And so we arrive at the last, the infamous 6, 7, 18 regional. This regional has a reputation of being the easiest and least interesting of all because it contains the weakest of the #3 teams and therefore should provide the most straightforward qualification road for the #1 and #2 teams. This reputation exists for a reason. The #6 and #7 teams had advanced every single time since 2004…until last year, when Stanford came in as the #18 team and upset everything.
April 1, 4:00 ET/1:00 PT
Teams (starting event)  Alabama (bars)  Michigan (vault)  Southern Utah (bye before floor)  George Washington (bye before bars)
 West Virginia (beam)
 Kent State (floor)
The favorites – Alabama and Michigan Alabama and Michigan are supposed to qualify here, and with hit meets, they will. The high score on the road for any of the other teams in the meet is 196.725, a number that Michigan has bested in five consecutive meets and Alabama has bested in seven consecutive. We’ve seen both teams have struggle-bus meets this year, Alabama with that weekend of 195s and Michigan with some early road debacles, but those were centuries ago. It’s the kind of situation where you hear people use optimistic yet baseless cliches like, “we’ve put those mistakes behind us,” which is true right up until it isn’t.
Still, qualification is in the hands of the top two seeds, and both would have to mimic those struggle-bus meets and count a fall in order to throw this chance away. That statement will provide Michigan with panic flashbacks as the case was exactly the same last year, then Michigan counted a fall on beam and still missed nationals by only .050 in what otherwise would have been a smooth and relaxed qualification journey at home.
For Alabama, SECs proved a fine yet somewhat disheartening experience because they hit a solid 197.400 and didn’t count a mistake, yet still ended up 0.675 behind LSU. Not all that encouraging in terms of title prospects. Alabama needs to perform a little closer to the leading teams during regionals and should be able to improve on an SEC performance that featured a couple dropped falls and weak floor landings. We’ll also need to watch the McNeer situation. She was fitted with her robo-wrist in time to return on beam at SECs, but a best-level Alabama would have her on more than one event. They’ve reconstructed that bars lineup quite a lot recently, the latest move being to take out Sims in favor of Guerra, a solid call, but ideally McNeer would have that spot. Continue reading West Virginia Regional Preview→
While several of the regionals this year could produce an unexpected nationals qualifier that we will pretend signals the beginning of a new era until next season when everything returns to normal, the most exciting changing of the guard will happen in Alabama. Though some of the challengers elsewhere, like Denver and Minnesota, haven’t qualified to nationals for a few years, the teams in this regional have been stranded in the desert for much, much longer. Cal has been absent from the national championship since 1992, and Boise State and Kentucky have been absent since always. In fact, with three all-time nationals appearances, #5 seed West Virginia is the second-most accomplished team in the competition.
Competing teams (starting event)  Alabama (bye before bars)  Cal (beam)  Boise State (floor)  Kentucky (bye before floor)  West Virginia (bars)  Bowling Green (vault)
Competing individuals SEMO (Alexis Brawner – AA; Lauren Israel – AA; McKinzie Jones – FX) Northern Illinois (Andie Van Voorhis – VT; Jamyra Carter – UB; Lauren Africano – UB; Megan Greenfield – BB) Arizona State (Allie Salas – AA; Taylor Allex – VT, FX) Illinois-Chicago (Mikailla Northern – AA) Illinois State (Amanda Mohler – BB)
The favorite – Alabama
Alabama is Alabama. Competing at home against a relatively unheralded squadron of challengers and coming off an impressive second-place showing at SECs should really be all we need to know about Alabama’s qualification outlook. Coleman may no longer the impenetrable home fortress it once was, now the site of previously unheard of losses to LSU and Arkansas, but the idea of Alabama getting upset at home by two whole teams in this meet is difficult to fathom.
Unsurprisingly, Alabama had its best meet of the season at SECs, which happened to coincide with actually getting all the good people in the lineups simultaneously for the first time. Amazing how that works out. Winston returned on three events, all the top-scoring floor workers competed, and Bresette was able to show her Omelianchik, which is a higher-scoring option than her full. All of this combined to make Alabama look like a peer of Oklahoma, Florida, and LSU in the title race rather than the leader of the challenging pack. These lineups still don’t look fully finalized (you can’t quit depth exploration cold turkey), as I’d still perhaps like to see Winston vaulting and, critically, that was not the highest-scoring beam lineup Alabama could put out. Sanders did an excellent job of suddenly being a gymnast now, but hit routines from Beers and Bailey are going to score higher than what she (and potentially Brannan) can bring.
