Baton Rouge, LA Regional Preview

The LSU Tigers will have the luxury of staying at home for their regional for the first time since 2008, though this year they would be the favorite in any location. There were some other years in there when they really could have used the home advantage. LSU and their faithful will be playing host to another of our close contests for the second advancing spot, with Stanford and Auburn coming to town with significant work to do. The meet begins at 5 ET/2 PT.

Competing teams (starting event)
[3] LSU (bye before bars)
[10] Stanford (bye before floor)
[13] Auburn (vault)
[21] Arizona (floor)
[27] Kent State (bars)
[36] Iowa State (beam)

Individual competitors are from Michigan State (Alina Cartwright, Lisa Burt, Elena Logoski – floor), Bowling Green (Alyssa Nocella, Gina Locigno, Megan Harrison), Western Michigan (Jessi Buis – vault, Shelby MacDonald – bars), and Eastern Michigan (Anna Willette – beam). 

The Favorite

Even though LSU is the clear favorite to advance and should have no trouble winning this home regional, I’m a bit more interested in exactly how LSU fares than I am for some of the other locks because I think the performance (not so much the score, but the performance) will tell us a lot about whether LSU will head to nationals as a true contender for the title on the same level as the Florida and Alabama crowd, or if they will be taking on more of the identity of the prime spoiler who lurks in that position of fourth favorite, ready to pounce on a team making mistakes – sort of the identity Oklahoma has had for the last several seasons.

This 2014 LSU team has the credentials to make a weighty argument as a true contender: ranked in the top 3 all season, spent some time at #1, is the only team never to drop below 197, has defeated Alabama and Oklahoma already – that’s legitimate. At the same time, we saw a team at SECs that looked perfectly good but also a clear notch behind Alabama and Florida. Regionals will be an opportunity to learn what our expectations should be. Right now, I think LSU is the fourth-best team in the nation, and on the one hand, finishing fourth would be a tremendous accomplishment and the best for the program since 1988 (they’ve never finished higher than fourth), but at the same time, they’ve been in the top three all season, so that result would still be sort of a letdown.  

It should come as no surprise that the main dictator in this true contender vs. spoiler issue will be how well LSU performs on bars and beam. As it has always been. We didn’t get to see all that many of the LSU routines during the broadcast of SECs, but while we saw some exceptional vaults (Jessie Jordan’s vault is such an asset because the other contenders can’t match that early 9.950) and Hall’s hit floor, most of the bars and beam routines that we saw looked middle-of-the-pack, with enough deductions to justify 9.850s. LSU had two 9.9s on bars and beam, compared to Alabama’s eight and Florida’s six. Tremendous strides have been made on beam, but the fall from Jordan meant they had to count Dickson’s 9.725, which exposed that beam is still a tenuous experience where one error can knock them out of contention. At regionals, let’s watch for those stuck bars landings and a few more early-rotation beam routines where the competitors don’t looked utterly, completely, just-left-the-DMV relieved to stay on the beam.

The Contenders

The Baton Rouge Regional is yet another contest with close #2 and #3 seeds (just the way we like it), with Stanford and Auburn having posted similar scores throughout much of the season. However, I don’t see this one as quite as close as the Penn State and Minnesota Regionals. Maybe if Auburn were hosting the way Penn State and Minnesota are, it would be a different story, but even though the upset potential is certainly there – this is far from a lock – I give the edge to Stanford, especially based on recent performance. Stanford appears to be getting better, as they usually do as frustratingly late as possible, while Auburn hasn’t been the same without Bri Guy. Four of Auburn’s top five team scores were recorded before Guy’s injury, and it’s very rare for a team to have the majority of its best scores in January and February.

Still, both teams can get a 197, so Auburn will believe they are in with a serious chance, and that serious chance’s name is Floor Exercise. Stanford outranks Auburn on three events (vault is very close and essentially a wash), but doesn’t come close to doing so on floor, so if Auburn is going to pull off the upset, we will see the evidence in the floor scores. These are two teams with very different identities on floor, which should make for a fascinating contrast. Auburn is all about the difficulty. This team has eleven thousand pike full ins and really goes for the big elements side of floor – even without Guy’s strong DLO anchoring. They do open themselves up to form deductions here and there, but they have shown the ability for 49.3s and 49.4s, which will be essential at regionals.

Stanford, by contrast is sort of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Double Pikes on floor. It’s all very “I’m going to tell a story with my eyes and then do a rudi.” Stanford’s floor work inspires a lot of opinions. I tend to enjoy it simply because they’re actually going for something, there’s an intent there, and it’s not just putting on some techno music and pretending that counts as having a personality. But floor has been at least 75% shambolic this year, scoring under 49.100 in the large majority of meets. Auburn will look to gain a solid .3-.4 here, and that seems fairly realistic given what we have seen. Most of Stanford’s routines top out at 9.850 except for Kristina Vaculik and occasionally Taylor Rice (like Oregon State, Stanford doesn’t have the big 9.9s that are always 9.9s at the back of the lineup that top 10 teams always seem to have), but there is also almost always a fall or an OOB that they’re working against. Starting on floor will be a challenge for this Stanford team, and it’s imperative they not dig themselves any significant hole.

But even if they do, all is not lost because they will be ending on bars and beam, their asset events. We have known all season that Stanford has the capability to be one of the top teams in the country on these events, and we saw that for the most part at Pac 12s. Given the competition, and assuming the stuck landings make at least a supporting cameo, Stanford could win both bars and beam at this regional, which is a contrast to some of the other top-team regionals where the most likely outcome is that Florida and Oklahoma will win all the events. LSU won’t be troubled by this because they are so far superior on vault and floor that they should pull away comfortably regardless, but Stanford could pick up the scoring pace at the end of the meet. Stanford’s bars work has that excellent mixture of precision and showpiece elements, and on beam they combine difficulty, originality, and (usually) security to be one of the top two or three most appealing teams on the event.

The meet will favor Auburn early, starting on vault versus Stanford on floor, so the Tigers will look to build up an early lead and try as hard as possible to hold until they get to floor. I should add that Auburn has strong routines on bars and beam as well (it’s not like they’re a mess), but there are also a few too many 9.7s that Stanford won’t have, which makes the difference. On vault, Auburn isn’t quite the team it was with Guy, but if they can get big scores from Caitlin Atkinson and MJ Rott, they can take the necessary advantage. Stanford has some strong vaults at the back of the lineup as well, but they haven’t been consistently big scores. It will be interesting to see what they decide to do with Danielle McNair and her 1.5. She wasn’t really that close to landing it at Pac 12s, and in NCAA, it isn’t worth it to do the 1.5 if there’s even the smallest question about the landing. 

I’ll also be keeping an eye on the individual AA leaders for these teams because they are quite reliant on the big back-of-rotation scores from Vaculik and Atkinson respectively, who can both be exceptional 9.9ers on every event on their day but also have consistency questions. The AA leader who is scoring better can indicate which team is having the better day as we go along (i.e., getting that anchor 9.950 to bump up the rotation score).

Individuals/The Others
Depending on how qualification goes, we should expect either Atkinson or Vaculik to make nationals as an individual. It is especially important that Atkinson make it because she suffered an injury at nationals last year and didn’t really get to compete. We may see some other competitive AAers for Stanford/Auburn as well, but I think the second individual spot for the AA is fairly open.

Arizona has Alison Flores doing the AA right now, and she’s someone to consider, but so is Arizona as a team. Arizona is one of those fourth seeds that I don’t want to discount because they are ranked fairly well and have managed some high 196s this year, but once again they’re going to need assistance from the teams above. Most of Arizona’s high scores have come at home this year, and they’ve struggled to find the same scores on the road. The Wildcats will be starting on vault and floor, going just before Stanford on those events, and to stand any chance, they’ll need to be multiple tenths up on the Cardinal at the halfway point. It’s possible. with Kristin Klarenbach on floor and a couple 9.9ers in Klarenbach and Shelby Edwards on vault, they could manage strong enough score to at least put some pressure on. Edwards nailed it on vault and beam at Pac 12s, so she’s one to watch.

In the individual race, if you’re looking for a member of one of the outside teams who can crash nationals by taking an AA spot, follow Kent State senior Marie Case. She’s the lone competing holdover from the miracle team of 2011, scored a 39.600 earlier this month (senior night disclaimer) and is currently ranked #13 in the country. Because we won’t necessarily have two clear AA options from the team that finishes third, I think Case has a decent shot at making it back to nationals in her final season. That will be a fun side story to watch during the meet.

Iowa State is another of those teams that just sneaked into regionals after a big score at its conference championships, obliterating its previous season high. They used a 196.650 at Big 12s to jump past West Virginia, the team hosting the meet. West Virginia has had some home scoring benefit all season long, but it didn’t work out this time. We probably shouldn’t expect a similar 196 showing at regionals from Iowa State, but they do have a competitive AAer of their own in Caitlin Brown who can put up mid 9.8s for a solid total score.

