Category Archives: Meet Preview

National Semifinal #1: The Preview

April 20, 12:00 CT

Teams (starting event)
[2] LSU (beam)
[3] UCLA (vault)
[6] Alabama (bars)
[10] Arkansas (bye before floor)
[11] Nebraska (bye before bars)
[18] Georgia (floor)

Individuals
Brianna Brown, Michigan – AA (rotating w/ LSU)
Cairo Leonard-Baker, Arizona State – AA (rotating w/ UCLA)
Drew Watson, Auburn – AA (rotating w/ Alabama)
Lauren Bridgens, Penn State – AA (rotating w/ Arkansas)
Jovannah East, Bowling Green – AA (rotating w/ Nebraska)
Lynnzee Brown, Denver – AA (rotating w/ Georgia)
Samantha Cerio, Auburn – UB (rotating w/ UCLA)
Jamie Stone, Ohio State – VT (rotating w/ Arkansas)
Abby Milliet, Auburn – BB (rotating w/ Nebraska)

How the upset happens
Because that’s what we’re all here for. In this semifinal, we have a fairly clear separation in ranking and scoring potential with three favorites to advance to Super Six in LSU, UCLA, and Alabama, and three challengers in Arkansas, Nebraska, and Georgia.

But that’s boring. The whole point of the semifinal round is to see if anyone can knock out the favorites, otherwise we could just advance the top six right to the final. So, here’s what the bottom-three teams need to do to make it good.

Nebraska
For Nebraska, the path to the upset is more or less “do exactly what you did at regionals, and you’re in with a good shot.” Nebraska’s regional score ranks in the top three among the teams in this semifinal and reflected a performance well above the level of Nebraska’s #11 ranking. That’s what it will take for one of these bottom-three teams to advance. Other than waiting for meltdown-city to arrive for one of the big-girl teams (always possible, but you can’t assume it), making Super Six means performing way better than during the season, which is what Nebraska just did.

Maintaining that level is not a given. Taking the season as a whole, that regionals performance was an outlier, featuring a score (197.525) that’s four tenths higher than Nebraska’s previous high and outpaces the team’s RQS by a significant margin on every event. Proving that level is the new normal is still a major task. Continue reading National Semifinal #1: The Preview

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Onward to St. Louis

We now know which lucky ducklings have advanced to nationals, so let’s set this scene for St. Louis. Just over a week to go!

Remember that we don’t have event finals anymore, so event titles are awarded based on the first day of competition, just like the all-around title. Six judges are used instead of four, with the high and the low dropped and the remaining four scores averaged, which as we learned last year gives us some really ugly decimal places like 9.8625. These extra judges were added to avoid having a thousand people get the same score and tie for titles. Unrelated: There was a six-way tie for the bars title last year.

Full draw


Semifinal #1 – April 20, 12:00 CT

[2] LSU – Beam
[3] UCLA – Vault
[6] Alabama – Bars
[10] Arkansas – Bye before floor
[11] Nebraska – Bye before bars
[18] Georgia – Floor

The significant story in this first group of six is Georgia’s very existence following its upset of #7 Michigan at regionals, an upset that turned inside out what should have been the more competitive of the two semifinals. Georgia claimed the spot at nationals when Michigan struggled through its regional performance while Georgia…also struggled through its regional performance? At least for the first two events. We’ll remember that one for a while because anyone who watched the first half of the meet would have thought there was no possible way Georgia could advance and that Illinois had the upset locked. But then no other team did noticeably better than Georgia, so it turned out that a theoretically disqualifying 48.950 floor score was a totally useful and respectable number in that meet.

The importance of rotation order also should not be overlooked in that one. Georgia got to end on its better events while Illinois had to start on its better events and end on its worst event. In a close meet, that kind of thing can make a difference. Continue reading Onward to St. Louis

Tuscaloosa Regional Preview

April 7, 4:00 CT, University of Alabama

Qualifying to nationals: Top 2 teams, top 2 all-arounders not on advancing teams, any event winners not on advancing teams

Teams (starting event)
[6] Alabama (floor)
[7] Michigan (beam)
[18] Georgia (bye before floor)
[22] Missouri (bye before bars)
[23] Illinois (bars)
[36] Central Michigan (vault)

