March 31, 2015

Ames Regional Preview

We're into the second half of the regional previews now, and this is where the dynamic usually changes a little bit. In the top-seeded regionals, we often have one favorite and then a scraping, clawing, vicious-but-we're-all-best-friends-here fight for the next spot between relatively equivalent contenders. But in the regionals led by the 4th–6th seeds, we're more likely to see two clear favorites and then some possible outside challengers who might make things interesting if the day goes well (and by "day goes well," I mean "a big team has an epic meltdown"). The 2015 season has presented a little more competitiveness among those 16-20th ranked teams, which will hopefully make these regionals closer, but in each one there's still a clear pair that really should advance with a hit meet. Here, that's LSU and Nebraska.

Competing teams (starting event)
LSU (bars)
Nebraska (bye before bars)
Denver (beam)
Washington (bye before floor)
Michigan State (vault)
Iowa State (floor)

LSU and Nebraska

Weirdly, LSU suddenly fell to 4th in the rankings at the very end of the regular season after spending months bouncing back and forth between 2nd and 3rd. That little drop is almost entirely because of road scores, with the Tigers having not yet reached the 197.500 plateau at a road meet. That's a bit surprising for a team that is comfortably breaking that mark at home and seems to have more than enough talent to do it consistently regardless of venue. Something always just seems to go a little wibbly, like the bars rotation against Centenary or that tight beam performance at SECs. Like the other top teams, I don't envision LSU running into any trouble at this regional, but proving the ability to get something like a high 197 at a road meet would be a nice bonus.

That huge road score should be doable, especially given the current progress on vault and floor, but it will also take finding those bars landings and fully reaching potential on beam. I'm hoping the beam performance from SECs was just a "things suddenly mattered and our brains went momentarily to jelly" kind of rotation that will not be repeated, but bars remains a curious creature. With fewer huge, automatic 9.9s, and an Ashleigh Gnat routine that still makes me mostly nervous, the Tigers are in danger of giving up some real ground to the other top teams, especially Florida. But they can avoid that fate and get the requisite 9.9s to maintain a solid pace when Jordan, Zamardi, and Wyrick manage to stick. Those three routines are usually in the 9.850-but-9.900-if-you-land-well category. It's just something to keep in mind because this will be a "hit and you're in" kind of meet for LSU. Or a "count a fall and you're still in" kind of meet. 

It should also be a "hit and you're in" meet for Nebraska, though it's a less comfortable status. The Huskers have a too-recent history of being the team that has the epic meltdown and gets eliminated by a 196.025 from Illinois. That said, Nebraska has hit 197 plenty of times this year (though only once on the road) while none of the lower-four seeds have reached the 197 plateau. That means advancing is well within Nebraska's control as long as we don't discover any problems in sector beam. Beam is still an excellent-or-terrifying event for Nebraska, nothing in between, and all the 9.7s from Big Tens didn't do anything to swing the pendulum toward the excellent side. The Huskers are another team that has scored more 48s than 49s on beam this season, but the weird thing is, they've counted a fall only twice, which is not that bad. The bigger problem has been a spate of wobbleburgers from the whole team for a 48.9. They can certainly get through this meet with a mildly iffy 48.9 beam as long as the rest of the events are hit, but any kind of 48 on beam at nationals will not cut it. We need to see some budding confidence and security in those performances.

March 30, 2015

Berkeley Regional Preview

All season long, this has been the one. This has been the scary regional. Cal is the only truly dangerous floater among the hosts. Oklahoma and Auburn are favored to advance, and it would be a shocking, Kent State-level upset to see West Virginia, Ohio State, or Iowa State go to nationals. But with Cal, you wonder. Cal is the 4th seed and does have a pretty low ranking of 20th (I thought this would be the season they got into the top 15), but Cal also has a recent history of big home results, finishing 3rd at Pac-12s last year and scoring as high as 197.325 this year. Making this regional all the better, we have a trio of top seeds in Utah, Georgia, and Boise State that would make for a tight and competitive meet all by themselves, even without a challenging 4th-seeded host.

The Berkeley regional starts later than all the other competitions, beginning at 9:00 ET/6:00 PT,  so we'll have plenty of time to focus on just this one. But that does mean the pressure is on for it to be interesting because there won't be any other, better meets to be distracted by if this gets boring early. You hear that teams? Be interesting.

Competing teams (starting event)
[3] Utah (bars)
[10] Georgia (bye before bars)
[15] Boise State (beam)
[20] Cal (bye before floor)
[29] Utah State (vault)
[35] BYU (floor)

Competing individuals are from San Jose State (Cami Guyer - AA; Kaitlin Won - AA; Maddie Herr - AA), UC Davis (Tiana Montell - AA; Katy Nogaki - vault; Dani Judal - beam; Kala DeFrancesco - floor), Alaska (M'rcy Matsunami - AA); and Sacramento State (Cassie Benning - bars).


Before Pac-12s, Utah looked to be on cruise control, just waiting for nationals for things to matter. The Tory Wilson Achilles catastrophe has thrown a little bit of doubt into that picture, but not enough doubt to make Utah a true upset threat. I mean, when was the last time Utah didn't make nationals? Oh, that's right, it was never.

Still, the lack of Wilson, and how that changes the dynamics of each of the events, adds an extra twist to this meet. Certainly, Utah has people to slot into those empty spots who can score 9.850s. The depth is pretty solid this year. Tiffani Lewis has had plenty of competition opportunities and can easily go on vault, bars, and floor, though Baely Rowe could also come in on vault if she's feeling 100%. Across the four events, they'll probably drop a couple tenths compared to what they could have scored with Wilson, but that should not in itself be enough to put Utah in the danger zone. It does compromise their potential to contend with the top teams (Wilson could get 9.9s and we're much less likely to see 9.9s from her replacements), but it shouldn't compromise regionals as long as they don't suddenly lose their minds.