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Minneapolis, MN Regional Preview

The #2 team in the country, Oklahoma, will have to trek north to Minnesota for a regional that looks like it will be a tight battle between Illinois and Minnesota for the second spot to advance to nationals. This meet is one of the later starts (7 ET/4 PT), so the Illinois/Minnesota storyline will probably finish out the day be the very last nationals spot decided.

Competing teams (starting event)
[2] Oklahoma (bye before bars)
[11] Illinois (bye before floor)
[14] Minnesota (vault)
[19] California (floor)
[26] Southern Utah (bars)
[31] San Jose State (beam)

Competing individuals are from Iowa (Alie Glover, Angel Metcalf, Sydney Hoerr, Jordyn Doherty – vault, Mollie Drenth – floor), Air Force (Linnaea Hance, Katie Hawthorne – bars, Shannen Kelly – beam), and Wisconsin-Whitewater (Katie Fiorilli).

The Favorite

We’re falling into a few ruts when it comes to rankings. Florida enters regionals as the #1 team for the fourth straight year, and Oklahoma is the #2 team for the third straight year. And much like Florida, Oklahoma should advance with ease. Minnesota’s season high of 197.250, top among the other teams, would be considered a bad meet for the Sooners, who haven’t put up a score below that level since February. For these top few seeds, regionals are about what we want to see heading into nationals.

It’s interesting that we have this collective sense of Oklahoma as a bars and beam, and it comes because visually and anecdotally, that’s where they have excelled. Those routines have been the more memorable and more exciting ones. However, Oklahoma has ranked consistently well on vault and floor over the past five years, claiming the #1 ranking on both events from time to time, so to see them in the top 3 on all the events this year is not unusual and, in terms of basic results, isn’t really a change. What would be a change would be seeing them score more competitively at nationals on those events, which they have not always done (5th on vault and floor at Super Six 2013). We won’t really get an answer to how competitive this Oklahoma team is on those events until nationals, but there is still a sense that they have progressed, with underclassmen like Scaman, Kanewa, and Capps providing a boost of power – Capps with that extra distance on vault, Kanewa with that extra big E pass on floor to support Scaman’s excellent DLO – that makes them somewhat less reliant on sticking to get the scores. Though the early lineup routines will still have to be very precise to stay in range of everyone. A few of those early floor routines looked distinctly 9.800 at Big 12s.

But for all the competitive scoring on vault and floor that we have seen this year from Oklahoma, I still think it’s going to take winning bars and beam for them to win a national championship. For the time being, that’s still this roster’s bread and butter. They may be competitive on vault and floor, but bars and beam – especially beam – is where they will have a chance to separate themselves from any other team. That’s what I want to see at regionals. A team that can win bars and beam at nationals.

The Contenders

This should be a good one. The Illinois and Minnesota clash is the #2/#3 seed showdown pegged as the most competitive, with the least difference between the two teams. It’s the “upset special,” although I’m not sure that the lower seed advancing in this case would qualify as an upset. The teams are so close, and Minnesota is at home and has won both of their meetings so far this year. I would say Minnesota comes in as the favorite here, and Illinois qualify would be the surprise, if a very marginal surprise.

When comparing two teams at a regional, it usually comes down to extrapolating previous results and hoping they hold true when the teams are competing together, but Minnesota/Illinois is an unusual case because they have competed head-to-head a couple times, so we can make more reliable direct comparisons. At Big Tens, the two teams were separated by just .050, and the areas of difference were extremely predictable, with Minnesota building up an advantage because of vault and Illinois erasing that advantage because of bars, evening out to a very small final margin.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if we see a similar situation play out at regionals. It’s the classic clash where Minnesota is the better team on vault and floor, while Illinois is the better team on bars and beam (though both teams are a little terrifying on beam, so I wouldn’t count on it for the success of either). Minnesota can get 49.4s on floor and has done so at home several times this season, usually involving one of Lindsay Mable’s massive scores. Her 9.850 at Big Tens was low by her standards, so Minnesota will feel they can improve on that team score of 49.350. Illinois’s 49.325 at Big Tens, by contrast, was a season high, so give Minnesota the edge on floor if they perform up to their capability.

Minnesota made nationals last year largely because of vault. The 49.525 season high they put up at regionals was the single biggest reason they advanced over Auburn, and “vault” and “single biggest reason” have been going together a lot for Minnesota these last couple years. They can be so strong on vault – boasting the Mable, Covers, Slechta triumvirate of 9.9s that excelled at the end of last season – and the fact that their 10 girl (Mable) got a 10.000 while Illinois’s 10 girl (Amber See) had a fall, was exceptionally significant in the Big Tens final result. Illinois needs season-best hits out of See on vault and floor at this regional to mitigate some of Minnesota’s advantage on those events. 

Also mitigating a potential Minnesota advantage will be a little event called uneven bars. It’s the clear weak event for the Gophers (#25 in the country), especially in the handstands department – which could have been evaluated more strictly at Big Tens than it was. Bars was a problem from that very first intrasquad video Minnesota released during the preseason, and it remains a problem. Illinois has had some mistakes on bars as well this year, but they have been much more consistent and have multiple people in Sunny Kato, Sarah Fielder, and Mary Jane Horth, who can regularly get high 9.8s or a 9.900. It’s a far less scary lineup overall. Illinois managed a .250 advantage on bars at Big Tens, so the potential for an edge is there, even though it did require Minnesota counting a low score. I have to think that for Illinois to beat Minnesota in Minnesota, they’re going to need one big event where they put up a huge advantage to protect against any potential small home boosts here and there. Bars looks like the most likely nominee for that.

Illinois has also been the stronger team on beam this season, not necessarily in terms of peak scoring potential (though Minnesota being without Hanna Norquist – Supreme Empress of the Full Turn – has been a blow) but certainly in terms of consistency. Illinois hits beam much more regularly, and I’m reminded of the most memorable moment from regionals last year when Illinois hit that very solid final beam rotation to knock out Nebraska, ending with Alina Weinstein’s 9.900. They’re finishing on beam again this year and will hope for a deja vu scenario. I should also note that similar to Penn State, I have been impressed by Illinois’s lack of regression this season coming off the loss of their big star, Weinstein.

When both of these teams hit, we’re usually looking at high 196s, so keep an eye on how close they are to that 197 pace as the meet progresses. The most significant rotations in this meet will be the third and the sixth, so as you’re going along following the other meets, be sure to tune in to this meet for those rotations. In the third, Illinois will be on vault while Minnesota is on bars. That’s when the Illini will need to step up the vault scoring take a lead to have a good chance to win. In the sixth, Minnesota will be on floor while Illinois is on beam, and that’s where the Gophers need to take any lead right back. 

Individuals/The Others
Both by ranking and by quality of recent performances, Cal is the strongest unseeded team competing at regionals and therefore warrants some consideration as a possible advancing option. The Golden Bears are certainly the sentimental favorite in all of their competitions now, being in the process of a dramatic program rebirth (that has not yet peaked), but it’s probably a step too far for them to advance to nationals as a team at this point. Cal can definitely merit 196s and should score comfortably into the 196 range at regionals, but they would still need help from both Illinois and Minnesota to move on. It wouldn’t have to be a complete implosion, but it would have to be assistance from multiple teams, which is always hard to bank on. If they’re going to do it, watch the vault and bars scores. Those are the events where they are the most competitive, so they’ll need to cut into leads during both of those rotations and not dig themselves too big a hole when starting the meet on floor, an event that looked a little scattered at Pac 12s.

Regardless of the team showing, gem of the world Alicia Asturias looks like a strong bet to make nationals as an individual, being the second-best AAer in this regional. She regularly goes 39.2s-39.3s and recorded a season-high 39.425 at Pac 12s. I actually think her AA scores could be higher, but she sometimes gets 9.750ed as the beam leadoff for a routine that would get a 9.850 later in the lineup. If Minnesota doesn’t advance a team, Asturias and Mable seem like the clear choices to go as AAers (because we need both of them at nationals – we need it), but if Illinois doesn’t advance, we could see Giana O’Connor or Sarah Fielder go through for them or perhaps an upset from one of the lower-ranked teams.

Southern Utah is regularly one of those teams on the cusp of making regionals, so this year’s #26 ranking is an accomplishment. They didn’t have to scrape for scores at the last minute to get in, but the 196 from conference championships – their first time reaching that plateau and breaking 49 on each event this year – would have helped. Scoring a 196 again would render this meet a victory. And of course they are also putting forth freshman Memory Shettles as a really strong candidate for best new name in NCAA gymnastics. She’ll be fighting for that spot with Tenille Funches, and I expect that to be one of the really good battles on regionals day. 

San Jose State is similar to Southern Utah in that they usually just sneak into regionals and did so again this year. The season high of 195.800 tells us that just making it this far was the accomplishment, but if you’re looking for a dark horse AA candidate to follow – especially if the competition ends up being less close than we expect – SJS happily provides a few individuals who can potentially score well. Boise State transplant Bekah Gher, whom you might recall having an excellent beam routine during that decisive 2011 regionals beam rotation, is a top 50 AAer this season, and Cassandra Harrison is not far behind her. With a great day, those two could be in this thing.

