Tag Archives: Michigan

Saturday Live Blog – January 7, 2017

Saturday, January 7
Scores Watch
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – New Hampshire, Bridgeport, William & Mary @ Rutgers LINK
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – Southern Connecticut @ Towson LINK FREE
3:00 ET/12:00 PT – Gustavus Adolphus @ UW-Oshkosh
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Bowling Green, BYU, Temple @ [23] Penn State LINK FREE
6:30 ET/3:30 PT – Ohio State @ Pitt LINK ACCN
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [7] Michigan @ [6] Utah LINK P12
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [17] Arkansas @ [4] UCLA LINK P12
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – [25] George Washington v. Yale (@ Boston, MA)
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – [14] Denver @ [16] Minnesota LINK BTN+
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Winona State @ Air Force FREE

Today’s live blogging will be focused on the simultaneous Pac-12 meets hosted by Utah and UCLA (thanks, Pac-12 Network), but I’ll include some notes on action I’m seeing earlier in the day.

-Brianna Comport of Bridgeport started with a 9.850 on beam and a 9.825 on floor.

-Tyra McKellar of Towson has the biggest piked Jaeger you’ll see. Tons of other breaks in the routine, still somehow got 9.750 I think due to Jaeger respect because…that Jaeger. Continue reading Saturday Live Blog – January 7, 2017

Michigan 2017

Not to be outdone, Michigan conducted its own preseason exhibition last weekend—an actual exhibition meet against an actual opponent in EMU. It was, in many ways, a less-representative showing than the previews we’ve seen from Utah or LSU because two rather important gymnasts were missing in Karas and Zaziski (neither for what appear to be serious or long-term reasons), but it did still provide us with a solid-enough sense of how Michigan shapes up for 2017.

Nicole Artz
  • AA star, team-best routines on UB, BB, FX
  • Also provides early-mid lineup VT
  • 2016 RQS: FX – 9.955, BB – 9.910, UB – 9.900, VT – 9.815
Talia Chiarelli
  • Critical team scores on VT, BB, FX
  • Does not compete UB because Brestyan’s
  • 2016 RQS: FX – 9.910, VT – 9.890, BB – 9.870
Brianna Brown
  • Starring UB and critical BB in first two seasons
  • Contributes early-lineup VT, FX as needed, which is pretty much always
  • 2016 RQS: UB – 9.890, FX – 9.850, BB – 9.845, VT – 9.775
Lauren Marinez
  • Staple of BB lineup in sophomore season
  • 2016 RQS: BB – 9.850
Paige Zaziski
  • Transfer from Arkansas
  • Competed VT, UB, FX each meet in 2016, competed AA each meet in 2015
  • 2016 RQS: UB – 9.875, VT – 9.840, BB – 9.840
Olivia Karas
  • Competed AA in every meet as a freshman
  • 2016 RQS: VT – 9.940, FX – 9.935, BB – 9.875, UB – 9.850
Emma McLean
  • Weekly leadoff VT and occasional FX in 2016
  • 2016 RQS: FX – 9.815, VT – 9.790
Lexi Funk
  • IGI
  • 2016 JO Nationals BB 8th, FX 9th
  • 2015 JO Nationals UB 5th, BB 5th
Maggie O’Hara
  • Southeastern
  • 2016 JO Nationals UB 2nd, BB 8th
Maddy Osman
  • Orlando Metro
  • 2016 JO Nationals 5th AA, 2nd FX
Sam Roy
  • Hunts MI
  • 2016 Region 5, FX 5th
Polina Shchennikova
  • TIGAR/5280
  • 2013 Junior Nationals AA 8th, UB 3rd

Recent History
2016 – 13th
2015 – 7th
2014 – 10th
2013 – 7th
2012 – 13th
2011 – 6th
2010 – 10th

Michigan drew the beam short straw again last year, missing nationals after an implosion at what otherwise would have been a pleasure cruise of a regional. Ultimately, the 2016 Wolverines equaled the result of that wildly depleted 2012 side (when it was a miracle they finished as high as 13th), a placement unbecoming of a team that could have made Super Six.

Based on the roster and the number of essential routines returning from last year in Artz, Chiarelli, Karas, and Brown, there’s every reason to expect 2017 to go quite similarly to 2016 (except, they’ll hope, without the ending part). The slate of most likely competition routines is quite similar, though a critical difference may be an increased supply of options as more routines have come into the team than were lost. That should allow Michigan better opportunities to rest major contributors or drop inconsistent routines.  Continue reading Michigan 2017

2017 Freshman Preview: Michigan

Yes, Michigan has not yet released its schedule for the 2017 season even though it’s mid-October. Normally, this would merit the time-honored punishment of refusing to acknowledge the existence of said team until the situation is rectified, but what can I say? I’m a charitable, forgiving, non-judgmental spirit.

So, let’s forge ahead with Michigan’s hearty band of five freshmen who will join junior transfer Paige Zaziski in an effort to fill out the following slate of returning routines.

Returning Routines – Michigan
Karas – 9.940
Chiarelli – 9.890
Artz – 9.815
McLean – 9.790
Brown – 9.775
Artz – 9.900
Brown – 9.890
Karas – 9.850
Artz – 9.910
Karas – 9.875
Chiarelli – 9.870
Marinez – 9.850
Brown – 9.845
Artz – 9.955
Karas – 9.935
Chiarelli – 9.910
Brown – 9.850
McLean – 9.815

What’s most encouraging about Michigan’s freshmen is just how many routines they’ll bring. They’re not all postseason-level sets by any means, but most of these routines are at least somewhat realistic and should provide a net boost to Michigan’s depth. We may even be looking at nine whole vaults to play around with instead of, you know, exactly six.

Let’s begin with the Polina Shchennikova situation because I’m fascinated. Polina started elite life being touted as the second coming of Our Lady of Nastia due to hair color and Russia. Also bars and flexibility. Ultimately, that was unfair and unrealistic, and then injuries popped out of the earth’s crust and went, “Mwahahahaha,” helping nothing. From back problems to, most recently, labrum surgery, Shchennikova ended up competing a 1/4 teaspoon of gymnastics over the last three years.

Polina is in recovery mode now, and just this week, Dave Kuzara shared a video of her doing giants again on bars. That’s where we are in the comeback process, so withhold any real expectations until we see a healthy gymnast who is legitimately back. Fingers crossed.