It’s an issue of hitting (both Bailey and Beers fell the week before), but if the coaches feel comfortable putting Bailey and Beers in the lineup, this team looks more formidable and closer to 198. If not, Alabama may be giving up a crucial tenth or two on beam, the rotation that knocked them down below Florida’s at SECs.
The fight – Cal v. Boise State
This meet represents a brand new phenomenon for Cal. We’ve seen Cal perform well in significant meets against strong teams over the last three seasons, but for the first time I can remember, Cal will enter a significant meet not as an upstart, or an underdog, or a spoiler, or a sentimental favorite but as a favorite. Cal should finish second here and should qualify along with Alabama. Not doing so would be a disappointing result given the wonderful opportunity to make nationals presented before them. Welcome to expectations, Cal. It’s nice to have you here.
That’s not to say it’s going to be a walk. Boise State has been in many ways the surprise of the season (after being the punchline of the preseason when one coach voted BSU #1), scoring a 197.025 at conference championships—at home—which bested the 196.725 Cal put up at Pac-12s. Boise State does, however, remain the least proven entity among the contending teams, having gone the whole season without facing any school seeded 1-3 in any of the regionals. We don’t really know how these routines are going to be evaluated when Boise State is suddenly not the biggest and the best in the arena for the first time. The Broncos’ last challenging road meet also came at Alabama, in 2015, when they did prove quite competitive through three events and were on high-196 pace until a floor meltdown. Boise State has done well to continue improving this season even without stars like Perkins and Morris (and with critical freshman Sarah Means limited to beam), which seemed like a recipe for a regression year. Still, keeping pace on vault has been a challenge and the 48s do occasionally pop up. They have a few vaults that can take advantage of the new values, Bennion’s “arabian” and Bir’s handspring pike 1/2, but Cal has done the better job of the two teams, probably the best in the country, at exploiting the new values through a heterogeneous 10.0 SV vault lineup. Cal’s lineup really does squeeze every possible tenth out of a roster that doesn’t have a whole lot of big vaulting power aside from Toni-Ann. Cal will expect to venture over 9.850 more often than Boise State on vault and grab some tenths there.
The other advantage for Cal in this meet looks to be beam. Cal. Advantage. Beam. I know, it’s a brand new world. After a string of beam disasters pretty much single-handedly ended Cal’s season last year, beam has become…if not exactly a strength, then at least a value-neutral event. It still can be a worry, and the team is still susceptible to the wobbly-9.6 monster, but it’s much less scary and has featured some moments of brilliance from the likes of Howe. The return of Emily Richardson only helps to reinforce. For Boise State’s part, beam is also much less scary this year than it was last year, when both Cal and Boise State participated in the Regional of Beam Hell in which every team scored a 3.8, but less scary for BSU constitutes a 49.025ish score, so Cal will still look to pick up ground.
Really, if this were a three-event meet and bars weren’t a thing, Cal would be the heavy favorite. But then again, Alicia Sacramone would also be world champion. That’s not the world we live in. Boise State’s best event is bars by a hefty margin, as it always is. That’s where the Broncos will look to make up a ton of ground that may be lost to Cal on the power events. Bars is not a bad event for Cal by any means, but Boise State can still gain multiple tenths there because 49.4 should be the expected score.
BSU won’t head to bars until the fourth rotation, so we won’t necessarily know how competitive the meet is until that point because much of Boise State’s potential to get that high 196 is based on bars. Even a 98.300 after floor and vault in the early rotations (not a particularly formidable score in a regionals context), may actually be a useful pace. Cal will already have gone on its highest-scoring event (floor) by that halfway point and will expect to have a lead of at least a couple tenths to guard against what Boise State might gain in the fourth rotation. Then again, Boise State does end on beam, so…
Both of these teams entered the Berkeley regional last year as the spoilers, hoping to take advantage of a Georgia beam disaster (the more things change the more they stay the same) to qualify. This year, the dynamic between the two teams themselves is much the same, but they’re fighting for an actual spot now, not hoping for someone else’s mistake.