University Park, PA Regional Preview

This marks our first weekend without gymnastics since December. What are we even supposed to do with ourselves? Socialize with people? About things? Address responsibilities? Guh. Incorrect. Instead, let’s emotionally prepare ourselves for next Saturday, my favorite day of the gymnastics year, by breaking down each regional. Good idea? I think so. I’ll begin with the #1 seed Florida Gators and the Penn State Regional beginning at 4ET/1PT.

Competing teams (starting event)
[1] Florida (bye before bars)
[12] Oregon State (bye before floor)
[15] Penn State (vault)
[23] New Hampshire (floor)
[29] Kentucky (bars)
[35] Maryland (beam)

Competing individuals are from Brown (Diana Walters, Caroline Morant, Michelle Schnayder), Pittsburgh (Brittney Harris, Maebelle Pacheco – vault, Katie O’Rourke – beam and floor), Bridgeport (Lissette La Fex), and Cornell (Melanie Jorgensen – bars).

The Favorite

Another year, another #1 Florida team. The 2014 season marks the fourth consecutive time Florida has entered regionals as the #1 overall team in the country. Aside from the near-disaster beamtastrophe in 2011 after which the team just barely squeaked through by .025, Florida has worn the #1 crown comfortably at regionals, and this competition should be no exception. Sure, I could try to concoct possible scenarios where Florida counts 11 beam falls and gets into trouble, but that’s a waste. The Gators should advance by a hefty margin and probably won’t garner that much attention on the day. We’ll all be too focused on the legitimate, clawing fights for nationals spots.

There will be plenty of time to talk about Florida in the weeks leading up to nationals, but I still have an area or two I want to keep an eye on as we gauge whether the Gators can repeat as champions, especially coming off the loss at SECs. Florida didn’t have huge problems in that competition, but they showed some ragged qualities and uncharacteristic mistakes here and there that indicated a step down in quality from the stellar performances they had leading up to SECs. Claire Boyce falling on a rudi, Bridgey going OOB in the deciding routine, a couple lackluster landings on beam dismounts, these were unexpected errors, but not trends. It’s not really a thing until it happens again. But, if there’s one area I do want to watch for Florida at regionals, it’s vault and the progression of those landings. They’re still missing sticks and giving away tenths in most of those routines, and that’s been happening fairly frequently.

Now, we saw the exact same thing last year, with Florida looking predominately blah in the vault landing department at SECs and then bringing themselves into line after that. By Super Six, Florida had far and away the best vault landings of any team. They should pull things together again this year, but this Florida vault team is not as strong as last year’s group, so it will be interesting to see if they can progress in the same way. They can’t be in a position of giving up multiple tenths to Alabama and LSU on vault like they did at SECs. 

But really, let’s get to the main story of this regional.

The Contenders
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Going into the season, I thought Oregon State would be a borderline candidate to make regionals and that Penn State was not going to be a legitimate contender as a result of the significant routine quality they lost after last year. One of them is going through. Oregon State is about where I thought they would be, but Penn State has certainly overperformed expectations to make a fairly believable argument that they can advance out of their home regional. If this were at a neutral site, Oregon State would have a small but definite edge, but with Penn State at home, this second spot is completely open. Wouldn’t it be funny if after all those years of Sharaya Musser leading the charge, Penn State were to make nationals the year after she leaves? Oh, gymnastics.

Oregon State has managed some strong team scores throughout the season, but it’s hard to be overly enthusiastic about their chances coming off a sluggish performance at Pac 12s that didn’t get all that much attention because it was overshadowed by UCLA’s more high-profile sluggish performance. The Beavers didn’t make any major mistakes, but the whole thing was very 9.825. They couldn’t beat the home team with that performance, and they won’t beat Penn State with a similar one. If Oregon State finishes third, it would mark a second consecutive year of missing nationals. For a program that should consistently be near the top, two straight years out of nationals is not OK. To avoid such a fate, the Beavers will have to lean on their old friends the uneven bars. Bars is not as strong for OSU this year as it has been in recent years, but the event can still provide an advantage. Erika Aufiero is a star with a DLO like a warm hug, Chelsea Tang is a sturdy thing who can stick for a 9.900, and the occasional hit from Brittany Harris or Hannah Casey can bring in a top number. A .150-.200 advantage on bars is vital to Oregon State’s chances of advancing. Penn State has some 9.8s in that bars lineup but will very much be relying on Kassidy Stauder for a 9.900 to keep them near the same pace. 

Beam has also been an unexpected comfort for the Beavers this year. It hasn’t always been that way lately, but they have hit beam fairly consistently for much of the season, at least in the staying on the apparatus kind of way. Maddie Gardiner has added her precision and elegance to the mix to take the lineup to a more visually interesting (and higher scoring) place. Penn State has not hit as regularly, including counting a fall at Big Tens, so being able to put up six hits could be a boon to Oregon State.

That all sounds well and good, but the best argument for a Penn State triumph comes when we look to the floor. Oregon State just doesn’t have the 9.9s. They’re hurt in the amplitude argument, especially when going against some of the most powerful teams, and get stuck with a lot of 9.825s and 49.1s. They have recorded only a couple 9.900+ scores all season, whereas Penn State got three at Big Tens alone. Lindsay Musgrove has been the Nittany Lions’ biggest floor scorer, and they’ve also been helped by former junior elite Emma Sibson, who has provided significant value both on floor and vault this season. She’ll be a gymnast to build around for years to come. Sibson was one of those juniors everyone was obsessed with for 30 seconds in 2009 and then kind of disappeared, but she’s back and has found some desperately needed 9.9s for this team.

The difference on floor (PSU is ranked 9th, OSU 19th) is exacerbated by the rotation order. Oregon State’s first event will be floor while Penn State ends there, which adds an additional boost to Penn State if we see scores rise throughout the meet. Rotation order could be a difference-maker if Penn State is on a roll and gets the 9.9s to start flying at the end of the competition, as we have seen very often this season in the year of high floor scores. I don’t often buy into the advantage of rotation order as much as some, but considering the order for the #3 seeds compared to that of the #2 seeds, coupled with some #3 seed hosts, it could become a factor in several meets next Saturday.

As the meet goes on, keep in mind that the Beavers will start on their comparatively weaker apparatuses, floor and vault, while ending on what have been stronger pieces this year, bars and beam. Trailing early wouldn’t be unexpected. Penn State will hope to take advantage of that and build up a lead while starting on vault, though as mentioned, their biggest asset will be finishing on floor. Either team would be happy getting through the first two events with something like a 98.500. That would be solid. Oregon State will then look to take over a lead when they move to bars and Penn State goes to beam. It’s advantage Beavers at that point, and they’ll hope to put a couple tenths in the bank there and try to hold that advantage at the end when finishing on beam against Penn State on floor. Expect some lead changes and hopefully some nail biting.
 
Individuals/The Others
It’s exceptionally challenging for the bottom three seeds at any regional to advance. It usually takes two implosions, which is quite rare. We don’t often get Kent State 2011 situations. We might then say that the realistic focus for these teams is advancing individuals instead, but it’s also quite difficult for lower seeds to advance individuals given the state of the rules. 

The top two AAers who don’t qualify with a team will advance to nationals, along with any individual event champions who also do not qualify with a team. It usually takes a 9.950 to win an event at a regional, which we almost never see from a lower-seeded team. In this regional, you might very well be a floor standout, but making nationals requires beating Kytra, so good luck. 

In the all-around conversation, the most likely outcome from this regional is that the advancing individuals will come from either OSU or PSU, whichever doesn’t make it as a team. Both boast a number of competitive gymnasts doing all four events. If Oregon State doesn’t go, expect Tang to qualify, along with either Gardiner or Harris. I’d go with Gardiner, but it would be close. Similarly, if Penn State fails to go, expect Stauder to qualify (currently 18th nationally), along with one of her bushel of AA teammates like Sidney Sanabria-Robles or Krystal Welsh, who can both regularly get 39.2s or 39.3s.

#5 seed Kentucky’s best individual hope is Audrey Harrison, who has done the AA at every meet this season, topping out at a 39.325, and can be a solid 9.8 on each event. Kentucky is ranked all the way down at #29, a regression from last year’s strong finish at #19, and it always seems to be something for this team this year. At SECs, it was a collapse on what had been their best event, floor. Losing Alexis Gross to injury has been gross (bing!), but still this team should be a 196. I’d say they’re one of the better bets to outperform their seeding and should finish 4th here.

New Hampshire is the true #4 seed and came on late this season, finally getting rid of some nasty early scores once March rolled around to move all the way up to an impressive #23. UNH is one of those teams that has really benefited from home scores, however, and will likely find those 196s much tougher to match on the road in a regional. Last year, only 3 of the 18 teams in the bottom-three seeded positions managed to outperform their RQS at regionals. New Hampshire’s individual candidate is all-arounder Meghan Plieger, who has put up a couple lower 39s this season.