Individual competitors
Ashley Potts, Northern Illinois (AA)
Madison Cindric, Arizona (AA)
Katherine Prentice, Northern Illinois (AA)
Mikailla Northern, Illinois-Chicago (AA)
Kierstin Sokolowski, Lindenwood (VT, BB)
Schyler Jones, TWU (VT)
Christina Berg, Arizona (UB)
Serena Baker, Illinois-Chicago (UB)
Mallory Moredock, TWU (BB)
Anna Martucci, Northern Illinois (FX)
Alexis Brawner, SEMO (FX)

The favorites

And so we move to our final regional, the giddily anticipated Alabama-Michigan-Georgia clash. It’s quite considerate of Georgia this year (like Stanford two years ago) to be ranked so low that the traditional snoozer 6-7-18 regional suddenly becomes the most interesting one. Theoretically. A poignant gift in the year we say goodbye to this trash format.

Still, the fundamental nature of the 6-7-18 regional is that it features two excellent teams that have proven their ability to score significantly better than the other schools in the meet and will go through with cleanly hit competitions. That’s the story for Alabama and Michigan here. For as dangerous as Georgia is (and Missouri and Illinois are), Alabama and Michigan will expect comfortable 197s for good meets at this point, and that’s going to be enough to advance.

A great day (yet realistic in an away, postseason context) for the other teams here would be a high 196, as score that would constitute a semi-miss for Alabama or Michigan. That doesn’t necessarily mean a counting fall. The somewhat sloppy bars rotation from Alabama at SECs took the final total down to 196.975, which would almost certainly still be enough to advance but would start to verge on a dangerous result. And if either Alabama or Michigan do count a fall, Georgia will expect to beat them.

If both teams hit their normal meets, however, it’s likely that they’ll simply be competing with each other for the entirely meaningless accolade of regional champion, a competition with very little to differentiate the two teams from each other. Beam is the strength and most pleasant event on which to watch both, but you worry about the full-lineup competitiveness on the power events when it comes to nationals. They’re really very similar teams.

Continue reading Tuscaloosa Regional Preview

University Park Regional Preview

April 7, 4:00 ET, Penn State University

Qualifying to nationals: Top 2 teams, top 2 all-arounders not on advancing teams, any event winners not on advancing teams

Teams (starting event)
[5] Florida (floor)
[8] Washington (beam)
[17] Arizona State (bye before floor)
[27] West Virginia (bye before bars)
[29] Penn State (bars)
[30] New Hampshire (vault)

Individual competitors
Jacey Baldovino, Yale (AA)
Jade Buford, Yale (AA)
Kelsey Campbell, Bridgeport (AA)
Libby Groden, Rutgers (AA)
Sahara Gipson, Temple (VT)
Jaylene Everett, Temple (VT)
Jessica Wang, Yale (UB)
Kelli Tereshko, Bridgeport (UB)
Makenzey Shank, Rutgers (BB)
Kathryn Doran, Bridgeport (BB)
Maya Reimers, Bridgeport (FX)
Alex Hartke, Penn (FX)

The favorite

It hasn’t been quite the season expected of Florida so far, but Florida should nonetheless have this regional locked down. At SECs, we saw the Gators go 196.825 in a meet that included a counting fall, a score that would also be high enough to advance out of this regional. That means Florida doesn’t need to have figured out floor yet to get to nationals, but also yeah you do because it’s floor and come on.

Lost in Florida’s counting a fall on floor at SECs were the other three rotations, events where Florida performed at an excellent level that would have won the conference title and would have been a “Florida’s a thing again!” moment if maintained for all four pieces. That level reflected a definite step up from what we saw most of the regular season—particularly on beam. Of course, none of that mattered because of the weak floor rotation, something that cannot be dismissed just as “one of those things” because it’s not the first time that has happened in recent weeks. It’s two of the last three meets now, and it’s not even beam. Florida is having much more trouble filling out a competitive floor lineup in the post-Baker era than expected.

This is not for lack of options. Boren, Baumann, McMurtry, Slocum, Foberg, Gowey, Skaggs, Hundley, McLaughlin. More than enough strong gymnasts to be competitive. But which ones? Florida still has to figure out its best six and ensure that it’s not simply a lineup that can hit, but a lineup that starts at 9.850 (at least) and goes up from there because that’s what it will take to contend. “Hitting floor” is not the goal here. Winning nationals is the goal here. When those are your expectations, a hit for 9.775 is basically a fall—because neither is going to get it done. Lately, Florida has really had only the one definite 9.9 in the lineup, Boren. And that’s a problem.