The spoiler – Kentucky
We saw a good Kentucky team at SECs, one that is supremely capable of playing the spoiler role in this regional, if not joining the fight with Cal and Boise State outright. That good performance at SECs, however, was worth 196.250. It will take more than that to take the second qualification spot. Kentucky ends up just a little too 9.800 to challenge the 49.2 rotations that the other contenders will expect to put forward. Still, the margin between them is not large, so a counting fall would certainly bump either Cal or Boise State behind Kentucky. It may not even need to be a counting fall. A beam rotation with a couple 9.6s thrown in may be enough to bring Kentucky in because Kentucky should score over 196. Anything in the 195s would constitute a disappointing meet.
For the most part, the goal for Kentucky will be to go steady, steady, steady through four events and hope that weak performances from the other teams make that a competitive strategy. There’s not one event on which Kentucky stands out or specifically needs a huge score, so it’s more about staying in the 49.1s across the board. Beam may be an exception to that because now that Waltz has returned the lineup, she creates a pretty high-scoring triumvirate with Dukes and Hyland at the end.
Beam is where Kentucky finishes, and it’s relatively realistic to hope for more than a 49.1 there to put a crown on this meet.
And the rest West Virginia is a fairly tough #5 seed though has failed to break into the 196s with enough frequency to be seen as a true spoiler. They had one crazy home meet when everyone got a 9.9 on floor, but other than that this season has been a predominately 195.8 type affair. The power events are where West Virginia excels and should break 49, with the help of Zaakira Muhammad and standout freshman Kira Koshinski. It won’t be enough for a qualification score because 9.8s are much harder to come by on the other events, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see WVU finish in the top three on both vault and floor here.
Bowling Green made regionals, which is cause for bacchanalia for a team that traditionally hangs around 50th place and rarely ever makes a ripple on the national scene other than qualifying Alyssa Nocella to regionals every year. It was far from a sure thing for most of the season, but a huge score in the home finale followed by a solid mid-195 at the MAC Champs sealed a historic result. It will go no further, but be sure to watch that beam rotation if time and attention allow. Laura Mitchell remains a triumph, and Nocella and Ellingboe provide supporting scores that should make that beam rotation competitive even in this company.
Individuals Based on scores and the season results, Cal should qualify as a team, but if not, things could get a little muddy because of the Toni-Ann situation. She’s currently not in the beam lineup, even though she’s Toni-Ann Williams, and therefore could not qualify as an all-arounder. That means if Cal doesn’t make it, she would be left with trying to win floor to qualify as an event specialist. All of this is complicated by the Test Event, which takes place the same weekend as NCAA nationals and which Toni-Ann is supposed to attend as Jamaica’s representative to try to earn a spot at the Olympics. What happens when she makes nationals? Like I said, muddy.
If Alabama and Cal do qualify, then we’ll have quite a race for the AA spots among a number of individuals capable of scoring in the 39.3 range. The highest-ranked of the group is Dukes for Kentucky, and I do think she’s the most likely to go through, but her teammates Stuart and (sometimes) Hyland are also capable of similar scores. We could have an interesting competition for the AA spots just within the Kentucky team, but then there’s also Shani Remme (though she did not vault at conference champs) and Sandra Collantes from Boise State, who are both known to venture into the 39.3s as well. It may be harder for Bowling Green’s AAers, Nocella and Feely, to reach the 39.3s, but they’ve both done it before. West Virginia has an occasional AAer in Goldberg, but vault isn’t really her thing, which usually keeps her total down a few tenths lower than the others.
Basically, the unseeded teams should be hoping that Alabama and Boise State qualify out of this regional (if they themselves don’t qualify, obviously), because that will take several tough challengers out of the individual race and leave it open for the individuals from Kentucky and Bowling Green to slug it out among themselves for the two spots.
As I say every time, it’s wildly challenging to qualify as an event specialist, but of note, Taylor Allex is competing here as a vault and floor specialist. She boasts the difficulty on both events to challenge for serious scores. It’s unlikely that she’ll beat the whole Alabama and Cal teams, but she has a better chance than most of the gymnasts heading to regionals without a team.
One last batch of freshman notes here for all your perusing/fantasy gym needs. After this, we’ll still have the coaches poll to look forward to, which is released annually at half past whenever-they-damn-please. That should be some fun nonsense carrying on the grand middle school tradition of ranking people based on their reputations. But for now, there’s still the UCLA Medical Center/part-time gymnastics program to break down.