Maryland just edged out a few other teams to sneak into regionals at the last minute, so making it this far is the victory. 2014 has not been nearly as strong as 2013, when the Terps also found themselves in Florida’s region, but as the #4 seed instead of the #6. This year’s Maryland squad was already working without standout 2013 senior Ally Krikorian, but then losing vault and floor star Katy Dodds to an Achilles injury in January completed the process of breaking up the lineups where they had been excelling. This year, they’re led by Stephanie Giameo, whose mid 9.8s have been a savior and whose beam scoring is essential to the team. She can get a 9.9 on beam and a 39.1-39.2 in the AA, so she’s the definite individual to watch during Maryland’s rotations. 

Regionals Scoring Comparison

If you just can’t wait for the broadcast of SECs, Elizabeth Grimsley has provided us all with a handy dandy highlight video of some key routines:

Now, before I get to the full, way overthought breakdowns of each Regional in the next week or so, it’s time to talk scores. It’s good to have the evidence before beginning to make unfounded arguments, I think. That way, they might as least be imbued with the essence of fact. Below is a comparison of various relevant scores and averages for the teams in each Regional (using home averages for host teams and road averages for everyone else). Each score is followed by the team’s ranking in that category within its Regional. Scores in red indicate that a team is underperforming its ranking in that category, while scores in blue indicate that a team is overperforming its ranking, so this should provide a quick glance at some of the key areas for each team entering the competitions–highlighting where teams have a chance to make up some ground in potential upset bids, or where they need to improve to avoid such upset bids.

University Park, Pennsylvania Regional:

[1] Florida
RQS: 197.895 [1]
Season high: 198.325 [1]
Season average: 197.645 [1]
Road average: 197.367 [1]
VT average: 49.377 [1]
Road VT average: 49.317 [1]
UB average: 49.488 [1]
Road UB average: 49.421 [1]
BB average: 49.345 [1]
Road BB average: 49.304 [1]
FX average: 49.475 [1]
Road FX average: 49.325 [1] 

[2] Oregon State
RQS: 196.615 [2]
Season high: 197.100 [3]
Season average: 196.368 [2]
Road average: 196.142 [3]
VT average: 49.063 [2]
Road VT average: 49.067 [3]
UB average: 49.160 [2]
Road UB average: 49.129 [3]
BB average: 49.110 [2]
Road BB average: 49.058 [2]
FX average: 49.035 [3]
Road FX average: 48.888 [4]

[3] Penn State
RQS: 196.475 [3]
Season high: 197.200 [2]
Season average: 195.858 [3]
Home average: 196.385 [2]
VT average: 49.052 [3]
Home VT average: 49.160 [2]
UB average: 48.944 [3]
Home UB average: 49.150 [2]
BB average: 48.754 [3]
Home BB average: 48.830 [3]
FX average: 49.108 [2]
Home FX average: 49.245 [2]

[4] New Hampshire
RQS: 195.880 [4]
Season high: 196.675 [4]
Season average: 194.867 [5]
Road average: 194.088 [6]
VT average: 48.860 [5]

Road VT average: 48.754 [5]
UB average: 48.358 [6]

Road UB average: 48.025 [6]
BB average: 48.694 [4]
Road BB average: 48.438 [4]
FX average: 48.954 [5]
Road FX average: 48.871 [5]

[5] Kentucky
RQS: 195.585 [5]
Season high: 196.275 [5]
Season average: 194.977 [4]
Road average: 194.606 [4]
VT average: 48.975 [4]

Road VT average: 48.953 [4]
UB average: 48.748 [4]

Road UB average: 48.666 [5]
BB average: 48.221 [5]
Road BB average: 48.069 [5]
FX average: 49.033 [4]
Road FX average: 48.919 [3]

[6] Maryland
RQS: 195.175 [6]
Season high: 195.700 [6]
Season average: 194.410 [6]
Road average: 194.129 [5]
VT average: 48.688 [6]
Road VT average: 48.739 [6]
UB average: 48.735 [5]
Road UB average: 48.671 [4]
BB average: 48.142 [6]
Road BB average: 48.007 [6]
FX average: 48.846 [6]
Road FX average: 48.711 [6]

Minneapolis, Minnesota Regional: 

[1] Oklahoma
RQS: 197.775 [1]
Season high: 198.175 [1]
Season average: 197.513 [1]
Road average: 197.682 [1]
VT average: 49.463 [1]
Road VT average: 49.496 [1]
UB average: 49.327 [1]
Road UB average: 49.379 [1]
BB average: 49.308 [1]
Road BB average: 49.404 [1]
FX average: 49.415 [1]
Road FX average: 49.400 [1]

[2] Illinois
RQS: 196.650 [2]
Season high: 197.100 [3]
Season average: 196.204 [2]
Road average: 196.050 [2]
VT average: 49.035 [4]
Road VT average: 49.075 [3]
UB average: 49.004 [2]
Road UB average: 48.889 [3]
BB average: 49.025 [2]
Road BB average: 48.968 [2]
FX average: 49.140 [3]
Road FX average: 49.111 [3]

[3] Minnesota
RQS: 196.505 [3]
Season high: 197.250 [2]
Season average: 196.196 [3]
Home average: 196.015 [3]
VT average: 49.206 [2]
Home VT average: 49.195 [2]
UB average: 48.810 [4]
Home UB average: 48.645 [5]
BB average: 48.883 [3]
Home BB average: 48.810 [4]
FX average: 49.298 [2]
Home FX average: 49.365 [2]

[4] California
RQS: 196.270 [4]
Season high: 196.725 [4]
Season average: 195.684 [4]
Road average: 195.342 [4]
VT average: 49.052 [3]
Road VT average: 49.054 [4]
UB average: 48.952 [3]
Road UB average: 48.958 [2]
BB average: 48.770 [4]
Road BB average: 48.529 [6]
FX average: 48.909 [4]
Road FX average: 48.800 [5]

[5] Southern Utah
RQS: 195.665 [5]
Season high: 196.125 [5]
Season average: 195.132 [5]
Road average: 195.125 [5]
VT average: 48.873 [5]
Road VT average: 48.871 [5]
UB average: 48.757 [5]
Road UB average: 48.743 [4]
BB average: 48.757 [5]
Road BB average: 48.832 [3]
FX average: 48.745 [6]
Road FX average: 48.679 [6]

[6] San Jose State
RQS: 195.510 [6]
Season high: 195.800 [6]
Season average: 195.000 [6]
Road average: 194.809 [6]
VT average: 48.714 [6]
Road VT average: 48.731 [6]
UB average: 48.677 [6]
Road UB average: 48.606 [6]
BB average: 48.700 [6]
Road BB average: 48.656 [5]
FX average: 48.909 [4]

Road FX average: 48.817 [4]

Baton Rouge, Louisiana Regional:

[1] LSU
RQS: 197.720 [1]
Season high: 198.050 [1]
Season average: 197.496 [1]
Home average: 197.563 [1]
VT average: 49.494 [1]
Home VT average: 49.488 [1]
UB average: 49.325 [1]
Home UB average: 49.317 [1]
BB average: 49.240 [1]
Home BB average: 49.267 [1]
FX average: 49.438 [1]
Home FX average: 49.417 [1]

[2] Stanford
RQS: 196.815 [2]
Season high: 197.275 [2]
Season average: 196.400 [2]
Road average: 196.343 [2]
VT average: 49.209 [3]
Road VT average: 49.243 [2]
UB average: 49.141 [2]
Road UB average: 49.125 [2]
BB average: 49.077 [2]
Road BB average: 49.189 [2]
FX average: 48.973 [5]
Road FX average: 48.787 [6]

[3] Auburn
RQS: 196.560 [3]
Season high: 197.100 [3]
Season average: 196.109 [3]
Road average: 195.983 [3]
VT average: 49.225 [2]
Road VT average: 49.233 [3]
UB average: 48.918 [4]
Road UB average: 48.804 [4]
BB average: 48.780 [3]
Road BB average: 48.829 [3]
FX average: 49.186 [2]
Road FX average: 49.117 [2]

[4] Arizona
RQS: 196.160 [4]
Season high: 196.925 [4]
Season average: 195.867 [4]
Road average: 195.432 [4]
VT average: 49.096 [4]
Road VT average: 49.096 [4]
UB average: 48.977 [3]
Road UB average: 48.860 [3]
BB average: 48.752 [4]
Road BB average: 48.586 [4]
FX average: 49.042 [3]
Road FX average: 48.889 [4]

[5] Kent State
RQS: 195.655 [5]
Season high: 196.225 [6]
Season average: 195.193 [5]
Road average: 195.050 [5]
VT average: 48.857 [5]
Road VT average: 48.854 [5]
UB average: 48.802 [5]
Road UB average: 48.779 [5]
BB average: 48.502 [6]
Road BB average: 48.464 [5]
FX average: 49.032 [4]
Road FX average: 48.954 [3]

[6] Iowa State
RQS: 195.160 [6]
Season high: 196.650 [5]
Season average: 194.555 [6]
Road average: 194.208 [6]
VT average: 48.511 [6]
Road VT average: 48.492 [6]
UB average: 48.598 [6]
Road UB average: 48.388 [6]
BB average: 48.614 [5]
Road BB average: 48.442 [6]
FX average: 48.832 [6]
Road FX average: 48.888 [5]

