April 27, 2014

Notes on Things and Stuff and Things

A week. We've already had a week to recover from the non-stop binge of Yurchenko fulls and 9.950s that is the NCAA season. Just, what, eight months to go until next season? But of course, there will be much elite action to satiate us in the intervening period. For now, a few random thoughts on what has been happening.

  • Elizabeth Price is off to Stanford for the 2014-2015 year. Kristen Smyth should put out a press release saying, "Boom. Nailed it. The end. Your move, Marsden." Price is the exact definition of what Stanford was missing this season, and I'm giddy for their team next year.  Price? Hong? Vaculik? Shapiro? McNair x 2? Rice? Daum? That's a killer roster, but with great talent comes great responsibility. No one is settling for 9th place next year for a team with that much potential. If they can't win with this roster, when can they win?
  • Price's decision to forgo elite possibilities in favor of NCAA in the middle of an Olympic quad is a rare and exciting choice. We don't usually see someone who is right in the conversation as one of the top AAers in the world and at the peak of her talents decide to go to NCAA, but that's just what she has done, which is great for NCAA and great for gymnastics in general. People often talk about shifting the rhetoric of gymnastic dreams away from the Olympics and toward the college scholarship, which is the true and attainable pot of gold at the end of a gymnastics career. That Elizabeth Price has elected to go to Stanford instead of going for Worlds (or beyond) sends a great message that it's not all about the Olympics. The Olympics are not the be all, end all of everything. There are other worthy aspirations.
  • I had the pleasure of chatting with all-time gems of the world Jessica and Uncle Tim for this week's episode of Gymcastic, breaking down all the action from the NCAA Championships. If you haven't listened to the episode yet, then get on that. Where have you been?

  •  On Wednesday, ESPNU will be showing the delayed broadcast of Super Six, which usually contains several important routines that were missed during the live broadcast, so that should be worth checking out. But, to make sure we tune in, the competition will be preceded by "Sarah & Suzanne" an hour-long SEC Storied documentary highlighting the rivalry between Sarah and Suzanne (hence the name). I'm sure I'll have upwards of six thoughts about it.

April 20, 2014

Event Finals Live Blog

Barely. I barely know where to begin about yesterday. That was a completely thrilling, high-quality competition, as simultaneously exciting and well-executed as college gymnastics is supposed to be. Best Super Six ever? It has a good argument. That makes two of the last three seasons with incredibly close finishes, which never used to happen, especially when Georgia and UCLA were in their years of winning by a million points. Something I rail against, the margins between the scores being so small all the time without significant separation between good and great routines, is actually what leads to these finishes. So at least something good comes out of it.

As for the tie, I'm still in several minds about it. On the one hand, finishing with two winners is all a little cute. It's a little "hooray for everyone." Almost deflating after the exciting back and forth. I wouldn't have been mad at them for breaking the tie. It's sport. It's supposed to be ruthless. At the same time, I'm so glad that Oklahoma won its first national championship that I'm basically OK with the tie. Oklahoma had an amazing competition last night - and consistently performs such clean, beautiful, confident, and creative gymnastics - so if the tie had been broken (which would have given Florida the win), it would have felt like the Sooners had been cheated out of a maiden title.

And now after that we're supposed to focus on event finals? It's going to be tough, especially because we'll be paying more attention to all the people who didn't advance to finals since there are so many major routines not competing today. If you have 16 people in beam finals, but none of them are Danusia Francis, does it make a sound? Can we at least try to make Katherine Grable's floor go viral? The event begins at 2:00 CT. Here's the order:



April 19, 2014

Super Six Live Blog

Here we are, old friends. You and me, on the last day. Well, the second-to-last day. But the big day. The conclusion of what everyone has been working toward all season. In a few hours, we'll have a team champion. The meet will begin at 6 CT.

I will use this opportunity for my annual banning of the phrase "wanted it more." They won because they wanted it more? Good thing none of the other teams wanted to win, then. Just once I would like a coach to credit victory to something honest like "we won because our gymnastics is better than that of the other teams." I'm not holding my breath.

Here's the rotation order for the day:

I'm done saying that I don't like starting on floor as a rotation order for Nebraska because, counter-intuitively, they seem to be doing just fine with it. Going to the last rotation last night, they had the hardest job - behind both Utah and UCLA and finishing on beam compared to vault and bars - but performed the best, while the others did the hoppity hoppity hop on their landings.

I don't think any of the teams should be all too pained by this order. I don't love it for LSU because I think it's really tough for teams to begin Super Six on an event where they need a big score, especially if it's a weaker event for them. LSU has to hit bars much better than they did yesterday to keep up, so they can't afford any of those telltale signs of big-meet tightness like short handstands. Last year in Super Six, LSU also started on bars, and their 49.200 was the low bars score and very much hurt their ability to contend.

I still think Florida enters as the favorite. There is just so much room for improvement on yesterday's gymnastics, and they did manage to tie Alabama for the top score. But then again, I didn't even mention Kim Jacob as one of the nominees for the AA title, so me . . .



