April 28, 2012

15 Thoughts

Now that's it has been a week since Championships, it's time to reflect on the season and beyond with some notes. I just have a lot of feelings.

  • E mounts don't amount to much. We heard a lot of talk this season about who was mounting with E passes and who wasn't, but this did not translate into the scores at any point in the season. The message is clear: be clean and start from a 10, nobody cares if it's an E pass.
  • Separation is the watchword. Scores are always going to go crazy at points in the season. That's never going to change, and any substantive effort to homogenize judging across the country will probably do more harm than good. The most egregious scoring issues we saw at Championships didn't involve fundamental overscoring but did involve a lack of sufficient separation between good and great. Encouraging judges to be more aware of that separation should be the goal.
  • Pros and cons of Four on the Floor. Once again this season we had a team in the title race (UCLA) not competing during the last rotation. This is not good. On the other hand, ESPN's live broadcast had trouble keeping up with two teams competing in the final rotation, and if there were three competing at the same time, it would have been a catastrophe. No solution is free of problems, and I'm beginning to feel one isn't really better than another.
  • The good trio. Bart, Kathy, and Suzanne continue to be the best commentary team in US gymnastics. Even when Bart concocts a bizarre pronunciation of Vanessa Zamarripa, this team makes you confident that they know what they are talking about. Kathy and Suzanne strike an excellent balance of being accessible to non-experts without being too simple for the rest of us. They show that you can name and explain skills and the subtleties of routine evaluation without becoming too technical for a lay audience. 

April 22, 2012

Event Finals Live Blog

The last competition from Nationals gets underway soon. It will take forever, as it always does, so buckle in. We don't have that many vault qualifiers this year, though, because some of the best vaulters didn't make finals. When you're watching people flop out lame Yurchenko layouts, remember that we won't see Vanessa Zamarripa because the rules are stupid. If you can't do two 10.0 vaults, you shouldn't be eligible for Event Finals.

Alabama is the National Champion for the second year in a row. I really feel for Florida because they did everything right this year and didn't mentally implode at Nationals. Alabama landed their skills, and in a year when it was all about landings, that won them the title. It will take a little more time to reflect on what we saw and make some determinations, so on to Event Finals.

Watch Live

April 21, 2012

Super Six Live Blog

Watch Live - 4:00 ET
Rotation Order: Florida VT, Stanford Bye, Arkansas Bars, Utah Beam, Alabama Bye, UCLA Floor.

Super Six is always a blur. A few short routines and then it's over. You remember senses more than actual routines. We can only hope it's not a dud. We've been building to this for months. I want excitement, and I'm going to be sad when it's over.

We spend all this time and watch all these meets, and the end of all our discussion is to arrive right back where we began. In December, I said that the teams with a realistic shot at the title were Florida, UCLA, and Alabama. Now, hours before Super Six, I'm saying that the teams with a realistic shot at the title are Florida, UCLA, and Alabama.

After the performance in Semifinals, I've re-promoted Alabama to the top flight of contenders. However, I was not completely wowed by them on some events. With the scoring as it was, they should have gone much higher than 49.400 on vault by getting some sticks in the middle of the lineup. If Georgia is getting a 49.6, Alabama needs to be getting a 52. 

Florida looked mostly excellent and controlled, and they will be considered the favorites today, but they are not completely free of concerns. They looked shaky on floor at SECs, had two OOBs at Regionals, and had two OOBs (from the same people) in Semifinals. It's very difficult to correct trends for Super Six. Marissa King will be the one to watch. She has a history of broken brain in major competitions, and she was definitely off yesterday. They probably need to be dropping Wang-VT, Ellis-UB, Spicer-BB, and Ferguson/Stageberg-FX. They can't afford to drop a King score today.

UCLA scored lower than the other two in Semifinals, but they shouldn't be concerned about the scoring from yesterday because they were in the afternoon session and were kind of bad. They will need to hope for some happy scoring from the start today, though, as they need to be 49.400 on floor to be competitive. I don't expect to see repeats of the Zamarripa and Peszek mistakes, but watch out for Mattie. She's Mattie and she scored 9.775 on her two routines yesterday. No one was impressed.

As for the other teams, Utah will have to be very solid for 9.875s and hope for a sloppy competition. Arkansas and Stanford should be very proud of making it this far, but they will struggle to reach above their Semifinal scores, and it's going to take at least a 197.500 to win this (though I do expect the scoring to be more contained than it was last night).

Competition begins at 4 ET. Here we go!

April 20, 2012

Live Blog - Semifinal #2

Whew. That was quite a little first session. We'll get to Session 2 after the jump, but first a few notes about today so far. UCLA came out on top, but they had two falls and a really tight vault rotation. It was not assured until the end of the final floor routine. Val probably had six heart attacks. UCLA should be worried that they didn't perform that well but can also be encouraged that they certainly haven't peaked today. Improvements are there to be made for tomorrow.