Still, bars. Bars has always been her event, though despite tremendous line and huge difficulty, Shchennikova’s elite scores were often undermined by all the falling, along with a tendency to pack in so much difficulty that her form turned 50 shades of cray in the middle of combinations. I do think her routine improved as time went on, and if she’s able to get herself actually healthy, this is going to make for a magical NCAA bars set.

Shchennikova always had those big 6.3+ bars Ds but coming up with elite difficulty on the other events was more of a slog. NCAA should suit her very well in that regard because it will free her of the need to chuck those troublesome acro skills and rough dismounts, allowing her to settle into a more comfortable composition that lets her flexibility and style shine. I’m wary of thinking about vault or floor simply because of her extreme fragility, but I certainly do hold out hope for a glorious beam set. Dear Michigan, Weverseseses are role models. Continue reading 2017 Freshman Preview: Michigan

Comings and Goings

Oklahoma won the national title six whole days ago, which is like a thousand years ago. Sorry, Oklahoma. We’re moving on. What have you done for us lately? Basically nothing? That’s what I thought.

The 2017 season is just around the corner, as long as that corner is really, really far away. We don’t know anything real about 2017 yet, but we do know which valuable gems and enthusiastic leaders in the training gym we won’t see next year, along with which bright new lights full of possibilities and undiagnosed shin problems will be joining the teams in their place.

Detailed looks at each team and roster will come much later, when the season approaches and I actually vaguely know who these JO gymnasts are, but let’s call this a preliminary glance at who’s coming and who’s going on each team now that the 2016 season is closed and locked away forever and the traditional eight-month moratorium has been placed on the terms “parity,” “yurchenko arabian,” “confident leadoff,” and “life lessons.” I’ve placed the top teams into various categories based on the current outlook and added the RQSs for the routines they will lose after 2016.

This is, of course, assuming that people do what they’re supposed to and don’t suddenly turn pro or run off to join a traveling circus or whatever.

Smooth sailing

Out: Jessica Savona, Randii Wyrick, Michelle Gauthier
In: Ruby Harrold, Kennedi Edney, Ashlyn Kirby

Savona – VT – 9.820 avg; UB – 9.840; FX – 9.902 avg
Wyrick – UB – 9.810; FX – 9.905

The Tigers certainly lose a few critical routines, the most important being Savona’s floor, though they already gained some experience with life after Savona’s vault and floor when she was out early this season (and life after Wyrick’s bars when she didn’t compete in the postseason). They survived, for the most part. Several of these openings should be filled by people already on the roster, and while I don’t think we can have any expectations for Priessman at this point because any week she’s healthy enough to compete is just a bonus, Kelley should do more next year. Add to that this freshman class, and I think there’s every reason to expect LSU 2017 to be stronger than LSU 2016.

Out: Lauren Beers, Carley Sims
In: Maddie Desch, Wynter Childers, Shea Mahoney

Beers – VT – 9.905; UB – 9.690; FX – 9.915
Sims – FX – 9.868

Alabama is in a similar position to LSU in terms of not losing that many routines, though Alabama’s losses carry a bit more significance, especially on floor with the team’s two strongest floories departing. They’ll need some of the upperclassmen like Brannan to step up and be a little more Beersy on those events and a little less middle-of-the-lineupy, but with increased contribution from a potential star like Ari Guerra who didn’t figure at all by the end of the season and the introduction of Maddie Desch and Wynter Childers, Alabama’s first-ever recruit who’s also a citizen of District 1, I’m not too worried about the look of Alabama’s future roster.
Continue reading Comings and Goings

Michigan Regional Preview

Here it is. The big one. Are you excited? I’m excited. Ever since it became clear that Stanford’s ranking would not emerge from the pitiful category before the end of the season, we’ve all been waiting to see which of the poor souls that bothered to get good scores all year long would suffer the punishment of being placed with Stanford. The winners are Auburn and Michigan. It’s funny because the 6-7-18 regional is usually the boring one, the one where the top two teams have more than a fall of margin over anyone else, but this year, it’s the one everyone is anticipating the most. Yes, I just decided which regional you’re anticipating the most. It’s this. The end.

Of course, that means it will end up being super boring. Without a doubt. It always happens. All of the other regionals will be intensely close throughout, and then this one will be decided in the first rotation. You know it.

Competing teams (starting event) 
[6] Auburn (bye before bars)
[7] Michigan (beam)
[18] Stanford (floor)
[24] Eastern Michigan (bye before floor)
[25] Penn State (bars)
[33] New Hampshire (vault)

Competing individuals
Pittsburgh (Lindsay Offutt – AA; Tracey Pearson – AA; Miya Dotson – UB)
Rutgers (Libby Groden – AA; Nicolette Wilson – VT; Michelle Amoresano – VT)
Bridgeport (Brianna Comport – BB, FX; Christine Liautaud – UB; Randi Cutolo – FX)
West Chester (Majesta Valentine – AA)
Cornell (Kaitlin Green – BB)

The fight – Auburn v. Michigan v. Stanford

No favorites here. There can’t be because someone very capable of a 197 will miss out on nationals, and any one of these three teams could be eliminated even with a hit meet.

Still, Stanford must be considered the challenger to the throne rather than the reigning monarch because of a few more clear weaknesses than the others and the lack of consistently competitive scores during the season. In spite of Stanford’s definite potential to hit 197 and reputation for suddenly turning great once the elimination meets roll around, there’s a reason Stanford is 18th and not 6th or 7th. The scores haven’t been there the way they have for Auburn and Michigan, and Stanford really will have to put together a season-best performance to make it out of this competition. Normal won’t be good enough. It has to be a Price/Hong 9.950, Rice/McNair 9.850 kind of day to pull out the 197+ score it will take to advance. 

Auburn and Michigan are separated by essentially nothing. Auburn is a wisp ahead of Michigan in overall RQS, while Michigan is a wisp ahead of Auburn on each specific-event RQS. That indicates that Michigan has slightly higher peaks on each event but that Auburn has put it all together in the same meet slightly more often. It’s all slight. The advantage of being at home may tip the balance to Michigan, which is why (in addition to Michigan’s season high being the best in the competition) I see Auburn as more vulnerable than Michigan if both hit their meets. Really, there should only be a tenth or two between them either way.

Ergo…landings, landings, landings. On vault, for instance, Michigan has more difficulty, and the Olivia Karas grand finale has scored higher than the Caitlin Atkinson grand finale, but we have seen multiple meets this year in which Auburn has earned a very competitive vault score because of high-level landing control. Since Michigan’s peak scoring potential has been higher this year, those landings are all the more important for Auburn to close any scoring potential gap.  

