April 24, 2015

Championships Ended, Then Everything Broke


"I'll take some time," I thought. Let the events of the season and that thoroughly thrilling Super Six sink in for a while, and then at some point I'll put together my final season thoughts and begin the way-too-early looking forward to next season. Surely there will be nothing major to talk about right away.

At that very moment, Rhonda Faehn swooped in going, "Mwahahahahahahahaha."

This is a big deal. Two of the most prominent coaches in NCAA gymnastics (and the #1 and #2 finishers at last weekend's championship) called it quits this week. Let's start with Greg Marsden, because that was the not-so-surprising one. Marsden has been the head coach at Utah for 1150 years, won 10 national championships, singlehandedly invented women's college gymnastics, and has been the sport's most vocal and influential advocate for growth and improvement. (One of the silliest things about that "Sarah and Suzanne" doc last year was the implication that Sarah and Suzanne created women's college gymnastics as a spectator sport. Everyone was like, "Um...Marsden?")

College gymnastics without Greg Marsden will be strange and unfamiliar land, but his retirement doesn't come as a shock because, over the last couple years, he had started scaling back some of his duties, with Megan taking on a lot more, and this year Tom Farden taking on more as well. A succession procedure had been put in place, and now Greg is stepping aside completely to allow Megan and Tom to be the new stars. Of all the recent major coaching changes, this should be the least disruptive to the team in the coming year. The only blip I would expect for Utah next season is the no-Dabritz blip. Otherwise, it really should be business as usual with the same group, style, and system.

But as one last tribute to Greg Marsden, the rest of college gymnastics really needs to pull itself together and finally adopt some of the good ideas he has been talking about for the last several centuries and that have never come to anything, like overhauling the postseason format and giving us a four-on-the-floor championship. Regardless of any live TV considerations, having four teams is just a better, more logical, and more fan-friendly format. The Marsden Cup. Get it done.

April 19, 2015

Event Finals Live Blog

And this is also a competition. Welcome to our annual "Oh yeah, there's more?" day. If you haven't used up your supply of outrage yet, the event finals are usually good for some solid, concentrated WTF. Or, if you don't feel outraged, you can just play the "Who's going to cry the most?" game. The answer is everybody.

As for last night, I can't complain about seeing another exciting finish. Four straight years of pretty close races. It's the norm now, but it wasn't always that way. So yay for that.

But didn't you think it was going to end in another tie? After McMurtry went on bars, I was sure she was going to get 9.900 and we would have a tie again, and I would have been furious. One year, I could forgive. But not two. That would be just too adorable and too inconclusive. So I'm glad someone won outright. There has been a whole heap of angry about the McMurtry 9.950 on bars to clinch the meet for Florida, which is understandable. Especially when you start making comparisons to Ivana Hong also getting a 9.950. Or Sami Shapiro getting a 9.900. It's basically the exact same thing that happened last year for Bridgey's creative 9.950 at the end of the floor lineup. At the same time, the meet is not about one routine, and you can make just as many overscore arguments about Utah as about Florida, if not more. Especially because the bars scoring in Super Six was generally insane. Stanford should have been 60 points ahead of all the other teams in a just world with a sensible COP.

So, Florida makes it three in a row. Utah should be incredibly proud of that performance, though. No one had them finishing second this year. In the preseason, I had them fifth, and even before Super Six started, I was thinking they would finish 4th. That was a tremendous day and a big rebound for a program that hadn't had a really great result in a while. It was difficult to see Oklahoma come up short, but they let themselves down on floor. With normal routines from Dowell and Jackson with no OOB, the Sooners would have been level with Florida and Utah. Can you imagine if it had been a three-way race at the end?

But now we turn to event finals. Here is the draw.



It's so bizarre to see a normal amount of people in vault finals. It wouldn't even be a problem this year if they still had to do two vaults. There were definitely some frustrating vault scores in semifinals, but it seemed the judges were making a concerted effort to keep the scores down to avoid a million 9.900s making EFs, and they succeeded. So I applaud that.