This dynamic adds a little extra intrigue to Florida’s floor performance in the first rotation of this regional, but it’s weird intrigue because…it’s floor. Why are we even talking about whether Florida is going to hit floor? There’s no reason that rotation should be even in the vicinity of worrisome. It’s going to be fine. But will it though?

The fight

The second spot is Washington’s to lose. Washington outscores Arizona State most weeks, has gone into the 197s four times, and has five meet scores this season higher than ASU’s best. At the same time, this thing is close enough to be alive, and Washington will not feel completely comfortable heading in, especially after Pac-12s. Arizona State finished just three tenths behind Washington at Pac-12s, and that was with Washington performing in the evening session and Arizona State in the afternoon. The margin was just a half-tenth or so on most events, which is far too slim to be ignored. Continue reading University Park Regional Preview

Salt Lake City Regional Preview

April 7, 4:00 MT, University of Utah

Qualifying to nationals: Top 2 teams, top 2 all-arounders not on advancing teams, any event winners not on advancing teams

Teams (starting event)
[4] Utah (floor)
[9] Cal (beam)
[16] Auburn (bye before floor)
[21] BYU (bye before bars)
[26] Stanford (bars)
[32] Southern Utah (vault)

Individual competitors
Kelley Hebert, UC Davis (AA)
Alexis Brown, UC Davis (AA)
Annie Juarez, Sacramento State (AA)
Caitlin Soliwoda, Sacramento State (AA)
Ellie Pascoe-Long, San Jose State (VT, FX)
Taylor Chan, San Jose State (VT, FX)
Kaitlin Won, San Jose State (UB)
Gabby Landess, UC Davis (UB)
Courtney Soliwoda, Sacramento State (BB)
Stephanie Relova, San Jose State (BB)

The favorite

36 years and counting. Utah is the only team to have advanced to NCAA gymnastics nationals in all 36 years in which that has been a thing that exists. (Alabama’s streak is 35 years, just missing 1982.) That streak will end one day, but this should not be the day. Utah comes in as the host of this regional and the definite favorite to advance in first place.

Utah may have slightly less margin for error in the quest to win this regional, having lost to Cal earlier this year and finishing .400 ahead of Cal at Pac-12s, but Utah will nonetheless expect a hit-meet advantage somewhere around 7 tenths over anyone else. That means Utah will still be able to advance with a slightly off meet (as shown in that Pac-12s performance) and likely advance even if counting a fall. Multiple things would have to go wrong for this to get interesting.

I expect Utah will enjoy this rotation order, even though floor-to-beam is totally the worst order, because beam is still the biggest question mark for the Utes in terms of confidence in hitting and the lineup (Burch or Soloski?). It’s also the one event where Cal outscored Utah at Pac-12s—and probably Auburn’s best event as well. If everything goes to plan, Utah will have used 49.4s to build up enough of a margin with the other three events that it takes pressure off the beam performance. We’ll know if Utah has the luxury of counting a fall before the team goes to beam.

The fight
 
In this second half of the six regionals, we enter meets where there’s a real ranking difference between the #2 and #3 seeds built on actual advantages/weaknesses exposed during the season, less like the total 50-50 affairs we see in the 12-13 and 11-14 regionals. In this one, Cal will enter as a favorite befitting its 7-spot ranking advantage, though not a prohibitive favorite. There’s not a fall between these teams. More like a couple landings. Continue reading Salt Lake City Regional Preview

Columbus Regional Preview

April 7, 6:00 ET, Ohio State State University

Qualifying to nationals: Top 2 teams, top 2 all-arounders not on advancing teams, any event winners not on advancing teams

Teams (starting event)
[3] UCLA (floor)
[10] Arkansas (beam)
[15] Boise State (bye before floor)
[25] Ohio State (bye before bars)
[33] Pittsburgh (bars)
[34] Kent State (vault)

Individual competitors
Jovannah East, Bowling Green (AA)
Lea Mitchell, Michigan State (AA)
Emili Dobronics, Eastern Michigan (AA)
Morgan Spence, Western Michigan (AA)
Rachael Underwood, Western Michigan (VT, FX)
Lauren DeMeno, Bowling Green (VT)
Hailee Westney, Michigan State (UB)
Kendall Valentin, Eastern Michigan (UB)
Laura Mitchell, Bowling Green (BB)
India McPeak, Bowling Green (BB)
Tia Kiaku, Ball State (FX)

The favorite

Like the other top-ranked teams, UCLA will head into this regional with the luxury of being able to make mistakes and still advance. The Bruins haven’t recorded a score that would be remotely dangerous at regionals since the very first week of the season, and even in semi-problematic meets like Pac-12s when UCLA counted a half-fall on bars, the total was still 197.500—more than high enough to advance comfortably out of a regional. With a real hit, UCLA will expect to win this one by a full point, meaning it would take more than just a counting fall to make things interesting for the top spot.

