Tag Archives: UCLA

Sunday Live Blog – January 15, 2017

Sunday, January 15 Scores Watch
12:00 ET/9:00 PT – Brockport, Springfield, Ithaca @ Rhode Island
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – Central Michigan @ Western Michigan ESPN3
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – [17] Northern Illinois @ Ball State LINK FREE
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – West Chester, Cortland @ Southern Connecticut SCSU
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – [19] Penn State @ Nebraska LINK
3:00 ET/12:00 PT – [13] Cal @ [24] Iowa LINK UI TV
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – [6] Missouri, SEMO @ Lindenwood LINK FLOG
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – [8] UCLA @ [2] Oklahoma LINK FSSW
FSOK
FSWest

Ah, the day has come. This is the second-straight year we get a UCLA/Oklahoma meet, and I hope this develops into an annual matchup because it’s becoming among the most anticipated and delightful meets in college gymnastics. You know it’s going to be a show: two teams whose ultimate goal is to out-“floor routines about refugees” and out-“solving world hunger through beam emoting” the other. Also winning, but that’s definitely item #2. (Mostly because we all know Oklahoma is going to win). Continue reading Sunday Live Blog – January 15, 2017

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

UCLA 2017

#4 UCLA ROSTER 2017
Seniors
Angi Cipra
  • Top FX, weekly VT in 2016
  • Provides backup BB
  • 2016 RQS: FX – 9.930, VT – 9.830
  • 2016 average: BB – 9.375
Mikaela Gerber
  • Leadoff BB in 2016, backup FX
  • 2016 RQS: BB – 9.860
  • 2016 average: FX – 9.760
Peng Peng Lee
(redshirt)
  • When not injured, starring routines on UB, BB
  • Occasional VT when able
  • 2016 average: UB – 9.875, VT – 9.825, BB – 9.471
Hallie Mossett
  • Peppered in UB, FX routines between injuries in 2016
  • 2016 average: FX – 9.863, UB – 9.592
Juniors
Rechelle Dennis
  • Two VTs, three UBs in 2016
  • 2016 average: UB – 9.792, VT – 9.675
Pua Hall
  • Frequent VT, early-season FX in 2016
  • 2016 RQS: VT – 9.840, FX – 9.795
Janay Honest
  • Made postseason lineups on VT, UB, FX in 2016
  • 2016 RQS: UB – 9.875, VT – 9.810
  • 2016 average: FX – 9.861
Sonya Meraz
  • Weekly BB, UB in 2016
  • Borderline lineup/backup routines on any event as needed
  • 2016 RQS: BB – 9.835, UB – 9.810
  • 2016 average: FX – 9.825, VT – 9.774
Sophomores
Katelyn Ohashi
  • Staple of BB lineup in 2016
  • Contributed UB, FX when healthy, backup VT
  • 2016 RQS: BB – 9.865, FX – 9.830
  • 2016 average: VT – 9.738, UB – 9.733
Madison Preston
  • Anchor VT, occasional FX, one BB in 2016
  • 2016 RQS: VT – 9.830
  • 2016 average: FX – 9.855, BB – 9.775
Stella Savvidou
  • Fleeting, momentary routines on UB, BB in freshman year
  • 2016 average: BB – 9.550, UB – 9.490
Freshmen
Maria Caire
  • Annual walk-on mystery
Anna Glenn
  • Southeastern
  • 2015 Nastia Cup 2nd AA
  • 2015 JO Nationals 6th AA, VT 2nd
Grace Glenn
  • Southeastern
  • 2016 Region 8 champion
  • 2014 JO Nationals AA champion
Felicia Hano
  • Gym-Max
  • 2014 US Nationals 9th (three events)
  • 2014 Pan Ams alternate
Madison Kocian
  • WOGA
  • 2016 Olympic gold medalist
  • 2016 Olympic UB silver
  • 2015 World Championship UB gold
  • Madison Kocian
Gracie Kramer
  • Wildfire
  • 2015 JO Nationals 2nd AA, 2nd BB, 2nd FX
Giulianna Pino
  • Ecuador
  • Competed at 2015 World Championship
Kyla Ross
  • Gym-Max
  • 2012 Olympic gold medalist
  • 2013 World Championship AA silver
  • 2014 World Championship AA bronze
  • Kind of a big deal
Mercedez Sanchez
  • Matrix CA
  • 2016 Region 1 AA 13th, VT 10th
Macy Toronjo
(redshirt)
  • Did not compete in freshman year with injury

Recent History
2016 – 5th
2015 – 11th
2014 – 8th
2013 – 4th
2012 – 3rd
2011 – 2nd
2010 – 1st

Heading into 2016 nationals, UCLA’s recent results had been pretty meh, displaying a clear downward trajectory from those championship-contending teams of the early 2010s. That made returning to Super Six last year an essential milestone. Finishing in 5th place was as well as that roster could have hoped to do, and 2016 marked the first time the Bruins had improved on the previous season’s result since that 2010 championship.

But really, it’s been all about the 2017 season for a while now. This is the year the famous freshmen swoop in to return UCLA to its title-winning ways. Or so it has been explained to us. Even with Simone Biles deciding to become some kind of massive celebrity now instead going to UCLA (forgiveness is a process), this Bruin 2017 team remains stacked with names and talent.

A national championship is a realistic goal, but UCLA is also the most mysterious of the title contenders because we haven’t seen actual college routines from the majority of the essential contributors. What level of gymnastics, difficulty, and health will the likes of Ross and Kocian show in NCAA? That, more than anything else, will determine whether UCLA is more of a 1st-place team or a 7th-place team in 2017.

Continue reading UCLA 2017

2017 Freshman Preview: UCLA

UCLA just has so few interesting freshmen this year! What on earth are we going to talk about?

Returning Routines – UCLA
VAULT
Hall – 9.840
Preston – 9.830
Cipra – 9.830
Lee – 9.825
Honest – 9.810
Meraz – 9.774
Ohashi – 9.738
Dennis – 9.675
BARS
Lee – 9.875
Honest – 9.875
Meraz – 9.810
Dennis – 9.792
Ohashi – 9.733
Mossett – 9.592
Savvidou – 9.490
BEAM
Ohashi – 9.865
Gerber – 9.860
Meraz – 9.835
Preston – 9.775
Savvidou – 9.550
Lee – 9.471
Cipra – 9.375
FLOOR
Cipra – 9.930
Mossett – 9.863
Honest – 9.861
Preston – 9.855
Ohashi – 9.830
Meraz – 9.825
Hall – 9.804
Gerber – 9.760

Of all the major schools, UCLA’s slate of returning routines is the least representative and least relevant. Just throw it into the fire. The expectation should be that a solid half of UCLA’s routines in 2017 come from freshmen. Half may actually be a soft estimate. The freshmen, more so than the returners, will dictate whether the Bruins ultimately end up contending with Oklahoma and the top SEC sides, as they should based on talent.

The significant challenge for UCLA in 2017 will be managing that talent so that everyone is safely able to compete by April, no small task given the War and Peace medical files of several Bruins from whom the team will need three routines come the postseason.

And yes I am talking about Madison Kocian. I think we all had that moment this summer where we went, “Oh yeah. She’s, like, good at floor. Weird.” We forget about that sometimes because Kocian has competed floor twice in the last her entire lifetime. It’s a similar story on vault, where she wasn’t even supposed to compete at Trials in order to protect her fragile sparrow skeleton, but then she threw out a SURPRISE full because she could. (But could she?) The way I see it, Kocian is surely more than capable on the leg events, but any leg-events you can safely get from her are just a bonus. Bars and beam will be the true prize, especially this season coming right off the grueling schedule she has been maintaining.