Utah looked very solid, but there was a concerning lack of 9.900s in some of those rotations. Most of those lineups are not set up to finish with the strongest worker, which is safe but not conducive to the big scores that they would need in Super Six. Stanford was excellent and definitely defied the odds by qualifying, but this was mostly a peak performance from them. Can they improve on this score tomorrow? It's doubtful.

We've heard a lot about the competitive depth at the top this season, and the first session showed that. We have seen many upsets over the years, but it usually happens when the top team has to count a fall. Neither Oklahoma nor Nebraska had any rotations scoring under 49, yet they failed to qualify because of 9.800s. Those aren't good enough for Championships.

Now, I don't expect to see the same kind of drama in the next session because the disparity between the teams is enough that it probably would take a fall from one of the top three this time to make it interesting, but we'll see.

Loyal reader Alex wondered about the stats for the ultimate champions, namely which session they usually come from and how they rank overall after prelims, so here we go.

2011 - Alabama - Evening Session (Qualification Score 197.050, 1st place)
2010 - UCLA - Afternoon Session (Qualification Score 196.875, 1st place)
2009 - Georgia - Afternoon Session (Qualification Score 197.450, 1st place)
2008 - Georgia - Evening Session (Qualification Score 197.625, 1st place)
2007 - Georgia - Afternoon Session (Qualification Score 197.700, 1st place)
2006 - Georgia - Evening Session (Qualification Score 197.275, 1st place)
2005 - Georgia - Evening Session (Qualification Score 197.350, 1st place)
2004 - UCLA - Evening Session (Qualification Score 197.675, 1st place)
2003 - UCLA - Afternoon Session (Qualification Score 196.950, 2nd place)
2002 - Alabama - Afternoon Session (Qualification Score 197.300, 1st place)

So, we're split down the middle between afternoon and evening session, but this does show how good it is to win on Day 1. That bodes well for Florida because UCLA's 197.400 is hardly unassailable.

I'll be here around 5:30 ET for discussion before our second Semifinal begins.

Live Blog - National Semifinal #1

Over the course of a season, we see a number of teams score well. Be it because of an outstanding performance, preposterous home scoring, or just a cruel trick played by swift-footed Hermes, so many teams record large scores that it is only our collective qualitative assessments that separate one from another. Today, we put those assessments to the test.

Six teams will advance to Super Six Team Finals. Logic would seem to tell us that Florida, UCLA, and Alabama will cruise safely into tomorrow, but it is impossible to be certain when a random fall on beam can make all the difference. I'm nervous, and I don't even know about what in particular. I'm nervous for everyone in general.

And before we begin, a quick note to the judges. Please, in the name of my precious sanity, have some self-respect. Your 9.950 is precious. Don't just give it away to anybody because all the cool kids are doing it. If Carole Ide jumped off a cliff, would you do it too? There are only a few routines that really deserve your 9.950, and I don't want to see you throwing it away on some average stuck dismount that went up second on bars and won't treat you right. Thanks for listening. I really do want what's best for you.

OK. Now we can begin.

Here you may find your Live Stream links.

Semifinal 1, 12:00 ET: UCLA, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Utah, Stanford, LSU 

Semifinal 2, 6:00 ET: Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Oregon State, Ohio State

Follow along after the jump for live commentary and panicked murmurings around 11:30 ET.

April 19, 2012

The Nationals Scene: Event Finals

After the tension of Super Six, Event Finals day is a chance to cool down, smile, and allow everyone to pretend that they are best friends again. For fans, it serves as an effective coping mechanism so that we can say goodbye to the season slowly, sort of like a coma.

In some cases, there is a clearly deserving winner based on the performance that day, but usually event finals are a way for judges to reward an exceptional season, respectable career, or superior display of difficulty. Sometimes, it's a way to recognize an individual gymnast whose team was unworthy of her during the championship season, as we saw in 2010 when the judges tried really hard to give McCool the beam title even though her routine was poor that day (ultimately, Susan Jackson's [thanks for the catch] clearly stronger performance won out). A lot of the discussion surrounding Event Finals involves the word deserves, so it's always fun and nonsensical. 

Unfortunately, the dark side of Event Finals is that they are endless. Vault in particular has the potential to be a nightmare, with a steady stream of gymnasts performing their grating and unnecessary layout Yurchenkos for 9.600. On Semifinals day, root for the cutoff score on vault to get up to 9.925 in both sessions so that we may see just the minimum 4 qualifiers instead of 12 people tied at 9.900 all advancing to finals. 

We always see a ton of random qualifiers, especially when the cutoff score dips to 9.875 in a session so that any sort of relevant routine with a stuck dismount can get through, so my preview will not be comprehensive about anyone with a chance to advance. Instead, I'll take a moment to highlight a few gymnasts that I see as the most likely title contenders.

As we all know, the stupidest rule in all of NCAA gymnastics requires gymnasts to suddenly perform two vaults in event finals. Either they need to do away with the second vault and just have them perform the same vault twice, or they need to require potential qualifiers to perform a second vault in Semifinals, like we currently see in elite. Both of those solutions would eliminate the insufferable parade on non-10.0 vaults in finals. 