April 18, 2014

National Semifinals Live Blog - Get Excited Immediately

The time is now. The day is here. All we know is that it will end in tears.




Here is a comparison of the regionals scores for the teams in each semifinal. Top three on each event are highlighted.

We don't have full lineups for the first semifinal yet, but Georgia has released theirs, which they always do in a timely fashion. Broussard is indeed in on beam and floor, and Johnson remains in the anchor position on vault.

This race for the final qualification spot in the first semi is going to be a good one. We'll know a lot after Michigan does beam in the second rotation.

We begin at 2:00 ET/11:00 PT.

April 17, 2014

Wake Up, It's Nationals Tomorrow

-A few bits and pieces first. The late (aka, regular) NLI signing period started yesterday, so be on the lookout for some commitment news over the next week or so. Already, we've heard that Natalie Vaculik is heading to Georgia for 2014-2015. There was some discussion about her trying for the Olympics, but she's going now instead. She'll take the scholarship spot that was to be Brianna Brown's before she switched to Michigan. Georgia's bars strength has a dominant road in front of it for the long term - Natalie has her sister's gienger.

-As mentioned yesterday, Emily Wong won the AAI Award this season. That was a tough field. So many gems.

-Also, apropos of nothing, this why I enjoy Rhonda Faehn:

"I wasn't nervous, I was just panicked about having my pants."

But now here we are. The National Semifinals are tomorrow. These two semifinals will decide the six teams that advance to super six, the minimum-eight-maximum-a-trillion people advancing to event finals, and the national all-around champion. Both semifinal sessions will be streamed live here. (NOTE that the times listed are Central, even though it says Eastern. The sessions are at 1:00 CT and 7:00 CT.)

The rotation schedule.

If you haven't checked out the previews, here they are:
Georgia, Michigan, Stanford, and Illinois
Utah, UCLA, Nebraska, and Penn State
Florida, Oklahoma, LSU, Alabama

Elizabeth Grimsley reports that Brittany Rogers trained only bars for Georgia today and that Ashlyn Broussard was in on floor. Watch that Georgia beam. 

If you're looking for team scoresheets for each semifinal (regional scores included):
Semifinal #1
Semifinal #2

April 16, 2014

Nationals Preview Part 4: Individual Times

Now that we've dispensed with the teams, let's take some time to enjoy the best individuals NCAA has to offer. The all-around competition doesn't get as much attention at nationals because the AA title is decided on Friday when the main focus is team qualification, but it's still always one of the most exciting parts of the event and worth at least several paragraphs of discussion.

I'll keep things limited to the all-around because trying to preview or predict event finals is a fool's errand. Semifinal days always has at least 65 upsets of event favorites who take a step on their dismounts and receive 9.900s when they needed 9.925s to make the top four from their session. I could wax on about Kytra Hunter and Lloimincia Hall on floor all I wanted, and then neither would make floor finals (see: last season). Especially after all the notoriety Hall's routine has received since regionals, you know she's not making floor finals. That's the way the world works. And then everyone will be all deflated and complain-y, which is appropriate for Nationals Hangover Day. Really, the only thing I'm hoping on the individual events is that four people in each semifinal score a 9.925+ on vault so that we're not stuck with 13 people all tied at 9.900 in fourth place and all qualifying to an endless slog of a vault final with 16 million Yfulls.

For the AA crown, we have a number of possible contenders who have led their teams in the all-around this season, but when we start to consider what it will take to win (and given the scoring this season, a 39.700 to win the title is a realistic possibility) that field narrows dramatically. Let's break down who's still in it.

Bridget Sloan - Florida

RQS: 39.720
High: 39.825

The defending champion and #1 all-arounder in the country must be considered the favorite to win the title once again. She is among the only gymnasts who has not only proven capable of getting a 9.950 on every event but who does it regularly, made more impressive by the fact that she doesn't anchor any lineups. We expect 9.950s from her on all the events, and anything less than a 9.900 for any routine she performs is an off day. If she recovers from her mental safari on beam at regionals, she'll be tough to beat.

Rheagan Courville - LSU

RQS: 39.620
High: 39.750

Courville is kind of the Prince Harry of the SEC all-around royal family. I don't mean that she's playing strip billiards in Las Vegas (but if she is, you know, have fun). I mean that she's the second heir to the throne, the one who would be queen if not for Bridget Sloan. She has the skill set to get the same scores as Sloan, and should be expected to get 9.950s on vault and floor, but bars occasionally drops down to 9.850, so watch that. Also, watch the arabian since one wobble on a skill like that will be enough to take anyone out of it.