Speaking of which, let's talk about beam. Even though beam was Wilson's weakest event, it's the area where her absence will be felt the strongest. Utah doesn't have nearly as many comfortable options on beam, and Wilson was the reliable leadoff all season long. Someone else is going to have to take that role now, throwing the lineup and the comfort level they have recently developed on beam into flux. Do you just slot her replacement (likely Delaney) into that leadoff spot? Do you put Rowe or Lothrop back in there, potentially compromising their scoring potential? You can guess which one I favor, and it doesn't involve compromising scoring potential. It's something they'll have to figure out and quickly become comfortable with because there are four teams in this competition boasting high-196 potential, so counting a fall isn't really an option. Second rotation: Utah beam. Watch it. But unless something goes nasty to a level it hasn't yet this season, it should be smooth sailing to a qualification spot.

Georgia, Boise State, Cal

Georgia. Look what you've done to us. Show me this collection of teams before the season, and I say, "Utah and Georgia," easy pick, easy regional. Even with Cal as a host. That's how it should go, but we've all been so traumatized by watching Georgia this year that none of us knows what to think anymore. Up is down. Black is white. Vault is bad now for some reason (and what's that about, by the way? You have Brandie Jay). Everything is all over the place. Still, when the Gym Dogs put four events together, they are the second-best team in this regional, and if they hit 5-for-6 on four events (these goals...), they should be able to go through.

March 29, 2015

Morgantown Regional Preview

Onward! So many regionals, so little time. Or so it will be on April 4th. The action begins that day with the Morgantown Regional, starting at 4:00 ET/1:00 PT. None of the other meets will be starting until an hour later, so our attention spans will have some solid quality time to spend with what should be one of the most interesting competitions on the day. This is not a cut-and-dry regional.

Competing teams (starting event)
[2] Florida (bars)
[11] Stanford (bye before bars)
[14] Illinois (beam)
[19] Arkansas (bye before floor)
[25] New Hampshire (vault)
[36] West Virginia (floor)

Competing individuals are from Bridgeport (Sasha Tsikhanovich - AA; Caitlin Perry - floor), Rutgers (Elizabeth Groden - AA; Luisa Leal - vault; Jenna Williams - bars), Brown (Diana Walters - AA; Jorden Mitchell - AA), West Chester (Majesta Valentine - AA), Pittsburgh (Lindsay Offutt - beam).


Florida is in the same boat as Oklahoma, a would-be easy qualifier that we can get into dissecting in true detail once nationals roll around, but considering the strength of this regional and Florida's performance at SECs this year, there are just a few more things I'm interested in keeping an eye on as the competition proceeds. That's not to say Florida is in danger, or anything. The Gators have no business making this meet even remotely interesting for themselves, but all eyes will be on beam in the second rotation. I really want to see that lineup, and I really want to see how they manage to recover. This performance will tell us whether SECs was a fluke or whether this is something we should be worried about going into nationals, a la 2011 with the beam meltdown heard round the world.

My instinct is certainly on the fluke side more than the problem side. We should see a recovery at regionals, but more than the hitting, the quality of the hit will be important to watch because there are several routines in that lineup that can get stuck in the 9.850s even when hit. That will not keep pace with Oklahoma, boasting what is apparently a whole lineup of 9.975s depending on whether you're a judge at Big 12s or not. We need to see more than just hits, we need to see 9.9s from people who aren't Bridget Sloan. At SECs, Florida put together three rotations that are on track to be national-title quality (not there yet, but on track), but if that's actually going to happen, they can't give away .050-.075 per beam routine to Oklahoma. It's too close for that.     

Stanford, Illinois, Arkansas 

Here's the thing. Stanford should qualify. Stanford is the most talented team of this contending group, but my confidence in that happening is wisps if anything at all. Not after the solid 197 that Illinois enjoyed at Big Tens and not with how generally nervous Stanford makes me at every moment, how variable their performances are, and how fleeting amazingness has tended to be. That's why Stanford never gets to be a sure bet. There's always that doubt. Which isn't helped by Arkansas's presence as a wildly dangerous 4th seed. I'm including Arkansas in this group because Arkansas is the quintessential spoiler. That's what this team does. I do think that if Stanford or Illinois hit to potential, Arkansas cannot match that score. But if both teams are a little tight in these high-pressure circumstances (it doesn't even have to be a fall, just a couple landings and a couple tenths here and there), then Arkansas is right in this. 

March 28, 2015

Norman Regional Preview

It begins. Just one week until the best day of the college gymnastics year. It finally starts to matter! Over the next few days, I'll be going through each of the regionals and breaking down the main things to watch for in each competition as we bite our fingernails and giggle like unhinged death-row inmates about who is going to advance to nationals. I'll begin with the top-seeded Oklahoma Sooners and their home regional, which will begin at 5:00 ET/2:00 PT on Saturday.

Competing teams (starting event)
[1] Oklahoma (bars)
[12] Oregon State (bye before bars)
[13] Penn State (beam)
[22] Southern Utah (bye before floor)
[27] Missouri (vault)
[34] NC State (floor)

Competing individuals are from Lindenwood (Valeri Ingui - AA; Kierstin Sokolowski - AA; Courtney Heise - bars), Arizona State (Taylor Allex - AA; Natasha Sundby - floor), Illinois-Chicago (Gabrielle May - AA), SEMO (Ashley Thomas - AA), Northern Illinois (Amanda Stepp - vault), and Illinois State (Sami King - beam).


It's a significant milestone for Oklahoma to come in as the #1 seed, breaking Florida's four-year streak of being the #1 overall regionals seed, but I'm not going to spend too much time on Oklahoma right now. There will be plenty of opportunity for that once the nationals previews roll around because if Oklahoma were to be eliminated at this point, it would be one of the biggest upsets ever at regionals. The #1 team, undefeated, competing at home? Come on. They would have to count at least a couple falls. Probably 20.