Because the rules stand as they do, the vault title often depends on the quality of the second vault, and the result is notoriously difficult to predict because we don't see that second vault during the season.

However, one of the favorites has to be defending champion Marissa King. We know she can perform a Tsuk full as a second vault, which could very well be the most impressive second vault in the competition and bring her another title. The biggest question is actually her qualification to finals. She's been getting a few 9.850-9.875s this year, and that score will not be enough to advance. 

April 18, 2012

The Nationals Scene: Individual All-Around

In many ways, the runt of the competitions at Nationals is the All-Around. It doesn't get its own day, no one prepares for it because everything is supposed to be about the team, and the result is almost an afterthought because of the focus on which teams advanced, but it's always such a fun race because it could go so many different ways.

Depending on how you choose to look at it, you could make the argument that there are as many as 20 legitimate competitors for the All-Around title. Now, I am not that charitable, so I'm going to eliminate some of those from consideration pretty easily. But I do think there are about 7-10 gymnasts who can reasonably imagine taking the AA title. Because there are so many nominees, I've broken it down into a few categories to help organize our competitors.

The Frontrunners:

Jaime Pisani (Arkansas) - The top-ranked performer for most of the season, Pisani has to be considered the favorite, as much as we can have one in a competition this tight. She doesn't really have a weakness and will benefit from the possible score-building of performing near the end of every Arkansas rotation. Bars is the biggest question for her (as it is for most of our top competitors), and because I expect the winning total to be around 39.600, she probably cannot afford the 9.850 there that her routine usually merits. She'll need to go at least 9.875 on bars as she did at Regionals and then hope to go 9.925-9.950 on floor, which is quite possible even though she will perform there in the first rotation.

Kytra Hunter (Florida) - I expect many people to be rooting for Pisani because she is a senior and Arkansas likely won't advance to Super Six, but don't expect Hunter to give it away. To no one's surprise, she can go over 9.900 on vault and floor in her sleep and will be expected to do so. In fact, she will need to do so because she should not break 9.850 on bars. But if she can get those big scores (by that I mean more than a 9.900) on the power events, one 9.850 should be fine. It may very well come down to how well she manages her nerves on beam and how the judges react to her dance elements because that switch side is a major red flag the likes of which Pisani doesn't have.

April 17, 2012

The Nationals Scene: The Favorites

First things first (again). I jumped the gun a bit yesterday, and we will be having live streaming of Semifinals. Happy day. On to the favorites.

While I have certainly addressed some candidates for the national title in the previous previews, namely Alabama, I would be willing to bet that our eventual champion will be one of the top two seeds. Given everything we've seen this season, Florida has to be considered the favorite. Even when they weren't performing that well at mid-season, the Gators were still the top-ranked team in the country, and they have the fewest potential weaknesses and uncertain routines of all the teams at Championships. But given the history and some of my lingering concerns about the solidity of the freshmen on beam and the landings on floor, we can't put all of our expectations on Florida to win. If you're looking for a strong backup choice, head over UCLA's direction. While the Bruins cannot be considered nearly as safe as Florida, the ceiling for this team is higher than any of the other contenders, which makes them most likely to challenge.


Even though we could spend months on Florida's history of not performing at Championships (and I think I probably have), I would be shocked if they failed to make Super Six again this year. With the consistency this team has displayed and the charitableness (P.S. apparently charitability is not a word, and the dictionary and I will be having a little discussion about that because charitability is far superior to charitableness) of their Semifinal draw, a repeat of 2011 should not be on the agenda. The Gators are the only team I could see counting a fall and still advancing to Super Six.

So, with Semifinals dispensed with, let's take a moment to investigate what needs to happen for Florida to finally win a title. On vault, it's all about the landings. This team has improved exponentially over the last month on the vault landings, and that can't go away this weekend. Because judges tend to be overly critical of Marissa King's vault, she must stick to force them to go 9.900. Hunter and Johnson have strong enough form that a minor step is OK, but it must be controlled and can't warrant a full tenth.

April 16, 2012

The Nationals Scene: The Challenging Horde

[Scratch that rant. It's still not good for the sport that the Championships will not be broadcast on network TV, but we will now have streaming of semifinals.]

I will be here live blogging the scoring for each Semifinal and complaining about [everything, regardless], so we'll make this a safe space for communal whining. We're all in this together. It's all about the team.

In the midst of our Friday complaining, I expect to see Alabama, Oklahoma, and Georgia all safely advance to Super Six. Am I overestimating Georgia by putting the Gymdogs in this group? Probably. However, it would be an unexpected disappointment for Georgia to fail to make Super Six for the third year in a row, so I'm placing them among the teams that should at this point realistically look forward to Saturday. Of course, no team will say that they are thinking about Super Six yet because they have to fall over themselves to mention that they're approaching it one meet/rotation/routine at a time and not taking anything for granted at Championships, but that's one of those sports lies that we can just ignore. All three of these teams should expect to advance and should not entertain the thought of a situation where that doesn't happen.