As for bars, derrrrrrr.

The only question is what composition we’ll end up seeing as UCLA will have to balance minimizing deductions/strain with making sure the routine still says, “I’M MADISON KOCIAN.” Kocian never really contributed much beam to Team USA, but she happens to be a gem there are well. On beam, I’m not really concerned about whether we see the Arabian or much significant difficulty again. Just give us an extended side aerial and a wink (and don’t lose that back foot) and we all go home happy.

Now, KYLA ROSS. The clouds parted and the kingdom was bathed in sunlight the moment Kyla decided to go straight to UCLA, do not pass Trials, do not collect 200 knee injuries. The writing was on the wall with regard to the Olympic team, and while simply making it to Trials is a worthwhile accomplishment for most to pursue, Kyla had already played that game.

Like Kocian, Ross will help revitalize what was a cobbled-together orphanage of a bars lineup for the Bruins last year. It’s a miracle they got out of championships with 49s, but with these fancy new ladies, bars should transform from a get-through event into a strength. That’s not to say it’s all roses for Kyla on bars. It has been a journey this quad, what with her GIANT MONSTER HEIGHT (meaning 5’7″). I love that, listening to the gymnastics world, you would think that Kyla is two basketball players on top of each other, and she’s 5’7″.

Aw, remember the days?

In NCAA, the question of what bars skills LeBron Ross can do should be much less of a conundrum. She’ll do the skills if she can, and if not, she has 38 other skills she can do/learn in her sleep to choose from. In dismount land, I’m hoping the double layout comes back rather than the double front.

As for beam, get your 10HANDS ready. Ross’s methodical, patient style may have caused the judges at 2014 worlds to clutch their rosaries and pitchforks in horror, but her exceptional precision is what NCAA 10s are made of. She hits her positions and simply doesn’t wobble as much as humans do.

In training, Kyla has been vaulting an Omelianchik, and I’m all for this decision. I’m not just saying that because it’s my favorite vault, either. (Lie.) It’s a vital 10.0 start that should work for her.

As for floor, I’m most interested in seeing what that routine becomes from a performance standpoint. The knock on Kyla’s gymnastics has always been Stiff Kyla. Robo-Kyla. A criticism at times overstated, but never untrue. Throughout her elite career, Kyla was afflicted by varying levels of “this is the part where I do my choreography now” face, presenting alongside chronic “get ready I’m really going to do it now” arms. A troubling affliction.

I’m looking forward to meeting who UCLA Kyla becomes as a performer. On the composition front, Kyla had to gradually step down the floor difficulty during the course of this quad, though she kept the double arabian throughout and would still have that E pass in her pocket. But for Kyla, I don’t think it’s in any way essential that she have a big, fat E pass. Let’s be honest, she could just Kyla around for a while then do two beautiful rudis and get a 12.

On a lineup note with regard to both Kocian and Ross, it will be interesting to see how and where UCLA uses them. Neither will need to perform in the anchor spot in order to get high scores. They’re too talented and famous to need to anchor, and that could be a real score-building asset for the rest of the team. I’d love to see, for example, UCLA try Kyla suddenly leading off beam. Are judges really going to lowball Kyla in the first spot? They wouldn’t be worried about saving their scores for anyone else later in the lineup because…she’s Kyla Effing Ross. Who’s going to be better than that?

When UCLA last won a national championship, it was done with Anna Li in the first beam spot and Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs in the second, the team’s top-two beamers at the time. Now, that move was made as a last resort because of FALL TERROR, not because of scoring strategy, but it sure did work and sure got Mizuki Sato some fancy scores in the anchor spot that she wouldn’t have received in the second spot.

TANGENT OVER! Felicia Hano now. While I’m optimistic about our chances to see leg events from Kocian and Ross, I expect their most prolific contributions to come on bars and beam. Taking charge of vault and floor may then fall to a gymnast like Hano.

The defining characteristic of Hano’s time as an elite was her preposterous ability to stick every DTY she ever performed. True life fact. More often than not, Hano’s vault D actually ended up being 5.9 because of that stupid extra tenth of stick bonus.

That vault training video from this fall features Hano continuing to do this DTY. It did not look competition-ready, at least at that point, but her ability on vault should allow us to assume that Hano can provide a 10.0 start value of some description this year. And yes, I have decided to ignore entirely the existence of that wildly misguided Tsuk 1/1 that caused her injury at Classic in 2015. We’re just going to pretend that never happened. Cool? Cool.

Double layout. UCLA 2017 will be a pretty floor team, with more and better options for 9.9s than the Bruins have had the last couple seasons, but across the board, these floor routines aren’t all that big. Hano, however, does have some pop and should be counted as a significant floor contributor, whether they decide to keep the DLO or go for a Syd Sawa-style “this double pike is way too easy for me” routine.

I’m less certain about bars and beam. Bars has never been the good event for Hano. She’ll still provide an option, and if Janay Honest and Sonya Meraz can make the bars lineup, Hano certainly can, but she’s not going to be a Kyla Ross on bars. No one’s expecting that. On beam, Hano can provide solid acrobatics across a well-hit routine, no question, but there’s quite a bit of competition for that lineup and her positions aren’t as pristine as some of the others. Will her routine prove a more prudent choice than, say, a Mikaela Gerber or Grace Glenn? There won’t be room for everyone.

Speaking of Grace Glenn, let’s admire that transition for a moment.

Done.

TWINS. Though the Glenns don’t have the name recognition or familiarity of the elites on this team, don’t overlook Team Glenn. We’ll start with Grace, whose basics on bars and beam are fabulous.

It’s just pretty gymnastics. I imagine Team Bruin having a very difficult time resisting the lure of that beam routine. On bars, the amplitude, handstands, and toe point are a yes from me. The dismount difficulty will be a question, though she has performed that double tuck with a full twist in competition in the past.

Grace’s floor work fits right into that category of not being big work, but she is very clean through her twisting elements, even if it’s not WOWFLOOR. She has been training a front double full so far this fall, which seems the ideal choice.

Both Grace and Anna Glenn present technically sound Yurchenko fulls, though we’ll have to see what the needs of the team are on that front as they aren’t among those who have shown us 10.0 starts.

As for Anna Glenn, it should be noted that she hasn’t competed since May of 2015 and has yet to appear in any of UCLA’s training uploads. But, like her sister, Anna does show excellent line on bars and sharp beam work with extended acrobatic elements. From what I’ve seen, I don’t think her splits are quite as strong, but their gymnastics is similar enough that we’re going to need some sort of an elaborate identifying sound-effect procedure for meets—something the McNairs are disappointingly still yet to accomplish—like a whale call when Grace performs and a rooster when Anna performs. I don’t know. I’m just spitballing here. I’ll let Miss Val decide what the final sound effects should be. But also, rooster.

Grace Kramer is an interesting one. A year ago at this time, she was signing an NLI with Arizona State. Yada, yada, yada, not that. Now, she’s walking on at UCLA, much to the delight of the Bruins’ prospective vault scores. Kramer’s event is, without question, vault. She boasts a Yurchenko 1.5 and, GET THIS, actually has competition experience with it.

Everyone in the known universe is fully aware that UCLA needs to be better on vault this year. The 10.0 vaults in 2016 came only from Pua Hall’s occasional Terrorchenko 1.5 and the Yurchenko Arabian (RIP, no one misses you) from Sadiqua Bynum. That isn’t good enough. Kramer’s 1.5 is a significant part of the revolution.