Katherine Grable - Arkansas

RQS: 39.610
High: 39.725

Our Lady of Perpetual Grable is among the fan favorites for the AA title, with her originality on both vault (handspring pike half) and floor (double arabian half out), tight form, sparky gymnastics, and general excellence. She's another who should be scoring a 9.950 on vault and floor, but she may fall an inch back because of bars, which has some occasional handstanditis to bring it down into the 9.8s. The biggest challenge for Grable, however, will be competing without her team. It's a completely different environment that she has never experienced as an NCAA gymnast, and that's just enough of an obstacle to consider her not quite as likely to win as her SEC comrades in spite of her equal talent level.

April 15, 2014

Nationals Preview Part 3: They'll Cut Each Other

When considering the quality of the top four teams and the competitive Super Six they are likely to produce for us this year, I am reminded of the words of the great Jean-Ralphio Saperstein: "That snizz is straight-up deloycious." 

Florida, Oklahoma, LSU, and Alabama have all reached the 198s this season and can all make at least a moderately convincing argument as a challenger for the ultimate crown, having consistently traded off recording the top score in the country all season. If these four teams do end up making Super Six, it will be a fantastically exciting competition. Be sure to have your anxiety medication, your therapy dog, and an entire birthday cake close to you once Super Six begins because you will need all three at various points.

This year, we don't have a team occupying the same coveted favorite position that Florida did last year as the clear #1 team to end the regular season that won SECs, dominated a home regional, and came into nationals as the presumptive winner barring disaster (or not even barring disaster as it turned out). This year, Florida finished the season as the clear #1 once again, but they lost at SECs and put in a moderately severe stinker at regionals. There are similar complications to the route to a title for Oklahoma, Alabama, and LSU. They have all scored well, but no one is a clear dominant force going into nationals. But someone will emerge.

A caveat: These teams are not far enough removed from the rest of the competition that their qualifications to Super Six should be taken as a given. They're close enough to the rest of the pack that they shouldn't be able to get away with a mental catastrophe in semifinals, at least with all other things being hit. Should they put in clean rotations, however, they'll all advance to Saturday, so in addressing these teams, I'm looking at what they need to do to win the title, not simply to advance to Super Six. Let's begin, shall we?


We were all beset by flashbacks of Super Six 2013 after Florida counted a fall on beam at regionals last week, recalling their way-too-dramatic run to the title last season. Of course, it could just as easily have reminded us of the Great Beam Horror of 2011 or several others in their line of previous setbacks, but winning a national title changes the narrative. We don't think of Florida as the team that almost succeeds anymore, we think of Florida as a team impervious to mistakes, that wins championships even when kind of falling apart. After that beam fall at regionals, they seemed guaranteed to come back and get another 49.abillion on floor in the next rotation, but they didn't, which was interesting. They had some strong routines, but also a fall and a counting 9.7. The mistakes festered for multiple rotations instead of being instantly erased.

April 13, 2014

Nationals Preview Part 2: Who Is Suddenly Amazing?

Let us now move on to the quest to qualify out of the second semifinal. As with Oklahoma and LSU in the first session, I'll save the outlooks on Florida's and Alabama's chances for later because they are the most likely to advance from this session (barring a Florida-at-regionals level repeat) and to go on to contend for the national title. For now, it's time to look at Utah, UCLA, Nebraska, and Penn State and their various chances to advance out of this semifinal.

Of the two semifinals, this is the more likely to be straightforward. Given what Florida, Alabama, and Utah have been scoring this season compared to UCLA, Nebraska, and Penn State, it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see those three pull ahead early and stay ahead throughout. But, this is nationals. It wouldn't be the kooky competition we know and love without a few crazy falls, so don't count it as over and done too early. It's not as clear cut as last year's afternoon semifinal was, when Florida, LSU, and Georgia had basically already advanced over Minnesota, Stanford, and Illinois before the meet even began. There's more chance for an upset this year. As in the early session, it should take over a 197 to advance, so the 197+ standard is how we must evaluate all the teams.


Utah is a cusp team this year, sitting on the border between the favorites and the contenders. At times, they have scored right with the top teams in the country, getting some high 197s and that home 198, but at other times, they have looked a step behind, usually the result of a beam rotation that - even though the falling ship has been righted - isn't scoring competitively enough to keep them on that 198 pace. Right now Utah looks like a safe-ish pick to make it back to Super Six and reclaim the team's honor after a program-worst finish of 9th last season, but they will be an outsider in the race to do damage once they get to Super Six.

The Utes will have the same rotation order they did at regionals, beginning on bars and finishing on vault. Regionals was not the best showing for the team, so even though an identical 197.300 could very well end up making it through from this semifinal, they'll want to improve on what happened in Fayetteville in order to eliminate any questions about who will qualify. A lot of that potential improvement can come right from the first rotation on bars. The 49.250 from regionals is a fine number but much lower than they have been scoring this season, with every member of the lineup coming in below her RQS. Utah makes its money on bars by sticking the hell out of all its landings, and that didn't happen enough at regionals. If Utah is to reach its goal of ensuring this semifinal is completely uninteresting, they'll need to stick all the way through the lineup like they did in last year's semifinal for a 49.475. Bars was by far their best event at championships last season, which was quite unexpected. They could use a similarly unexpected massive hit as early insurance at this meet, just in case beam is a little beamy.  