What do we do with the Tide? Ever since the preseason, we've been mentioning them in the same breath as Florida and UCLA as title contenders, but something has happened in the last few weeks. It's not that they aren't performing well (breaking 197 at Regionals is no problem), but the quality on Alabama's go-to events, vault and floor, has noticeably deteriorated. The floor performance at Regionals could be chalked up to an off meet, and we can be sure they will work on making those landings less uncertain at Nationals, but the full tenth landing deductions on vault have been building for weeks and have not been solved yet. At Regionals, Alabama had just four routines score equal to or better than RQS, none of which were on vault. By contrast, UCLA and Florida each had twelve routines do so. The difference in score between the teams may have been only a few tenths, but the disparity between performance and expectation was actually much greater.

April 13, 2012

The Nationals Scene: The Qualification Fight

One of the joys of this season has been the presence of many teams competing with a similar level of performance and execution. While there are certainly no teams that I would rank close to the status of memorable greatness, the parity (feel free to hate me for using that word) among the top few has made this an exciting year. There's a lot of pretty good gymnastics coming from a number of teams. Because of that, it's not too difficult to imagine one of our favorites having an average meet in Semifinals and failing to advance to Super Six. However, we cannot assume falls, especially at this point in the season. So, for the purposes of previewing the action, I'm going to set our top five seeds (Florida, UCLA, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Georgia) aside as fair bets to advance and discuss them later. For now, the focus turns to the battles for qualification and what I assume will be the most interesting story line next Friday, the Utah and Nebraska 9.875-off in the afternoon session (with an assessment of Arkansas's chances thrown in as well).

Utah vs. Nebraska
It's a shame this Semifinal has to take place in the afternoon because it's far more interesting and should be featured in the night session. However, that's not the case, so we'll just have to move on and try to get by somehow. If we assume that UCLA and Oklahoma will advance, which is a fragile assumption especially given Oklahoma's injury blight but should still be the case if both teams hit, then the third spot will come down to the Utes or the Huskers.

These teams have already competed against each other twice this season, and they have split the meetings, both of which took place in Utah. Because this is Championships, we can expect the scoring to run much closer to level of Regionals than the dual meet, which means, as I alluded to earlier, this will largely be decided by whether similar routines from both teams go 9.875 or 9.825.

Let's start by looking at Nebraska because the single biggest determining factor in this session will be the health of Jamie Schleppenbach. She was not able to compete at Regionals, and Nebraska clearly did not have to routines to fill her place. While most of the top teams can muster up a 9.825 replacement in the event of an injury, Nebraska was not able to replace her with countable scores. I expect Schleppenbach to be back in the lineup for Nationals, but if she isn't there on every event or hasn't had the numbers, Nebraska will not be able to withstand the loss of her routines and will feel it in the scores.

April 12, 2012

The Nationals Scene: The Bottom Four

Nationals goes by so quickly. We build up to it for weeks, perhaps longer given that we can usually assume the majority of competitors well before Regionals, and then within the span of a few hours half of the teams have been eliminated. And by the time forty-eight hours have passed, another season is over. So, it's important to spend a few moments reflecting on all of the teams now because once Nationals start there'll be no time.

I mentioned before last weekend that the tension of Regionals often produces a slew of sloppy, tight routines. But while we didn't see much free-flowing gymnastics from any teams, the number of sloppy routines was kept to a minimum, at least in relation to my expectations. So, that development gives me some hope that we won't see the same kind of disaster during National Semifinals that we saw last year, where the beam was obviously made of poison given how unwilling the gymnasts were to be near it.

And though that hope for a clean Semifinal should be a positive development for gymnastics fans, it's not such a blessing for our lower seeds, who will be relying on falls to keep their Super Six hopes alive. While I don't have to work as hard as I did during Regionals to envision a scenario where the lower seeds advance, it would definitely be a surprise to see any of these teams competing on the 21st.

So, let's take a look at our teams seeded 5th and 6th at National Semifinals.


Of the four teams on the bottom rungs, I give Stanford the biggest chance to cause an upset. In fact, if the afternoon session were not so deep, I would probably make the Cardinal my upset special given that they are the most complete team of the four I'm featuring in this preview. Floor is usually the weak event, but unlike the other teams, they have proven the ability to post a big score on each event in recent weeks. 

So, why won't they advance? The problems are severalfold, all stemming from the molasses-in-winter trajectory they have had this year. This team was bad to start the season. And by bad, I mean actually bad, not UCLA-four-beam-falls-in-January-but-we-know-they'll-be-fine bad. That they have progressed as much as they have in the last month is commendable, but it also means that they have had no time to prove consistency. They missed bars at Pac-12s and underperformed on vault and floor at Regionals, so it's difficult to say that this team could qualify with a great meet at Nationals because they've never done that. In the last two meets, Stanford has suffered five falls, so even though they've recorded their best scores, it's hard to call that peaking.