Seattle, Washington Regional:

[1] Alabama
RQS: 197.615 [1]
Season high: 198.250 [1]
Season average: 197.361 [1]
Road average: 197.070 [1]
VT average: 49.425 [1]
Road VT average: 49.445 [1]
UB average: 49.327 [1]
Road UB average: 49.250 [1]
BB average: 49.261 [1]
Road BB average: 49.160 [2]
FX average: 49.348 [1]
Road FX average: 49.215 [1]

[2] Nebraska
RQS: 196.895 [2]
Season high: 197.225 [2]
Season average: 196.682 [2]
Road average: 196.763 [2]
VT average: 49.307 [2]
Road VT average: 49.313 [2]
UB average: 49.134 [3]
Road UB average: 49.063 [3]
BB average: 49.066 [2]
Road BB average: 49.175 [1]
FX average: 49.175 [2]
Road FX average: 49.213 [2]

[3] Boise State
RQS: 196.395 [3]
Season high: 196.975 [3]
Season average: 196.105 [3]
Road average: 196.042 [3]
VT average: 49.127 [3]
Road VT average: 49.083 [4]
UB average: 49.195 [2]
Road UB average: 49.192 [2]
BB average: 48.711 [4]
Road BB average: 48.717 [5]
FX average: 49.070 [3]
Road FX average: 49.050 [3]

[4] Denver
RQS: 196.205 [4]
Season high: 196.925 [4]
Season average: 195.900 [4]
Road average: 195.875 [4]
VT average: 49.082 [4]
Road VT average: 49.100 [3]
UB average: 48.850 [6]
Road UB average: 48.829 [5]
BB average: 48.927 [3]
Road BB average: 48.971 [3]
FX average: 49.041 [4]
Road FX average: 48.975 [5]

[5] BYU
RQS: 195.820 [5]
Season high: 196.425 [5]
Season average: 195.204 [5]
Road average: 194.789 [6]
VT average: 48.940 [5]
Road VT average: 48.889 [5]
UB average: 48.881 [5]
Road UB average: 48.821 [6]
BB average: 48.525 [6]

Road BB average: 48.357 [6]
FX average: 48.869 [5]
Road FX average: 48.721 [6]

[6] Washington
RQS: 195.265 [6]
Season high: 196.200 [6]
Season average: 194.916 [6]
Home average: 195.415 [5]
VT average: 48.602 [6]
Home VT average: 48.610 [6]
UB average: 48.882 [4]
Home UB average: 49.035 [4]
BB average: 48.666 [5]

Home BB average: 48.740 [4]
FX average: 48.793 [6]
Home FX average: 49.030 [4]

Fayetteville, Arkansas Regional:

[1] Utah
RQS: 197.575 [1]
Season high: 198.025 [1]
Season average: 197.270 [1]
Road average: 197.130 [1]
VT average: 49.473 [1]
Road VT average: 49.430 [1]
UB average: 49.350 [1]
Road UB average: 49.385 [1]
BB average: 48.966 [3]
Road BB average: 48.840 [3]
FX average: 49.482 [1]
Road FX average: 49.475 [1]

[2] UCLA
RQS: 197.005 [2]
Season high: 197.500 [2]
Season average: 196.777 [2]
Road average: 196.771 [2]
VT average: 49.248 [2]
Road VT average: 49.208 [3]
UB average: 49.223 [2]
Road UB average: 49.171 [2]
BB average: 49.032 [2]
Road BB average: 49.108 [2]
FX average: 49.275 [2]
Road FX average: 49.283 [2]

[3] Arkansas
RQS: 196.355 [3]
Season high: 197.100 [3]
Season average: 196.161 [3]
Home average: 196.465 [3]
VT average: 49.136 [3]
Home VT average: 49.235 [2]
UB average: 48.898 [3]
Home UB average: 48.950 [3]
BB average: 49.052 [1]
Home BB average: 49.125 [1]
FX average: 49.102 [3]
Home FX average: 49.155 [3]

[4] Arizona State
RQS: 195.855 [4]
Season high: 196.200 [5]
Season average: 195.373 [4]
Road average: 195.215 [4]
VT average: 48.980 [4]
Road VT average: 48.960 [5]
UB average: 48.859 [4]
Road UB average: 48.755 [4]
BB average: 48.659 [4]
Road BB average: 48.630 [4]
FX average: 48.875 [4]
Road FX average: 48.870 [4]

[5] Utah State
RQS: 195.570 [5]
Season high: 196.075 [6]
Season average: 194.650 [5]
Road average: 194.497 [5]
VT average: 48.917 [5]
Road VT average: 48.969 [4]
UB average: 48.727 [5]
Road UB average: 48.672 [5]
BB average: 48.237 [6]
Road BB average: 48.200 [6]
FX average: 48.769 [5]
Road FX average: 48.656 [6]

[6] UC Davis
RQS: 195.260 [6]
Season high: 196.425 [4]
Season average: 194.431 [6]
Road average: 194.175 [6]
VT average: 48.600 [6]
Road VT average: 48.496 [6]
UB average: 48.540 [6]
Road UB average: 48.518 [6]
BB average: 48.575 [5]
Road BB average: 48.482 [5]
FX average: 48.717 [6]
Road FX average: 48.679 [5]

Athens, Georgia Regional:

[1] Georgia
RQS: 197.265 [1]
Season high: 197.650 [2]
Season average: 197.029 [1]
Home average: 197.310 [1]
VT average: 49.335 [1]
Home VT average: 49.395 [1]
UB average: 49.485 [1]
Home UB average: 49.545 [1]
BB average: 49.094 [1]
Home BB average: 49.210 [1]
FX average: 49.115 [2]
Home FX average: 49.160 [2]

[2] Michigan
RQS: 197.105 [2]
Season high: 197.825 [1]
Season average: 196.791 [2]
Road average: 196.588 [2]
VT average: 49.307 [2]
Road VT average: 49.283 [2]
UB average: 49.241 [2]
Road UB average: 49.129 [2]
BB average: 48.893 [2]
Road BB average: 48.850 [3]
FX average: 49.350 [1]
Road FX average: 49.325 [1]

[3] Central Michigan
RQS: 196.300 [3]
Season high: 196.600 [3]
Season average: 195.615 [3]
Road average: 195.954 [3]
VT average: 48.915 [5]
Road VT average: 49.104 [3]
UB average: 48.740 [4]
Road UB average: 48.879 [4]
BB average: 48.854 [3]
Road BB average: 48.854 [2]
FX average: 49.106 [3]
Road FX average: 49.117 [3]

[4] Ohio State
RQS: 195.905 [4]
Season high: 196.600 [3]
Season average: 195.552 [4]
Road average: 195.642 [4]
VT average: 48.977 [4]
Road VT average: 48.963 [5]
UB average: 48.948 [3]
Road UB average: 49.025 [3]
BB average: 48.791 [5]
Road BB average: 48.758 [4]
FX average: 48.836 [5]
Road FX average: 48.825 [5]

[5] NC State
RQS: 195.615 [5]
Season high: 196.100 [6]
Season average: 195.087 [5]
Road average: 194.864 [5]
VT average: 49.019 [3]
Road VT average: 49.036 [4]
UB average: 48.410 [6]
Road UB average: 48.289 [6]
BB average: 48.813 [4]
Road BB average: 48.632 [5]
FX average: 48.844 [4]
Road FX average: 48.907 [4]

[6] Rutgers
RQS: 195.340 [6]
Season high: 196.225 [5]
Season average: 194.625 [6]
Road average: 194.575 [6]
VT average: 48.806 [6]
Road VT average: 48.813 [6]
UB average: 48.571 [5]
Road UB average: 48.631 [5]
BB average: 48.494 [6]
Road BB average: 48.544 [6]
FX average: 48.754 [6]
Road FX average: 48.588 [6]

Regionals Selection and Conference Championship Notes

We have a selection show to announce the various Regionals assignments, which I have enjoyed making fun of since its inception, but this time it actually produced some interesting information. We knew some of the seeds would have to be rearranged from the rankings because of host conflicts, but rather than bumping everyone up a slot to avoid the LSU/Penn State conflict (which would have seen [14] Minnesota jump into the same Regional as Florida) the conflicting team, Penn State, was simply moved into that first-seed Regional instead.

Also, our host informed us that the teams advancing from the Minnesota, Georgia, and LSU Regionals will compete in one semifinal, while the teams coming from Penn State, Arkansas, and Washington will go to the other semifinal. Was I supposed to know this? Am I just out of the loop? This is a major change. Oh NCAA, you and your not distributing any kind of information to fans in a helpful or systematic way. I don’t care for this. We could end up with something really unbalanced depending on who happens to advance from Regionals. The semifinals shouldn’t be decided until we know who the competitors are to produce the highest quality possible Super Six. 

