First Round – March 29, 2pm CT – NC State vs Ball State
Semifinal 1 – March 30, 2pm CT – Alabama, Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa
Semifinal 2 – March 30, 7pm CT – Oklahoma, Ohio St, Arkansas, TBD
Final – April 1, 5pm CT
#30 NC State, which made that famous three-meet 2021 run from the play-in to the regional final, faces the darling qualifier of the year, #34 Ball State, which advanced to the elimination meets for the first time since 1999.
Not much separates these teams—no more than a tenth difference on any event—as made clear by their conference championship results, where NC State scored 196.425 to Ball State’s 196.325. Ball State’s score, however, was marked by some counting beam errors for a 48.675, one of their lowest beams of the year. Watch that space.
Ball State’s best event is typically vault, led by the lauded handspring pike 1/2 from Suki Pfister but also featuring a Y1.5 from Victoria Henry that went 9.950 for a stick at the conference championship. Ball State will hope that difficulty provides an edge over NC State’s late-lineup Yurchenko fulls and will look for a lead after both teams have vaulted.
While beam isn’t always NC State’s highest score, it is the team’s most enjoyable event, from the more heralded work of Chloe Negrete and Miss Onodi Herself Alexis Ortega, to elevating details like the beat jump from Emily Shepard and the tuck jump 3/4 from the underrated Macy Jennings in the #2 spot. And let’s be honest, competitions like this almost always come down to whoever throws in the most devastating medium/large error, so if you can survive+ during a beam rotation, you’re in a good place. If Ball State converts in the early rotations, NC State will have a chance to flip it on beam.
Regional Semifinals – Battle to Watch
The Oklahoma/Ohio State/Arkansas/Play-in semifinal presents the battle to watch on Thursday as only the merest of margins separates the seeded #16 Ohio State from the unseeded #17 Arkansas in the race to (presumably) advance alongside Oklahoma. It’s a familiar position for Arkansas, which delivered in the exact same situation last year, then as the unseeded #18 team going up against #16 Arizona State.
The largest NQS difference between Arkansas and Ohio State on any event this year is bars, where Arkansas owns a mighty, mighty .025 advantage. Still, bars should serve as Arkansas’s asset in this semifinal because, after a shaky January outing that evoked the bars anxiety of the 2022 season, Arkansas has found its way on the event in 2023, showing crispness of handstands and body position as well as amplitude of double layout dismounts that could be key here. Well, what’s actually key for Arkansas is not having a total meltdown rotation somewhere in the meet, a phenomenon that has cropped up too many times again this year. But, in terms of the subtleties of execution, bars.
Arkansas will also hope that Kennedy Hambrick is finding her season just in time. It has been a rough year overall, but Hambrick’s last few beam outings have been solid, and she added her Yurchenko 1.5 back to the vault lineup at SECs, giving Arkansas a potential 3-to-1 advantage in 10.0 starts. If Hambrick is on at regionals, that’s a difference-maker that wouldn’t necessarily show up in the rankings.
Ohio State has put together the far more even season than Arkansas has, never dipping into the 195s and owning a distinct advantage in the average score department that gets weeded out some by NQS. If this regional chooses chaos, you like Ohio State to weather that the best.
Ohio State will also be keen to deliver in the floor department. At conference championships, Ohio State notched better overall total and better floor scores than Arkansas, despite having a moderate-to-severe case of the podium bouncies for one of their weakest FX totals of the year. In fact, neither team has really scored on floor lately (Ball State beat both on floor at conference championships, and NC State has the better numbers on floor this month), so if Ohio State can put together a good landing day, culminating in Elexis Edwards opening out of her double backs for no deduction, that would go a long way to asserting dominance.
In the other regional semifinal, Alabama and Kentucky should be considered strong enough favorites that either would have to count a fall to start being vulnerable to Illinois and Iowa, but as Iowa will know from last year, when a big team has a big mess, there’s room to beat them.
Regional Final – Battle to Watch
If everything runs on schedule in the semifinals and Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, and Ohio State/Arkansas advance to the last day, then the regional final should give us the delicious slap-fight between #8 Alabama and #9 Kentucky we’ve all been waiting for.
Certainly, no team is going to be immune from a meltdown or would expect to advance with a multi-counting-fall performance, but Oklahoma has enough of a scoring advantage that counting a single fall in the regional final probably wouldn’t be enough to jeopardize anything. Oklahoma hasn’t scored under 197.925 since January, which is higher than Kentucky’s program record.
As for Alabama and Kentucky, things had been trending Kentucky’s way in recent weeks, with Kentucky outscoring Alabama by an average of 8 tenths over the last two meets of the regular season as Alabama put up some misses. Which is why it was particularly important for Alabama to have such a strong SEC showing and outscore Kentucky, both to get into this regional in the first place and to prove competitiveness in the quest to advance.
Perhaps the most surprising development between these two teams this season has been Alabama seeing its bars ranking plummet from #3 in 2022 to #13 in 2023 despite returning five of six from last year’s lineup and despite the eye test still telling us that this should be perhaps their best event. If Alabama can find the landings on bars and mitigate the advantage that Kentucky has seen this year (and reinforced at SECs), that would bode well for the Tide since beam and floor, when hit at least, have tended to come through with higher scores for those big hitters at the ends of lineups.
Kentucky has put together what is probably its best team ever in 2023, (the Korth/Dukes/Hyland crew might have something to say about that), but the biggest reason this year’s team owns 5 of the 6 highest totals in program history—aside from the gestures at everything—is the progress made on vault. Kentucky is now matching Alabama exactly on start values with an opening Yfull followed by five 10.0s and, thanks to superior landing control from Club Handspring, has developed a scoring advantage over Alabama, which has tended to be more slidely and lungey on those Y1.5s. That advantage did not manifest at SECs, one of the big reasons Alabama beat Kentucky, so Kentucky is going to need that to come back in order to flip the result at regionals.
Individual qualification sees the top-ranked AAer and top-ranked performer on each event who are not part of a qualifying team advance to nationals as individuals, based on the scores from the regional semifinals.
In the all-around, the smart money would be on either Luisa Blanco of Alabama or Raena Worley of Kentucky to advance as the all-arounder, whichever team doesn’t make it as a group. Lilly Hudson would also be right there for Alabama should the team not qualify.
The best bets for spoilers would probably be Payton Harris of Ohio State and Norah Flatley of Arkansas. Flatley tied Hudson and Worley on 39.500 at SECs, a mark also reached by Iowa’s Jerquavia Henderson that day for her career high.
On the events, who ever knows. The anchor of the best team that doesn’t qualify. And if it is an Alabama/Kentucky race to the finish for the second spot, expect the team that comes up short to get a bunch of individuals.
But if you’re looking for possibilities beyond that, vault presents a real opportunity for Ball State to get Suki Pfister to nationals as an individual, while beam is probably the best chance for several of the other teams. Illinois will try to get Mia Takekawa in there, Iowa will have Adeline Kenlin as a contender, and Arkansas will have Flatley. On floor, Jerquavia Henderson is a compelling choice, though Ohio State will view Elexis Edwards’ routine as perhaps their best individual event chance, and Arkansas will hope to be right in there if it’s a good day for Lauren Williams and Frankie Price.
3 thoughts on “Oklahoma Regional Preview”
What deductions does Elexis (OSU) get for opening up early in her double backs?
It’s not a deduction.
Kennedy Hambrick is recovering from appendicitis and will not compete – so that advantage for Arkansas is gone.
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