Another rule of Nationals is "No 9.7-ing Allowed." I fear that Stanford will be breaking that rule all over the place. Unless they get Pac-12 Championships scoring, they're going to incur at least a few of those on vault and floor. On vault, Hanset lands far too low and Pechanec often bounces into the stands, and on floor, I don't have a ton of confidence in the scoring potential of whoever gets that sixth spot (Shapiro/S. Morgan). These questionable routines put too much pressure on the later lineup to dig out of a hole. 

For Stanford to challenge for one of the top three spots, Ashley Morgan and Ivana Hong will have to be perfect (none of these 9.750-9.800 routines), and the anchors will have to do their jobs. The teams ranked above Stanford will be getting consistent 9.900s from their anchors, but Stanford's anchors went 9.750, 9.925, 9.825, 9.175 at Regionals. That's not good enough. 

April 10, 2012

Afternoon vs. Evening Sessions

Yesterday I made the offhand comment that there was no statistical advantage to being in the evening session versus the afternoon session at Nationals. This was based entirely on my own perceptions and a reaction against the general narrative that teams should prefer the evening session because scores increase throughout the day. Well, it's time to put that assumption to the test.

To find how this actually plays out, I looked at the All-Around, which is the only title decided on the first day of competition and therefore is the most relevant to this argument. I took the average of the top 5 All-Around finishers from each session over the last 10 years to see if the evening AAers actually score higher.

Afternoon AA Average - Top 5 Finishers:
2011 - 39.405
2010 - 39.460
2009 - 39.500
2008 - 39.455
2007 - 39.525
2006 - 39.425
2005 - 39.485
2004 - 39.485
2003 - 39.450
2002 - 39.495
Total Average: 39.469

Evening AA Average - Top 5 Finishers:
2011 - 39.385
2010 - 39.495
2009 - 39.540
2008 - 39.545
2007 - 39.490
2006 - 39.440
2005 - 39.595
2004 - 39.600
2003 - 39.470
2002 - 39.495
Total Average: 39.506

Well, there we have it. There does appear to be a slight statistical advantage for AAers competing in the second session. Now, some of these numbers may be skewed by the home team receiving some home scoring in the evening session, but I don't think that alone is enough to account for the difference. It also should be noted that the differences were larger in the past and, over the last few years, the advantage has been statistically minimal or, as in 2011, inverted. In fact, the last three AA winners have come from the early session, including Kupets's massive 39.800 in 2009. The only years where we see a truly notable advantage for the second session were 2004, 2005, and 2008.

April 9, 2012

Regionals in Review

Before we get to reviewing the action from Regionals, let's take a look at our sessions for Nationals, which were announced officially today.

Afternoon Session:
[2] UCLA
[3] Oklahoma
[6] Nebraska
[7] Utah
[10] Stanford
[11] LSU

Evening Session:
[1] Florida
[4] Alabama
[5] Georgia
[8] Arkansas
[9] Oregon State
[12] Ohio State

This marks the third straight year that UCLA has found itself in the early session and the third straight year Florida and Alabama have been in the evening session. Some variety would be nice, but the time of the sessions is largely irrelevant. The only notable thing the draw would influence is the AA title, but I don't think there's much evidence to support the claim that the later session has a statistical AA advantage. It doesn't matter. The teams in the early session will be sure to emphasize that they like this placement because it gives them more time to rest before Super Six, but I expect any team to be able to handle either session.

The afternoon session is a bit deeper in that it does not have three clear favorites, but I don't think UCLA or Oklahoma should be that concerned by the draw. Both teams had some struggles at Regionals and still went over 197, and it's unlikely that we will see teams fail to advance to Super Six while scoring a 197 in the Semifinals. I will do a series of Nationals previews over the next two weeks and will get into this in much more detail then.

For now, let's talk about the weekend's action from Regionals.

April 7, 2012

Regionals Live Blog - This Is the Show

The Regionals have finally arrived. With all the top teams competing nearly simultaneously in must-hit situations, this really is the most exciting day in NCAA gymnastics. In the words of Our Lady of Perpetual Valorie, "It makes for Fantastic. Sport." As always I'll be commenting on all the action in a live blog after the jump, trying desperately to keep up with everything that is going on. Since there will be moments when we have four Regionals happening at the same time, I will invariably miss things, so keep me up to date in the comments.

Do any of the top six seeds have a chance of going down? I don't see it, but it wouldn't be a Regional without an upset, so I may be rooting for it, especially as we get toward the end if the early Regionals have been breezes. It's just better that way. Regionals can be a nervous breakdown of a day, so lots of nonsense can happen. Remember last year when Ashanee had that beam disaster and Shayla fell on her bars mount?

Regionals. This is what happens. Get ready.