For both teams, the vulnerability is beam. In fact, it has been a vulnerability for Stanford at times as this year well (but will be absolutely critical if Stanford is to stay in this), all of which is made evident by New Hampshire being ranked as the #2 beam team in this regional.  Each of these top seeds has the potential for multiple 9.9s. Atkinson, Milliet, Demers, Artz, Chiarelli, Price, Hong. There’s no shortage of impressive beamers in this meet, but Auburn has a tendency to throw a 9.7 or two out there early in the lineup, and Michigan has been a sudden fall-fest in the second half of the season. Beam will be the most telling indicator about whether Stanford is in this meet because secure hits from both Michigan and Auburn (in rotations one and three) would take away the primary area in which Stanford is looking to pick up tenths (in rotation five).

Stanford must win bars and beam to have a shot. If Stanford’s combined UB+BB score isn’t multiple tenths higher than either Auburn’s or Michigan’s, then qualification is a near impossibility because Auburn and Michigan are deeper and stronger on vault and floor. Stanford really should win beam here. Even though there have been a few nasties this year, the 9.9 potential across the lineup is the best in the meet. It’s not just Price and Hong. We’ve seen Chuang get 9.9s, and Nicki McNair often merits them, even if she doesn’t get them in the first spot.

A huge beam score is all the more important if Price keeps getting 9.900ed on vault. 

Those “Perfect 10!” posters are basically picket signs at this point. This is the protest movement of our generation.

Because of the rotation order, expect Stanford to trail early on, probably by a hefty margin. Floor and vault aren’t the big scores. It’s not necessarily a bad order for Stanford because they’ll end on the events where they really need huge scores and will hope drunk-judging has set in by then, but there is the potential for things to get out of control early if floor looks a little too 9.700. We’ve seen that before, and there will be no coming back from it this time. It’s in Stanford’s hands whether this meet is interesting or not. It really only gets close if Stanford is having one of those meets like at UCLA, where this weird thing happened where the talent of the roster actually manifested in the performance and the scores.

To keep an eye on whether season-best Stanford has shown up, I’ve taken each team’s season-high performance (Michigan’s 197.425, Stanford’s 197.400, and Auburn’s 197.325) and used the event scores from those meets to tell us roughly what kind of pace teams will want to be on rotation-by-rotation if they’re going to repeat those season-best performances. It’s the marker of where Stanford needs to be with respect to Michigan and Auburn (and vice versa) in order to make this meet a thing.

Rotation 1: Michigan 49.450, Stanford 49.250, Auburn BYE
Rotation 2: Stanford 98.500, Michigan 49.450, Auburn 49.350
Rotation 3: Michigan 98.775, Auburn 98.650, Stanford 98.500
Rotation 4: Michigan 148.075, Stanford 148.025, Auburn 98.650
Rotation 5: Stanford 197.400, Michigan 148.075, Auburn 147.950
Rotation 6: Michigan 197.425, Stanford 197.400, Auburn 197.325

To me, 98.500 is an optimistic estimate for where Stanford will be after vault and floor (RQS tells us more like 98.200), but it will take an optimistic-level meet for Stanford to advance. It’s what Stanford does in the postseason, anyway. Note that even with an optimistic score at the halfway point, Stanford still trails Michigan by 0.275 and Auburn by 0.150. They’d be fine with that deficit. That’s manageable. More than that is trouble.

Michigan and Auburn don’t tend to have the same highs and lows as Stanford, but floor is a big, necessary score for both of them because it’s 2016 and it’s floor. Michigan will have gone on floor in the first half of the meet and Auburn will not, so Michigan must have a lead after rotation three, and really should unless there’s another beam debacle.

And the rest
Most of the attention has to be on the big three in this meet because even if one of them has a meltdown, there are still two other 197-quality teams waiting to take those spots. Quite honestly, it will take two different multi-fall meltdowns from the big teams for any of the others to get into contention.

For Eastern Michigan, even making regionals would have been a tremendous accomplishment, but doing so as a #4 seed and the 24th ranked team, ahead of a much more heralded program like Penn State, is verging on phenomenal. This hasn’t been achieved just been by virtue of a weird score or two. Eastern Michigan has managed 196s at home, away, and while dominating the conference championship, because of bars, because of beam, and because of floor. It has been a deep and varied season of strength. This was supposed to be George Washington’s upstart season, and Eastern Michigan managed to out-George Washington George Washington.

Eastern Michigan’s way into this meet is beam. They’re #20 on beam (their highest event ranking), and since there is beam-meltdown potential across the competition, Eastern Michigan could just go, “Hi, 49.250 please” and suddenly make a serious impression with the same bunch of 9.875s that helped them overcome bars mistakes at MACs. Do keep an eye on Kendall Valentin on bars, though. She’s in the top 30 and has been a 9.9 machine.

Aside from one strong score at home during that insane Big Five meet, this has not been a positive season for Penn State, featuring a bunch of 195s and a continued commitment to creating enough behind-the-scenes drama to fill three full internets and still not even be done. While other teams have “Get to know the gymnasts!” features, Penn State should have a “Who’s quitting the program in tears this week” feature just to keep us updated. It’s only considerate.

It was always going to be difficult for Penn State to maintain the relatively competitive level from last season without Welsh and Sanabria-Robles, and the disappearance of Sibson has made finding any semblance of depth all the more difficult. Picking up Kiera Brown post-Georgia has been a helpful addition, and she seems to have regained her beam after losing it in spectacular fashion last season. Still, for the most part the 9.8s have dried up and not really been replaced, hence the dramatic fall from a “could make nationals” 13th last year to an “and the rest” 25th this year.

New Hampshire represent the last of our regionals qualifiers, a team that made a big splash at the beginning of the season by being ranked at near-Oklahoma levels on beam even though it’s New Hampshire and that’s not supposed to happen. The scores haven’t followed from that January success, settling into the mid-195s for hit meets ever since with a vault rotation that’s going to score mid 48s sometimes. There is still the potential for a fantastic beam rotation that puts pressure on the others when when Lauter, Aucoin, and Pflieger all hit together, and we can also expect a strong bars number from Mulligan, who has hit 9.9s multiple times this season, to round out some of the individual impressions this team should make. 