I’d imagine Kramer will also be somewhere in the mix on floor, though there are quite a few viable 9.850s on this roster that could shake out in many different lineup permutations. Kramer is another who goes the front double full route and shows respectable punch and solid landings in her tumbling overall. In fact, she should be at least in the conversation on all four events, though leg breaks (and just a double back bars dismount) will put her farther down the depth chart on bars and beam. Still, Kramer is far from your average random walk-on who just showed up.

Speaking of random walk-ons who just showed up…

I kid.

Sort of.

The freshman class is rounded out by Giulianna Pino, Mercedez Sanchez and Maria Caire.

Pino has competed internationally for Ecaudor, with beam being by far her strongest piece. In fact, her beam work is lineup realistic. Pino has the mix of splits and acro and will be able to give the Bruins an option there, just one that they may not actually need.

Sanchez can also put together some vault and some beam. On vault, she works a perfectly normal Yfull, which can act as a useful backup should things go south with Project 10.0 Vault and Project Your Legs. She actually has some chops on beam as well, though in what I’ve seen of her beam, she also looks so terrified of her own life that she might faint.

As for Maria Caire,
screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-3-31-36-pm

I have exactly nothing for you, the end.

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

LSU
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.

ALABAMA
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

National Championships Preview Part 2: Deja Vu in Spoilertown

Every year. Every year it’s the same. One semifinal looks like it’s going to be close and exciting and weird and controversial, and the other looks like a straightforward stroll through the local meadow in a world made only of springtime. Except, it never really works out that way. Take last year’s second semifinal, when Oklahoma, LSU, and Alabama squared off against Auburn, Nebraska, and Oregon State. “Ah ha ha,” we said. “Bring me another glass of port. Oklahoma, LSU, and Alabama will surely advance.”

Nope. The infamous freshman-lost-her-mind heard ’round the world saw Auburn qualify instead of LSU. Nebraska managed to produce a similar complication the year before, against many of the same teams we see gathered this year. Almost all of them. I know. The straightforward semifinal tends to have a way of getting our attention, so how confident do we feel that Oklahoma, Alabama, and Utah will emerge from this session? What tricks do the Bruins have planned for us? Whom will they exhume to perform a surprise routine this time?

Competing teams (starting event)
[1] Oklahoma (bye before floor)
[4] Alabama (bye before bars)
[5] Utah (vault)
[8] UCLA (bars)
[10] Cal (beam)
[12] Nebraska (floor)

Competing individuals
All-around – Maddie Gardiner, Oregon State; Nina McGee, Denver; Amanda Wellick, Arkansas; Brianna Brown, Michigan; Mollie Drenth, Iowa; Lisa Burt, Michigan State

Vault – Taylor Allex, Arizona State
Beam – Risa Perez, Oregon State; Shani Remme, Boise State
Floor – Lizzy Leduc, Illinois; Rachel Slocum, Eastern Michigan

Though three clear favorites have established themselves in this group, it’s not quite as meadow-like as some of the “easy” semifinals have been in past years. Alabama and Utah did not perform overwhelmingly at regionals, and UCLA absolutely possesses the talent to advance on a good day. Something I hadn’t realized until now: Since the advent of Super Six, UCLA has never gone three straight seasons without qualifying. Having missed out on Super Six the last two years, the Bruins are in line to make an unfortunate piece of history if they don’t secure the upset this time around. #saveuskyla

Let’s get to it.

OKLAHOMA
The Sooners have begun to separate themselves from the rest of the teams in recent weeks, not showing the same variations in performance, blips, and inconsistencies of the other top contenders. Oklahoma’s regionals score was the highest in the country by a pretty solid margin and the performance was by far the cleanest.

Oklahoma must be the title favorite at this point but far from a prohibitive one. Several areas have emerged, from security of vault landings to floor difficulty, that may be cause for concern in a Super Six context when needing to defeat the likes of Florida, but for now, Oklahoma is the safest pick. If the Sooners were to lose it at the semifinal stage, it would be the biggest upset of any of the teams. Oklahoma hasn’t had a single fall in a competition routine since February 7th and hasn’t seen two actual falls in the same rotation all season long. That’s a rather remarkable feat, so while we can question some of the details, Oklahoma would have to count a fall to fail to emerge from this semifinal. And that would be a first.

I’ll go into detail in the Super Six preview, but a critical area I’ll be watching in the semifinal is how those early-lineup floor routines are evaluated, especially with the Sooners starting on that event. At regionals, Brown and Capps pretty much nailed their routines and got 9.850s (and Jones performed somewhat near her normal for a 9.800), but Oklahoma is going to need higher scores for those routines to reach a national-championship-winning total. The last four winners (counting Florida and Oklahoma in 2014 as two different winners) have all scored over 49.6 on floor in Super Six. Given the evaluation of floor this season, I imagine that will be the standard once again.
Continue reading National Championships Preview Part 2: Deja Vu in Spoilertown

Utah Regional Preview

Welcome to Pac-12s Part Deux: Megan’s Revenge, the thrilling summer blockbuster in which Utah will try to beat UCLA for the first time in 2016 following two consecutive losses in what feels like their fifteenth meeting of the season.

Repetitive matchups are one of the problems I have with creating a bracket for the postseason, in addition to the fact that it’s not a true knockout event and doesn’t have enough rounds for a bracket to be all that necessary. (It should be a true knockout event, but it isn’t. The meets are best 2 out of 6, or 3 out of 6, which isn’t the same thing and is fundamentally less dramatic. You don’t get a bracket until you institute a format that lends itself to a bracket. You don’t get dessert until you eat your vegetables.) You might as well just list all the teams at the beginning of the season in two columns, put a box in the middle for the winner, and say, “It’s a bracket!” It’s not a bracket.  

This will be the third meeting of the season between Utah and UCLA (and their third each against Washington, though at least they were in different sessions at Pac-12s). If they both do qualify, the semifinals will be their 4th meeting and the third consecutive meet day in which they’ve faced off. We get it. By contrast, Utah and Auburn would have been an interesting comparison, and they probably won’t meet at all.

Competing teams (starting event)
[5] Utah (bye before bars)
[8] UCLA (beam)
[17] Washington (floor)
[23] Southern Utah (bye before floor)
[29] Illinois (bars)
[32] Utah State (vault)

Competing individuals 
Sacramento State (Kalliah McCartney – AA; Lauren Rice – AA; Cassie Benning – UB, FX; Julia Konner – VT)
UC Davis (Alexis Brown – UB, BB; Stephanie Stamates – BB, FX; Katy Nogaki – VT)
Seattle Pacific (Maria Hundley – AA)
Alaska (M’rcy Matsunami – AA)

The favorites – Utah and UCLA

Unlike in the regionals previewed so far, this one features two teams that really should go through barring disaster. Disasters are always possible, and always the most fun, but if Utah and UCLA hit five-for-six on each event, they’ll advance. The other teams are hoping for a mistake.

The clash between Utah and UCLA should still be quite interesting and telling about both teams’ potential to do some damage in the postseason. UCLA’s position is bolstered by the two wins over Utah this year, while Utah’s position is bolstered by finishing only .325 behind UCLA at Pac-12s in spite of counting a fall. And by being at home this time. The Bruins would counter that they also had some mistakes at Pac-12s that brought down their score, like Cipra’s floor fall and Preston’s not-in-the-face vault. And we could go on. It should be a close-fought affair. With the home advantage and the stronger scoring pedigree over the whole season (a higher RQS on three of four events), Utah should come in as the favorite between the two, though far from a prohibitive one.