On vault, I would love to see the people who are capable of upgrading throw a little bit more (cough, Ebee, cough). Although she probably is the favorite if she sticks to her full. It's easier to win with a full because it's easier to land with a full, so it will be interesting to see what the people like Price and Scaman decide to do. Scaman stuck to the full in EF last year. Also if anyone wants to pull an Anna Li, I would have no problem with it because her 1.5 is still my favorite all-time EF moment.

Bars is going to be a good one, even though we're missing some of the best. Let's see if any of the judges have the guts not to give Dabritz a 10. I know my complaints about her routine are issues that are never deducted for in anyone's routine during the regular season, but in event finals there should be a higher standard for things like toe point (which is why it's frustrating that Hong and Shapiro didn't qualify). That goes for Sloan's tkatchev as well. I think I'm on the Brittany Rogers wagon for this one.

Beam. Ivana Hong. Her routine yesterday was perfection, and I need her to win this today. Also keep an eye on Peszek, especially if she throws the full as she usually does in these circumstances. It will be her last routine ever, so there's nothing to save those glass feet for anymore.

There are a million people in the floor final, so it's tough to make a call, but Kytra probably comes in as the favorite. Nina McGee is right there. And Kennedy Baker has a piked double arabian, so she's automatically in the hunt.

April 18, 2015

Super Six Live Blog

And now we're here. Championship day. It's about time. The meet will begin at 7:00 ET/4:00 PT.



We have a rotation order:
Is it weird that I'm really confused by this formatting? Am I just that tired?

The lowest seeds, Auburn and Stanford, end on byes, which should provide for maximum drama. Oklahoma ends on beam once again. In theory, that's a good rotation order for them, but after yesterday...

Conversely, Florida begins on beam, which will be the most telling performance of the first rotation. It certainly told us a lot two years ago. They'll need to be much better than the 49.275 from yesterday. So will everyone. On everything. But mostly beam. It was an epically poor day for beam work. If you haven't checked in on DD's post-meet comments yesterday, they're a hoot. She's not exactly pleased with her team.

The results from yesterday were great news for Oklahoma in spite of the bizarre beamtastrophe (the beam mistakes for Oklahoma were much more interesting to me than the beam mistakes for LSU, because the LSU mistakes had been building for weeks. They hadn't looked comfortable on beam all postseason, but Oklahoma had). Oklahoma would have blown away the competition with a hit meet, which should be reason for confidence. If they can hit today. Super Six weirdness is never out of the picture.

On the other hand, Utah put together about as solid a meet as we can expect from them to score 197.475. There were a couple missed routines, but mostly, we saw what Utah is going to give us. It's a relatively similar case for Alabama, though Alabama had two strong events, one OK event, and a weak event for that 197.100 yesterday. They can, and certainly should, improve on that score and performance, but it was still three-tenths lower than Oklahoma counting a fall. At the same time, this is pretty much exactly the position Alabama was in when they won their last two titles. Alabama is in it, but they'll need today to be a lot like yesterday for Oklahoma and Florida.

Florida is sticking around. The scoring potential is there in these routines to win this outright, but I haven't yet been wholly inspired with confidence by their postseason performances. They will need to step it up. Watch those first two scores on each event. Florida's early scores haven't been that high this postseason, which has put them at a disadvantage to Oklahoma.

April 17, 2015

National Semifinals Live Blog

Have you had your nervous breakdown yet today? Don't worry. It's coming. The semifinals will take place at 2:00 ET and 8:00 ET. 

Live stream - Semifinal 1
Live scores - Semifinal 1

Live stream - Semifinal 2
Live scores - Semifinal 2

Here's a quick comparison of the regional championship scores for the teams in each semifinal, with the top three on each event highlighted.

April 16, 2015

One Day More

The national championship starts tomorrow. Already. So disrespectful.

If you haven't checked out my semifinal ramblings yet, here they are:
Semifinal #1
Semifinal #2

And the rotation order.