As often happens at regionals, the best teams get sort of overlooked on the day, especially if a rotation and a half goes by and they're already ahead by a million tenths and clearly going to win, which I pretty much expect to happen here. The focus tends to turn to the real battles to make nationals, but there are still a couple areas in Oklahoma's performances to keep half an eye on with nationals in mind, particularly cleaning up some of those bars handstands from last weekend and continuing to hone those vault landings that I've been harping on lately. Unlike Oklahoma teams of a few years ago, this team should not be in a position to give up any ground to any other team on vault (they were at home and got a 49.4 last weekend, while LSU and Florida were away getting 49.5 and 49.6). To keep pace on vault this year, it's not about stepping for 9.900. It's about having multiple 9.950s. Because you better believe Sloan, Hunter, and McMurtry can not-stick for 9.950. That's the pace that's being set that every other team has to match. 

Oregon State and Penn State

But let's get to the real stuff. This regional is about Oregon State and Penn State in what should be one of the most entertaining showdowns next Saturday. I expect it to go back and forth all afternoon. These two teams were in the exact same position last year, coming into regionals as the #12 and #13 teams and fighting it out for the second spot, with Penn State ultimately coming out on top by two tenths, making it to nationals for just the second time in the last decade. That also marked the second-straight year that Oregon State failed to make nationals, and is exactly what makes regionals so important for the Beavs this year. They have to make it. Three years of missing nationals? Not acceptable for a team that really should be part of the top tier but is on the verge of losing that status. It was only a few years ago (in 2011) that Oregon State finished the regular season as the #3 team in the country, seemed an easy bet to make Super Six, and was even some people's cool, alternative sleeper pick to win. That's gone now.

March 27, 2015

Regional Scoring Comparison

A weekend without women's college gymnastics. What are we going to do? Good thing they've scheduled Jesolo for tomorrow, which I assume was done specifically with us in mind so that we don't have withdrawal symptoms. Very considerate.

I'll get into the real business of regional previews at some point. Perhaps. Maybe. But for now, I have some numbers. They'll be helpful in making any sort of apparatus-based regional prognoses. For each regional, I have assembled a batch of vaguely relevant scores and averages (using home averages for host teams and road averages for everyone else, which should help provide a method to evaluate how much boost the host teams may get from being at home). Each score is followed by the team's ranking within the regional in that category, with blue indicating that a team is overperforming its seeding in that category and that other weird color indicating that a team is underperforming its seeding in that category. That should give a quick glance at what some of the danger areas are for each team, as well as where those teams might pick up some ground. You'll see that, as expected, the category rankings for the Morgantown and Berkeley regionals are all over place. They'll be the most fun.


[1] Oklahoma
RQS: 197.895 [1]
Season high: 198.500 [1]
Season average: 197.675 [1]
Home average: 197.963 [1]
VT RQS: 49.495 [1]
VT average: 49.456 [1]
Home VT average: 49.494 [1]
UB RQS: 49.475 [1]
UB average: 49.408 [1]
Home UB average: 49.413 [1]
BB RQS: 49.530 [1]
BB average: 49.363 [1]
Home BB average: 49.544 [1]
FX RQS: 49.560 [1]
FX average: 49.448 [1]
Home FX average: 49.513 [1]

[2] Oregon State
RQS: 196.680 [2]
Season high: 197.250 [2]
Season average: 196.352 [2]
Road average: 196.592 [2]
VT RQS: 49.285 [3]
VT average: 49.155 [3]
Road VT average: 49.175 [3]
UB RQS: 49.215 [2]

UB average: 48.998 [4]
Road UB average: 49.113 [3]

BB RQS: 49.145 [2]
BB average: 49.059 [2]
Road BB average: 49.092 [2]
FX RQS: 49.360 [2]
FX average: 49.141 [2]
Road FX average: 49.213 [2]

[3] Penn State
RQS: 196.665 [3]
Season high: 197.025 [3]
Season average: 196.282 [3]
Road average: 196.321 [3]
VT RQS: 49.310 [2]
VT average: 49.205 [2]
Road VT average: 49.271 [2]
UB RQS: 49.180 [3]
UB average: 49.089 [2]
Road UB average: 49.125 [2]
BB RQS: 49.125 [3]
BB average: 48.945 [3]
Road BB average: 48.979 [3]
FX RQS: 49.190 [3]
FX average: 49.043 [3]
Road FX average: 48.946 [3]

[4] Southern Utah
RQS: 196.100 [4]
Season high: 196.475 [4]
Season average: 195.644 [4]
Road average: 195.529 [4]
VT RQS: 49.055 [4]
VT average: 48.979 [4]
Road VT average: 48.946 [5]
UB RQS: 49.095 [4]
UB average: 49.025 [3]
Road UB average: 48.975 [4]
BB RQS: 49.045 [4]
BB average: 48.773 [4]
Road BB average: 48.850 [4]
FX RQS: 49.060 [5]
FX average: 48.867 [5]
Road FX average: 48.758 [5]

[5] Missouri
RQS: 195.720 [5]
Season high: 196.150 [6]
Season average: 195.131 [5]
Road average: 195.125 [6]
VT RQS: 49.030 [6]
VT average: 48.935 [6]
Road VT average: 48.883 [6]
UB RQS: 48.975 [5]
UB average: 48.775 [5]
Road UB average: 48.725 [6]
BB RQS: 48.890 [5]
BB average: 48.552 [5]
Road BB average: 48.788 [5]
FX RQS: 49.120 [4]
FX average: 48.869 [4]
Road FX average: 48.721 [6]