April 12, 2014

Nationals Preview Part 1: All About the Beamjamins

(Do you like the title? Thank you. I'm very proud of myself.)

The NCAA National Championship is less than a week away, people. One week, and then it's over. I'm definitely not ready for the season to be finished yet. Then, we'll have to focus on elite gymnastics, which is always a challenge at first. I watched the women's team competition at Pac Rims this week (P.S. how do they expect anyone to spend time writing previews for Nationals when Pac Rims and Men's NCAA Champs are going on?) and it was hard to shift gears back to elite and remember that you're allowed to have a lot of mistakes and wobbles and breaks and bound on landings and it's still considered a good routine. Also that corner rule, you guys . . . I just can't with it. I feel like it's getting even worse. It might be more upsetting than the pointed-toe, duck-with-rigor-mortis running they're already forced to do to connect dance elements. It's just the dumbest. 

But I digress. For now, we still have NCAA Nationals to enjoy, so over the coming days I'll be previewing the competition by assessing the chances for each of the twelve qualified teams - what constitutes a likely outcome and what they will need to do to attain it. Based on what we've seen over the past few weeks, this season defies any "favorite" status for any of the teams. No one hangs onto being the favorite for more than a week or so before they start counting falls on beam, which should make for an exciting competition. In the men's championship yesterday, after the first rotation Michigan was all, "Oh wait, now we could fall a thousand times and still win. Peace out." I don't expect such a scenario in the women's championship. There are several teams with solid arguments for the championship, and they should be fighting it out until the end of Super Six. I'll save their preview for later. For this preview of the afternoon session, I'll withhold Oklahoma and LSU until then and limit it to addressing the fight to qualify with Georgia, Michigan, Stanford, and Illinois. It is by no means guaranteed that Oklahoma and LSU will advance, but for the purpose of setting the scene, this is the most likely scenario.

The first session looks to be the more exciting of the two semifinals, and the quest to qualify out of the afternoon session is perhaps the most interesting storyline we have going into Nationals in that no teams looks like a frontrunner. There is no expected scenario or upset scenario, just several teams that could end up in any order. Georgia is the highest ranked of the contending trio, ahead of Michigan and Stanford, but at both conference championships and regionals, they had the lowest score of the three. Stanford is the lowest ranked, but looked the strongest and most consistent at regionals.

This semifinal also looks like a pretty good bet to make a tiny blip on the history radar. No team has ever scored a 197 in a semifinal and failed to advance to Super Six. The highest score ever to lose in a semifinal is Oklahoma's 196.925 from 2012, but if all these teams hit regular meets, we could see five 197s. It could take as much as a 197.4-197.5 to begin to feel comfortable with qualifying, which is great. It should take brilliance to make Super Six, and that's what will be required here. Let's begin.


It hasn't been a great end to the season for Georgia. They lost Brittany Rogers' contributions in the AA, finished 4th at SECs (expected, but still not exciting for the team), and then put together a downright lumpy performance at regionals. That's enough concentrated lackluster to make an argument for Georgia as easy choice for an upset in semifinals, but at the same time there is reason for optimism for the Gym Dogs. Even with that rather poor showing at regionals, they didn't finish all that far behind Michigan (who didn't have a great meet themselves, but also didn't count a fall). Get rid of the Hires mistake on floor, and the meet is even. Assume both teams show up on beam, and Georgia is out ahead. I'm not saying that's going to happen - there are quite a few leaping assumptions there - but even considering all their mistakes at regionals, the bars and vault advantages bode well for Georgia's chances to advance to Super Six for the second time in a row if they can be just fine on the other events and not go to pieces this time.

April 9, 2014

Nationals Scoring Comparison

As I did with regionals, I've put together a comparison of relevant scores for the teams in each semifinal grouping at nationals, with each score followed by the team's ranking within its semifinal. 

In addition to the event statistics, I've added in each team's highest score per event from regionals to tell us which teams are most likely to get that huge 9.950 at the end to save a rotation, but I've also included a total of the lowest counting scores on each event from regionals. I like the lowest counting score as a reference point because so many of these teams have top-scoring gymnasts hanging around that team titles are often decided by what happens early in the lineups.