Neither team has a ton of difficulty on vault and both may struggle to compete with the three-1.5 lineups of the SEC once we get to nationals, but Utah’s landings were significantly stronger than UCLA’s at Pac-12s with a couple vaulters showing season-best sticks. Even without a difficulty edge, Utah’s vault beat UCLA’s by nearly three tenths because of landings (and direction, and knees), which would be a massive boon if that were repeated at regionals.

UCLA’s edge comes on beam, with a lineup that is quite smooth in rhythm, precise in split elements, and varied in skill selection and difficulty. Utah, meanwhile, showed the signs of the Stover-ectomy in counting a beam fall at Pac-12s. It’s clear the team needs her back as soon as possible not just to prevent using a fall but to provide a much-needed 9.9.

Interestingly, UCLA beat Utah on bars at Pac-12s, even though bars is supposed to be a weakness for UCLA that compromises postseason hopes while it has been a strength for Utah. If UCLA is able to continue minimizing the bars deficit compared to a team like Utah, perhaps aided by a mysterious secret-weapon appearance of Peng or Ohashi, that would eliminate one major obstacle to postseason success. I’m not convinced yet, but it will be worth watching.  

As for the rotation order, UCLA begins on its two best events, which I don’t love. It means the Bruins must get a bunch of big scores early and absolutely need a lead at the halfway point, and a pretty significant one, to have a shot at winning this thing. They’ll want a solid 98.800 after beam and floor, which is doable. The Utes will gain ground in the second half of the meet, particularly when they turn to floor as UCLA is turning to vault. As long as Utah is anywhere over 98.500 after bars and beam, even if still trailing, I would consider that on track to put up a competitive total/win. 

The challengers – Washington, Southern Utah, Illinois
All three of these teams have proven capable of a mid-196 this year, each peaking in the 196.5-196.6 territory. The problem for them is that both Utah and UCLA would consider a 196.6 quite a poor showing. Even when counting a fall at Pac-12s, Utah went 196.9, and UCLA’s last fall-counting score was 196.8. Both favorites will have some buffer. But which of these challenging schools is the most likely to put pressure on Utah and UCLA? It could go any which way.

If we judge by RQS, Washington is 3rd on vault, Southern Utah is 3rd on floor, Illinois is 3rd on beam, and Utah State is 3rd on bars. So that helps zero. Thank you, RQS.  

Somewhat in keeping with the theme of this regional, vault has been a nightmare for all of the challenging teams, and we’re going to see a rash of 48s. If Washington can in fact be the best of the group on vault, that bodes well since bars and beam really should be their most competitive pieces. With hits. Beam was an absolute catastrophe at Pac-12s, taking Washington out of the competition in the very first rotation, but the style in that lineup has not gone unnoticed. It’s only fitting when an accomplished butterfly charmer is coaching the event. There’s a universe in which Washington stays very competitive on bars and beam. I’m not sure if this is that universe, but I know it exists.

Southern Utah has been a floor force this year and will look to put up a score well over 49 there that can be ridden into the mid-196s with hits on the other pieces. Having to start on floor is unfortunate because we don’t know how much the floor scores will soar early before UCLA and Utah head there, but SUU has regularly scored 9.875-9.900s in a variety of contexts this season. Southern Utah should be leading the pack of challenging teams after one apparatus and will then look to hold on with consistency to remain in front of the peloton. Bars can be another strong SUU score, with a couple likely 9.850+s including a routine from Memory Shettles, whose name is Memory Shettles. She was an AA star two seasons ago but missed last year with injury and is just back on bars this season, though we’re seeing the shades of that success once again in her bars work. 

It’s sort of shocking to see Illinois sitting all the way down at a #5 seed. Illinois is a perennial nationals contender, but it just wasn’t happening this season, even before the storm of injuries to Horth and O’Connor. That’s eight essential routines lost that most schools would be unable to replace, and Illinois is one of those schools, having to throw out a yurchenko layout on vault and a number of 9.725s on the other events. There are still highlights. Sunny Kato is a joy and 3/4 on bars and beam, Erin Buchanan continues leading the floor lineup, and Lizzy Leduc has moments where she shows that elite training even if the consistency of execution isn’t there yet. We’ll see some good scores pop up for Illinois, and a total that could verge on 196 with a hit, but with all the injuries, the lineups just aren’t deep enough to fulfill the potential this roster seemed to be bursting with before the season began.

And the rest
Sorry, Utah State. You’re alone in this one. As mentioned, Utah State has been competitive on bars this season and should put up a 49 score there, but the 196s have been harder to come by than for the other challenging teams. Utah State is the least likely of the group to emerge as the top challenger, but this does mark the third-consecutive season that Utah State has advanced to regionals, following a long winter of hanging down in the bottom half of the 40s and not challenging for regionals places at all. Utah State had an absolute nightmare on bars and beam two years ago and counted a major mistake on bars again last year, so with bars such an important event for the team score this year, slaying that postseason demon is imperative to remaining in the vaguely competitive zone. Really, Utah State’s main goal will be a qualifier in the individual race, which is possible.  

Individuals
If we assume that Utah and UCLA do qualify as teams, then the biggest favorite to advance to nationals as an all-arounder is Allison Northey. She’s ranked in the top 15 and has proven her ability to hit that exalted 39.500 plateau. The other major player to keep an eye on is Danielle Ramirez from Southern Utah. She’s more than capable of going 9.850 across the board, and potentially higher on bars when she hits. There have also been some falls, but earlier in the season. If gymnastics betting were a thing, those are the two I would go for, but it’s not as straightforward as all that. There are some complications. Bailey McIntire of Utah State is a big one.

McIntire has gone 39.400 twice this season, including at the conference championship, and her ability to brush the 9.9 plateau on bars and floor is what makes those events USU’s most competitive scores. It’s always fun to have someone from a #6 seed to watch out for, and McIntire is a legitimate contender here.

Under normal circumstances, Illinois would have been expected to snatch both the AA spots with O’Connor and Horth, but now, individual qualification to nationals appears much less likely. It would be amazing to see Leduc sneak in there, and while she does have a few competitive scores and can stay close on one of her consistent days, vault may take her scoring potential down too low to challenge hits from Northey and Ramirez. Buchanan is probably the team’s top AAer now. She should be very competitive on floor and vault, but bars and beam can get a little 9.7y. They’re both in it, yet others have proven more 9.850ish across the events. The same is probably true for Goings, Washington’s second AA option. She’ll get a solid number, but Northey is more likely to score higher.

Pac-12 Championship Preview

Saturday 3/19
Afternoon session 4:00 ET/1:00 PT
Evening session 9:00 ET/6:00 PT

The Pac-12 should take pride this season in winning the award for the weirdest conference championship scenario. Stanford is the #6 seed and competing in the “who even are you?” afternoon relegation session in spite of being quite a realistic title contender and possible winner, which if nothing else, will serve to make sure we all pay more attention to the afternoon session instead of getting distracted by the simultaneous Big Ten, Big 12, and SEC action. Fun fact: there will be at least 30 minutes during which all four of those championships are going on at the same time. Well, we’ve had a good life.

Stanford’s last meet featured a relative crushing of Georgia and UCLA, so if that’s any indication, Stanford is currently in the midst of pulling a Stanford once again this year. But, let’s begin with the ones who were good all season long and qualified for the coveted evening session.  

EVENING SESSION
Utah, UCLA, Cal, Oregon State

Once again, Utah has earned the top seed in the conference on the back of resolutely having the fewest meltdowns. Hooray! Seven straight weeks of 197s coupled with breaking the 197.5 barrier in the last two outings has given the Utes a fairly comfortable ranking lead over the remaining Pac-12 teams, meaning they’ll be favorites heading in. Given what UCLA and Stanford can do, however, there shouldn’t more than a few tenths in this either way with hit meets all around (ahahahahahaha), so we have at least some reason to hope for excitement. UCLA is capable of busting out a massive day, and after Stanford goes, we’ll have the benefit of a legitimate pace standard through which to gauge Utah and UCLA’s performances. So, let’s break this thing down.