[6] NC State
RQS: 195.385 [6]
Season high: 196.175 [5]
Season average: 194.746 [6]
Road average: 195.250 [5]
VT RQS: 49.045 [5]
VT average: 48.950 [5]
Road VT average: 48.963 [4]
UB RQS: 48.885 [6]
UB average: 48.650 [6]
Road UB average: 48.763 [5]
BB RQS: 48.720 [6]
BB average: 48.484 [6]
Road BB average: 48.663 [6]
FX RQS: 48.905 [6]
FX average: 48.661 [6]
Road FX average: 48.863 [4]

March 23, 2015

Regional Selection

Once again, we have been graced with a totally necessary selection show to announce which 19th-36th ranked teams have been distributed into which regional championships (I CAN'T WAIT). It was originally supposed to begin at 3:00 ET but was bumped to 3:30 ET because that's how we roll in the world of NCAA gymnastics. Fashionably late. Or just late. Without telling anyone.

Here is what we learned:

1) The NCAA really loves an over-dramatic opening montage. Selecting the regionals is like the Olympics x every important moment of your life + a million. Lesson learned.

2) Also, some regionals or whatever.


[1] Oklahoma
[12] Oregon State
[13] Penn State
Southern Utah
NC State

[5] Alabama
[8] Auburn
[17] Minnesota
George Washington

[4] LSU ("Lymeenis Hall"?)
[9] Nebraska
[16] Denver
Michigan State
Iowa State


[2] Florida
[11] Stanford
[14] Illinois
New Hampshire
West Virginia
(Tsikhanovich from Bridgeport is in this regional)

[6] Michigan
[7] UCLA
[18] Arizona
Central Michigan
Ohio State

[3] Utah
[10] Georgia
[15] Boise State
Utah State

It's a pretty straightforward distribution. There are threats in every regional, but that West Virginia one may be the most interesting. Florida, Stanford, Illinois, and Arkansas all together. Stanford is going to have to get on those beam routines. Also, Cal was always going to be the most dangerous of the unseeded hosts. They'll attempt to sink their claws into Utah, Georgia, and Boise State, and could be a real threat if Georgia is having one of those Georgia beam days.

The semifinals look like they're pretty well balanced, but Auburn and Nebraska won't love that setup should they advance to nationals because Oklahoma/LSU/Alabama is a pretty tough trio to break into. If all the regionals seeding go to plan, the second semifinal looks like the one with more upset potential.

I'll have more thoughts as we get closer. Regionals will take place throughout the day on April 4th.

March 21, 2015

Conference Championships Saturday!

Saturday, March 21
11:30 ET/8:30 PT – Big Ten Championship Session 1 (Ann Arbor, MI) (Scores) (Stream, w/ TV subscription)
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – ECAC Championship (New Haven, CT) (Stream, w/ subscription)
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – SEC Championship Session 1 (Duluth, GA) (Scores) (SECN Stream)
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – MAC Championship (Kent, OH) (Scores) (Stream)
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Pac-12 Championship Session 1 (Salt Lake City, UT) (Scores) (Stream, w/ TV subscription)
4:30 ET/1:30 PT – Big Ten Championship Session 2 (Ann Arbor, MI) (Scores) (Stream, w/ TV subscription)
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – MIC Championship (Denton, TX) (Scores) (Stream)
6:00 ET/3:00 PT – SEC Championship Session 2 (Duluth, GA) (Scores) (SECN Stream)
6:00 ET/3:00 PT – Big 12 Championship (Norman, OK)
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Mountain Rim Championship (Denver, CO) (Scores) (CSL Stream)
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Pac-12 Championship Session 2 (Salt Lake City, UT) (Scores) (Stream, w/ TV subscription)
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – MPSF Championship (Anchorage, AK) (Scores) (Stream)

It's happening. And it's going to be a long day. Make sure you have your provisions. Lots of snacks. More booze. Your shrine to Stella Umeh. The usual. I'll start blogging in earnest around 2:00 ET with the start of the SEC Championship.

Note that the EAGL Championship isn't until tomorrow, which will be surprising if you're me and thought it was today. It was originally supposed to be today, as all conference championships are, but George Washington wasn't able to host because of another scheduling conflict (why aren't these things worked out in advance?), so now it's tomorrow at Towson.

Week 10 rankings - (GymInfo)

March 20, 2015

SEC Championship Preview

Heads up. The conference championships are tomorrow, and things get started earlier than normal with the first session of Big Tens beginning at 11:30 ET. I'll be popping in and out blogging throughout the day, paying special attention to the evening sessions from Pac-12s and SECs. Can you believe we actually get to watch the SEC Championship? Live. With our eyes. It's a brand new world.

So let's get right to what we'll be looking at tomorrow using our eye holes. As with the Pac-12, I'll break the competition down by session because that's an organizing principle that helps make things less rambling (allegedly), but keep in mind as I talk about the top-ranked teams that Georgia is also a team. Even though they're in the day session, they're right in this thing for a good score and a competitive finish. Adhering to the seedings and finishing 5th would be a disappointing result, but the title race is likely to come down to the top three seeds, Florida, LSU, and Alabama. Although wouldn't it be the highlight of your life if Auburn won?

EVENING SESSION: Florida, LSU, Alabama, Auburn

Florida enters as the top-ranked team and the easiest pick to win, but LSU does have a victory over Florida this year and is pretty much on par with the Gators in most areas, and probably stronger in a couple. The Sloan and Courville factors will be fascinating to watch. Courville has missed some serious time lately, but LSU needs her badly—especially on bars. Sloan is just trying to get back into the AA at the perfect time, but she still has some rust on beam and hasn't done floor yet. The fight will be to see which AA star is able to contribute more championship-caliber routines. That could be decisive given how evenly matched these teams are in so many areas. If you're suddenly missing a crucial 9.950 that you usually rely on, that's everything. Alabama should be able to put the pressure on both these teams and place well, but to actually win this thing, they'll have to step up the quality to a level we haven't seen yet. The capability is there, but winning may very well take a 197.900 or more, which Alabama hasn't brought this year, even at home. Let's get to it.