Afternoon session:

Regional score: 197.715 [2]
RQS: 197.775 [1]
Season high: 198.175 [2]
Regular season average: 197.513 [1]
VT average: 49.481 [2]
VT RQS: 49.525 [2] 
VT regional score: 49.700 [1]
UB average: 49.315 [3]
UB RQS: 49.470 [2]
UB regional score: 49.175 [6]
BB average: 49.315 [1]
BB RQS: 49.445 [1]
BB regional score: 49.400 [3]
FX average: 49.418 [2]
FX RQS: 49.520 [1]
FX regional score: 49.450 [3]
Highest scores per event from regionals: VT - 9.975; UB - 9.850; BB - 9.900; FX - 9.925; TOT - 39.650 [2]
Lowest counting scores per event from regionals: VT - 9.900; UB - 9.800; BB - 9.875; FX - 9.850; TOT - 39.425 [2]

Regional score: 198.325 [1]
RQS: 197.720 [2]
Season high: 198.325 [1]
Regular season average: 197.496 [2]
VT average: 49.506 [1]
VT RQS: 49.550 [1] 
VT regional score: 49.650 [2]
UB average: 49.333 [2]
UB RQS: 49.430 [3]
UB regional score: 49.425 [2]
BB average: 49.268 [2]
BB RQS: 49.295 [2]
BB regional score: 49.600 [1]
FX average: 49.454 [1]
FX RQS: 49.490 [2]
FX regional score: 49.650 [1]
Highest scores per event from regionals: VT - 9.950; UB - 9.900; BB - 9.975; FX - 10.000; TOT - 39.825 [1]
Lowest counting scores per event from regionals: VT - 9.900; UB - 9.850; BB - 9.875; FX - 9.850; TOT - 39.475 [1]

Aside from Oklahoma's bars score from regionals, both Oklahoma and LSU are the favorites based on both recent and season-long performances. For the remaining teams, I have put in blue the areas where each is in the top three among the teams in the semifinal.

Regional score: 196.375 [6]
RQS: 197.265 [3]
Season high: 197.650 [4]
Regular season average: 197.029 [3]
VT average: 49.342 [3]
VT RQS: 49.415 [3] 
VT regional score: 49.425 [3]
UB average: 49.494 [1]
UB RQS: 49.580 [1]
UB regional score: 49.600 [1]
BB average: 49.046 [4]
BB RQS: 49.240 [4]
BB regional score: 48.475  [6]
FX average: 49.097 [5]
FX RQS: 49.280 [4]
FX regional score: 48.875 [6]
Highest scores per event from regionals: VT - 9.950; UB - 9.950; BB - 9.850; FX - 9.900; TOT - 39.650 [2]
Lowest counting scores per event from regionals: VT - 9.825; UB - 9.900; BB - 9.250; FX - 9.475; TOT - 38.450 [6]

Regional score: 196.750 [4]
RQS: 197.105 [4]
Season high: 197.825 [3]
Regular season average: 196.791 [4]
VT average: 49.298 [4]
VT RQS: 49.365 [4]
VT regional score: 49.200 [4]
UB average: 49.244 [4]
UB RQS: 49.375 [4]
UB regional score: 49.275 [5]
BB average: 48.877 [6]
BB RQS: 49.075 [6]
BB regional score: 48.700  [5]
FX average: 49.369 [3]
FX RQS: 49.490 [2]
FX regional score: 49.575 [2]
Highest scores per event from regionals: VT - 9.900; UB - 9.900; BB - 9.850; FX - 9.950; TOT - 39.600 [6]
Lowest counting scores per event from regionals: VT - 9.750; UB - 9.800; BB - 9.600; FX - 9.900; TOT - 39.050 [5]

Regional score: 197.275 [3]
RQS: 196.815 [5]
Season high: 197.275 [5]
Regular season average: 196.400 [5]
VT average: 49.206 [5]
VT RQS: 49.325 [5]
VT regional score: 49.175 [5]
UB average: 49.156 [5]
UB RQS: 49.305 [5]
UB regional score: 49.325 [4]
BB average: 49.108 [3]
BB RQS: 49.260 [3]
BB regional score: 49.450  [2]
FX average: 49.002 [6]
FX RQS: 49.120 [6]
FX regional score: 49.325 [4]
Highest scores per event from regionals: VT - 9.875; UB - 9.950; BB - 9.925; FX - 9.875; TOT - 39.625 [4]
Lowest counting scores per event from regionals: VT - 9.800; UB - 9.675; BB - 9.850; FX - 9.850; TOT - 39.175 [3]

It's interesting how clear-cut the difference on the apparatuses is among these next three teams. Georgia is all about vault and bars, Michigan is all about floor, and Stanford is all about beam. Stanford's ideal route to Super Six would be identical to what happened at regionals: nail beam and hope that Georgia and Michigan struggle there. For Michigan, it's staying as close as possible on three events and burning down the floor to gain a big edge, and for Georgia, it's building up a big lead early and hoping it holds up.

Regional score: 196.600 [5]
RQS: 196.650 [6]
Season high: 197.100 [6]
Regular season average: 196.204 [6]
VT average: 49.034 [6]
VT RQS: 49.155 [6]
VT regional score: 49.025 [6]
UB average: 49.034 [6]
UB RQS: 49.205 [6]
UB regional score: 49.400 [3]
BB average: 49.035 [5]
BB RQS: 49.175 [5]
BB regional score: 49.150  [4]
FX average: 49.131 [4]
FX RQS: 49.240 [5]
FX regional score: 49.025 [5]
Highest scores per event from regionals: VT - 9.900; UB - 9.925; BB - 9.900; FX - 9.900; TOT - 39.625 [4]
Lowest counting scores per event from regionals: VT - 9.725; UB - 9.850; BB - 9.800; FX - 9.725; TOT - 39.100 [4]

April 7, 2014

The Nationals Outlook

And just like that, the regionals are over. We leave 24 more teams in the dust and turn our attention to the big 12 that have managed to advance to compete for the national championship. Today, the rotation order and individual competitor placement was released.

