Category Archives: NCAA Gymnastics Nationals

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.

National Championship Headquarters

As is tradition now, both days of nationals will be brought to you live on the ESPN family of networks, starting with the first semifinal on ESPN2, then the second semifinal on ESPNU (and then ESPN2 as well but missing the first half hour), and the Saturday team final on ESPNU.

So, the links.

Friday, April 19
Scores Stream
Info
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – Semifinal #1
[2] UCLA
[3] LSU
[5] Utah
[6] Michigan
LINK ESPN2
Quad
Vault
Bars
Beam
Floor
Preview

Rotations

Projected lineups/
Regional scores

7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Semifinal #2
[1] Oklahoma
[4] Denver
[7] Georgia
[8] Oregon State
LINK ESPNU
Quad
Vault
Bars
Beam
Floor

Preview

Rotations

Projected lineups/
Regional scores

Saturday, April 20
Scores Stream
Info
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Team Final
LINK ESPNU
Quad
Vault
Bars
Beam
Floor

Preview

Rotations

The dedicated event feeds and four-event quad windows are ESPN3 coverage (for which access is done through ISPs), so if you’ve been able to watch those MAC home meets on ESPN3 in the past, you’ll be able to watch the good stuff here.

National Championship Preview: For the Win?

Team Title

I hesitate to do any kind of real or deep dive into the team title conversation right now because, first, we don’t know who the four advancing teams are and, second, we don’t know how everyone is going to look in the semifinal. I should wait and do a more informed preview that Saturday morning after the semifinals and before the team final, but I think we all know that’s not going to happen.

So…Oklahoma and UCLA, right? They are comfortably out in front by NQS, had the two highest scores from the regional finals, have been 1-2 all season long, own 2/3 of the 198s recorded this season, and…the list could go on and on. The margins in college gymnastics are too close to be confident…but Oklahoma and UCLA.

The argument for Oklahoma begins with vault. Oklahoma will put up a lineup with six 10.0-start Y1.5s, while UCLA is looking at putting up a couple fulls and has been more inconsistent with the overall landings on the 1.5s it does have. When Oklahoma has a lunge on a 1.5, it can drop that score and count the five other 1.5s in the lineup, but when UCLA has a big lunge on a 1.5 for 9.825, that score can’t be replaced as easily. That dynamic has carried Oklahoma to an NQS advantage of .170 over UCLA, the largest difference between these two teams on any single event.

The second-largest difference belongs to UCLA on floor with a lineup that owns a .150 advantage over Oklahoma there. When at its strongest, we’ve seen this UCLA floor lineup start with something like 9.925 from Frazier and not dip below that mark for the entire six routines, ending with what is a almost an auto-10 from Ohashi. Those big scores have become such a given that the only real question we have about UCLA’s floor heading into nationals is Tratz or Dennis for the lineup?

Meanwhile, floor has been Oklahoma’s low event with its most depleted lineup that has resulted in an NQS of (GASP) 49.570. You know, so bad. But it’s true that Oklahoma can get a little more 9.850y through the Draper and Schoepfer/LaPinta portion of the lineup, which makes the potential for a Maggie floor comeback so influential because she can erase much of that floor deficit we’ve seen develop this year. Continue reading National Championship Preview: For the Win?

National Championship Preview: Semifinal of Life

Semifinal #2 – April 19, 6:00 CT
[1] Oklahoma
[5] Denver
[8] Georgia
[15] Oregon State

If the other semifinal is the mean one, the deadly one, this semifinal is the bright forest of generosity, presenting an opportunity for a team you would never have expected to advance to the team final. Chances are you didn’t have Denver, Georgia, or Oregon State making 4F (trying to get it to catch on…it won’t) when the season started, but one will. Bottom line: none of these teams could have dreamed of a better scenario for themselves at nationals.

That includes Oklahoma, which will be much safer in this semifinal than UCLA will be as the top seed in the other semifinal. Here, a 197.3-197.4 would be an excellent performance for either Denver or Georgia. Even if they both manage it, that’s a score Oklahoma can beat even while counting a fall. It’s a risky game to say that a team can count a fall and still advance from a four-team semifinal (because theoretically the national standard is too tight to allow that), but Oklahoma…probably…maybe…could. With a hit meet, Oklahoma is through to Saturday without question.

On the other side of the rankings in this semifinal, we have Oregon State. Just by making it to nationals, Oregon State has tied the mark for its best season since 1995. Especially following last year’s (misleading but still real) 27th-place finish after a regionals disaster, this accomplishment must be exceptionally gratifying. Oregon State had missed nationals in 4 of the previous 6 seasons and really needed this. What’s unique is that this turnaround wasn’t accomplished with a “THE FRESHMAN CLASS HAS REVOLUTIONIZED US” talent infusion. Madi Dagen has been a big help, sure, but for the most part this team is the same. Just better.