Rotation 1 (Florida vault, LSU bars, Alabama beam, Auburn floor)

As the top-ranked team, Florida gets the benefit of the best rotation order and should be able to take advantage of that for an early lead. If the Gators aren't winning after the first rotation, something will have gone wrong and we'll all be tittering with the excitement of things not going to plan. I love when things don't go to plan as long as they don't involve me. Florida has broken 49.500 in four of the last five meets, and that's the minimum level of scoring I expect in this meet from a lineup that has clearly improved over last year and ends with Baker, Sloan, Hunter, and McMurtry. Hunter and McMurtry have to do poor vaults to go as low as 9.900, and while Florida does occasionally have a case of the bounce-a-thons (though mostly earlier in the season), they're also the team most likely to get a good vault score even without sitcking because those final four vaulters give away nothing in form, distance, amplitude etc. That's a tough group to match.

Alabama has the unfortunate task of starting on beam, not just because beam is a horror but because it's the hardest event to get a huge score on. That means even if they have a good rotation, they'll probably be starting from a hole. I really do enjoy this beam lineup and was pleased to see things finally come together in the most recent meet after too many consistency problems early in the year. If you haven't seen Keely McNeer do beam in a while, she's lovely and sets up the lineup perfectly for the dance-element clinic named Aja Sims and the classic bam-bam Bama routines from Williams, Beers, and Clark. Depending on how well they stick the parade of 1.5 dismounts, 49.4 is realistic. Overall, this beam rotation will give us a good sense of whether it's an Alabama day. If they get the scores on beam, they should be able to hang right with Florida and LSU for the next couple rotations on vault and floor and make a legitimate run at the title. But up until last weekend, Alabama had three consecutive meets of 49.225, and the competition here is too strong to get away with that kind of score. Suddenly you're three tenths behind and trying to make up ground against Bridget Sloan's bars and Jessie Jordan's beam, which is sort of a lost cause.

Like Alabama, LSU is in a major pressure situation in the first rotation because bars remains the big question-mark event. The performance in the most recent meet against Centenary was uncommonly rough and sorely lacked a dose of Courville, but it does highlight the fact that this rotation has the fewest likely 9.9s of all the LSU events. They'll need to use at least two of Gnat, Hambrick, and Savona, all of whom have made tremendous strides as bars workers in the last year or so, but bars is still not the ideal event for any of them. The lineup sometimes ends up being Courville and a lot of supporting 9.850s, which is good for a 49.3 but not the 49.450-49.500 that pretty much every rotation is going to need to score To get that big score, LSU needs to bring back those suck-it-because-we're-better-on-bars-than-you-think-we-are resentment sticks that so impressed everyone in the first meet of the season. For people like Jordan and Zamardi, that can turn their 9.850s into vital 9.900s. They need to do some anger bars.

The bars score is my primary hesitation in predicting LSU to win this championship. I'm worried the rotation will be a little flat. But if they do bring the sticks and shed those average scores, then I'm confident enough in the next three events to consider this meet completely even. At that point, it could just as easily go to LSU or Florida, and we'd be in for a real treat for three more rotations. Let's hope we get it. Question: if you're putting together that LSU bars lineup, do you go with Gnat or Hambrick?

Auburn is playing with the big girls now, so while Auburn has been amazing this season, we have to evaluate this team not just on the scale of their own improvement or capabilities but in comparison to the best teams in the conference. Auburn's floor is good. It can be a real asset, especially when Caitlin Atkinson is in the lineup and getting her 9.9s. I particularly appreciate the commitment to difficulty through most of the lineup coupled with the pragmatism to downgrade some of those piked full-ins to tucked in order to give away less in chest position and landing control. But at the same time, most of these floor routines are more 9.850 than 9.900, which becomes a consideration in a meet where 197.9 is the expectation and everyone will be shooting rainbows of 9.9s out of every orifice. It's a strange world where 9.850 is a score that can take you out of contention, but that's where we are. Floor 9.850s could keep them in the respectable low 197s instead of the rarefied high 197s. If Auburn is going to stay in the picture and not be the afterthought of the late session, that will require a couple 9.9s in the opening rotation.

March 19, 2015

Pac-12 Championship Preview

EVENING SESSION (Utah, UCLA, Oregon State, Stanford):

Now that Utah is part of the Pac-12, it seems like we always go into the Pac-12 Championship with pretty much the same story. Utah is the highest-ranked and most consistent team, the safest pick to win, but UCLA might be the more talented group if they can actually put it together. Stanford is the dangerous floater who has enough concentrated pretty to beat anyone on any day but might also fall 100 times, and Oregon State always looks like the fourth-best option but then sometimes wins. Every time I've done a preview of Pac-12 Championships, it has been a variation on that same story. This time, it's pretty much the same setup again, except Utah enters in a stronger place compared to the last few years. This year's Utah team is sturdier on beam and even deeper on vault (not to mention the bonus of being home team), and it would be an upset if Utah fails to win. Let's break this thing down by rotation.

Rotation 1 (Utah vault, UCLA bars, Oregon State beam, Stanford floor)

The rotation order couldn't have worked out better in terms of giving us an early sense of who's really in the meet. We'll know after the first rotation which teams are legitimate challengers for the title because the Utes begin on their best event while the three other teams all begin on their weakest events. The teams that haven't figured out their weakness will be in a 0.500 hole after 11 minutes, and it's hard to see a team coming back from that without the help of a Utah mistake.