Someone among Auburn/Michigan/Stanford won’t qualify as a team, and since all of those teams boast legitimate contenders for an AA national title, the race for the two AA spots may very well be done before we even address the bottom-three teams. If Stanford doesn’t qualify as a team, obviously Elizabeth Price needs to go to nationals, and Taylor Rice would be a compelling option to go with her. Even Ivana Hong is in the mix if Stanford decides to secret-weapon her on floor at regionals, about which there has been some chatter. Of course, if Hong doesn’t do the AA, we’ve all agreed she needs to get a 10 on beam to advance to nationals as a specialist, right? Right?

I was about to say “to do that routine in event finals” until I remembered that’s not a thing anymore, making all of this individual-event chatter matter even less because…like we’re even going to be paying one teaspoon of attention to the individual event races on semifinal day. Not when there’s team qualification and AA to focus on. That’s going to be about priority #50. 

Artz, Karas, and Atkinson are the three other strongest AAers in this meet aside from Price and, as long as they hit, will all have spots if their teams don’t qualify.

Still, there’s a fair chance that we’ll see mistakes from the team that doesn’t go (and Auburn does have the just one AAer right now), so I’d imagine there could be an open spot still available for one of the three bottom teams or individuals. There are quite a few contenders in the mix, but the highest-ranked is Lindsay Offutt of Pitt. She’s here without a team, making things a million times more difficult, but I like her chances. If not Offutt, then Tsang of Penn State has gone 49.3s in her NCAA career, and Catie Conrad of Eastern Michigan can reach that mark as well on the back of a big beam score. Jessica Jones? Kiera Brown? Danielle Doolin? Perhaps, but if everything adheres to the seedings, my guess is two Stanford qualifiers, which makes it really tough for everyone else.

Big Ten Championship Preview

Saturday 3/19
Morning session 12:00 ET/9:00 PT
Afternoon session 5:00 ET/2:00 PT
Championship Central

Michigan, Nebraska, Minnesota, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State

Dating from time immemorial (so, 2012 when Nebraska joined the Big Ten), the quest for conference supremacy has been a fight between the Wolverines and the Huskers, attempting to answer the age-old question of which is better, a weird tiny skunk-bear or an ear of corn. The big two. This year, I don’t see much reason to change the world order.

That would have been an easier proclamation to make before the underwater hallucination circus that was that Big Five meet at Penn State, suddenly won by Minnesota and a bucket of cracky judging, but other than ensuring that we don’t ignore Minnesota’s 197 potential in the postseason, that meet shouldn’t really change the statuses of Michigan as favorite, Nebraska as next-best-favorite, Minnesota as also-almost-next-best-favorite, and Iowa as hey-you’re-a-team-this-year.  

In spite of losing to Nebraska earlier in the season, Michigan’s scoring potential remains the highest among the teams in this competition, and there’s a solid argument to be made that Michigan is the strongest team in the conference on all four apparatuses. At least, that’s what the rankings tell us. Really, Michigan is the top team on all four apparatuses***, and *** means AHHHBEAM. As it always does.

Three of Michigan’s last four beam scores have been under 49, each including at least two falls, and the team has not hit 6-for-6 on beam since February 14th. So that’s not ideal. Of significant concern, the falls are coming from everyone at various times, most recently their two best beamers in Artz and Chiarelli. At this point in the season, with nine or ten realistic Super Six contenders, we’re looking for any reason to doubt a team, and a month of beam falls is a reason to doubt a team. The Wolverines have still managed scores in the high 196s and low 197s with these beam mistakes, but it should take more than a 197.0 to win a major conference title in the current scoring climate, so it’s quite hard to see Michigan winning while also counting a fall. Beam is up in the fourth rotation for them, so we won’t truly know where the competition stands until then.

The positive we can draw from the high 196s-low 197s with beam falls is that if Michigan does hit five beam routines, we’ll see a mid-197, which really should be enough to sweep up the title. Michigan has a vault difficulty edge, featuring the highest score in the country in Karas, and three floor workers in Artz, Chiarelli, and Karas who should all be going 9.900+. It will be tough for the other teams in the country to match both of those assets.

Coming off two straight 197s, however, Nebraska looks the most likely team to do it, having regained the potential to challenge a hit meet from Michigan by restoring a modicum of depth in the last couple weeks. This long-awaited return to the 197 club has been marked by a sudden and somewhat unexpected influx of floor 9.9s, particularly from gymnasts who had not been floor stars in previous seasons like Breen and Laeng. The Huskers are still forced to use some backup routines they would rather not be, particularly on bars, which means a higher potential for 9.700-9.750s. Danger-zone scores. The situation on bars has been exacerbated by Jennie Laeng’s elbow injury. She’s by far their best bars worker, but in spite of returning on the other three events, she has remained out on bars, which depresses the scoring potential.

Very uncharacteristically, vault has been the weak event for the Huskers this season. Normally, Nebraska is able to rely on fantastic blocks to stick a bunch of fulls and overcome possible deficiencies on other events, but vault has lagged behind the others this season, often barely breaking 49 and putting the Huskers all the way down at 18th nationally. Nebraska begins the championship on floor and vault, so we’ll know a lot about how competitive they’ll be rather early on. If Nebraska isn’t at a good 98.600 after two rotations, I have a hard time envisioning them beating a hit meet from Michigan. But with a 98.600+, we’ve got a thing. That should be at least where Michigan is after two events (vault and bars), and with Michigan finishing on floor and Nebraska on beam, Nebraska would need a lead heading toward the end of the meet.

Minnesota, huh? This is an intensely important season for the Gophers since it’s the last stand of Lindsay Mable, Hanna Nordquist, and Maddie Hanley. Next year, we’re going to have some questions. Those questions all begin with “who.” Mable, and Nordquist’s beam, can lead Minnesota to a competitive score, and as we saw last weekend, the Gophers are capable of beating the top teams in the conference.

(This isn’t from last week. Just deal with it.)

Expecting a repeat of that victorious 197.4, particularly that 49.675 on beam, however, is unrealistic in a normal meet. More likely, Minnesota is going to be in the solid-196 hoping-to-take-advantage-of-mistakes category. Minnesota is a pretty beam team, an entertaining floor team, and can score solidly on most other events on the right day, but they probably lack the vault difficulty and bars consistency to make another huge 197 run under sober circumstances. A real bars hit for over 49.2-49.3 in the first rotation would be a signal that something’s going on.

Also keep an eye on Lindsay Mable for the conference AA title. Could be a good one between her and Karas and Artz (if everything’s OK after last week’s bizarreness).

Because of the qualification rules, we’ve ended up with a scenario where the next two strongest contenders, Iowa and Illinois, have been relegated to the morning session, while Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan State will compete in the afternoon. So a few notes on those three first.