Before we get to what's happening tomorrow, there's also the matter of the regular NLI signing period (as opposed to the early period in November), which began yesterday. Mostly, this period is used to confirm what we already know, like Lizzy LeDuc's switch to Illinois. The most significant announcement in terms of name recognition came from UCLA, as they confirmed the coup of seizing Kyla Ross from Stanford (deferring until after the Olympics, obviously), along with the signing of Katelyn Ohashi and Madison Preston for next season. Preston is a Cincinnati refugee who won the vault title in her division at JOs last year. Looking at the gaps that will reappear on vault next year without Peszek and Williams, and since Pua Hall's vault is apparently MIA, anyone with a yfull as big as hers is a thing.

In other news, Georgia Dabritz won the AAI Award. It was a tough field this year, but Dabritz was probably always the favorite, having competed more regularly than some of the other competitors (like Peszek), being the biggest star on her team (unlike Hunter), and having the academic recognition to go along with it. She had narrative in her favor.

Now, let's get to what we need for tomorrow.
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – Semifinal #1 (Live Video)
Florida, Utah, Michigan, UCLA, Georgia, Stanford

8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Semifinal #2 (Live Video)
Oklahoma, LSU. Alabama, Auburn, Nebraska, Oregon State

These semifinals will be used to determine the six teams advancing to Super Six on Saturday (three teams from each), along with the national all-around champion and the competitors advancing to Sunday's event finals. On each event, there will be a minimum of eight and a maximum of one trillion qualifiers because the top four people advance from each semifinal, and ties are not broken. That means when 24 people tie for 4th place on vault with a 9.900, they all go to event finals. It is hellish.

I don't do any previewing or prognostication for event finals because the qualification is always nonsense. You might as well just pick four people out of a hat. The best people never qualify to event finals since it only takes a little step on landing to drop out of the top four. Example: Lloimincia Hall has never competed in the floor final. Which means she probably needs to make it this year.

I also refrained from doing a preview of the all-around because I learned my lesson last year when I basically said, "And then there are other people like Kim Jacob who DEFINITELY can't win." So go me. In my defense, it was a screwed-up day for the AAers and all the favorites had mistakes. This year, Bridget Sloan has to be pegged as the favorite now that she's back to doing floor, but it's not prohibitive since nothing is in the AA. If the winner isn't Sloan, then we have to look to Courville, who is always the second-best SEC AAer, Dabritz now that she has joined the illustrious company of sudden senior beamers, Sam Peszek, Kytra Hunter, and Lindsay Mable as the likeliest contenders to get 39.7s. If the winning score falls down to the low 39.6s again, then about two dozen more people are suddenly in it. 

April 15, 2015

National Championship Preview Part 2: A Relaxing Evening at Nationals?

The two semifinals could not set up more differently in concept. We have that tangled mess of a first semifinal where anything and everything could and will happen, and then we have this one, which seems almost upsetting in its straightforwardness. Picking Oklahoma, LSU, and Alabama to advance over Auburn, Nebraska, and Oregon State is just way too obvious. So it can't actually happen, right? In a year where the top twelve seeds all advanced from regionals, I think college gymnastics owes it to us to make this semifinal more exciting than I think it's going to be.

But, considering the results and scoring potential of the top three teams, I do think it's going to take a major mistake to make any of them vulnerable. In terms of their qualification fights, the most fall-likely areas (ahem, beam) should be the biggest focus, but when it comes to a potential rematch the next day in Super Six, all of these teams have concerns of vague-to-severe magnitude. So let's get into it.


Among the many assets Oklahoma can boast, one of the most important is stability. This team doesn't really fall. Of all the twelve schools going to nationals, it would be the most surprising to see the Sooners count a fall, which is why I would count them as the safest bet to make Super Six. They don't have to be excellent in the semifinal to make it through, just the normal level of solid. Like all of the other top teams, Oklahoma was good-not-great at regionals, but they did still manage to record the best score in the country. A repeat of that performance would be more than enough.

As for Super Six, Oklahoma is a solid bet to win, but I don't think either Oklahoma or Florida can claim to be the favorite going in. It's not that kind of year. Both have issues that still need to be addressed, and neither has put together what I would consider an unstoppable performance yet. Oklahoma has not had major issues in the same way Florida did on beam at SECs or LSU has lately on bars. The Oklahoma problems are less "I'm afraid you're going to get a 9.6" and more "I'm afraid you're going to get a 9.825." But in Super Six, those problems take on the same importance. If a major player gets a 9.825, she might as well be getting a 9.6. Or a 1.