A 0.500 hole after the first rotation is a realistic possibility because vault is the one event where Utah can truly pull away from the field. The Utes are the #1 team in the country on vault and have been breaking 49.500 all over the place, especially at home. They'll need to show that 49.500 vaulting again on Saturday. Sure, they can win this meet without hitting 49.500 on vault, but looking toward nationals, there's no way Utah contends with the top three without some 49.500 vaulting, at least 49.500. They have too many 9.9s to expect any less, with the usual big three of Dabritz, Delaney, and Wilson, who now have the benefit of nearly equivalent vaults from Lee and Partyka.

UCLA will need to keep things relatively close at the outset on bars, and has the talent to do so, but bars has been a real adventure this year. An adventure called The Chronicles of 9.650. Francis has been a shining beacon of stuck double pikes in the first spot, but for the Bruins, the focus will be on getting through the next three routines intact so that they can hand things off to the 9.9s from Peszek and Lee. Because Peszek and Lee have such high scoring potential, UCLA can get away with 9.825-9.850s from Meraz, Mossett, and DeJesus (DeJesus has the potential for more but has looked sloppier this season) and still be in reasonable contention for a 49.400, but they have to be 9.825s. Not those 9.6s and 9.7s.

It has been a somewhat similar story for Oregon State this year on beam. Beam hasn't been a great event for the Beavs post-Leslie Mak, but it really should be much better. Maddie Gardiner and Chelsea Tang are both excellent beamers for realistic 9.9s, so if everyone else can get their 9.825s, that makes for a solid rotation score that can keep them in contention as they go to the higher-scoring events. The problem is how infrequently that has actually happened. Too often, they've been caught by a little inconsistency and more than a little case of the early-rotation 9.7s. It will be a recurring theme that Oregon State is just a couple early-lineup routines away from being a really good team. 

As for Stanford on floor, it's all about the Ebee. No rotation in this competition needs a single gymnast more than Stanford's floor needs Price. Once again this season, Stanford has been a little too average and flat on floor. There's just not enough going on there. They can pull together a rotation of 9.850s, but that's not competitive with the teams throwing up easy 9.9s in spots 4, 5, and 6. Price has competed on floor once this year, performed a medium-quality routine by her standards, and scored a 9.975. If she's available, 49.3s-49.4s are suddenly completely doable. It not, that puts so much pressure on bars and beam to be perfect at the end of the meet because they will be giving up ground right from the start. 

March 16, 2015

Week 10 Rankings and Final RQS Scenarios

Dear everyone, you're a tremendous disappointment. The end. It was the final week of the regular season, and you couldn't even manage a single 198? No 10s for falls? Worthless. The most insane thing that happened over the weekend was that time Tory Wilson's arm died in the middle of her final pass and she still got a 9.650, and that was barely surprising. Plus, all the seniors are getting married immediately upon finishing their final beam routines even though they were junior elites 4 months ago. Is college gymnastics just an elaborate dating website and no one informed me?

With just one week of meets remaining until we get our regional on, it's time for another look at how  regional placement would work if the season ended today, which gives us a chance to see which teams currently find themselves in disastrous scenarios that they need to get themselves out of. I'm talking to you, Oregon State. Oregon State has missed nationals two years in a row, and getting paired with Oklahoma and Stanford would make an ignominious three-peat a little too possible.

REGIONAL 1: [1] Oklahoma (host), [12] Oregon State, [13] Stanford
REGIONAL 2: [2] Florida, [11] Penn State, [14] Denver
REGIONAL 3: [3] LSU, [10] Nebraska, [15] Boise State
REGIONAL 4: [4] Utah, [9] Georgia, [16] Illinois
REGIONAL 5: [5] Alabama, [8] Auburn (host), [17] Arizona
REGIONAL 6: [6] Michigan, [7] UCLA, [18] Arkansas

The main criticism I usually level at the regional seed organization system is that, since two teams advance from each regional competition, the best teams end up with the toughest challengers (the #1 team getting the #13 team as its 3rd seed), while the weaker teams get the easier challengers (the #6 and #7 teams getting the #18 team as a 3rd seed). But this year, the quality of the #3 seeds is high enough across the board that all the regionals would contain legitimate challengers if this ended up as the final scenario, and some of the lower-ranked top seeds would have some of the toughest 3rd seeds. That Michigan/UCLA/Arkansas regional would be no fun. For them. Tons of fun for us, just like the potential Oregon State/Stanford pairing and the Alabama/Auburn repeat pairing. And don't forget about Cal, a dangerous host team still currently lurking outside the seeded spots.

Still, there's one more meet to go and a lot of positional maneuvering to do, so let's get to the rankings. I have included each team's maximum possible RQS after conference championships to provide a sense of how high each team can possibly climb. I've also extended the rankings down through all teams capable of sneaking into the top 36 and advancing to regionals.

Week 10 rankings - (GymInfo)
1. Oklahoma – 197.860
Week 10: 197.725
Week 10 leaders: AA - None; VT - Scaman 9.950; UB - Wofford 9.900; BB - Clark 9.925; FX - Dowell, Brown 9.925

Road Score 1: 198.150
Road Score 2: 197.875
Road Score 3: 197.725
Road/Home Score 1: 198.500
Road/Home Score 2: 197.850
Road/Home Score 3: 197.700

Maximum RQS: 198.020

With the highest maximum RQS, the Sooners still control their destiny when it comes to the #1 ranking, but it's much more of a fight than you might think based on Oklahoma's season-long stranglehold on the top spot, having held it for the last 3 billion weeks. Because Florida has a pretty low score still to drop, Oklahoma would need a 198.175 at Big 12s to guarantee season-ending #1. It's possible, especially at home. They've certainly done it before, but a 198 is never an easy score.

The other consideration right now for Oklahoma is the injury to Erica Brewer, suddenly making the Sooner lineups a bit more questionable than they were before (if she's not able to return quickly). Natalie Brown did perform well as a replacement over the weekend, with lower difficulty but clean gymnastics. If they need to keep using her on floor, it might not be a bad idea to pull a Bridgey and keep her in the final spot.