Penn State Regional:
[1] Florida
[12] Oregon State
[15] Penn State
New Hampshire
Kentucky
Maryland

Arkansas Regional:
[5] Utah (featuring “Georgia Burritz”? Is that like a burrito that doesn’t wear any grips?)
[8] UCLA
[17] Arkansas
Arizona State
Utah State
UC Davis
[Rachel Updike will be representing Missouri on vault here as well]

Washington Regional:
[4] Alabama
[9] Nebraska
[16] Boise State
Denver
BYU
Washington

Minnesota Regional:
[2] Oklahoma
[11] Illinois
[14] Minnesota
California
Southern Utah
San Jose State
(Iowa just missed out on Regionals, but will have a host of individuals at this one)

Georgia Regional:
[6] Georgia
[7] Michigan
[18] Central Michigan
Ohio State
NC State
Rutgers
(This is where West Virginia’s individuals will be competing)

LSU Regional:
[3] LSU
[10] Stanford
[13] Auburn
Arizona
Kent State
Iowa State

Regionals thoughts:

 -What ended up the most significant result from last Saturday was Michigan’s ability to put in a strong performance in the afternoon session at Big Tens compared to UCLA inability to do the same thing at Pac 12s. UCLA had to be merely good to get that 7th seed (I think they would have needed a 197.2, which they should be getting at this point in the season), but in the end, Michigan ended up with a much more comfortable Regionals placement. Sure, Central Michigan and Ohio State can do a mid 196, but sans meltdown, Michigan and Georgia are looking solid to advance. UCLA, meanwhile, has that tough spot of being the second seed in the Arkansas Regional that we have been pointing to all season long as a challenging position.

-There are some really juicy battles in the top-seeded Regionals. We can expect Florida, Oklahoma, and LSU to go through, but the second spot is totally unreserved in all three of those Regionals. Based on what we saw at conference championships, I think Stanford is rounding into strong enough form to advance, but Penn State and Minnesota will look like good upset bets as third-seed hosts. I’ll have full previews of each Regional in the coming weeks as we wait for the big day, April 5th.

Quick, but extensive, Pac 12 thoughts:

-I made a comment before Pac 12s that I thought the second session would be anticlimactic with the bottom four teams competing, but actually the first session ended up the anticlimactic one because it became clear very early on that Utah was the one team that showed up and would win comfortably (they probably even could have counted a beam fall and won). The meet began energetically enough, but once Utah started pulling ahead in the scores without UCLA coming close to matching, things got pretty subdued. That also may have had something to do with the fact that the arena air conditioning was clearly pumping chloroform into the crowd. I barely made it to the arena in time for the first routine (but I got there!), but by the middle of the second rotation, I was ready for a nap. I think UCLA should blame its performance on the chloroform air conditioning as well. Also, the area where I was sitting smelled like stale barf and poisoned hot dogs. See, I’m bringing you the important updates from the meet.

-The crowd at the second session was less enthusiastic because there weren’t those big team booster sections, but I appreciated the largely relaxed atmosphere. I tend to enjoy night gymnastics more  anyway. It was still odd to have the lower seeds competing later, though. The day didn’t build. It started with excitement, and then just sort of petered out for hours. 

-UCLA was my main contender to challenge Utah, and they kept that status for exactly one routine. Danusia started out fine on bars, but then Mossett couldn’t complete her goddamn stalder (that must be removed from her routine for next season), and after that, it was kind of a disaster. Miss Val stopped doing the two-step immediately at that point, and the team never truly recovered. Beam looked fine in a couple places, which I was pleased to see, but bars was so, so tight after Mossett and the landings were nowhere on floor and vault. When Sam Peszek is landing her Yfull short with a lunge, you know it’s a bad day.

-Stanford also impressed me. They were not going to be able to catch Utah because floor is such a disadvantage for this team, but they looked like the strongest team to me on both bars and beam. That beam rotation to start off the meet was excellent, and I thought they looked better than Utah on bars. Bars scoring was a bit screwy and way overvalued stuck landings (Exhibit A: how Georgia Dabritz got a 10 when she missed a handstand). Judge #2 on bars and I were more in agreement.

-Speaking of judging, in the first session, I thought the ranking was appropriate and obvious but the margins were a little out of whack. Floor ended up being a the biggest decider in the team margins because, until the end of the session, it was unclear what kind of attitude the judges had. Utah finally proved they were willing to go really high for hit routines, but none of the other teams were able to take advantage of that by nailing their landings, so Utah amassed a tremendous margin on that one event and everyone else was sort of poor. Missed opportunity for 9.9s there, because the judges had a whole mess of them in their pockets.

-The big surprise was Cal finishing ahead of UCLA, and my thoughts are these: At a neutral venue, competing at the same time and giving the exact same performances, UCLA would have finished ahead. The margin was small, and there wasn’t enough scoring consistency between the two sessions to make an accurate comparison. It’s like mashing together the scores from two different meets. For (delicious) instance, Judge #2 on beam gave the same score to Sam Peszek and Crystal Paz, which is just crazy based on the quality of those routines. Peszek’s routine was easily two tenths better. I pick out those routines and that judge specifically because that’s the judge that gave Peszek’s beam a 9.850, and I think I missed a few routines after that score because I was too busy watching Miss Val’s reaction and subsequent icy prowling. It was great. Honestly, the title of the meet (and every UCLA meet) was “Look at Miss Val now.” 

-That said, Cal finished ahead of UCLA not only because of the timing circumstances of the meet but because they competed much closer to their potential. It was a great, hit meet for Cal–strong vaulting, several really convincing beam routines. It was a confident, exceptional performance the likes of which we’re not accustomed to seeing from Cal teams. UCLA’s potential scoring is much greater, but they also competed far below that potential at this meet. Cal competed at maybe 85%, while UCLA was more like 50%. Ask lay fans who was better, and they will all say Cal.  

-Also, Oregon State competed its whole bars rotation with a “Go UTES!” sign on its fenced-in area. Attention to detail. Related note: Having the gymnasts in corrals is not my favorite thing, but at least don’t make the corrals look like actual fences. It has a very “ode to the domestication of livestock” feel to it, like after the meet we’re driving the team to the abattoir.

-One of the struggles of gymnastics meets, especially college gymnastics meets, it setting the situation. Sports fans love to savor situations: the tension is rising, what does this person/team need to do to right at this moment to win? This meet had a really exciting ending, with Cal needing a 9.850 in its final floor routine to pass UCLA (a score they got exactly), but no one in the arena who wasn’t doing the rotation scores in their head like me knew the exact situation, the exact score Cal needed at that moment for this major accomplishment. The general format impedes the appreciation of that exciting moment because no one is telling people that Crystal Paz just needs a 9.850 for Cal to finish third. I’ll also say that the score reporting in the arena in general was unhelpful, with just those little JO scoreboards at one end and only the individual event rankings being shown on the big screens. No one had any idea what the team scoring situation was.

-I’m sure I had a lot more thoughts, but this seems like plenty. If they occur to me, I’ll pepper them in throughout the coming posts.

-I’ll hold off my thoughts about SECs until after the competition airs and I’ve actually seen the gymnastics, but that’s a huge result for Alabama. It must have been another really exciting ending with it all coming down to Bridgey Caquatto’s floor routine. I was all praiseworthy about that lineup decision in the preview because I think it bumps her score up, but it didn’t work out this time. There were big bars scores for most of the top teams, so I’m eager to see how all those routines actually looked.

The Conference Championships Ahead – March 22nd

We have arrived at conference championships weekend, aka the last time you’re still technically allowed to be bad. After this, quality is a requirement instead of just a recommendation.

In the final showdown for the #1 ranking before the Regionals are assigned, Florida controls its own destiny, able to secure the regular-season #1 position with a 197.300, which I certainly expect them to get. The more interesting ranking maneuvering will come lower down the table, particularly in how the Nebraska, Stanford, Oregon State, Auburn, Illinois, Minnesota, Penn State, and Arkansas group plays out in terms of Regionals pairing and hosts. The match-ups between these schools will be the most fun to follow on Regionals day because we’ll have significant upset potential in two or three of those competitions. We also have Cal trying to get a big score at home at Pac 12s to jump into a seeded position, along with a number of teams vying for the final couple spots in the top 36. Full analysis of each team’s scoring going into the weekend is here.

http://www.gatorvision.tv/mediaPortal/embed.swf
 
I won’t have a live blog for the conference championships, so if you have any pressing comments to make about the meets, especially regarding judges and their various crack-smoking tendencies, feel free to leave them here. I did previews for SECs and Pac 12s already, but in the Big Ten, expect Michigan to win the first session by well over a point. Then, we’ll have to wait and see how the scores from the first session compare to the second to see how much foul crying will ensue after the meet. Nebraska has the benefit of competing in the night group, and if they bring the vault landings and hit beam, they should win the session, but at the Big Ten quads last weekend, the difference between Nebraska and the rest was minor, so any mistake from either Michigan or Nebraska will bring in all of the next three seeds in a potential five-way mid-196 battle. That would be great to follow, but if Michigan and Nebraska hit hit, they should have enough of a margin to make it a two-team race rather than a five-team race. They’re just a step above, with more 9.9s than the teams in the teens can expect to get even on a great day. As for Michigan and Nebraska, the session scoring comparison will be fascinating.