UCLA Worried. That’s where we’ll start. UCLA is coming off an 85%-dismal performance at Nationals last season and is now without Dr. Sam Peszek, PhD in bailing your asses out at every turn. The losses from last season don’t amount to all that many routines, but those were extremely valuable routines for both their scores and, more importantly, Peszek’s reliability and consistency. Dare I say, calm confidence. (Put a dollar in the “calm confidence” jar.)
Even though most UCLA fans will be waiting for next season when the Ross/Kocian wagon pulls up to the curb and expectations will be much higher, this year’s freshman class is exceptionally talented, though sadly also the usual amount of already-in-several-pieces-on-the-floor. We’ll start with Macy Toronjo, who is out with a shoulder injury. Because of course she is. That’s particularly disheartening news for the Bruins because she’s such an ideal NCAA gymnast, with strong basics, precision, and elite skill set across four events. Second-tier elites, the golden fleece of NCAA gym. She would have been relied on in the all-around, and certainly will be in the future. Even in JO, she showed both a DLO and full-in on floor, and nailed the crap out of them along with definitively not-awful dance elements that scored an a million. It would do the same in NCAA.
She brings the same comfort level on both acro and dance elements to beam and has a perfectly fine full on vault that she has done for actually ever. Bars can get iffy sometimes in the handstands and legs, but she performs a Ray and has strong amplitude in release elements that should absolutely become something real. Because so many of the other UCLA pieces are in the beautiful-fragile-inconsistent category, like a SYTYCD performance about broken marionettes to the tune of “Fix You,” she’ll need to be the constant, reliable one when she comes back.
So, with Toronjo currently on the sidelines, let’s focus on that paragon of sturdy physical well-being, Katelyn Ohashi. Remember 2.5 years ago when she was absolutely going to the Olympics? Times change, and injuries change. Ohashi is obviously a glorious gymnast, the most talented entering NCAA this year, but she’s a different gymnast now than she was as an elite. Her JO performances in 2015 were encouraging as to her new potential as an NCAA gymnast, but the main questions are how healthy she is and how healthy she’ll be able to stay for an NCAA career after being used up and broken in elite. Will her shoulders just get thrown on the pile with the rest of them?
The biggest takeaway from Ohashi’s more recent performances is that beam is back. She has maintained impressive difficulty and looks more confident without the burden of that layout full.
She’ll need to slot into the Peszek role in the famous Francis-Lee-Peszek triumvirate of beam wonderfulness, as that’s still UCLA’s greatest asset compared to other teams. She can absolutely be another walking 10. She also has the pike full-in back on floor, and while she downgraded to a full on vault, it’s a high and comfortable full. At some point, if they feel they can risk it, she could work the difficulty back up to something 10.0. Now, bars. There was a time last quad when Ohashi was a good bars worker and everyone died about her jaeger every minute of the year, before she was torn asunder in 2013 by introducing those E pirouetting elements she couldn’t do. She didn’t compete bars during the 2015 comeback, but let’s hope she can get her groove back eventually. Remember? REMEMBER????
Ohashi could have, should have, been a longtime elite star. Since that didn’t pan out, I’m really hoping she has enough left in the tank to be the NCAA star she can be.
CGA escapee Maddie Preston didn’t perform vault or floor in 2015 because of a leg injury no one saw coming, but her most important event for the team will still be vault. Vault was her strength throughout JO, and she consistently showed respectable height and more than respectable form on her yfull, enough to be a necessary option. With several other vaulters for UCLA having not panned out yet (implied Pua) or just vaulting sideways for some reason, they’ll need her. I could see Preston contributing elsewhere as well, depending on depth needs, particularly with the style and raw potential on beam to be molded into a UCLA beamer.
Nicki Shapiro. She still does gymnastics? It’s impossible to have any impression of how Shapiro might contribute to the team since she Amelia Earharted from gymnastics after 2012. She was an exceptionally good junior JO gymnast, with well-hit splits and secure acro in an altogether impressive beam routine, clean twisting elements on floor, and worthy pop on a yfull. She doesn’t have her sister’s bars routine by any means, with too many handstand and leg form problems, but had she continued on a healthy and not-lost-at-sea path, she would have been among the most sought-after recruits this year. As it is, it’s hard to expect anything other than continued lost-at-sea. Though I’m sure Val has Ariana Berlin fantasies of walking down some stairs hugging a clipboard and going, “Nicki Shapiro,” which turns her into a star. After she decides she really wants it. (We know now that’s exactly how it happened.)