As for results, Oregon State has already completed its big upset. That was getting to nationals. Beyond that, there’s not an obvious path to the team final for Oregon State that doesn’t involve help and a messy meet from other teams. Always possible. Oregon State’s best road score of the entire season is still just 196.650, which is not going to be enough here. Even if we allow for some improvement on that (because that was mid-season and the team is better now), a 197.0 or 197.1 would signify an absolutely excellent day and would be a wholly gratifying performance…and I still don’t expect that to be high enough to make the team final.

So let’s talk about Denver and Georgia. I love that these two teams will be fighting it out for a qualification spot because it’s a battle of contrasts. New money versus old money. Continue reading National Championship Preview: Semifinal of Life

National Championship Preview: Semifinal of Death

Semifinal #1 – April 19, 12:00 CT
[2] UCLA
[3] LSU
[6] Utah
[7] Michigan

The simplest framing of this semifinal has UCLA advancing and LSU and Utah fighting it out for the second spot in the national championship. That is the most likely outcome, but it’s also an overly simplistic characterization. UCLA has to hit and hit well to avoid getting into trouble. The days of “you’re good enough to be bad” ended with regionals. And Michigan, with its 197.275 for an only-OK day in the regional final (a score that outpaced both of Utah’s own regional totals), is not out of this by any means and does not need something crazy to happen to get through.

For that simple framing to be upended, however, UCLA would first need to make a mistake. The precedent of the season tells us that if UCLA goes through this meet 24-for-24 (or 20-for-24 as long as they’re the right 20), then UCLA will have enough leadoff 9.9s and anchor 10s to outscore the rest of the field. It’s still a “hit and you advance” meet for UCLA. What’s changed is the margin for error. LSU and Utah are close enough that even a minor mistake that results in an inopportune counting 9.6 would bring UCLA back to the pack.

For Michigan to upend that simple framing, there’s a degree to which the team will have to outperform its normal. While we have seen big scores this season from Michigan—the kind of scores that will advance from the national semifinals—the typical performance has garnered a lower number than a typical performance from the other three teams. Still, if you look at the assembled score rankings at the very bottom, the two places where Michigan ranks in blue are the regional final scores on beam and floor. Michigan upended the regular season norm there, and now has to keep that going…while adding two more events. Just that.

Turning to the LSU/Utah comparison, so far this season we have seen an LSU team that is consistently just a little shred better than Utah. We saw that at the GQ Invite when LSU finished .175 ahead, and we saw that at the regional final when LSU finished .250 ahead. These are not large or decisive margins—and I wouldn’t anticipate a large or decisive margin in this semifinal either—but they are margins.

Yet in those score rankings at the bottom, you’ll see that the majority of places where Utah does have the advantage are average score categories. Vault average, floor average, season average (by only a smidge, but still higher). That’s because Utah has been the more consistent this season—didn’t have that slow start, didn’t lose conference meets it should have won.

It tells us that Utah is not as likely to reach the same peak score as LSU but will record the more predictable score and more predictable performance, one that LSU will either beat by having an excellent day, or lose to by having a fine day. We’ve seen both of them and we’ve seen both of them recently.

If LSU is to have that excellent day, it will be essential to bridge the vault gap. Utah ranks as the best team in this entire semifinal on vault, while LSU has shown a tendency to lunge for 9.850. In fact, vault is the only event where LSU does not rank in the top 2 in this semifinal despite having the most 10.0 starts of any of these teams. The Tigers must turn those vault landings around because if LSU does find a way to match Utah’s vault scores here, it becomes increasingly difficult to map Utah’s route to a top-2 finish.

For Utah, take that exact project, but swap out vault for beam. Utah ranks last in this semifinal on beam and will have to watch out. And not just watch out for falls (that’s immediate death at nationals), but watch out for OK. Even something like a hit for 49.200 probably doesn’t do you any good anymore. A 49.2 is basically a zero, and a 9.825 is basically a fall when the teams are this strong.

That’s why much of this semifinal will hinge on which team can best minimize its theoretical disadvantage. Who doesn’t get a disqualifyingly low score? Because it’s not about winning the meet. It’s about not losing to two of the teams. So if you’re staying 49.350, that’s not a WOW score on an apparatus that will go down in history, but across the events, it starts to add up to the kind of number that will advance to Saturday.

Continue reading National Championship Preview: Semifinal of Death

Onward to Fort Worth!

After that whirlwind weekend (as long as you consider Thursday part of the weekend, which you don’t, because it’s not), we now know which teams have advanced to the national championship and which teams think this new postseason format is a terrible idea.

FULL DRAW

Now, to set the scene.


SEMIFINAL #1 – April 19, 12:00 CT

[2] UCLA – Vault
[3] LSU – Beam
[6] Utah – Floor
[7] Michigan – Bars

Congratulations, you got the bad one. The hard one. All of the top-seeded teams advanced from this side of the draw—including what is now 4 of the top 6 teams at nationals overall—and we have just 2 spots remaining for them in the team final.