2. Florida – 197.750
Week 10: 197.900
Week 10 leaders: AA - Hunter 39.675; VT - Sloan 9.950; UB - Sloan 10.000; BB - Boyce 9.925; FX - Hunter 9.975

Road Score 1: 198.100
Road Score 2: 197.425
Road Score 3: 197.200
Road/Home Score 1: 198.225
Road/Home Score 2: 198.125
Road/Home Score 3: 197.900

Maximum RQS: 197.955

Florida's streak of four-straight years finishing the season at #1 is under severe threat. Still, the Gators do remain the only team with a shot at unseating Oklahoma for the top spot, with a relatively modest 197.200 that can be dropped with strong performance at SECs. At minimum, the Gators need a 197.775 at SECs to have a chance to move ahead of the Sooners, which is pretty realistic. If Florida doesn't get a high 197 at SECs, it will count as a missed meet. It's time to bring the quality. To win SECs, it's going to take at least a high 197, if not a 198. 

3. LSU – 197.630
Week 10: 197.275
Week 10 leaders: AA - None; VT - Savona 9.950; UB - Wyrick 9.875; BB - Jordan, Gnat 9.950; FX - Hall 10.000

Road Score 1: 197.425
Road Score 2: 197.350
Road Score 3: 197.350
Road/Home Score 1: 198.375
Road/Home Score 2: 198.075
Road/Home Score 3: 197.950

Maximum RQS: 197.835

LSU was not able to record a counting score last weekend after a bars issue in the very first rotation. It should be noted that they did elect to rest a number of contributors in that meet before everything starts to get real, but that score does mean that LSU can no longer challenge for the #1 ranking. The Tigers can still possibly move ahead of Florida, but that will be challenging as well since the deficit is now more than a tenth. LSU would need at least a 197.975 at SECs to move ahead of Florida, and probably more than that since Florida should easily eclipse that drop-able 197.200. The biggest concern for LSU right now is getting Courville back in the AA. These teams at the top are too good for LSU to be able to survive without a 100% Courville.

4. Utah – 197.605
Week 10: 197.275
Week 10 leaders: AA - Wilson 39.275; VT - Lee 9.925; UB - Dabritz 9.975; BB - Rowe, Stover 9.900; FX - Tutka 9.925

Road Score 1: 197.850
Road Score 2: 197.275
Road Score 3: 197.025
Road/Home Score 1: 198.250
Road/Home Score 2: 198.050
Road/Home Score 3: 197.825

Maximum RQS: 197.690

You alright there, Utah? What was that floor rotation exactly? Are we past that? OK, good. Like LSU, Utah had one bad event over the weekend that prevented them from taking advantage of a golden opportunity to move into the top 3. Because the Utes are coming to the rescue of Mess-izona State and emergency hosting Pac-12s, they don't have much room to move up in RQS anymore since all those road scores have to count. They could still potentially move ahead of LSU, but likewise would need a 197.975 at Pac-12s for a shot, along with some help from LSU, so #4 seems the most likely finish. They'll be fine with that.

March 14, 2015

[4] Utah @ [10] Georgia Live Blog

Before we get to today's good old-fashioned Georgia/Utah showdown, some early action has already gone down today with the first of two Big Ten Pre-Championships. The biggest story of that meet was Nebraska continuing to be stressful. It's never easy with Nebraska, is it? The Huskers had a great beam rotation this time (which we know they're always capable of, though isn't a given), but a good score was already a lost cause after an opening bars rotation with two sub-8 scores. No coming back from that, especially with a bunch of 9.7s on floor as well. Those floor 9.7s are nothing new for Nebraska (it seems like they're always getting 9.7s on floor right up until championships and it's not a problem come nationals), but this total score will preclude them from finishing the season ranked any higher than 9th. [Actually, there is still a chance to move ahead of Auburn next week, depending.]

In spite of Nebraska's issues, Illinois was only barely able to win the meet with an OK performance (196.050 to Nebraska's 196.000) that also featured too many 9.7s, scores that cannot happen if they're going to win one of those tight regionals tussles for the second spot like they usually do.

Third place came down right to the final routine, with Ohio State and Michigan State going neck-and-neck for most of the meet. A final Lisa Burt 9.775 on bars meant the two teams finished tied for third. With the top three teams advancing to the evening session of Big Tens, they had to go to the sixth-score tiebreaker, with Ohio State coming out ahead of Michigan State.

As for Georgia and Utah, the two teams come in with different needs. So far, Utah has put together a very solid regular season full of consistent meets, barring that one beam hiccup that seems to have been just a blip (we'll see), so the biggest question for Utah right now is what level of contender this team truly is. Given the season the Utes have had so far, Super Six is an expectation. They need to make it back this year, but would making Super Six alone be considered a victory? Or can this team do more? That's the main issue I'll have in mind watching Utah today, and at conference championships. How does this team compare to what we're seeing right now from Florida, Oklahoma, and LSU, all of whom had moments of greatness and moments of iffiness yesterday?

In the rankings, the Utes have a golden opportunity today to make the argument that they're right with that top group. Given LSU's bars struggles and lowish score yesterday, Utah needs just a 197.400 today to pass LSU in the rankings, which is quite realistic. They could possibly jump ahead of Florida as well, but would require a 198.025, which is also doable but a much bigger challenge. Another factor for Utah is that, like Oklahoma, they have gone undefeated so far this season but have not yet faced a road meet with a large crowd and challenging atmosphere until this weekend, so this is a necessary test to pass heading toward championships.

