second semifinal. So…a test of the theory.

The individual qualifiers are as follows:
Vault – Raena Worley, Kentucky; Angelica Labat, Illinois State; Nia Dennis, UCLA; Madi Dagen, Oregon State
Bars – Maggie O’Hara, Arkansas; Cairo Leonard-Baker, Arizona State; Marz Frazier UCLA; Hannah Demers, CMU
Beam – Bailey Bunn, Kentucky; Sydney Shaffer, Missouri; Morgan Tong, CMU; Hannah Joyner, Rutgers
Floor – Hannah McCrary, Missouri; Abbey Miner-Alder, BYU; Emily Shepard, NC State; Malia Hargrove, Arizona

Expect the usual AA suspects to dominate the event titles as well, especially as most of the top non-team event contenders were not able to advance as individuals (Emily Muhlenhaupt for bars, Elizabeth Culton for beam, Lauren Guerin for floor). Ramler, Thomas, Brown, O’Keefe, Johnson, Bryant, Webb, Wojcik. You know, the people.

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