Penn State did score 197 at the Big Five meet (at home), shattering their previous season best by nearly a point and making some marked improvements, including but not limited to hitting five beam routines in the same week. Amazing how much better the score looks when that happens. Highlights like Nicole Medvitz’s form and Kiera Brown’s bars and sudden 2016 beam resurgence (that makes Georgia want to go, “OK, just kidding…”) may lead PSU to a relatively competitive score, but challenging the top teams is highly unlikely. With regionals qualification already assured, there’s less on the line here other than setting up for a regionals-upset push by showing another hit beam and a dangerous total.

It’s a very similar story for Ohio State, just with fewer likely 9.9s, which makes that last-ditch push for a high 196 less realistic.

Michigan State also pulled out a relatively magical performance at the Big Five meet to beat the odds and get into this session, though this meet for the Spartans is not about challenging for a title or moving toward a regionals upset bid. It’s about getting to regionals. In that respect MSU’s performance is more important than that of any of these other teams. Michigan State currently sits in the dreaded 36th spot, vulnerable to being knocked out of regionals depending on how things play out on Saturday. Maryland (competing in the first session) is one of the teams looking to move ahead, so after Maryland’s performance earlier in the day, we’ll have a better sense of what Michigan State needs to score in order to advance. As of this moment, it would take a 196.250 to clinch qualification, which is a lot to expect. The Spartans finish on floor, by far their highest-scoring event, which could be a benefit if this season’s tendency toward late-meet floor extravagance in the scores continues into championships.

Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Rutgers

I wouldn’t totally disregard the teams in this session since Iowa and Illinois have both mustered competitive scores this year, though competitive means mid-196s (more impressive for Iowa because that’s not the expectation, while Illinois has under-performed this season). That score will not be high enough to challenge for a title, so unless one of these teams surges early with a couple 49.2+ rotations, our eyes may primarily be on Maryland’s fight to qualify.

Maryland will not determine its own destiny and will have to wait for the likes of Bowling Green, Michigan State, and Central Michigan to compete later on to see how everything shakes out, but Maryland’s final score will be the first to come in among the bubble teams and will dictate what the other teams need to score later on, giving us a more accurate estimate of the type of performance the others need. The higher it is, the harder it gets for everyone else.

Regardless of the result, this will be Rutgers’ last meet of the season, so there’s not much to say in terms of previewing the performance at championships, other than that Groden and Shank impressed at the Big Five meet. Both sophomores, that’s an encouraging base for the next couple seasons.

I’m a little surprised to see Iowa relegated to the first session as I would place the Hawkeyes as the #4 favorite to win, and a close #4 not all that far behind Minnesota. Iowa put in a tied-for-season-high showing at the Big Five, but since that was the circus meet, it wasn’t nearly good enough to make a splash. There were some OOB and landing problems on floor, and Iowa had the misfortune of starting on beam before things got really fancy later in the day. Those issues combined to shove them down the rankings. Iowa will probably have to put up too many 9.7s early in the lineups, especially on vault, to be in serious contention for a 197, but a performance well into the 196s (along with winning this session) should be the expectation.

The Hawkeyes are currently ranked 18th so will also be fighting to keep that coveted final seeded spot at regionals (allowing them to head into a regional with two other tough teams instead of possibly three). They will, however, be at the mercy of Stanford (in 19th but with a much higher maximum score). Stanford will pass Iowa with a mid 196, which really should happen given any kind of a hit meet, meaning Iowa’s most realistic path to a seeding will be to leapfrog Washington, currently in 17th. That will take a 196.575, so that’s the score to watch for Iowa.

The injury to Giana O’Connor at the Big Five meet was the cherry on top of the disappointment sundae that has been Illinois’s 2016 season, a season that began with such a promising and talented roster. Things weren’t looking too good even when O’Connor and Horth were competing, but if the team’s two best AAers are both out, Illinois’s scoring expectations probably drop down into the high-195s, low-196s zone, which isn’t competitive enough in this group. There would still be 9.9s remaining on the team from Buchanan, Kato, and Leduc on a good day, but some 9.6s would also have to jump into lineups to fill out those spots, which is untenable.

Saturday Live Blog – Georgia @ Utah; Big Five

Saturday, March 12
12:00 ET/9:00 PT – Cornell @ West Chester
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – Big Five Meet #1: Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Rutgers @ Penn State – SCORES – TV: Big Ten Network
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – Bridgeport @ Pennsylvania
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Big Five Meet #2: Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan State, Maryland @ Ohio State – SCORESBTN2Go (login)
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Northern Illinois @ Bowling Green – SCORES
6:00 ET/3:00 PT – Temple, S. Connecticut, Rhode Island @ Brown
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Georgia @ Utah – SCORES – TV: Pac-12 Network
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – LSU, Oregon State, New Hampshire @ Texas Woman’s – SCORESFlog($)
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Ball State @ NC State – SCORESStream
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Denver, Seattle Pacific @ Washington – SCORESStream

Getting started early today with the first of two Big Five qualifying meets. The one that’s on TV. The other one isn’t. Earlier, I said BTN was dumb. Turns out, I’m dumb. I thought BTN was showing an old meet between Nebraska and Penn State after this instead of the second Big Five meet, but they’re actually showing a men’s meet between Nebraska and Penn State. Which is also tape delayed. So not better. And in my defense…

Continue reading Saturday Live Blog – Georgia @ Utah; Big Five

The Weekend Plans – March 4-6

Two weeks of normal competition until the conference championships. Two. The ranking and RQS situations are currently urgent, verging on EEEEEE, for more than a few teams. Plus, we have the elite world barging in this weekend. If you plan on doing things this weekend that aren’t watching gymnastics while making vaguely snarky yet harmless observations, we’re not friends.