Rotation 1: UCLA vault, Cal bars, Utah beam, Oregon State floor

Event RQS for rotation 1:
Utah 49.290
UCLA 49.165
Oregon State 49.165
Cal 49.110

Of course UCLA is the team that drew its arch-nemesis, Olympic order, meaning the Bruins already have a four-tenth deficit, and the competition is two days away. It actually is probably beneficial to the Bruins as they make their money on beam and floor and would rather end there than begin there, hoping to squeeze out some home-meet level scoring as Cipra and Bynum on floor will be the last routines of the competition, at the end of a long day, once the judges are already halfway through the whiskey bottle. I know. That’s not right of me to say. They’ll obviously have finished the whiskey by that point and be on to the cooking sherry and rubbing alcohol.

As for vault, UCLA has lacked the required landing control and difficulty (having to rely on Bynum’s arabian and Pua’s roller coaster 1.5), often bouncing back on fulls and hoping to get a 9.825 out of them. The sticking shoes showed up just once a couple weeks ago to earn UCLA a 49.375, but more often the score has been about 49.1. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, but the Bruins will hope to go over 49.2 to keep pace early. None of the teams are starting on particularly strong events, so don’t expect anyone to run away with this thing at the beginning.

Utah’s beam will be among the key rotations to keep every eye on because of Stover Watch 2016. She may be able to compete beam at Pac-12s after all, and if she’s back in form, that bolsters Utah’s scoring potential by a solid tenth, maybe more, and seriously reduces the Fall Terror Index. It was rising considerably depending on who was going to have to come into the lineup. Utah has had its share of falls this season, but this isn’t among the most terrifying beam lineups in the conference. Lopez is currently doing the best beam work of her career, and if Utah can get at least 9.875s from her, Rowe, and Stover (?), along with two other hits, breaking into 49.300+ range seems doable, at least depending on how some of those early-lineup short splits are being evaluated. If the Utes emerge from beam in the first rotation with a true lead, that significantly fuels their chances because they’ll be heading off to higher-scoring, lower-risk events from here. If it’s 49.1 or lower, ring all the bells because it’s feeding time for the vultures. 

Oregon State hasn’t been as competitive as usual with the top of the Pac-12 this season, so while the Beavs remain a team to watch that could snatch this title at the last second (as has happened before), that scenario seems less likely this year. They’ve topped out in the high 196s, which is not going to be strong enough to win this championship. It would take a season high by a considerable margin, which would need to start on floor in the first rotation. Since floor is the highest-scoring event, Oregon State would need to nail that double pike parade with supreme control and use Perez powers to greatly exceed that paltry 49.1 RQS, which would guard against the inevitably dropped tenths coming on vault.

In contrast to Oregon State, Cal has recorded one score this season that could be good enough to win this title, but realistically it still looks like there’s another step between Cal and winning a conference title. The fact that it’s even a conversation this year, however, is a victory. Cal possesses great line on bars and has received some big numbers in a couple meets this season, but the performances I’ve seen have also included some flexed feet and missed handstands, so I’m eager to see how this rotation is evaluated. Bars was Cal’s highest-scoring event in that recent 197.5 result with a 49.475, and while there’s no need/reason to expect that again, the bars total needs to be at least in the same state as that 49.475. A 49.100 would severely compromise the team’s chance to hit 197. Exceeding RQS is key, but don’t necessarily expect Cal to be busting out with a lead in first half of the meet, starting on bars and beam. They’ll plan on making up ground on floor later on and pushing up through the standings from the back. 

Rotation 2: Oregon State vault, UCLA bars, Cal beam, Utah floor

Event RQS through 2 rotations (Event RQS for rotation 2):
Utah 98.755 (49.465)
UCLA 98.350 (49.185)
Cal 98.230 (49.120)
Oregon State 98.150 (48.985)

This is Utah’s rotation. RQS tells us that Utah should have a four-tenth lead at the halfway point, mostly because, in rotation 2, all the other teams go a weakness while Utah goes to the highest-scoring apparatus. Utah does not have big floor routines this year, but we’ve seen Schwab, Hughes, and Partyka (earlier in the season) earn some massive scores for going through cleanly and minimizing those landing deductions. It will be fascinating to watch how the judges respond to that and if they’re willing to give out 9.950s for double pike routines in the second rotation of a meet. The general scoring landscape and precedent leads me to think that they will, but we’ll see how this total compares to Utah’s home floor scoring (Utah has peaked at 49.425 for road floor, while the last three home floor scores have been 49.625, 49.575, and 49.525).

Meanwhile, UCLA will go to bars, so stop, drop, and roll. It has been a sloppy road this year. Without Peng and with Ohashi only able to show a couple routines so far, the lineup has been populated by too many just trying to squeak out a 9.825. Ohashi has returned to beam and floor so far post-sternum, but the bars lineup really does need her to elevate the scoring potential, along with one of Sophina’s good dismounts and some of that special magic that got Janay Honest a 9.950 last week. The goal for the Bruins here will be to minimize the deficit, because there will be a deficit versus Utah on floor. They’ll like their chances to gain ground later in the meet, so it’s about getting as close as possible. Getting closer than the RQS predicts would do.

Likewise, Cal will be looking to minimize damage in rotation 2 as beam has been the struggle event this season. It’s not nearly as worrisome as last year when it cost Cal the chance to upset Utah at regionals, but it’s still the event on which Cal is most likely to get stuck counting scores in the 9.7s. We are seeing shades of truly fine performances from the likes of Howe, and that RQS is over 49, but Cal will be relying more on bars and floor to bump up the score.

If you’re pointing to an event that has contributed the most to Oregon State’s falling a bit lower in the Pac-12 hierarchy, it’s vault. Vault is not traditionally Oregon State’s event, and this year the lower SV have exacerbated the issue with all those fulls struggling around the 9.750 territory. Sticking shoes will be absolutely critical because even though a huge score on vault is no longer the must it used to be, you still can’t win a big title with a sub-49 vault.

Rotation 3: Utah vault, Oregon State bars, UCLA beam, Cal floor

Event RQS through 3 rotations (Event RQS for rotation 3):
Utah 148.000 (49.245)
UCLA 147.590 (49.240)
Cal 147.485 (49.230)
Oregon State 147.410 (49.260)

And now the inverse of rotation 2. The RQSs in this rotation are very closely packed, which would suit Utah quite nicely. Utah would love every team to score around the same total in the 3rd and maintain the pace set in the previous rotation. The issue for Utah is the potential for other teams to put up big performances, since Utah’s peak vault score is 49.275, while OSU and Cal have gone into the 49.4s on bars and floor respectively, and UCLA can and has hit 49.5 on beam.

UCLA beam is not quite the force we expected it to be when presuming a healthy Peng (how silly of us), but Francis, Ohashi, and sometimes DeJesus can still deliver the numbers and Gerber has been a worthwhile leadoff this year. The Bruins are far better on beam than that 49.240 RQS suggests and will have to deliver on that potential (multiple tenths over the RQS) to expect a conference-winning total. Utah’s vault would not be able to match the scores coming from a nailed UCLA beam. While Utah is probably the best-vaulting team in the conference, that’s a bit like being the best listener at a school for the deaf. It hasn’t been a banner year for Pac-12 vaulting, and like the others, Utah has a lot of fulls getting stuck at 9.825. I like the lineup decision to put Delaney after Hughes because I still maintain it has the potential to bump Delaney up to a 9.950 for a stuck landing on the back of Hughes’ 1.5 and 10.0 SV, but Delaney has to stick. She hasn’t been sticking as much this season, so it’s basically impossible for her to do much better than the 9.875s she’s been scoring. Graduations and SV changes have conspired to sap Utah of all its vault 9.9s.