Afternoon Session (starting event): Georgia (vault), Illinois (bye), Michigan (bars), Oklahoma (beam), LSU (bye), Stanford (floor)

Evening Session (starting event): Florida (vault), Alabama (bye), Utah (bars), UCLA (beam), Penn State (bye), Nebraska (floor)

Off the top, it doesn't look like a particularly bad rotation order for anyone. Beam and floor tend to be the most significant starting/ending events, but in the first session, I like Stanford starting on floor and ending on beam, and I always like Oklahoma starting on beam. They'll embrace that position. Is ending on beam trouble for LSU? We'll find out. Georgia got a gift in that rotation order after the regionals near-nightmare. They're like the France of this competition. (World Cup qualifications reference? Anyone?) In the second session, I think Nebraska and Penn State probably would have preferred not to start on floor and end on beam, since beam can be a worry for both. That's a harder rotation for Nebraska, but they got through the same rotation well at regionals, even though beam was just endured.

We have nice battles for the final qualifying spots in each semifinal. If we call Oklahoma and LSU the favorites in the first, then Stanford, Georgia, and Michigan will clashing for the final spot, and the same is the case in the second with Utah, UCLA, and Nebraska if we think of Florida and Alabama as the favorites. If things go as they've gone this season, the second semifinal could end up being a more straightforward affair for Florida, Alabama, and Utah, but I'm not quite ready to bet on that yet. P.S. you guys, is Stanford going to make Super Six?

Of those respective challenging trios, Georgia and UCLA will be ending the meets on the floor while the others will be on byes. Teams always like to finish competing, and score building will be a topic of discussion there. In the unnecessary fact department, Utah has started on bars and finished on vault twice so far this year and twice scored a 197.300.

I'll be doing the whole breakdown in the coming weeks, but I appreciate that this year we have two semifinals with relatively equivalent levels of competitiveness. Last year, one was essentially a slam dunk while the other was a game of thrones. 

April 5, 2014

Regionals Live Blog

It matters, you guys! It finally matters. Starting today, no one can talk to us about how the silver lining of the meet is that they learned exactly what they have to work on. No. There are no silver linings today. You either advance or you don't, and it's all based on your performance right now. Sports!

I think we'll have some upsets today. Not crazy major ones, but surprises. Hopefully we will. Two years ago, all the top 12 seeds went through, and it was a total snoozer. That's the rarity, though. Something crazy almost always happens at regionals. For a quick glance at what to look out for in the mystical Upset Land of Upsets, here's an RQS comparison between the 2nd and 3rd seeds at each regional. Some are more relevant than others.

With all the 197s floating around this year, I'm interested in how may teams will be able to go through with something in the 196s. There's a ton of 197 capability throughout the meets.

Here's the schedule once again, and more of the relevant links are in the previous post:

4:00 ET/1:00 PT – University Park, PA Regional
[1] Florida, [12] Oregon State, [15] Penn State, [23] New Hampshire, [29] Kentucky, [35] Maryland

4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Athens, GA Regional
[6] Georgia, [7] Michigan, [18] Central Michigan, [22] Ohio State, [28] NC State, [32] Rutgers

5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Baton Rouge, LA Regional
[3] LSU, [10] Stanford, [13] Auburn, [21] Arizona, [27] Kent State, [36] Iowa State

5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Fayetteville, AR Regional
[5] Utah, [8] UCLA, [17] Arkansas, [24] Arizona State, [30] Utah State, [34] UC Davis

7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Minneapolis, MN Regional
[2] Oklahoma, [11] Illinois, [14] Minnesota, [19] California, [26] Southern Utah, [31] San Jose State

7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Seattle, WA Regional
[4] Alabama, [9] Nebraska, [16] Boise State, [20] Denver, [25] BYU, [33] Washington

Be wary of when things are starting because you will lose track of time watching one meet and miss something important at another. It happens every time.

April 4, 2014

Regionals Are Drawing Nigh, Have Some Links

The regionals are here! The regionals are here!

Gymnastics Christmas may still be a few hours away, but it's time to start preparing with all the links and information you could possibly need for tomorrow. Always be prepared. I'll be around live blogging the whole thing, obviously. Six hours of greatness.

It's going to get pretty busy (I first wrote intense, and then I threw myself into a volcano out of disagreeability - I'm sorry) as the meets get going with four competitions happening simultaneously for much of the day. As a guide to ease following all these meets at once, here is a combined schedule including rough estimates of when each of the teams will be performing on each event, in case there are particular rotations you want to keep an eye on. If you're me, you'll be printing it out and doing some highlighting. This assumes 30 minutes per rotation including warmups, marching, and all the standing around, which hopefully is a generous estimate. 