UCLA is the only team that will be comfortable with this draw because UCLA was going to be a major favorite to advance to the final regardless of the draw. UCLA hit 198 in the regional final, and used a B+ squad to go 197.675 in the semifinal, which still outpaced the scores for any of these others teams over either day of regional competition. The other three are in the danger zone.

LSU is your seeded favorite for the second spot, but Utah will look at Saturday’s result—finishing just .250 behind LSU at LSU—and feel it is in with at least a shot at advancing. By scoring 197.275 for what was still not an ideal performance either, Michigan proved it is not going to be an also-ran in this semifinal. No filler rotations here.


SEMIFINAL #2 – April 19, 6:00 CT

[1] Oklahoma – Vault
[5] Denver – Beam
[8] Georgia – Bars
[16] Oregon St – Floor

Congratulations, you got the good one. The elimination of Florida has blown up this half of the bracket, providing what should be a cleaner route to the team final for Oklahoma, as well as a true opportunity for someone unexpected to make it. Denver, Georgia, and Oregon State are not “supposed” to make the team final, and yet one of them will.

Denver is your ranking favorite, and the question we’ll have to tackle as we march toward this semifinal is how much being at home for regionals buoyed Georgia and Oregon State (both in scores and actual performances) versus how truly competitive they might be at a neutral site. Georgia’s regional final score was more than a fall better than Denver’s, but like…those scores.


EVENT DRAW

The rotation draws are fairly…normal here? They don’t look like they’re provide a significant advantage or disadvantage to any team or change what the scenario would be in any other context. Oregon State and Utah probably won’t love starting on floor because they both need that event to be a big score, but it worked out for them at regionals.

I actually think that the worst draw to get these days is starting on bars—because it means you have to finish on vault. Vault is the lowest-scoring event in NCAA and the one where the potential Carol-ness of end-of-meet scoring when everyone is drunk at getting 10s is dampened by start values. We saw that play out at regional finals for the teams with that rotation order. Minnesota ending on vault while Utah was on beam was ultimately a disadvantage for Minnesota, not Utah, even though beam. Michigan’s final vault rotation of 9.825s almost let Alabama back into the meet, and Kentucky finishing on vault meant it just couldn’t quite keep up with the 49.5-a-thon that was the Athens regional. Half the rotation scores at that regional were 49.550 or greater (not over it), but none of those 49.550+ scores came on vault.


FOUR ON THE FLOOR DRAW – April 20, 6:00 CT

For future reference.

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

The random draw typically causes ire because it doesn’t necessarily reward performance in the semifinals with a good event order, but this year I feel like Olympic order is an appropriate reward for whichever team manages to advance from that mire of the first semifinal in 2nd place. They’ll have had to fight for it.


INDIVIDUALS

National individual titles are awarded based on the scores in the semifinals, and we now use six judges with four scores counting throughout nationals, which is ostensibly to separate the scores a little more and avoid having ties for those event championships. Meanwhile, we had a three-way tie for the vault title last year and a two-way tie for the bars and floor titles.

The new individual qualification system gives us more eventers and fewer all-arounders advancing with just four AAers qualifying—Alex Hyland, Kentucky; Sienna Crouse, Nebraska; Lexy Ramler, Minnesota; Alicia Boren, Florida. Alex Hyland is the only one of those four who received Olympic order, drawn to rotate with UCLA in the first semifinal. All four individuals are capable of exceptionally strong scores, but everything so far this season has pointed to Kyla Ross as the all-around favorite with Maggie Nichols as the last-minute spoiler when she comes back on floor for nationals. With people like Finnegan and Skinner as the second tier of contenders.

Historically, discussion of scores rising in the second semifinal at nationals has been overblown (and teams tend to prefer being placed in the first semifinal because it allows for more rest before the final), but it’s worth noting that Nichols is the only one of those top four contenders who competes in the second semifinal.

The individual qualifiers are as follows:
Vault – Milan Clausi, Cal; Taylor Houchin, Nebraska; Derrian Gobourne, Auburn; Savannah Schoenherr, Florida
Bars – Sabrina Garcia, Penn St; Cally Nixon, Kentucky; Trinity Thomas, Florida; Cairo Leonard-Baker, Arizona St
Beam – Brooke Kelly, Missouri; Jessie Bastardi, Penn St; Alyssa Baumann, Florida; Hailey Garner, Arkansas
Floor – Sidney Dukes, Kentucky; Abby Armbrecht, Alabama; Trinity Thomas, Florida; Sophia Carter

Alyssa Baumann was drawn to rotate with Georgia, and will compete in the same beam rotation as her sister. Look how that worked out.

The most likely outcome has Ohashi, Ross, and Nichols dominating the individual titles, with Finnegan and Skinner right there on their best events (and then Wojcik, maybe Trautman for floor) because it’s going to take 10s to win most of these events if this season’s everything is any indication. But of the individual qualifiers, the Florida’s will put up a good fight. You can see Trinity Thomas winning events, and there is historical precedent for extremely high scores for the individuals coming from the famous team that got upset at regionals.