Top 25 schedule

Friday, March 4
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [2] Florida @ [23] Kentucky
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [6] Utah @ [5] Michigan
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [8] Auburn @ [10] Georgia
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – NC State @ [21] George Washington
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [24] Eastern Michigan @ Kent State
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Nastia Liukin Nastiathon for the Nastia Cup
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – [17] Iowa @ Iowa State
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [18] Arizona @ [1] Oklahoma
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [9] Arkansas @ [14] Missouri
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – [3] Alabama @ [4] LSU
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [19] Minnesota, Air Force @ [13] Denver
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – Ball State, Seattle Pacific @ [20] Oregon State
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – Southern Utah, Michigan State, Lindenwood @ [12] Cal
Saturday, March 5
11:30 ET/8:30 PT – AT&T Cupful of Americans 
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Northern Illinois, Illinois State, Illinois-Chicago @ [22] Illinois
6:00 ET/3:00 PT – Like a Men’s Thing? With John Orozco? 
Sunday, March 6
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – Ohio State, Bowling Green @ [25] West Virginia
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – [21] George Washington, Pittsburgh, Texas Woman’s, Yale @ Maryland
3:00 ET/12:00 PT – [10] Georgia, [16] Stanford @ [7] UCLA
3:00 ET/12:00 PT – Utah State @ [15] Nebraska
3:00 ET/12:00 PT – [13] Denver, [19] Minnesota @ Air Force
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Michigan State @ [11] Boise State
Live blogging
Whew. We’ve got a Friday in front of us during which every little thing on Earth will happen. All the top 10 teams except UCLA (always gotta be different…) have overlapping meets on Friday, which is either exciting or really poorly planned. Get all 20 of your screens ready. That doesn’t even count Nastia’s Athletic Cup, which I probably won’t blog since so much NCAA action will be happening simultaneously, but I’m sure others will be all up in that business. Pink things. I already blogged it. I usually end up watching it in about October, when all the competitors are starting NCAA and I need to remember who they are. 

Utah/Michigan will be broadcast on tape delay on BTN, four hours after the actual meet, which normally would be annoying but in this case may be some built-in prioritization and scheduling. This weekend is a women’s basketball whatever, so there will be far fewer live TV meets than usual. It’s an internet weekend. Or as I call it, a weekend. 

The big deal on Saturday is American Cup. I’ll be tweeting. Obviously. Then back to blogging on Sunday for the Georgia/Stanford/UCLA threeway.

We have a theoretical chance for movement at the top of the rankings, but just theoretical. Florida would need to score a 198.175 away at Kentucky AND Oklahoma would need to score 197.475 or lower at home against Arizona for Florida to take over the top ranking spot. Both teams are safe at 1-2 even if they do end up flip-flopping.

We could see some spot exchanges as we go down the top 10, with Utah and Michigan meeting on Friday with the higher ranking on the line and Auburn preparing to drop a fairly low road score and looking to leapfrog UCLA. #10 Georgia has the most to gain/lose this weekend with two meets, the Sunday meet away at UCLA being significantly more important. Georgia is still counting a 195.675 road score right now, and with even just a normal meet and a hit beam in both of the weekend’s endeavors, the Gymdogs will expect to zoom up, potentially as high as 7th, though a lot would need to go their way with the other teams for that actually to happen.

That UCLA Sunday meet is the most critical ranking meet of the weekend since it will also determine Stanford’s ceiling and decide whether the Cardinal are in the running for a #2 regionals seed. With a mid-196, Stanford is right in it, but with another 195, it will be exceedingly unlikely if not impossible.

Eyes on Denver as well, coming off that 197.5 and with two meets this weekend, one at home and one at almost-home against Air Force. I would honestly not be bowled over to see Denver knocking into the top 10 at the end of the weekend if Arkansas and Georgia don’t perform. 

Iowa is also looking to drop a 194.900 this weekend in a big rivalry meet against Iowa State and could move as high as #12 if things fall just right. Fall being the operative word.
Florida heads to Kentucky and Oklahoma hosts Arizona on Friday, and neither meet should be a mystery as to the result. The interesting thing will be the race for scores and watching the two teams comparatively as we start to anticipate the inevitable postseason battle.

More interesting will be Utah/Michigan, Auburn/Georgia, and Alabama/LSU. For Michigan and Utah, there’s not a ton to differentiate the teams and no event where either looks like blowing the opposition away. Michigan probably gets the edge, primarily because of higher scoring potential on vault and beam, and bigger floor tumbling that will also enjoy the benefit of being at home. Michigan has a tad more difficulty on vault and the Karas 1.5 that can score a 9.950, which Utah hasn’t done for any vault this year. Similarly, we’ve seen beam routines from Chiarelli, Artz, or Marinez get occasionally huge numbers, while Utah has Stover to match that but otherwise will probably get stuck in the 9.850s.

On the other hand, Michigan has looked uncomfortable on beam the last couple weeks, so taking advantage of that edge is not remotely a given. Utah’s path to victory would be built on stuck landings. It’s something that Utah is usually known for, especially on bars (which could make that an asset event for the Utes in this meet), and is something that will need to start developing now that it’s March. If Utah can stick more on vault and take the difficulty edge away from Michigan, it becomes much easier to see the Utes winning.

Auburn heads to Georgia as part of Battle Evening Session as the knock-down, drag-out fight to get into the big-girl session at SECs steers toward a conclusion. That’s part of why the meet is more important for Georgia. It’s also important symbolically for the Gymdogs because they should be better. You put those two rosters next to each other, and you’d pick Georgia’s to be ranked higher any day. Now, the fact that it isn’t can be attributed almost entirely to beam, but note that Auburn is also ranked higher on floor and very close to Georgia on bars. Beyond beam, Georgia needs to take advantage of more difficulty and quality on vault to build up a lead, while Auburn needs to stick the crap out of those fabulous bars DLOs to close that small gap with Georgia and mitigate the possible 9.9s coming from Rogers and Jay.

But for Auburn, so much is about Atkinson. She went 39.6 in two of the last three meets, and Auburn won both of those meets (against Alabama and Missouri), recording the team’s two highest scores of the season. Look how that happened.

Alabama/LSU is the highest profile of the three meets featuring two top-four teams and will be a grind. We all know winning meets at LSU is a challenge, but this meet is critical for Alabama from a psychological perspective if not as much from an RQS perspective. Alabama has been excellent this year, but also kind of…uh…losing. Losses to Florida, UCLA, Auburn, and Arkansas have sullied the season and sullied the record for a team that really shouldn’t be losing four times in a season regardless of the strength of the opposition. This is Alabama’s final meet before SECs, and five losses (four in conference) would not be the most auspicious note on which to head out.

LSU’s ceiling has been higher this season, with a 197.9 and a 197.8, while Alabama has peaked at the 197.5s. That, coupled with competing at home, is enough to make LSU the favorite in spite of the lower ranking. Still, there’s little to choose from between these teams. They’re both potentially phenomenal on beam, and they both have more than enough 9.9s in them on floor. Although, Alabama’s floor is the lineup to watch in this meet because it needs to settle down. To have a shot at keeping relative pace with LSU, Alabama needs to dispense with the depth exploration and bring out all the big guns, which right now are Beers, Winston, Jetter, and hopefully Carley Sims, though only if she’s BACK back, which she wasn’t in her return last week. Beyond them…I don’t even know at this point but the team has way too many big tumblers to accept 9.825s on floor.