The 2012 Balance Beam Situation Room, with all your Regionals needs:

4:00 ET / 1:00 PT – Raleigh Regional   VIDEO   SCORES
Florida, Ohio State, Penn State, NC State, Kent State, North Carolina

5:00 ET / 2:00 PT – Champaign Regional   VIDEO   SCORES  (Individual apparatus video)
Oklahoma, Stanford, Denver, Illinois, Kentucky, UIC

5:00 ET / 2:00 PT – Fayetteville Regional   VIDEO   SCORES
UCLA, Arkansas, Boise State, Missouri, New Hampshire, Maryland

7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – Seattle Regional   VIDEO   SCORES
Alabama, LSU, Arizona, Washington, Iowa, Central Michigan

7:00 ET / 4:00 PT – Auburn Regional   VIDEO   SCORES
Georgia, Oregon State, Auburn, Michigan, West Virginia, Michigan State

8:00 ET / 5:00 PT – Salt Lake City Regional   VIDEO   SCORES
Nebraska, Utah, Minnesota, Iowa State, Arizona State, San Jose State

April 6, 2012

Regional Scoresheets

If you're a dork like me, you may enjoy following each Regional with a scoresheet. Google Docs files containing a scoresheet for each of tomorrow's meets are linked below for your printing or referencing enjoyment. I've included the most recent RQSs next to each competitor/team because I always like to have those as an easy reference for comparison to see if someone is over/under-performing.

Note: The lineups listed are just expectations and are subject to change (they certainly will change). In most cases, I just used the lineup from the most recent competition except for cases like Arkansas where were expect there to be some differences.

Raleigh Regional
Florida, Ohio State, Penn State, NC State, Kent State, North Carolina

Champaign Regional
Oklahoma, Stanford, Denver, Illinois, Kentucky, UIC

Fayetteville Regional
UCLA, Arkansas, Boise State, Missouri, New Hampshire, Maryland

Seattle Regional
Alabama, LSU, Arizona, Washington, Iowa, Central Michigan

Auburn Regional
Georgia, Oregon State, Auburn, Michigan, West Virginia, Michigan State

Salt Lake City Regional
Nebraska, Utah, Minnesota, Iowa State, Arizona State, San Jose State

Auburn Regional Preview

Our sixth and final Regional, hosted by Auburn, is one I've been looking toward for a while now in the belief that Auburn would be the most dangerous #3 seed in the event. Now, I'm not so sure. We'll see. The teams competing in this Regional will be [6] Georgia, [7] Oregon State, [18] Auburn, [21] Michigan, [27] West Virginia, and [32] Michigan State.

The Favorites:
I give the edge to Georgia, but the difference between the Gymdogs and Oregon State is not enough for one team to be the clear favorite. Like in the Utah Regional, it won't take a fall to separate the two. It may just take one sloppy bar dismount (Shayla!) or one flat vault rotation (entire OSU team!) to decide this one.

Georgia had a fine but unimpressive SEC Championships to score 196.575. A lot of competitors who had been going 9.875 were suddenly going 9.800 due to both some tentative performances and the more contained scoring we saw at that event. I expect the scoring at Auburn to be a bit looser, so anticipate Georgia going much closer to 197.

However, an issue that came to light at SECs was the clear reliance on Noel Couch getting high scores. Noel has improved some of her details since her freshman year, but Georgia has been relying on her to go higher than 9.850 on multiple events this year to get those scores in the 197s. Her RQS on floor is 9.915. Do we see her going close to that at Nationals when compared to all the other floor routines in the country? I don't. Now, Georgia does have a number of routines that can go 9.900+ at Nationals, Kat Ding on two events, Nuccio and Davis on bars, and Worley on beam. For Georgia to legitimately challenge, those can't just be potential 9.900s, they have to be 9.900s every time because those scores aren't going to come from anywhere else. So, watch those key routines at Regionals, because if they don't get the necessary scores in two weeks time, Georgia could be facing another 7th-8th place finish.

Oregon State hasn't been able to break that 197 mark with any consistency this year because they are  essentially a three-gymnast team. The scoring onus is entirely up to Mak, Vivian, and Stambaugh to bring in 9.9s. The quality of those three gymnasts is enough to keep OSU ranked fairly high, but nearly all the rest of the routines are going to be 9.8s. The Beavers are strongest on bars (where they should score exceptionally well), but at Pac-12s we saw what happens when one of the big three has an issue. Mak fell on bars, which brought the score down and all of the sudden made bars the worst rotation. There is no one to step up with a big score if one of the top three doesn't convert.

If Mak, Vivian, and Stambaugh all go at least 9.875 on their main events (which is possible), Oregon State can get to that high-196s or low-197s score that will be unassailable by the lower seeds, but if something goes wrong and Auburn is hitting with home scores, this could get a little interesting.

April 5, 2012

Salt Lake City Regional Preview

Our 5/8/17 Regional will take place at the University of Utah at 8:00 ET / 5:00 PT and will feature [5] Nebraska, [8] Utah, [17] Minnesota, [24] Iowa State, [28] Arizona State, and [35] San Jose State

The Favorites:
Unlike the other Regionals previewed so far, this one really could go either way between the top two seeds. Just a few weeks ago, Nebraska defeated Utah in Salt Lake City in a high-scoring affair. It won't take a fall for one of these two teams to fall behind the other; it will come down to the landings. Both Nebraska and Utah should advance easily, so there may not be much drama at this meet. Yet, it will be a matter of pride for Utah to avenge the home loss from a few weeks ago. Losing twice to Nebraska at home is not the tone the Utes want to set entering Nationals.