Oregon State’s bars have been an interesting animal this season, just in case you haven’t checked in for a while. Earlier in the year, bars looked like a struggle event with some serious dismount crazies bringing down the scores, but lately it has returned to being OSU’s strong apparatus the way it always should be. McMillan and Jacobsen are quite precise for possible 9.9s at the back of that lineup (I would say the most likely 9.9s the Beavs have across all the events), which must be taken advantage of if this is to be a serious score. Beyond trying to contend for the title, a strong score is essential if they’re to move out of #3-seed territory. It will take a 196.675 in this meet for the Beavs to have even a remote shot at a #2 seed, and that score would be built on bars 9.9s.

Cal is also fighting for a #2 seed but currently sits in 11th and therefore is working from a position of strength. The Bears can guarantee that #2 seed with a 196.475, which is quite doable as long as floor cooperates for something over 49. This is the event where Cal most takes advantage of Toni-Ann Business and the realistic 9.950 she can bring to send the score in a stratospheric direction. Add to that a double arabian from Robinson, a couple other deduction-minimal double pike routines, and an overall commitment to non-lame dance combinations (that doesn’t show up in the scores but I appreciate), and this should be Cal’s best-scoring event of the night.

Rotation 4: Cal vault, Utah bars, Oregon State beam, UCLA floor

Event RQS through 4 rotations (Event RQS for rotation 4):
Utah 197.395 (49.395)
UCLA 197.020 (49.430)
Cal 196.670 (49.185)
Oregon State 196.555 (49.145)

Note that these are the totals of the four event RQSs, not the teams’ overall ranking RQS.

None of the teams should be particularly distressed by where they finish the meet and all will feel, to varying degrees, like they can pick up ground on the final apparatus should that be necessary. Perhaps with the exception of Oregon State because of beam reasons, but BeaverBeam hasn’t been particularly terrifying the last few weeks. With Gardiner and McMillan, who both have creative and crisp routines, Risa Perez who has Risa Perez things going on, and the Colussi-Pelaii, we should have fairly high expectations for Oregon State here. More than some unmemorable 49.1.

Now, let’s talk about Cal’s vault because I suddenly have a lot of feelings about it starting now. Cal is the #2 vaulting team in the conference and among all the teams in the country, probably deserves the most credit for quickly and effectively adapting to the new SVs and using them to their advantage. They have a Tsuk full and a handspring-handspring pike (and a 1.5 occasionally for Williams), but on the negative side, they’ve also committed some serious counterfeit yurchenko arabian fraud in a couple instances. Seilnacht’s vault scores have been weirdly high, leading me to believe that she has been getting credit for an arabian, even though it’s definitely a yhalf. With four judges, in a championship scenario, are they finally going to crack down on some of these counterfeit arabians? Could be influential. And we all agree that vault needs to go down to a 9.950 next season, right?

Similarly to Utah, we’ll have to keep an eye on how UCLA’s floor is being evaluated compared to regular-season meets, but the Bruins do have the advantage of ending on floor in a way that might resemble a regular-season dual meet. We’ve seen DeJesus, Francis, Cipra, and Bynum all go into the 9.9s this season, which they’ll hope to use to zoom out of reach of Utah, in spite of Utah boasting quite competitive bars scores. The Utes have shown superior finishing positions in full turns this season to minimize some of the handstand deductions that smack the other teams, and when that is paired with stuck dismounts, the scores can go quite high, which is why that RQS verges on 49.4. Bars, however, is not as high scoring as floor this season overall, so UCLA will look to gain ground here and really should be the strongest team at the meet in both the 3rd and 4th rotations. We’ll just have to see if that’s enough to make up for the 1st and 2nd rotations. Or if Stanford has rendered the whole thing moot.

TRANSITION SENTENCE.

AFTERNOON SESSION
Washington, Stanford, Arizona, Arizona State

Since this is the Stanford session, it seems only appropriate that I use this section to nerd out a little bit. 

Because we have a title contender in the early session, a lot of focus will be placed (by me and maybe other people, but mostly me) on score building and whether the scores are being kept down in the first session so that they can rise in the second session. Scores being held down in earlier sessions and rising in later sessions seems to be the conventional wisdom in gymnastics, as we hear this theory every year in both elite and NCAA, though it’s very hard to make a compelling, evidence-based argument that it’s actually happening. At conference championships, the scores do indeed tend to be lower in the first session, but the teams are also weaker, so it’s impossible to attribute that to score suppression with any authority since the quality of the teams is the most significant influence there. A better indicator would be the national semifinals, where the scoring capabilities of the teams should be relatively equal between the early semifinal and the later semifinal. Let’s take a look!

This is the average score of the three teams advancing to Super Six (to weed out teams counting falls that might skew the numbers down artificially) from each semifinal session at nationals over the last six seasons. 

2015:
Semifinal #1: 197.375
Semifinal #2: 197.192

2014:
Semifinal #1: 197.300
Semifinal #2: 197.467

2013:
Semifinal #1: 197.417
Semifinal #2: 197.250

2012:
Semifinal #1: 197.242
Semifinal #2: 197.492

2011:
Semifinal #1: 196.658
Semifinal #2: 196.700

2010:
Semifinal #1: 196.683
Semifinal #2: 196.642

Overall:
Semifinal #1: 197.113
Semifinal #2: 197.124

It’s admittedly a very small sample size, but it’s enough to demonstrate that arguments of score suppression in earlier sessions don’t really have a recent factual basis. All of which is to say, there’s not necessarily a reason to think that Stanford will be held down in session 1 or is a less compelling contender because of this placement. At least heading in. We’ll see how we feel after Price gets a random 9.825 on bars.

With any kind of hit meet, Stanford should win this session in a landslide (potentially by close to a point) and will just have to wait and see what the evening teams produce and whether the total can be bested. Rest assured that Jim has already prepared all his golf analogies about Stanford setting the mark in the clubhouse.

Stanford competes in Olympic order, so the good parts will be bookended by the bad parts. Stanford’s most realistic path to a competitive pace will be to go over 49.2 on vault and floor and over 49.4 on bars and beam, which is about what happened during the season-high performance at UCLA two weeks ago. On vault and floor, that pretty much means everyone needs to make sure to go 9.825 and then Ebee gets a 10, fixing everything. It’s doable. But, as it is and always has been, through rain and shine and graduation, Stanford’s really events are bars and beam, and that’s where the winning would need to happen. I mentioned in the season previews that I was worried about Stanford on bars because there are exactly six usable bars workers on this team. Well, those six have managed to endure through the whole season, and with Price, Hong, and N McNair all able to warrant 9.9+ scores (even though it’s tougher for McNair in that first spot), bars remains a strong event that shouldn’t have to endure 9.7s of the type that have brought low vault and floor. 

Beam is pretty much the same as bars, though with several more lineup options. I also do have to credit Stanford’s smart rotation order on beam this year, putting Price and Hong in the 3rd and 4th spots. I like. Because they’re Price and Hong, they’re able to get the big totals anywhere in the lineup, pushing up the scores for Daum and Chuang in the last two spots and allowing them to get 9.9s they wouldn’t be scoring otherwise. Those 9.9s going to Daum and Chuang are a big part of why Stanford remains 49.5 capable on beam this year in spite of bleeding quite a bit of beam talent from last year’s roster that hasn’t really been replaced. 