Oh, and Oklahoma will obviously win Big 12s. The end.

The EAGL looks completely up for grabs, and will be providing a free live stream, so if you’re looking to whet your competition appetite, keep an eye on that one because it could go anywhere and everywhere. New Hampshire is probably the smart bet–top-ranked and competing at home–but the majority of those teams should be right in it because they’re fairly closely packed in the rankings and rarely show a major difference in their weekly scores. NC State is always dangerous and has a couple people who can bring in high 9.8s on multiple events in Ouellette, Watkins, and Ham. Rutgers started off the year very well but has fallen back since those early scores. Still, do we see a big Rutgers upset in the cards?

The independent schools that put together the Mountain Rim Championship this year have also had a very competitive season, with all six teams already guaranteed to make Regionals. Even the lowest-ranked team in the group, Utah State, impressed me in their recent meet with UCLA. All six of these teams can reach 196, so it should be another very competitive one with one tenth margins on events (and, as always, who can hit beam) deciding the places 1 through 6. Boise State’s asset is bars, but can they score well enough on beam to make that advantage hold up over Denver? 

Championship Schedule

Saturday – 3/22/14

12:00 ET/9:00 PT – Big Ten Championship Session 1: [8] Michigan, [24] Ohio State, [37] Iowa, [38] Michigan State

12:00 ET/9:00 PT – ECAC Championship: [55] William & Mary, [57] Brown, [61] Cornell, [62] Temple, [64] Penn, [65] Yale

1:00 ET/10:00 PT – ECAC Division II Championship: [52] Bridgeport, [63] West Chester, [68] Southern Connecticut

2:00 ET/11:00 PT – EAGL Championship: [23] New Hampshire, [27] NC State, [33] Rutgers, [35] Maryland, [40] Pittsburgh, [43] George Washington, [44] North Carolina, [59] Towson

2:00 ET/11:00 PT – MAC Championship: [18] Central Michigan, [26] Kent State, [42] Bowling Green, [45] Eastern Michigan, [46] Western Michigan, [50] Northern Illinois, [56] Ball State

3:00 ET/12:00 PT – SEC Championship Session 1: [12] Auburn, [15] Arkansas, [28] Kentucky, [38] Missouri

4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Big 12 Championship: [3] Oklahoma, [36] West Virginia, [40] Iowa State

4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Pac 12 Championship Session 1: [5] Utah, [7] UCLA, [10] Stanford, [11] Oregon State

5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Big Ten Championship Session 2: [9] Nebraska, [13] Illinois, [14] Minnesota, [15] Penn State

5:00 ET/2:00 PT – MIC Championship: [47] Texas Woman’s, [49] Illinois-Chicago, [51] SEMO, [58] Lindenwood, [60] Illinois State, [67] Centenary

7:00 ET/4:00 PT – SEC Championship Session 2: [1] Florida, [2] LSU, [4] Alabama, [6] Georgia

9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Mountain Rim Championship: [17] Boise State, [20] Denver, [25] BYU, [29] Southern Utah, [32] Utah State

9:30 ET/6:30 PT – Pac 12 Championship Session 2: [19] Cal, [21] Arizona, [22] Arizona State, [34] Washington

10:00 ET/7:00 PT – MPSF Championship: [30] San Jose State, [31] UC Davis, [48] Sacramento State, [53] Air Force, [54] Seattle Pacific, [66] Alaska

SEC Championship Preview

When Missouri joined the SEC and the conference championship switched from a one-session, seven-team behemoth to a two-session meet, there was some push back from a few coaches. (I think Jay Clark wanted it to be contested over two days with several rounds, or something wildly unnecessary.) Flash forward two years, and it has worked out splendidly. With four legitimate title contenders for the last two seasons, the second session of SECs has been equivalent to the lamely named “Four on the Floor” that several of the coaches have long advocated instead of Super Six. Florida, Alabama, LSU, and Georgia will be lobbing 9.950s at each other all meet long in what Bart Connor will inevitably call a “four-ring circus,” and it’s going to take maintaining an exceptional level across all four events to even consider winning this meet. One 49.250 rotation will be enough to bump any team out of it. Having to count a couple 9.825s on bars last year was enough to keep Alabama below Florida, and I have to think that multiple 9.825s will be similarly poisonous this year. “Fine routine” = “Enjoy 4th place.”

And believe it or not, in the SEC the top four seeds are actually competing at the end of the competition, after the bottom four seeds. You know, like at a sporting event. At the risk of turning into too much of a Sarah-Patterson-at-Nationals in my SEC praise (if there were a pull-string doll of Sarah Patterson, it would just say, “It’s great to be here with all these wonderful SEC teams” over and over again), the Pac 12 can still boast that its event is actually broadcast live on TV, which may be the trump card.

Each of the four teams in the final session can manage a couple 49.500 rotations, so it’s going to take at least a very high 197 to win the title, if not a 198. Florida, Alabama, and LSU have all reached 198 this year, and I would actually be mildly surprised if none of the three teams manage it at SECs the way the scoring has been going. If the judges maintain the same standard they have used during the regular season, they will be pushed high on every event right from the start and will have to stay there all meet.

Of the big four, Georgia has the toughest battle for the title because there are still some questions about floor and possibly beam. Questions won’t cut it in a session this competitive, and they’re probably going to need season highs on both beam and floor to stay with everyone else. Based on what we’ve seen lately, if Florida nails four events, I think they’re the best team in the country, but the margin is small enough that they’ll have to nail all four events without any kind of a landing lull. Alabama being in Birmingham may have an influence on the performance (they’ll have the crowd certainly), but I’m not expecting some kind of huge or noticeable home-scoring advantage, mostly because all the scores are going to be high for everyone. There’s no room for a home boost in this field in a 10-capped system. That said, if Alabama wins would I be surprised? Not even slightly. LSU? A little. Georgia? Yes. 

Let’s get into it. The rotation order is as follows:
Session 1: Auburn – VT; Arkansas – UB; Kentucky – BB; Missouri – FX
Session 2: Florida – VT; LSU – UB; Alabama – BB; Georgia – FX

Vault: 

Each of the teams in the second group has recorded several fantastic numbers on vault, and vault has probably been the most consistently high-scoring event of the four, which is traditional but also means that we could see rather even scoring here without one team taking a major advantage. I don’t anticipate the meet being decided on vault unless one team really forgets to pack its sticks. We should see several 49.5s here that basically keep everyone in sight of each other for the other events.

It’s an interesting dynamic on vault because Florida probably has the best final duo in Sloan and Hunter (I’ll allow debate on the matter, but that’s my assessment), but they have not been the best team on vault this season because they can be beat in the beginning of the lineup. LSU lays claim to being the strongest vaulting team because they can realistically get a 9.9 from every spot in the lineup, while Florida, Alabama, and Georgia are much more likely to start with a couple 9.850s, which makes the difference. For LSU, the lowest score often ends up being for Ashleigh Gnat’s gargantuan 1.5 in the fourth position, solely because it’s so much harder to stick that one. If LSU is going to win (which is certainly possible but I would still consider it an upset if they did), they’ll need to take advantage of the 1-6 depth they possess and get those big scores from Dickson and Jordan right from the start. The first three or four vault scores for each team will be a telling comparison as we go through the meet. 

If vault is essential for LSU, it’s just as essential for Georgia because if the Gym Dogs are going to pull off the unexpected rise from 4th to 1st, they’ll have to vault like monsters and stick at least four. I’m still on the Lindsey Cheek 10 watch, and if they can get controlled landings from Rogers and Jay for 9.925s instead of steps for 9.850s to support her, they’ll be competitive. But everyone will have to be on, so that also means a stick from Davis and one of Cat Hires’s non-short vaults.

Florida begins the meet on vault, which we tend to think of as advantageous (though I think the advantage of Olympic order is way overstated), but it actually might pose a challenge. Vault is Florida’s lowest-ranked event (at 5th), and last year Florida began SECs on vault as well with a somewhat regular performance that they had to recover from on the final three events in order to win. The vaults from Spicer and Bridgey Caquatto must be under control from the start – none of these bounces – so that they’re not giving away too much before the final vaulters. The other teams may also appreciate that Florida is starting on vault, because Kytra is most likely to break the 10 barrier there, which makes it more likely that the 10s will also flow for the other teams once they arrive at vault.

Alabama is the team that sticks. That’s how they make their impact on vault, and why it was so surprising last year that the sticks went away at Nationals. A lot of the accountability for Alabama not being able to defeat a fall-counting Florida has gone to the errors on beam, but they were put in that position by failing to stick vaults two rotations before. I don’t think this current Alabama vault team is as talented as the ones we have seen the last couple years without Gutierrez, Sledge, and Williams, so the sticks will be that much more important, especially from Beers who can stick for a 9.950 to support Milliner’s inevitable high score. 