The Huskers are coming off a victory at Big Tens where they were never legitimately challenged and ended up beating Ohio State by nearly nine tenths. The team has found its core group of seven competitors, and while an injury to any one of them would be devastating, they look solid for the time being. The issue for Nebraska, as it has been for a while, is their status as a three-event team. DeZiel, Giblin, Wong, and Evenstad are all capable of going 9.900 on two or three events, but all of the sudden the wheels fall off the wagon and scatter into a gully once the team goes to beam, where falls and 9.700s are all too often the order of the day. If they can stay competitive on beam (even a 48.8-48.9 is OK), then I give the team at least a fair shot at winning again.

Utah had a strange little meet at Pac-12s. One of the stranger parts was that, for the first time since 2010, the Utes counted a fall on the beam. With Stanford counting a fall and UCLA under-performing, Utah had no business losing this met at home, but the falls from Lopez and Lofgren put them just behind the Bruins.  However, because it was such a rare error, I don't expect it to repeat at Regionals. I do, however, expect to see similar scoring to what we saw at Pac-12s, where the judges were hyper-focused on landings without giving as much notice to the other qualities of the routines. If Utah sticks the way they did two weeks ago, expect a similar scoring situation (as in 13 scores of 9.900+ over 24 routines). The Utes will start on floor, so if they go 49.500 again, don't expect the Huskers to catch up.

Seattle Regional Preview

Our fourth Regional up for debate will be hosted by the University of Washington at 7:00 ET / 4:00 PT on Saturday and features [4] Alabama, [9] LSU, [16] Arizona, [23] Washington, [30] Iowa, and [36] Central Michigan.

The Favorite:

Not to sound too repetitive, but like the other top seeds previewed so far (we'll have a bit more discussion for the final two Regionals), I don't see Alabama having any trouble at all taking first place at this Regional. One of the biggest issues for Alabama toward the end of the season has been establishing the best beam and floor lineups, but while the team certainly struggled on beam at SECs, I do think the lineup that competed was the correct choice. Gutierrez and Sledge have the potential for fine routines, but they have not proven the reliability that some of the others have. Milliner is still a bit of a question, and I would like to see Jacob regain some of her form from last postseason, but this is the best of the available options. At any rate, I don't expect Alabama to have a fall at Regionals, so they're fine.

The biggest factor in determining Alabama's success likely will not be a single event but will be their ability to stick landings across four events. Alabama should always be neck and neck with UCLA for the top score on vault, but they haven't stuck well in weeks. Now, they recently got a 49.475 at home, but if you watch the vaults, there were way too many tenths given away on landings. Similarly, the first three bar workers are not standouts and will incur definite deductions on handstands (Demeo's half turn is just asking for it, and I question the routine composition for that reason), so stuck landings are a must. I don't see any of the first three going above a 9.800 without a stick.

The other major key for Alabama is Geralen Stack-Eaton. This team is very reliant on its seniors and will not be successful if both don't have a great meet at the same time. At Nationals, Stack-Eaton should be in the running for the AA title because she can go 9.900 on every event, but the team cannot afford her to have any stinker routines like she did at SECs. Those routines (along with Priess on beam) were the difference between first and second. If Stack-Eaton isn't getting 9.9s, then who is?

April 4, 2012

Fayetteville Regional Preview

Our third Regional will take place at the University of Arkansas at 5:00 ET / 2:00 PT on Saturday and will feature [3] UCLA, [10] Arkansas, [15] Boise State, [19] Missouri, [29] New Hampshire, and [34] Maryland.

The Favorite:

Like Florida and Oklahoma, the UCLA Bruins are the clear favorite to win this Regional, and I expect them to have little trouble advancing here. Aside from the general narrative that UCLA teams peak beginning at Regionals, this UCLA team is much more secure across the apparatuses than some of the recent teams, which is the primary consideration for a top team advancing to Nationals. A great performance isn't really necessary, as we saw at Pac-12s. This team had disasters from Peszek on bars and Courtney on beam and did not succumb to having to count a low score and didn't let it deflate the overall performance (which was adequate but lackluster both before and after the falls). At this point, UCLA is a near guarantee for a 49.450+ on vault, and so a parade of 9.850s on the other events is all they'll need to secure a top two finish.

As is always the case with UCLA teams, even though it is April, I still have multiple questions about the lineups. One of the major questions regards Kaelie Baer and where she fits in. She's been the leadoff on vault all season, but in my mind the best vault lineup would be Hopfner-Hibbs, Larson, Peszek, Courtney, Frattone, and Zamarripa. So, does Val make the change or keep Baer in that position? Also, Courtney was put into Baer's spot on beam at Pac-12s but had a disaster, so does Baer get the spot back? To me, it's a question of attitude. Baer is perhaps the safer choice but doesn't have a huge scoring potential.