I didn’t forget you, others! The Washington Huskies are having their best season in quite some time and are hosting the meet, which usually spells a massive performance in a championship meet. That doesn’t mean challenging for a victory, but I would not be surprised by another strong mid-196, which would be particularly valuable since Washington is another team in a seed fight, currently sitting at 17th with Stanford and Iowa lurking just behind. Since both Stanford and Iowa have higher maximums, Washington could get bumped down into the 19-36 pit-of-peasants territory regardless of performance, but a strong 196 would make it much tougher, particularly on Iowa. Iowa will have already competed by this point, so we’ll know exactly what Washington needs to do when the session begins.

Arizona is also mathematically capable of moving into that top 18, but it’s looking pretty unlikely and would require a whole heap of meltdowns from Stanford, Washington, and several others. Arizona is usually pecking around that 3rd-seed section, so Tabitha’s first season in charge has been relatively in line with what we expect from Arizona, if not breaking any molds. Although it should be noted that attendance is WAY up at this season, increasing 69% over last year, which is probably the most encouraging change we’ve seen from the new regime. It took a little while for the team to find its way, particularly adjusting to staying competitive on vault, but we’re seeing consistent 196s now. A mid-196 is a pounce score, the kind of score it takes to pounce on a better team’s mistakes at regionals, so let’s see if Arizona can turn those 196.2s into 196.6s this weekend.

And there’s Arizona State.

What a hitter.

Oklahoma @ UCLA Live Blog

Sunday, March 13
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – Kent State, Yale @ George Washington – SCORES
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – West Virginia @ Pittsburgh – SCORESESPN3
3:00 ET/12:00 PT – Utah State @ Illinois-Chicago – SCORES
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – William & Mary @ Towson – SCORESStream
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Oklahoma @ UCLA – SCORES – TV: Pac-12
6:00 ET/3:00 PT – Air Force @ Alaska – SCORES
In case you weren’t excited already, @badbebop on Twitter made this for the meet:

I know, right? People are super talented.

Now, back to resenting all of humanity…

In the early action today, George Washington was in line for a score well into the 196s but counting an 8.8 on bars drops the total down to 195.400, which is squarely in their unusable range. GW’s ranking is already sort of fine, so today’s meet was much more important for Kent State. The 195.275 isn’t a score that will stand out, but it replaces a 193.725 road score and will shoot Kent State all the way up to a temporary ranking of #30. Exceptionally important performance. That knocks Bowling Green back down to 37th for the moment in spite of the big score yesterday. It will get interesting.
Here’s where the RTN rankings stood as of this morning:

Continue reading Oklahoma @ UCLA Live Blog

The Weekend Plans – March 11-13

The last weekend before championship season. The last weekend of only two judges. The absolute last weekend of “exploring depth.” We hope. Some teams are still “exploring depth” in May. This weekend can be interesting to watch in terms of lineups, which teams decide to use it as an opportunity to rest gymnasts versus which teams feel it’s necessary to solidify final lineups this week before the various championships begin. Most teams fall into the latter category and have been using the past couple meets to throw in some rest weeks for various elites and fragiles, but we’ll see.

For many teams that are eager to solidify lineups, this weekend becomes the final chance to try to squeeze their 90%-injured athletes into the lineup and make sure they’re good to go for the postseason. LSU will hope to get Priessman back into action on Saturday, and if she’s actually back with the good and hitting, she could be LSU’s secret weapon for a title run. If not, they’ll want know that before SECs. UCLA has also been sans about a million crucial routines in recent weeks, with Peng out, no Dejesus/Cipra/Francis on floor last week, and with the deus ex machina that’s suddenly going to make bars better somehow still waiting to appear. Um…we need you? 

Top 25 schedule 
Friday, March 11

7:00 ET/4:00 PT – North Carolina @ [2] Florida
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Iowa State @ [21] Kentucky
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Pittsburgh @ [25] West Virginia
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [15] Missouri @ Western Michigan
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Arizona State @ [7] Auburn
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Utah State @ [11] Arkansas
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – BYU @ [20] Arizona
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Southern Utah, San Jose State @ [12] Boise State
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – [14] Cal, Sacramento State @ UC Davis
Saturday, March 12
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – Big Five Meet #1: [6] Michigan, [18] Iowa, [19] Minnesota, Rutgers @ Penn State
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Big Five Meet #2: [16] Nebraska, [23] Illinois, Michigan State, Maryland @ Ohio State
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [9] Georgia @ [5] Utah
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [3] LSU, [16] Oregon State, New Hampshire @ Texas Woman’s
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [10] Denver, Seattle Pacific @ [24] Washington
Sunday, March 13
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – Kent State, Yale @ [22] George Washington
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – [25] West Virginia @ Pittsburgh
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – [1] Oklahoma @ [8] UCLA
Live blogging
ALL. THREE. DAYS. It’s a bit of a weird one on Friday. We’re used to the big Friday night SEC clashes (or FRIDAY NIGHT HEIGHTS, as the cool kids call it), but this Friday sees exactly no meetings between top-25 schools. I’ll certainly keep an eye on the big guns like Florida and Auburn, but the absence of significant dual meets also means that this should be a worthwhile chance to check in on non-famous teams we need to see, like Boise State.

Things get slightly more real on Saturday with the qualifiers to Big Tens. But here’s something dumb: The first meet will be broadcast live on BTN. (Yay!) After that, instead of showing the second meet, BTN will be showing the tape-delayed Nebraska/Penn State meet from January. Yeah, uh….WTF? Anyway, I’ll keep it going through Georgia/Utah and then return on Sunday for Oklahoma/UCLA. Pac-12 coming through with the good ones this week.

Rankings
In the top 10, we could see some jockeying for a place or two this week. Utah, Michigan, and Auburn in 5, 6, 7 may shuffle themselves around, and Georgia and UCLA could flip-flop depending on which team is less terrifying, but the real action happens farther down the rankings. (Georgia theoretically has a shot to pass Auburn for the evening session at SECs, but it’s not too, too likely. Auburn can clinch with a 196.950, and Georgia would need an Auburn miss and a 197 of its own to have a shot.) 

Utah and UCLA have secured spots in the big-girl session at Pac-12s, but their companions are still TBD with Stanford, Cal, Oregon State, and Washington all remaining in contention. Stanford and Cal currently inhabit those spots, but Stanford is out of action this week. Cal needs 195.675 to pass Stanford, while Oregon State needs 195.850, and Washington needs 196.350. All attainable, which means it may come down to which two sides pass Stanford by the most. Saturday evening just got interesting.

Nebraska’s performance in the Big Five will also be critical. The Huskers are currently in 16th but have a 195.350 road score to drop and could move as high as 11th with a big result, which would drastically change the regional picture.

We’ll know more about what teams need to do to make the top 12/18 after this week because there are still a ton of different scenarios at this point, but farther down the rankings, Bowling Green is developing into a story. Bowling Green currently sits in 38th, .050 out of the regional spots, but with a meet on Thursday and another on Saturday, a serious chance to move up with some mid-195s jas suddenly presented itself. Bowling Green hasn’t made regionals since…quarter past ever? 

Friday

-Florida will cruise to victory on Friday, and with the lineups looking relatively finalized now that McMurtry is in on floor, the three topics to watch in this one will be landing progress (can’t win SECs bouncing back on vaults), beam consistency after weeks of rather unexpected discomfort and falls, and how many 199.975s they’re going to get with Sloan, Caquatto, BDG enjoying senior night. 