The first session will be a battle between Auburn and Arkansas, and with both teams capable of 197s, we could see one pounce on a top-four team if one of the higher seeds has a trouble day. It’s not guaranteed that Florida, LSU, Alabama, and Georgia will finish in the top four, just likely. In the Auburn and Arkansas competition, Auburn has the edge on vault. Arkansas has a couple struggle vaults in that rotation that make it hard for Grable’s excellent to bring the score too high, so if Auburn is on point with the landings and gets the big scores from Rott and Atkinson at the end, they can build up a multi-tenth advantage here.

Bars:

As we rotate to bars, we encounter the must-dominate event for Georgia. This is true not just in the SEC race but looking toward Nationals as well where Georgia will likely be in a fight for the final spot to advance out of one of the semifinals. They’ll have to be much better than the competition on bars to win that fight. It’s their trump card. There are several dreams in this Georgia bars rotation: Kiera Brown’s tkatchev, Brittany Rogers’s stalders, all the handstands, Chelsea Davis’s everything. But, those are just pleasant little wisps of nothing without the landings to go with them. Those landings disappeared last week against Utah, and they need to reappear immediately. At its best, this is a multi-9.950 rotation and another event where Georgia needs those 9.950s and needs to outscore the competition, not just stay with, but outscore.

Florida is great on bars as well (#2 in the country) but can still get getter, and when we think about Florida’s path to a championship repeat, wiping the floor with everyone on bars is a significant part of that path. If this competition is viewed as a Florida-Alabama showdown, which it isn’t necessarily, bars is where Florida accumulates its advantage over Alabama, with three to four legitimate 9.950 possibilities. I actually thought, especially given the scoring this season, that we would see a few more meets where Sloan, Macko, and Johnson were straight 9.950s at the end of the lineup, but the landings have taken some time to get under control and there are just a couple breaks here and there–handstands sometimes for Macko, Johnson’s DLO, Sloan’s bail–that can bring them down especially if the landings aren’t there. If the Gators are to win the SEC again, they’ll look for something like a two-tenth advantage over Alabama and LSU on bars, and that will come from the promise of the march of the 9.950s finally coming to fruition.

In Sarie Morrison and Rheagan Courville, LSU has the back end of a lineup to compete with the rest of the teams in the SEC on bars, which has so rarely been the case in this program’s history. These last two seasons have seen a bars revolution to the point where this team is not giving away all that much. They can get their 9.9s, and Randii Wyrick’s coming into form at the end of the year only helps, but I don’t see LSU matching the scores that Florida and Georgia will put up on bars in the exact opposite of the situation on vault. Here, LSU is the team that doesn’t have the possible 9.9s from the very first position the way that Georgia and Florida do. Low 49.4s would be a very good bars score for LSU and would set them up well, but it would also result in a some disadvantage in the overall title race. 

Alabama has done a respectable job at enduring bars this season. Losing Priess, Sledge, and Alexin made it seem at the beginning of the season that they would be starting from scratch on this event, and in some ways that has been the case. Bars a very different dynamic than the rotation had last season, and one of the disadvantages Alabama faces is that they don’t have those go-to 9.9 routines that the other three top teams have. A couple of the Alabama bars workers can get 9.9s, but it’s not a given that they’ll do it and it’s usually really exciting for them when it happens. I’m very interested to see what the judges do with some of those Alabama handstands and with Aja Sims’ routine, with the leg breaks that haven’t really been deducted so far this season. But, broken record alert, this team can stick some DLOs like no one’s business. It definitely brings up those scores, and could help erase a potential deficit to Florida, especially if the Gators are stepping out on us.

Beam:

Discussing beam in the SEC is far less terrifying than discussing beam in the Pac 12. There are still mistakes. There are still fountains of terror just waiting to spurt, but I have a lot more confidence that we will see multiple hit beam rotations, namely from Alabama. Alabama has several strong events, but on vault and floor, I expect other teams to be able to score right with them, which mitigates some of the advantage. On beam, Alabama is capable of putting together a wobble-free rotation that provides some separation between them and other teams. Much like how landings become everything in a year of high scores, on beam, lack of wobbles and a stuck dismount can be a direct route to 9.950s, and we’ve seen that for the Tide this season. Alabama begins on beam, and I don’t expect that to be any kind of an issue. If any team should start on beam, it should be Alabama.

No team has been immune from the beam mistakes this year, but like Alabama, Florida has kept them to a minimum, the struggle against UCLA early in the season and then that mini-meltdown at Alabama come to mind, but mostly they have been able to get those essential nailed routines from Sloan and Macko at the end of the lineup for 9.925s to bring in the big scores. However, there has been enough concern in the Florida beam lineup that Kytra has been moved to the anchor position, so maybe that’s reason for a doubt or two to creep in. Kytra’s average on beam this year is in the 9.7s, and ever since the Super Six incident, her beam hasn’t been a guaranteed hit. Both Kytra and Alaina Johnson will have to get through without a major wobble so that Florida isn’t forced to count a couple of those 9.825s that I warned about.

LSU experienced a beam boost in 2013, and another boost in 2014, to become a solidly competitive team on this event. They haven’t yet recorded a beam rotation below 49, which is a huge deal for this team. The most important change this season has been the addition of Gnat, who can score right with Courville and Jordan and give the team a dynamic trio. However, like Florida, there is still some concern in this lineup. A couple of the early routines are still questionable, and they’ve been working against a low score for several meets lately. As great as Courville’s routine can be, there is definite risk in that arabian, which means that she might throw in a 9.7 with a big wobble that they certainly don’t want to count. That puts more pressure on people like Hall and Ewing to get their hits and not just rely on the back three to save the rotation.

Georgia has had a few more beam struggles this season that the other teams, not necessarily devastating scores (and still good enough to be #5 in the country) but some counting 9.7s and working against early falls. For the last two years, the story for Georgia has been big scores in the first two rotations that fall away in the last two. Georgia doesn’t always get the big beam scores that the others get, so aside from having the beginning of the rotation stay on the beam–obviously–they’ll need both Cheek and Earls to hit for those 9.9s, otherwise it’s hard to imagine this rotation scoring well enough to keep the Gym Dogs on pace. The team’s RQS is a 49.240, but they’ll need to beat by at least a tenth to stay close.

In the first session, if Arkansas is going to make a move on Auburn, it will happen on beam. Auburn has struggled with consistency this year, counting falls fairly frequently, so even though they have some sublime routines from Walker and Atkinson, Arkansas could use hits from Dillard, Nelson, and Wellick – even just for 9.825 or so – to build up a margin that Grable can bring home with her anchor routine. Auburn should be stronger on vault and floor, so if Arkansas is going to win the session, it will have to be because of beam.

Floor:

Floor is the prime area where the judges are going to need to be wary of keeping their big scores to themselves like good little children because based on the scoring so far this season, with all these strong teams together in the same place, we could see the scores go so high so early that there would be no room to create any kind of separation between routines. Then, everyone is a 9.950 and there’s no advantage to the best routines. Florida, LSU, and Alabama have all scored at least 49.675 this season on floor, which is crazy and means that on any given day, any of them could score a remarkable number here.

These three teams are all very even, but I would say that Kytra gives Florida an edge because she is the most likely 10. Florida also has what I think is the smartest lineup construction of the three teams. Sloan and Hunter have the quality and notoriety to get big scores in any position in the lineup, so putting them at 4th and 5th, rather than the traditional 5th and 6th, allows them to boost the scores for Bridgey Caquatto’s pleasant and well-executed (but not Kytra-esque) routine and make it another contender for the 9.925s that it wouldn’t necessarily get going before those two. It’s a perfect example of difficulty building to cleanliness, which helps bump up the score for the cleanliness.

LSU and Alabama should also be right there for 49.5s or more, and therefore like vault, I don’t expect floor to end up telling us that much about who wins this meet. These three teams are too even for us to expect any one of them to move ahead or drop behind by an appreciable margin here. With Jacob and Milliner for Alabama and Courville and Hall for LSU, both teams have the 9.950s to keep up the scoring parade. Hall has been the queen of floor 10s for a while now, but she has since been eclipsed by Kytra and hasn’t received a 10 in over a month. What a drought! Her returning to the land of royalty at SECs would be a welcome development for LSU since these last couple weeks they have been throwing in a few 9.6s and 9.7s that we wouldn’t expect. All of these teams can get high 9.8s through to 9.9s during their floor rotations, so counting a 9.750 could be devastating by comparison. 

As for Georgia, this event is the team’s biggest challenge, a challenge that is not helped by the fact that the scores have been going so high on floor, meaning that a struggle rotation is much more dangerous on floor than it is on beam because it results in a larger deficit. Last weekend saw some progress on floor for Georgia in a season-high score, with Jay and Rogers both hitting their routines at the same time and no one giving away some kind of silly OOB error. The problem is that this was Georgia’s best floor showing and still resulted in a 49.450, which will probably end up being the fourth-best floor score we see at SECs, so the Gym Dogs are going to need to find even another gear up from last week to avoid giving up too much of a deficit.

It’s all happening. All the gymnastics. You should probably get excited.

Okay, DONE.