This is where I’m supposed to talk about vault (because the start values!), but I’m actually going to talk about bars. Bars was expected to be a strength for the Bruins this season, and while the bars performances have been good enough, a rotation that’s kind of 9.825-9.850y until Lee and Ross show up to save the day is not going to win a national championship against the other top bars rotations. At this point, UCLA is not going to change its start values on vault (or, whatever, UCLA things), but cleaning up those mid-bars landings and handstands is something that can still be achieved and will be necessary if UCLA is to be a legitimate title challenger. Watch for that progress at regionals.

The fight

A huge opportunity for both teams. Arkansas and Boise State couldn’t really have asked for a better draw, not tasked with having to beat a traditional power, and both will like their chances of getting through to nationals out of this meet. Of course, there can be only one.

This has been a magnificent season for Arkansas, coming back from the disappointment of 2017 to rank in the top 10 once again. We knew it would be better, but not that much better. As much as having Wellick again has buoyed the team’s performance, just as much of the credit (if not more) goes to new competitors like Shaffer and Carter and improved returners like Garner, forced to transform from a bars/beam specialist into an all-arounder because that’s what the team needed from her. Continue reading Columbus Regional Preview

Raleigh Regional Preview

April 7, 4:00 ET, North Carolina State University

Qualifying to nationals: Top 2 teams, top 2 all-arounders not on advancing teams, any event winners not on advancing teams

Teams (starting event)
[2] LSU (floor)
[11] Nebraska (beam)
[14] Oregon State (bye before floor)
[19] George Washington (bye before bars)
[20] NC State (bars)
[31] Maryland (vault)

Individual competitors
Morgan Lane, North Carolina (AA)
Katie Waldman, William & Mary (AA)
Mary Elle Arduino, Towson (AA)
Taylor White, William & Mary (AA)
Khazia Hislop, North Carolina (VT, BB, FX)
Madison Nettles, North Carolina (VT)
Tyra McKellar, Towson (UB)
Kaitlynn Hedelund, North Carolina (UB)
Gabriella Yarussi, Towson (BB)
Mikayla Robinson, North Carolina (FX)

The favorite

Top-to-bottom, this is the deepest and toughest of the six regionals, but LSU is far enough ahead of the rest of the teams that it should be impervious to the upset mixer. From week to week, LSU has been scoring somewhere around a point higher than the other teams here, and even early in the season when LSU was a little scrappy and counting errors, the final totals were still 197.1s and 197.2s. Those are advancing scores. (A 197 has never not advanced from regionals—the highest score ever to miss out being Auburn’s 196.700 from 2013). LSU should have the luxury of counting a fall here and still getting through.

LSU did expose itself to side-eye-level concern at the conference championship with an only-OK performance that reflected a dip in level rather than a rise toward the postseason—no 9.9s at all on floor, a fall on vault accompanied by lunges on the 10.0 starts. LSU will need to pick up the quality of the landings, particularly on the leg events, to look like a title threat again heading to St. Louis.

That vault lineup remains fascinating because it’s still so unresolved. Priessman didn’t vault at SECs, but if LSU can’t rely on 1.5s from Harrold or Cannamela (which at this point looks to be the case)…do you go with Priessman, who has done the 1.5 once this year and who has Priessman-legs, or do you go with just the three 10.0 starts and hope that holds up versus Oklahoma’s four? Choices choices.

The fight

The fight is not limited to only two teams in this one, with George Washington and NC State entering as nearly equal contenders to the seeded teams, but if either Nebraska or Oregon State goes 196.8+ (which OSU has done five times this year and Nebraska four), that probably seals the second spot as a battle between the two of them and cuts off the unseeded challenges. So let’s start with our seeds.

Nebraska owns the ranking advantage, built on scoring higher at road meets compared to Oregon State, which hasn’t often ventured out of the 196.5 zone on the road. RQS is Nebraska’s friend in 2018, rewarding those highs on the road while dropping struggle meets like the Big Five, but if we were going by average, Oregon State would be ranked higher than Nebraska, having been the more consistent of the two teams this year. Continue reading Raleigh Regional Preview