And now for all the relevant linkages. Below, I have also included PDF scoresheets for each meet using the most recent lineups for each team, except for a couple specific circumstances.

April 3, 2014

Athens, GA Regional Preview

Now here we are old friends, the final regional. It feels like a long road already, and the meets haven't started yet. Georgia will host a regional for the second time in the last four years, and once again it's the 6/7/18 group (and the third time in four years that Georgia has been in the 6/7/18 regional). The Gym Dogs will welcome Michigan to town to engage in a possible head-to-head nationals preview in one of the earlier starts (4 ET/1 PT).

Competing teams (starting event)
[6] Georgia (bye before bars)
[7] Michigan (bye before floor)
[18] Central Michigan (vault)
[22] Ohio State (floor)
[28] NC State (bars)
[32] Rutgers (beam)

The individuals in this regional are from West Virginia (Hope Sloanhoffer, Nicolette Swoboda, Alexa Goldberg - bars, Beth Deal - beam), North Carolina (Haley Watts), William & Mary (Brittany Stover), and George Washington (Kayla Carto, Chelsea Raineri - vault, floor).

The Favorites

Of all the regionals, I would deem this the least likely to see an upset, which means it will definitely happen. Georgia and Michigan have performed several steps above the other teams in this competition all year, and the season averages for both teams are higher than the season highs for any of the other schools competing. It would take a confluence of disaster from one end and unexpected greatness from the other to make this one interesting as an upset affair.

But that doesn't mean it isn't interesting. If everything goes to form, we can expect Georgia and Michigan to advance from this competition and meet again in two weeks with a spot in Super Six on the line, so the performances will have significant implications heading into nationals. And it's too close to call right now as to which team is better. Georgia has been more consistent this season and is competing at home, but Michigan has the higher peak score and put in a stronger performance at conference championships. If they're both hitting, they should be fighting it out right to the final rotation.

Unfortunately, injuries are going to be a talking point for both teams. Georgia had to sit Brittany Rogers on vault and floor at SECs after an ankle injury (edit: and she'll miss those events at regionals as well - thanks for the confirmation), and reaching their highest scoring potential requires her at 100% in the AA. While her injury allowed for the emergence of Lauren Johnson on vault with her sudden 9.975 (making lineup order a bit more challenging), they're not as strong without Rogers' 1.5 on an event where they need to squeeze out as much of an advantage as possible. Floor, however, may be Rogers' most important routine this season because of her difficulty and because the Gym Dogs don't have the depth without her. Having to drop Broussard's 9.4 made it impossible for them to keep pace at SECs because they were counting two other 9.7s. In this meet, floor is already an event where Michigan looks to have a solid edge, so Georgia can't count those same 9.7s or they'll be giving up too many tenths to the Wolverines. 

April 2, 2014

Fayetteville, AR Regional Preview

From the time I first put together the season schedule and registered who the regional hosts were, Arkansas's meet has stood out as a potentially treacherous one, and now here we are. Arkansas is currently 17th in the country and will play host to a bunch of teams from the west (because regionals make so much sense) - two from Utah, two from California, and one from Arizona. This transplanted regional will begin at 5 ET/2 PT, so it will overlap all the other competitions at some point or another. Be sure to set aside some time to spend with this one.

Competing teams (starting event)
[5] Utah (bye before bars)
[8] UCLA (bye before floor)
[17] Arkansas (vault)
[24] Arizona State (floor)
[30] Utah State (bars)
[34] UC Davis (beam)

The individual competitions are from Illinois-Chicago (Catherine Dion, Gabrille May), Northern Illinois (Kim Gotlund, Amanda Stepp - floor), SEMO (Alyssa Tucker, Taryn Vanderpool), Missouri (Rachel Updike - vault), Texas Woman's (Brittainy Johnson - bars), and Illinois State (Samantha King - beam).

The Favorite

Utah comes into this regional as the favorite, but the Utes' favorite status is not as clear-cut as the other top teams previewed so far. Utah is 2-1 against UCLA this season and has had some struggles throughout the year, so it would be foolhardy to assume any kind of dominance simply based on their #1 seeding.

One of the reasons Utah has steadied as a fairly believable choice to make it back to Super Six is the progress on beam. It's still not a big event for them, and will not be a big event, but they have hit six-for-six in enough meets recently that we can upgrade the rotation to serious-but-stable condition. We'll be monitoring its vital signs throughout the meet, but the prognosis is positive. The Utes are still probably looking at 9.8s for a 49.2 or so, but that should be enough for the moment. Of course, if things take a turn for the dire, the meet is close enough that it will become very interesting for everyone involved. Utah is not one of the top seeds that can count a fall and assume they'll still advance.