We've become so used to talking about beam when it comes to UCLA, but I actually have confidence in the primary five to hit and avoid counting a fall. In evaluating the prospects for Nationals, the most tenuous apparatus for the Bruins is bars. This year should have been an improvement on that event, but with Wong's injury and Whitcomb's injury/handstands/disappearance, we've seen little progress at all. No one has been great so far, and this group is too capable of slogging along for 9.825s, which is fine for now but won't be in Duluth. This dismounts in particular need to come together because many were not even close to sticking at Pac-12s.

April 3, 2012

Champaign Regional Preview

The second preview on the docket features our #2 national seed, the Oklahoma Sooners, traveling to Illinois in an effort to earn their place in yet another National Championship. Along with [2] Oklahoma, the teams competing in this Regional are [11] Stanford, [14] Denver, [22] Illinois, [24] Kentucky, and [32] Illinois-Chicago.

The Favorite:

For being the #2 team in the country, Oklahoma certainly has been flying under the radar lately. The Sooners put up a significant score at the Big 12 Championships at home (the highest in the country that weekend, in fact), so they should be in the forefront of the conversation. And yet, they preceded that result with two lackluster road performances and have to deal with the injury to Kayla Nowak, so there are definite questions as to how this team is oriented heading into the championship season and whether their best gymnastics is still ahead of them.

However, like Florida, I don't see much of a chance that Oklahoma will fail to advance. This team is consistent enough that, even whey they perform poorly, they're still able to avoid counting falls and manage an adequate score. Though the Sooners were all kinds of off when they visited UCLA, they still posted a mid-196, and even that score would be enough to advance out of this group.

When watching Oklahoma at this Regional, keep an eye on amplitude of elements across all the events. This area is always evaluated inconsistently during the regular season, but when trying to separate routines during the postseason, it can become a much greater issue. The Sooners have enough difficulty and excel at putting up consistent routines, but in vaulting, tumbling, and some of the beam elements, Oklahoma needs to show competitive amplitude, speed, lightness, and extension, the kinds of qualities that gymnastics people mean when they talk about showing sufficient dynamics.

But for now, I expect to see Oklahoma's lineup hit a lot of 9.875 routines this weekend and score around 197, which would be enough to qualify easily.

April 2, 2012

Raleigh Regional Preview

Over the next few days, I'll be taking several moments to preview the Regional Championships, providing analysis and predictions as to what we might see come Saturday, my favorite day in the NCAA calendar. The Raleigh Regional boasts top seed Florida and will be the first to start on Saturday (4 ET / 1 PT), so it seems a logical place to begin. Our competitors will be [1] Florida, [12] Ohio State, [13] Penn State, [20] NC State, [26] Kent State, and [31] North Carolina.

The Favorite:

The Florida Gators once again find themselves in the 1/12/13 Regional, highlighting how nonsensical the seeding process is. If the goal is to finish in the top two at each Regional, why does the top-ranked team in the nation get the most difficult #3 seed? But this issue has been well covered, so I'll stop there.

Last year, Florida barely eked its way into Nationals after imploding on beam when Boise State just missed the necessary score in the last rotation, but I don't expect to see a repeat of those nail-biting conditions this year. While the Gators of 2012 are a bit less polished, they are also much less likely to incur a fall than were the Gators of 2011, which makes all the difference for qualifying. Lack of polish never prevented a top team from advancing. That's the job of falls. As we saw at SECs, Florida can be a little off and still go into the low 197s, which should certainly be enough to win the group. I'm going to give this one to Florida in a landslide.

However, there are still issues we need to keep an eye on as we evaluate the Gators' chances heading to Nationals. At SECs, the tumbling was uncontrolled and inexact, and there needs to be much more sticking across all the events. As Suzanne rightly pointed out on the SEC broadcast, Florida's delayed training schedule has put them behind some of the other teams in terms of focusing on sticking. This is not necessarily a problem, in fact it's probably a good thing, but it could become a problem if they haven't made any progress on this front by Regionals.

Another concern of mine, as I've mentioned before, is the lineups. Florida is a very deep team on paper, but they have a self-imposed shallowness because of sticking to the same lineups. Who would go in on beam if there is an injury? What's the vault situation? There's Spicer in the first position and a slightly injured Ellis up second (or Shisler if Ellis can't go), so there will likely be little progress above 9.800 in those spots. Now, as we saw at SECs, the final four for Florida can still make it a big rotation, but there is little margin in that lineup. If one of the last four takes a big landing deduction, they won't be able to keep pace. At Nationals, Florida needs to be top 3 on vault. But this does go to show that Florida's problems are relatively minor at this point, and having to count a couple 9.775s will not be a problem for another three weeks.

More interesting than the expected Florida romp, though, will be the fight for the second spot.