We’ll know a lot after the beginning of the meet because while both teams have difficult vaults, LSU’s landings have been more consistent and better scoring, while Alabama’s sudden ability on bars to 9.975 you to death with concentrated Kiana Winston has turned that into a seriously important event. Which one comes through?

I’ve talked about the ranking picture for what will inevitably be known as the UCLA/Georgia/Stanford incident, but there’s also the matter of…who’s even going to win this meet? In sentences you don’t normally hear, UCLA has been the most consistent this year. At home, this is the Bruins’ to lose and would be a crucial milestone in a season that has been fine and solid but not memorable or overwhelming as yet. At this point, I think we can expect UCLA to win beam and floor, especially if Francis and Cipra are back after their little rests last week. The question for the Bruins will be how vault and bars stack up against a Georgia team that has much more difficulty and quality on vault and a Stanford team that has the highest-quality bars work of the three teams. UCLA can pick up a bunch of tenths in the second half of the meet, but UCLA is clearly the weakest on bars. If we’re seeing 48s on vault and bars again, that leaves the door open for Georgia and, more importantly, is not remotely OK for March regardless of how it stacks up against the others in this particular meet. 

Stanford has struggled enough on floor this year that it’s hard to see a victory without relying on both of the other two counting falls (a very real prospect), but Georgia’s peak score is actually higher than UCLA’s this year, so if beam does come together, you never know.  

Friday Live Blog – LSU @ Florida; Michigan @ Oklahoma; Georgia @ Alabama

Friday, February 26

5:00 ET/2:00 PT – West Virginia, Penn State, Temple, West Chester, S. Connecticut (@ Philadelphia, PA) – SCORESish
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – LSU @ Florida – SCORESSECN
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – George Washington, NC State, William & Mary @ Towson – SCORESStream
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Rutgers @ North Carolina – SCORES
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – Maryland @ New Hampshire – SCORES
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – UW-Oshkosh @ UW-Eau Claire
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Michigan @ Oklahoma – SCORES – TV: Various Fox Sports
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Missouri @ Auburn – SCORESSECN
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Kentucky @ Arkansas – SECN
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Iowa State @ Illinois – SCORES
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – SEMO @ Air Force – Stream
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – Georgia @ Alabama – SCORESSECN
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Boise State @ Utah State – SCORESStream
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – San Jose State, Alaska @ Seattle Pacific – SCORESStream
The big day! Eight of the top ten teams are in action, most of them against each other. We’re late enough in the regular season now for this to feel like the first postseason preview, where we’ll get a borderline realistic sense of how these matchups might go come April. Of course, with a number of big SEC duels and many of the top teams competing at home, we’re going to have to conduct a 10.0 pool. Pick five people competing today whom you think will get a 10 from at least one judge, and the winner gets the grand prize of self-righteously rolling your eyes to the next galaxy while going, “I can’t even…”
I’ll go with Sloan FX, McMurtry UB, Wofford UB, Gnat VT, and…Rogers UB.

It will all get started at 7:00 ET/4:00 PT with Florida and LSU.

Continue reading Friday Live Blog – LSU @ Florida; Michigan @ Oklahoma; Georgia @ Alabama

The Weekend Plans – February 26-29

Before we get into the schedule and weekend preview, a few notes on the development of the week, Jess’s fantabulous interview with McKayla Maroney and a metric ton of pillows in which Maroney announced her don’t-call-it-a-retirement, which she will be expressing by retiring. In case you’ve been living under a rock on Pluto, here it is.

Obviously, I’m obsessed with it. The biggest news here is her discussion of AOGC and Artur and Galina, and I love that she had the giant steel ovaries to say exactly what was wrong about their treatment of her and exactly what is wrong about the treatment of the livestock athletes through the camps and tours. Not being allowed to smile or look at people? Horrible. All the athletes feeling afraid to eat at the ranch? Horrible. Not having her injuries taken seriously? Horrible. We have a tendency to gloss over terrible treatment of gymnasts with a “the kind of stuff that happened in the 80s and 90s” nonchalance, but clearly it’s still happening. Your move, USAG.

But also, getting in trouble for doing Yurchenko double backs at the ranch? Awesome.

Top 25 schedule

Friday, February 26
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – [23] West Virginia, Penn State, Temple, West Chester, S. Connecticut (@ Philadelphia, PA)
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [7] LSU @ [2] Florida
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [20] George Washington, NC State, William & Mary @ Towson
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [4] Michigan @ [1] Oklahoma
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [16] Missouri @ [8] Auburn
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [22] Kentucky @ [9] Arkansas
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Iowa State @ [24] Illinois
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – [10] Georgia @ [3] Alabama
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [11] Boise State @ Utah State
Saturday, February 27
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – [5] Utah @ [14] Cal
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Arizona State @ [6] UCLA
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – [21] Eastern Michigan, Pittsburgh @ Ohio State
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Winona State, Gustavus Adolphus, Hamline @ [19] Minnesota
6:00 ET/3:00 PT – Washington @ [25] Arizona
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Sacramento State, Bridgeport, Northern Illinois @ [14] Nebraska
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [18] Iowa, SEMO, Illinois-Chicago @ [13] Denver 
Sunday, February 28
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – Maryland, Towson @ [20] George Washington
3:00 ET/12:00 PT – [24] Illinois @ Lindenwood 
Monday, February 29
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – [12] Stanford @ [17] Oregon State
Live blogging
Friday is one of the biggest days of the regular season, perhaps the biggest, featuring three significant top-10 match-ups, so I’ll be all over it. Then, on Saturday, we have some simultaneous Pac-12 action. (Planning…) Utah/Cal is on the main Pac-12 Network and UCLA/ASU is just on the regional LA version of the network. I’ll be watching both simultaneously and commenting back and forth as usual, but let me know in the comments if you guys have a preference as to which one I focus on with the live blogging. 
Expect things at the very top to remain steady this week with many of the top teams competing at home and unable to drop their nasty road scores. Oklahoma at #1, Florida at #2, and Alabama at #3 are all guaranteed to retain those positions after this weekend. Beyond that, things get a little interesting with the next four teams, Michigan, Utah, UCLA, and LSU, who are capable of ending the weekend in really any order. With those 196.9s, Michigan has been safe at the top since the season began, but now the Wolverines are a little vulnerable to all other teams that are matching their couple mid-197s and high 196s. Pay particular attention to LSU in 7th. With a 195.825 road score to drop on this visit to Florida, the Tigers look very likely to zoom way up.