Unfortunately for UNC, the team sits all the way down in 57th right now, which is quite disappointing for a school that used to be regularly expected to make regionals. They won’t be able to take advantage of any big Florida road score to zoom up the rankings.

-A couple seasons ago, I remember noting that Kentucky’s scoring at home was much tighter than in most of the SEC for whatever reason. Shannon Mitchell would always nail beam routines and get 9.725. That has not been the case this season, with the 196s flying for both home and road teams in Kentucky. Kentucky is probably too far back from the top 18 for that to make a difference at this point, but Iowa State currently sits on 36th and would certainly take any and all available magic.

Sydney Waltz missed much of the season and has been limited since she returned, so my hopes were not high for Kentucky this season, but the freshman trio of Hyland, Dukes and Stuart have been nationally competitive and will challenge for individual spots in Fort Worth. It’s sort of reminiscent of what Miller, Harris, and Schugel did for Missouri last year and have continued to do this year, with the help of a million more essential freshmen like Porter and Ward.

-Auburn has transformed back into a 197 machine over the past month, and there’s no reason to expect that to change on Friday during the Caitlin Atkinson farewell tour costarring Demers and Kluz. Does Atkinson get her 10? This meet won’t be up for debate, but it will be fascinating nonetheless because Auburn is going up against Hot Mess State in the aftermath of VIP Cocktail Waitress getting thrown out on her stilettos. So I kind of can’t wait for that. 

Saturday

-Big Five meets. The Big 10 conference has 14 schools in it. If you’re new to the NCAA, welcome. You’ll want a therapy dog. Of those 14 schools, 10 have gymnastics programs, which makes it difficult to conduct a conference championship in a way that isn’t terrible. As such, the championship takes place in two sessions, an afternoon session of 4 teams and an evening session of 6 teams. Rather than using the rankings, qualification to the evening session is determined by two Big Five qualifying meets. Because why the hell not? The top three finishers in each meet advance to the championship’s evening session, while the bottom two are relegated to the afternoon session. That’s a long way of saying…that’s why these are meets. 

-The first meets end up the more challenging one, featuring three of the top four teams in the conference now that Illinois decided to have a terrible season for unexplained reasons. Michigan should still clomp to victory, but the lack of Briley Casanova is becoming increasingly troublesome. She’s out with a back issue, but it didn’t sound at first like it was something particularly dramatic or serious or season/career-ending. Now, she has missed seven meets in a row, and if she’s not able to return for the postseason, Michigan drops a solid couple tenths of scoring potential by having to use backups who are not at her level. That could be the difference. Also, beam. Watch beam. Always beam.

Penn State does have some talented gymnasts in spite of everything and may be able to pull something out at home, but the race for the second spot really should be a showdown between two quite equivalent teams in Minnesota and Iowa. Minnesota has a level of star power in Lindsay Mable that Iowa does not, so if Mable is having one of her good days and not one of her bars-fall days, that may give Minnesota the edge, though Iowa has been a touch more consistent in its 9.8ishness this season. I don’t think a lot of people have seen Iowa yet this year or what makes this season different from the others, so a big performance here could make this a “pay attention to our program now!” meet.

-In the second meet, Nebraska’s urgency for a big score will be a story, but the returns of Laeng and Orel are cause for optimism. At least in terms of having enough routines to do a meet. You know, little things. If Laeng, Blanske, and Williams are all firing, this should be a romp. Illinois has the talent and capability to challenge Nebraska (in fact, I had Illinois ahead of Nebraska in my preseason rankings because of the likes of O’Connor, Kato, Horth, and LeDuc), but just as the team seemed to be getting it together finally, Horth has disappeared mysteriously in the last couple meets, exactly what the team couldn’t afford.

There will also be some interesting ranking-watch action further down the score sheet, if that’s your kind of thing. Michigan State currently sits in 34th and Maryland in 39th. Maryland is the lowest-ranked team still in reasonable contention to make regionals, and with a couple 194s still to drop, a solid mid-195 could go a long way toward catching the schools ranked above, like say, Michigan State. Both teams are in precarious positions for the top 36 and will be rooting for both a high score for themselves and a low score for the other school to make qualification a bit more secure.

-Georgia to Utah! The first meet of the weekend that should truly be competitive without the help of an implosion. This dual meet is usually very close, decided by a tenth or two in favor of the home team (you know how that tends to works out…). It’s always a little crazy and always full of a little fanciness and crack, so I’m there with all the bells on. Who can forget the famous 2008 clash when Kupets fell on beam because everyone doubted her and the name The Balance Beam Situation was born?

I anticipate a pretty even showdown. Georgia is the better vault team, with more difficulty and more 9.9 potential, and while beam wouldn’t necessarily be considered a strength for either team, Utah has obviously been much more reliable and safe and should expect an edge there. Any prognostication of a Georgia meet must begin with “if Georgia hits beam…” because otherwise we can stop right here. If Georgia’s hits beam, this should be a real competition, one that is more important for Georgia than it is for Utah because of Georgia’s need to recover from this year of falls and quest to make the good session at SECs.

If we also give Utah the floor edge because of home floor (the teams have proven fairly equivalent in floor scoring this year, with Georgia relying on a couple erratic routines that are more likely to suffer OOBs but also going bigger in the tumbling), then bars becomes the critical event for Georgia. The Gymdogs boast the highest potential scores from Jay and Rogers at the end, but Utah’s lineup is probably more complete and less likely to have a weird landing error for a 9.7. Which team has the advantage there will be decided by whether Jay and Rogers bring their good ones. Georgia must take the lead early, and honestly with Georgia going to beam and Utah going to floor in the final rotation, Georgia would basically need a full point lead after three events, otherwise Utah is the favorite. 

-But that’s not all! LSU heads to Texas (Singular) Woman’s University, where the one woman receives an education, for a quad meet. But aside from Priessman Watch 2016: Storm of the Century, Oregon State’s quest to save a reasonable ranking may be the most interesting aspect of this one. The Beavs have had periodic moments of excellent this season, especially lately, usually stemming from Kaytianna McMillan doing Kaytianna McMillan on bars, so we know the necessary 196 is more than attainable. Vault, however, will be worth watching since the Beavs basically have an entire lineup of 9.750-9.800s, which has put them 22nd in the country and will render them quite vulnerable in a regionals context. Squeezing every possible half tenth out of the landings is all the more important for OSU.

-Washington is coming around on the outside on the final turn and is suddenly having the best Husky season for quite a while. That meet isn’t just about “Is Denver for real?” things because Washington might just be for real too. 

Sunday

-Step Up 5: The Chalk. This year’s dance battle with a gymnastics meet around it will see Oklahoma come in as a strong favorite while UCLA will be hoping for either an Oklahoma error or 49.8s on beam and floor. It could happen. Otherwise, UCLA does not have the vault and bars work this season to challenge a team like Oklahoma, but if somehow it’s close at the halfway point, anything is possible. Primarily, this will be a choreography-off. That’s what you’re tuning in for. Be honest. Oklahoma will be futilely scratching to get in on the game of viral routines that seems to be happening at UCLA on a weekly basis now but will end up just having to hug themselves to sleep with another 197.9 instead.

Also, Chayse Capps/Danusia Francis battle of the beam 10s. Yes, please.

UCLA has been dropping down the rankings over the last couple weeks and is in mild danger of falling into a more fraught regional if the scores don’t pick back up into the 197s. Even if the lineup doesn’t regain some of its structure, 197 should be the minimum expectation for this meet. The Bruins really have no business giving us another 196, but some lineup reconstruction surgery would certainly go along way toward helping and boosting Super Six hopes.