Oklahoma's biggest trouble spot has been bars. Over the last five consecutive meets, Oklahoma's lowest score has come on bars each time. I didn't necessarily see that coming before the season. With the addition of Dowell to replace Spears, and the rest of the lineup staying identical, I thought it would be a smooth transition on bars this season. But, there is some risk in the Dowell routine with the DLO 1/1 dismount (it's really easy not to stick that thing and suddenly be at 9.875-9.900 while the rest of the bars anchors in the competition are at 9.950), and there have been enough small issues throughout the lineup with landings and angles to allow the scores to fall down to 9.850 for people who should be getting 9.900. Everyone in that bars lineup is capable of 9.900, so having zero 9.9s at regionals is a problem, even with the relatively tight bars scoring at that meet. I suppose this shouldn't be as surprising as I think it is because the exact same thing happened last season. Oklahoma was suddenly getting weird 49.1s on bars and didn't really work out the problem until Super Six, when the bars sticks finally showed up again. They'll hope for an identical development this year. Maybe a day earlier this time?

The beam lineup is not a problem. It's extremely reliable both for hits and for huge scores (though my one criticism is too many gainer full dismounts, which you know I hate because it makes great routines end with a whimper and seem pedestrian). I was also pleased to see Ali Jackson nail her 1.5 on vault at regionals because that's a stick they'll desperately need if they're going to keep pace with the Florida vaulters, who keep getting 9.950s for non-stuck vaults. Those Oklahoma 1.5s have to be at least at the same level. Most teams have been in the "we're not really sticking yet" phase on vault, so for the teams who look like easy qualification bets, the stick fight on vault may be the most interesting part of the semifinal. We don't really know who will have the edge there going into Super Six yet.

But now I'm going to say something controversial. It almost hurts to say it, but it may be time to take Chayse Capps out of the floor lineup. OK, I got it out. Now we can work through it as a group. Obviously, the performance is wonderful. That's not in doubt, but the tumbling and the scores have not followed. Another 9.775 at regionals. That lineup can seriously get close to a 49.6 and be a real asset in Super Six, but if they have an opening 9.775-9.800, that means everyone else has to have the perfect routine. It's a conundrum.


LSU has let off the gas a little bit as the season wears down. For almost the entire year, LSU looked like an equal third challenger with Oklahoma and Florida in the fight for the title, scoring 198s and coming up with big wins over Florida and Alabama. But lately, the performances haven't been quite as convincing. LSU finished 2nd at SECs after it appeared Florida handed them the competition on a platter, and then they went into regionals and recorded a 197.175 with a clinic on tightness on bars and beam. LSU still has the quality to win the title, but recent showings have seemed a clear and significant step below championship level.

The Tigers do come into the semifinal as a very comfortable pick to make Super Six, but if there's a competition as to which of the three top seeds seems the most likely to be upset, LSU has suddenly moved to the top of that list. At regionals, they finished just 0.225 ahead of a Nebraska team that likewise didn't have anything resembling an all-time best performance, and that margin should be bigger. It's way too close for comfort heading to Friday.

April 13, 2015

National Championship Preview Part 1: The Afternoon Semifinal of Horrors

Every year, at the first press conference at nationals, Sarah Patterson's first comment was always, "You never take for granted making Super Six." Actually, I'm sure she only said it about once, but in my head it was every moment of the day, every year. Sarah Patterson talking about not taking Super Six for granted and how it's harder to win the SEC Championship than the national title, which makes no damn sense.

But the not taking it for granted part? Never been truer than it is about this year's first semifinal. There are no soft teams and no obvious results here. It's going to be remarkable. At least it better be. The competitors are Florida, Utah, Michigan, UCLA, Georgia, and Stanford, and pretty much any finishing order seems plausible. The only true surprise here would be if Florida fails to make Super Six. Anything else would sound about right, really. All six of these schools are 197 teams, so we can't expect the 197 standard on which we usually judge the better teams to be good enough. It won't be good enough. Last year, Utah set the record for the highest ever semifinal score that didn't advance to Super Six with a 197.025. I'll be disappointed if that record isn't broken this year. A score like 197.025 shouldn't make it out of this semifinal, because that will mean several teams did not perform at the level we expect. So let's get into it.