Attack of the Beam Monster Part 2: The Revengening is really the only way I see making it out of this group becoming a challenge for Utah because they have been scoring consistently well on the other events throughout the year. In terms of continuing to improve their quality as we head toward nationals, though, there are still a few things I'll be watching out for. Last season was all about the beam troubles for Utah, but at the end of the year, we also began to see some deterioration in the early floor routines (all these 9.6s started to pop up) and the vault landings. Keep an eye out to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to the same gymnasts this season. At Pac 12s, Utah performed well enough on vault, but the landings can certainly improve given that they showed just one stuck vault out of six (from Dabritz on her downgraded full - which helped justify the decision to downgrade). As I've said all year, the end of Utah's vault lineup can compete with any team in the country, but Delaney, Wilson, and Dabritz all need to stick for 9.950s for that to happen.

The Contenders

I'm putting UCLA and Arkansas in the same category for this preview, as the clashing contenders for the second spot for nationals, but I don't think I'm quite as sold on the upset potential in this meet as some other people seem to be. Of course, Arkansas is one of the most dangerous lower-ranked teams and can potentially pull off the upset without needing a total UCLA implosion to do it (another Pac 12s would probably be sufficient to open the door), but I don't think this meet is as close as some of the other third-seed-host regionals. If UCLA actually hits, they should go through regardless of any home boost that Arkansas might receive. The Bruins were pretty poor at Pac 12s and still managed a mid 196, so performing even somewhat better than that should put them out of reach and closer to challenging Utah than being challenged by Arkansas. There's not all that much between UCLA and Utah, but UCLA's lack of consistent scoring this year does not afford them the status of favorite. But as tough as Arkansas can be, UCLA does control its own fate in this meet.

April 1, 2014

Seattle, WA Regional Preview

Usually we have at least a couple unseeded teams hosting a regional or two, but this year Washington is the only one, having managed to just outstrip the regionals cutoff and make it in. They'll invite Alabama and Nebraska to their humble abode to do battle with plucky challengers Boise State and Denver, beginning at 7 ET/4 PT. This is the west coast regional, so couldn't we have started it a bit later to spread out the competitions a little more? How do they expect us to watch six meets in a day if they're all at the same time?

Competing teams (staring event)
[4] Alabama (bye before bars)
[9] Nebraska (bye before floor)
[16] Boise State (vault)
[20] Denver (floor)
[25] BYU (bars)
[33] Washington (beam)

The individuals in this regional are from Sacramento State (Jesse Williams, Kalliah McCartney, Kailey Hansen - vault, beam, and floor, Julia Konner - vault, Kaila Kilwien - bars, Kayla Wonderly - beam, Dallas Smith - floor), Alaska (Stefany Bryan), and Seattle Pacific (Maria Hundley - vault, bars, and beam, Tracie Villanueva - bars, Kailee Tindall - floor). Sacramento State has a Kayla, a Kailey, a Kaila, and a Kalliah. The end.

The Favorites

This regional sets up a little differently from the previous ones in that there's a bit more separation between the top seeds and the contending seeds, with Alabama and Nebraska both looking like safe bets to advance. That's not to say the other teams can't manage something interesting (we'll get to them in a moment), but Alabama is on a roll and Nebraska is situated much better in this regional to avenge last year's misery than their colleague Oregon State is over in the Penn State group. Both Alabama and Nebraska should be able to perform normally in this meet and advance by a healthy margin.

For much of the season, Alabama has been running a step behind the lead pack, so winning SECs continued the dissolution of that gap between them and the top teams and allowed them to jump comfortably into the group of favorites once we get to nationals. They're now starting to look like a team that can win a championship without help. The SEC win wasn't without questions, with the Tide finishing just a small margin ahead of Florida and receiving some scores that I would deem extra friendly here and there (9.900 for Sims on beam and 9.950 on bars? Two judges giving Milliner a 10 for a non-stick?). But no other team looked definitively better, and Florida made more than its share of errors on a couple events. That tends to diffuse any righteous outrage. Alabama had several highlight routines during SECs, one of the most important being Kim Jacob on vault continuing the progression of her 1.5 with a stick. She has been a borderline member of the vault lineup for years, showing a full that wasn't as big as the usual Alabama fulls and a 1.5 that never had enough landing control to get a big score. If she can continue vaulting like this, it gives Alabama another asset that we didn't necessarily expect coming into the season on an event that needs to be a best-in-the-meet strength come Super Six.

The Tide scored a 49.650 on bars at SECs, and the big question is whether that's for real. There was a lot going into that score, being in Birmingham and finishing on bars, and I did think Florida and Georgia looked a clear step better on the event based on the routines we saw in the broadcast. But if that's how these routines are going to be evaluated as we progress, there isn't much of a limit to what Alabama can accomplish this season. Interestingly, beam was the clear weak event for Alabama at SECs, with some stepping and shakiness that we haven't seen very often this season, but as with some of Florida's mistakes, it's not a trend yet. Still, watch the bars at regionals. They'll tell us stories.