There’s also Matteah Brow, and I’ve got nothing for you.
AUBURN After moving to the big city full of big dreams last year and taking Broadway by storm, Auburn is now in the position of proving that wasn’t just a one-year thing. This position is made more challenging with the loss of essential contributions from Bri Guy and Megan Walker, and without the beam-coaching wizardry of Jenny Rowland. Like UCLA, the losses don’t amount to all that many routines (and Bri Guy was never the same after her ankle apocalypse), but those were some of the team’s most reliably countable routines. The good news is that Auburn brings in a small phalanx of freshmen this year. There are approximately 700 million of them.
We’ll start with Taylor Krippner, and when she was a junior elite, if you didn’t refer to her as Taylor Krippendorf’s Tribe, then we have nothing in common. (Remember that movie? How was that even allowed?) She has solid-enough acro abilities to be conceivable as an option on several events, particularly beam where some important replacement routines will need to be found this season. Beam has not always been a strength for Krippner, but she won her division at JO Nationals this year with a 9.675, which is a big score for JO beam and speaks well for her ability to contribute. It’s worth noting that she moved to Simoneland for the 2015 season, and her scores improved noticeably, probably just out of general proximity to Simone. From what I’ve seen (pre-2015), there are some form issues across the board, particularly on bars where the legs and amplitude are a big struggle, but she has the skill set.
Apparently, Samantha Cerio‘s gymnastics is a national secret, but she’s allegedly going to be a bars and beam star and has shown lovely line and precision on both events. She’s another incoming JO champ in this class, having won bars this year with a 9.700. I look forward to seeing her declassified. This is certainly a class of spot players, but since it’s big, they should unite to be the equivalent of maybe 1.5-2 useful all-arounders. Emma Slappey‘s name is Emma Slappey, so she’s already my favorite member of the team. I expect to see her on vault and floor to complement Cerio. She has respectable power on vault (had a 1.5 back in the day, but the full seems more likely) and a high full-in and double tuck on floor that make her an attractive option there.
Emma Engler hasn’t seen much action since 2013, but she had a yfull that wasn’t bad at all and a conceivable beam routine that season. She’s another who should be pecking around a couple lineups from time to time but may also end up in the “helps our depth” category. The others are A’Miracal Phillips, who is evidently a miracle, and Telah Black, who I think is the Google translate version of Teja Belak. I don’t ultimately expect to see competition routines from Black, but Phillips has a pretty huge vault that could very well be a thing.
THE PROFESSOR AND MARY ANN Let’s see. What other teams are there? Oregon State is under the pressure of replacing Chelsea Tang, as if anyone could ever. Mariana Colussi-Pelaez is completing the Colussi-Pelaez double for the team this year and should be a specialist contributor like her sister. Mary Jacobsen seems the most likely AA replacement, and did perform AA at their preseason showcase, with her Tsuk full on vault being particularly helpful because it starts out of a 10. For those teams who appear to be in the 11-15 ranking zone this year, the number of 10.0 SV vaults will be a huge factor in determining who sneaks through to nationals.
For Illinois, How I Didn’t Go To LSU: The Lizzy Leduc Story will be a fascinating Lifetime movie to watch this season. Her technique and basics should be a huge asset. She has the ability to become a star on a team that usually relies on unknown L10 gumption to challenge for a spot at nationals. With that junior elite basis, double-pike-style JO routines look very easy for her.
The big get of the year has to be West Virginia snatching up Kirah Koshinski. This floor routine should get some scores.
She’s a power specialist but should be a AAer for this team, with big scores on vault, beam, and floor. Bars are more of a struggle, but she has a usable DLO dismount and will be needed there as well.
Also keep an eye on Sarah Means for Boise State. BSU lost significant value from Kelsey Morris and has bled too many star routines over the last couple seasons, so they’ll need Means to stop the trend. She has an appealing balance of appropriate leg form on bars and beam and the power to throw a 1.5 on vault. Anyone else I’m missing? Kent State has Sarah Lippowitsch, who won beam in Senior D this year with a 9.700. The New Zealand elite Brittany Robertson is starting at Arizona this year, and Skyler Memmel gets the obligatory sister shoutout as she’ll be joining Central Michigan to try to make up for the million important routines they graduated after last season.