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.

The Others:
I'm not making a contenders section because I don't see much chance (even if falls are counted) that Nebraska and Utah will fail to advance. Though Minnesota has come on strong over the last month or so, it would probably take one of the top two teams counting multiple falls for the Gophers to contend. Minnesota surprised a bit on vault and floor at Big Tens, earning a whole bunch of scores in the 9.8s to go over 49 on both events. This team is enjoyable on floor, so if you haven't seen them yet this year, be sure to keep an eye on that rotation. A parade of 9.7s on bars and beam erased any hope of a truly big score, but the third-place finish was respectable. However, it is those bars and beam rotations that will keep Minnesota from challenging for a spot at Nationals.

Following Minnesota we have Iowa State, a team that is similarly capable of a couple solid rotations but not four. At Big 12s, they rode Celine Paulus's 9.950 on vault to a 196 to tie Missouri. However, rotations over 49 have been the exception for Iowa State this year, and the team probably does peak out around 196 on a great day, which they likely won't have at Regionals (though maybe if the scoring does in fact go as high as Pac-12s did). As the #4 seed, they at least have the benefit of Olympic rotation order.

Arizona State features some quality routines on vault and floor from Beate Jones, but it is the rare other team member who can record a score over 9.800. The few times I've seen ASU this season they have severely struggled on the bars with handstand issues that keep every routine in the 9.7s. Floor is by far the best event, so they could go 49 there, but I don't expect a lot of competitive routines throughout the meet. They needed more from former elite Morgan Steigerwalt this season, and she will certainly have to take a starring role next year. ASU also vaults only five people, so that says a lot about their depth right now.

San Jose State has done well to carve out a niche for themselves in that high-194s territory, but that's about all we can expect from Regionals. The main focus for this team will be getting an individual spot at Nationals for AA star Thomasina Wallace, their best performer on every event. Wallace won the AA at the WAC Championships over Moriah Martin of Denver, and she at least has a very nice shot of making it out of this Regional.

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