While those four may change order, the current top 7 are guaranteed to remain the top 7 for another week. Georgia has a road 195.350 to drop and can close the gap significantly, and do so even with another 4/6 beam rotation, but getting this Georgia team ranked where it should be is going to be a multi-week process. Still, with even just a 196.100, Georgia would be guaranteed to jump ahead of Arkansas for 9th.

Stanford doesn’t compete until Monday night, so it’s quite possible in the new rankings that we could see the Cardinal dropped by the likes of Denver, Nebraska, and Cal, making Monday’s meet for Stanford all the more important to avoid a yucky ranking. There’s no more margin for error. One more bad meet, and Stanford is counting a 195 for RQS. The score on Monday is similarly critical for Oregon State, the #17 team that could theoretically move as high as #12 and pass Stanford if everything falls just right.

Big fat showdown #1: LSU @ Florida
LSU will be itching for the upset here, and while Florida is ranked significantly higher at present, there’s not all that much between the teams. Florida is the pick because of the nature of scoring in Florida and the way we all know floor is going to go, but Florida Scoring is usually a boon for both teams and one that LSU can take advantage of as well, at least to some degree. Regardless of the result, this is a massive opportunity for a road score that LSU cannot let slide.

These teams are pretty evenly matched in many categories. Slight edges here and there. Vault probably goes to Florida very slightly for having the big four of Sloan, Boren, Baker, and McMurtry, even though Gnat’s DTY is the most likely to go 9.950+. Similarly on floor, LSU has the more difficult and complete lineup especially with the return of Savona, but we can expect that to be mitigated by home-floor advantage. 

Florida’s real path to victory goes through bars. It’s the one event where Florida has a clear edge and is categorically stronger than LSU, with potential 9.950s from Sloan, Caquatto, and…McMurtry…that LSU can really only match by Finnegan having one of her great ones. Florida can realistically gain multiple tenths because of bars, which would be decisive in an even battle like this. The closer LSU keeps it on bars, the better things will look for the Tigers because they’re at least in with a shot of showing stronger routines on the other three.

Big fat showdown #2: Michigan @ Oklahoma
This is an important meet for Michigan. The Wolverines have faced a couple strong teams this year, but the January meet against Georgia was one of Georgia’s meltdowns, so it’s not a tremendous indicator. This will be Michigan’s first match-up with a team that actually looks Super Sixy, and while Oklahoma should win, this is an opportunity for Michigan to restore consumer confidence in that beam rotation and prove that there isn’t a significant quality gap between them and the #1 team. That would go a long way toward making Michigan a more comfortable Super Six pick rather than a borderliner/possible repeat of last season.

With a hit meet, Michigan is certainly capable of taking advantage of any Oklahoma error and changing the script, but Oklahoma has an increased level of precision across pretty much all the events (ranked #1 on every single piece) marked so far by crisper split elements and landings. Michigan will be looking at perhaps floor difficulty and amplitude as a place to show an advantage, but the meet is primarily in Oklahoma’s hands.

Big fat showdown #3: Georgia @ Alabama
Ah, the original showdown. It’s not the same as it used to be, when it was the SARAH AND SUZANNE RUMBLE instead of the How Many Ns Are In Dana Cup, but this should still be an entertaining and worthwhile clash. Of course, it’s hard to make any prognostication beyond Georgia beam because of Georgia beam. The Gymdogs had a relapse last weekend and absolutely must get back on the wagon. Away against Alabama is not exactly the easiest place to do that. I’m interested to see what happens with Georgia’s lineup this time, particularly with Babalis. She has competed in every meet but has reached 9.8 just twice in eight attempts, which normally would be cause to pull someone from the lineup, but the available replacements like Schick and Cherrey haven’t been better. Is the current six just the six, sink or swim, or is it still worth mixing and matching to see if there’s something better.

If Georgia does hit beam, we’ve got ourselves a serious meet. In total across the other three events, Georgia trails Alabama by just .037 on season average and not all that much more on RQS. There hasn’t been much to differentiate between them on the other pieces. They have equivalent difficulty on vault, though Jay has been the most reliable 9.900+ on either team this year, while Alabama proved at last week’s meet that any bars discrepancy may be fading, especially if Winston and Brannan keep pulling out 9.975s. On floor, Alabama should be stronger with more and bigger options (and at home), but a tendency to get stuck in the 9.850s has blunted some of that advantage in multiple meets this year. So in all, even if Georgia actually hits beam, it may still come down to beam as the biggest method of differentiation between the two sides. If Alabama actually gets the 9.9s that workers like Sims, Winston, and Guerrero are more than capable of, even a hit from Georgia may not be enough.

The Pac-12 takes over on Saturday, and while the result of UCLA/Arizona State is not in doubt, there are still a couple interesting things to watch there. Bizarrely, Arizona State has managed the feat of looking better than last year while doing worse. At this point last season, ASU had three 194s and a 195. This year, it’s two 194s. It’s always something, usually involving counting an 8 on bars. I’m not convinced this is a regionals team yet, but Dr. Rene Lyst’s squad is better than #46.

UCLA is still ranked #6 and still doing fine, but last week’s absence of not only the broken-sternum twins, Ohashi and Mossett, but also Peng and some of Meraz made the team the team pretty flat and threadbare, especially on the events that were already issues, vault and bars. The remaining stars got the essential 9.9s to save the score, but the lack of Ohashi beginning to wear. She’s supposed to be on the way back and is a possibility for this weekend, and none too soon. This team is already without Toronjo this year and absorbing a limited Peng and would absolutely not be able to withstand missing Ohashi when things start to matter.

The Utes head to Cal this weekend somewhat reeling themselves with Delaney out and Partyka limited. That’s going to put some serious pressure on the vault and beam lineups in particular where yet more backups will be expected to nail routines. It’s not going to be a postseason-lineup Utah, but it’s still a Utah capable of a useful score at a point when low 197s are becoming the norm. It’s time to break out for a higher number, and that should still be the mission even with a somewhat depleted group. On the other side, which Cal shows up, Good Cal or Bad Cal? Toni-Ann 9.950 on floor Cal, or What’s A Beam Cal? The showing last week against Oregon State was flat, sloppy, and did not reflect the team of high 196s that entered that arena. Like Michigan and Georgia, Cal is under a microscope after those mistakes to see whether this next showing can become a recovery meet.