Of all the teams in this semifinal, Florida is the safest. The Gators are the most likely to get a huge score and are the only team in this group that can feel comfortable with their qualification outlook as long as they don't count a fall. Count a fall, and I have no confidence in anything, but if Florida hits 5-for-6 on each event, everything should be fine. Even if the performance is sort of meh like it was at regionals. Florida scored a 197.475 for that meh performance, which will be enough to make Super Six. 

It's tough to make prognostications about how Super Six will go at this point because we don't know who's going to be there or how these teams will look once the weekend rolls around. There are always several teams who suddenly learn how to land vaults between regionals and nationals, and a couple other teams who probably should have and didn't. Still, Florida's performance at regionals did not scream "NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP." Fortunately for them, neither did anyone else's. This is open. It shouldn't be like the men's championship over the weekend when Oklahoma just came in and Biles-ed the whole thing.

If Florida is really going to win, there's work to be done. Certainly, bars was the biggest problem at regionals with a whole bunch of "Is it January already?" landings. I'm sure right now they're spending all the live long day in the gym working the crap out of those bars landings so that it doesn't happen again, but let's not forget about the beam questions as well. Yes, Florida recovered from the SEC Championship catastrophe to hit six beam routines at regionals, but even with good hits from Sloan and Hunter, the score was still 49.325, which is somewhat troubling for a hit rotation if we assume it's going to take a 198 to win the title. It took a 198 last year, and the scoring landscape is the same this year. 49.325s put a ton of pressure on the other events. 49.325s are what knocked LSU out of the title race last year.

In reaction to the disaster from SECs, Florida reorganized the beam lineup, moving Boyce to the first spot. She had a pretty significant wobble at regionals and still got a 9.800, which is a good sign for the team, but I do wonder if they have compromised their scoring potential a bit by moving Boyce because she has proven to be the second-most-likely 9.9 in that lineup behind Sloan. Watch that space during the semifinals. Have they given away a 9.9 in exchange for stability?

But this year, if Florida is going to make it three titles in a row, it will be about vaulting like monsters and winning that event. The Gator identity has changed from last year. With the loss of Caquatto and Johnson and the addition of Baker and McMurtry, this team has become less about bars and more about power. They're much better on vault this year, and what was probably the biggest question mark in 2014 (aside from beam consistency, because always) has become the biggest asset. Their scoring capability is crazy, which we know because they got a 49.625 at regionals while sticking just one of six vaults. What are they going to get when they actually hit these vaults, the presidency? Probably. But, still a couple things with that. At nationals, you can't expect to get a 49.625 for one stuck vault. And you can't expect to stick one vault and win. It doesn't work like that. Usually. Or it shouldn't. It's critical that they really take advantage of the vaults they have and open up that lead.


First of all, pull yourself together, Utah. That thing you did at regionals was not OK. I hope everyone bought Georgia Dabritz a gold-encrusted manor house filled with baby rabbits after that performance, because she was the only thing standing between Utah and elimination. Utah does come into this semifinal as the second-ranked team, but after regionals, I would not consider this team any kind of a safe bet. The biggest issue at regionals was obviously having to count a fall and a major error on beam (How Rowe escaped from that routine with a 9.700, I'm still not sure...), so hitting that event in the semifinal is job #1. Utah will do beam in the very first rotation, and that will be the most important single event performance in this semifinal. Utah's ability or inability to hit beam will dictate how competitive this session ends up being and how many teams are truly in it. 

If Utah gets through beam, they're right in this with a solid shot at advancing, but I wouldn't say it's smooth sailing after beam because that regional performance revealed some other major issues. Keep in mind that even if we gave Utah 0.500 back for the second beam fall at regionals, the total would still have been 197.075, which is not safe. It wasn't entirely a beam issue.