For Georgia, we know it's all about finally getting that 197, which means this meet takes on much more importance. As for the rankings, because Nebraska had a weak score today, the Gym Dogs can move up one spot into 9th if they get that 197 today, but this meet is more about proving that they're not an also-ran, we-don't-have-to-worry-about-them team come championships. Georgia needs to take advantage of senior day with a fully hit meet for a big score.

Helpfully, Brandie Jay is slated to return for Georgia on vault and bars, though not yet on floor. 

March 13, 2015

Friday Live Blog – Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, UCLA, Arkansas

Friday, March 13
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – TWU @ Florida (Scores) (SECN)
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Pittsburgh, Ball State @ Kentucky (Scores) (SECN)
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – George Washington @ Towson (Stream)
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – NC State @ Missouri (Scores) (SECN
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – Temple @ Iowa State (Scores)
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – LSU, New Hampshire @ Centenary (Scores)
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – UCLA @ Arkansas (Scores) (SECN)
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – North Carolina @ Auburn (Scores) (SECN)
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – Oklahoma @ Alabama (Scores) (SECN)
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Cal, Boise State @ Southern Utah (Scores) (Stream)
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Air Force @ Arizona State (Scores) (Pac-12)
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – BYU @ Utah State (Scores)
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – Washington @ UC Davis (Scores)

Week 9 rankings (GymInfo)

We're on the home stretch now. This is the last Friday live blog of the season. Well, second to last. We still have semifinal day on April 17th, but that's different animal. Starting next weekend, it's all about the Saturdays as we head to conference championships and then regionals. 

I'll be here from 7:00 ET/4:00 PT, beginning with Florida's senior night meet against TWU. It's an SEC Network+ kind of night, with six separate meets going on.

March 12, 2015

The Weekend Ahead – March 13th-15th

It's the last weekend of normal meets, people. Fortunately, we've been presented with a worthy slate of action and a few top-10 clashes to mark this not-very-momentous-but-whatever occasion. There's still a lot of jockeying for Regionals placements to do this week, in addition to a couple meets where the winner is actually sort of in doubt (!), but one of the most interesting side stories this weekend will be the solidifying of final lineups. It's like an extreme sport, expect with a lot fewer motorcycles and a lot more columns drawn on pieces of paper. My kind of extreme sport. 

While there may still be some pre-championships strategic resting going on, especially for teams that have been loading in the big meets this month, most teams prefer to get their final lineups set by the time championship season arrives. That way, all the competitors have time to develop some level of comfort in their positions before it really matters. So, some of the lineups in which we've seen quite a bit of flux (Alabama's bars and floor, LSU's vault, UCLA's everything, a couple of the Florida lineups where Bridget Sloan has returned to shake things up) will be worth watching this weekend to see who's really in favor and who isn't. (I MEAN EVERYONE'S IN FAVOR BECAUSE THEY'RE ALL A TEAM OF SISTERS.)

In the rankings, Oklahoma is sitting pretty at #1, but Florida, LSU, and Utah are all extremely tightly bunched in the race for #2. Florida is currently in the lead position, but the Gators also have the highest score to drop with a 197.600, meaning they can gain the least. LSU is right behind with a 197.350 to drop, while Utah is in fourth but still has a 196.900 to drop. What this means is, for instance, if all three teams were to score a 198.000 this weekend (not outside the realm of possibility), Florida would come out with a 197.770 RQS, to LSU's 197.760, to Utah's 197.750. Couldn't really be much closer. Though all these teams are quite safe in the ever-important top-6 race to clinch a #1 seed at Regionals.

The current top 6 (Oklahoma, Florida, LSU, Utah, Alabama, Michigan) are probably safe this weekend, though UCLA does have a shot at supplanting Michigan if the Wolverines score under 196.975 and the Bruins go 197.450+ at Arkansas. Possible. Of course, if Michigan does break 197 in Minnesota, then the required score for UCLA increases.

Because when you think of UCLA scoring a 197.450, you think of Peng.

In the hunt for those crucial top-18 seeded spots, all the teams from 17-20 (Arizona, Denver, Cal, Minnesota) are fairly close together and all have a mid-195 to get rid of this weekend. They're all more than capable of that score, so be on 196-watch for all those teams. Those who do it will be on the inside track to seedhood.

Now, let's talk meets. Friday's action begins with Florida hosting Texas Woman's University on senior night, so get your 10 banners out. It's Kytra Hunter's senior night. If she doesn't get at least two 10s, she will burn the vaulting table to the ground. Later on, UCLA heads to Arkansas. Doesn't it seem like UCLA is perpetually in Arkansas? Whenever Arkansas hosts a Regional, UCLA is in it, and now they're back. The Bruins should be able to win this one comfortably given their current form, but as was the case in Arkansas's face-off with Georgia last weekend, this meet will be within a fall of becoming a thing, especially since we're in Arkansas. The Bruins do appear to have finally hit upon a bars lineup that won't need to count 9.6s and a fairly trustworthy beam lineup, as far as UCLA beam goes, helped by the discovery of Sonya Meraz's sturdiness in the leadoff spot. As long as they have Sam Peszek's leap series worked out now (hint: switch leap + switch leap = no me gusta).

March 9, 2015

Week 9 Rankings and RQS Update

Remember back in ancient times last week when the pace of 10s had started to slow down? Me neither. There were a billion of them over the weekend. Welcome to senior night scoring. Expect more of the same this coming week. It's a little frustrating because when you're giving out 10s for vaults that aren't stuck just because it's a senior's last home meet, it cheapens the 10. It shouldn't just be a gesture. But it's also sort of hilarious. Not ha-ha hilarious, but more am-I-having-a-mental-collapse, is-this-even-a-real-sport hilarious.

Oklahoma won the weekend with a 198.500, which isn't quite at the level of the 198.8s that were being thrown out in 2004, but it is the highest score we've seen in a while in a meet featuring a downright alarming number of 9.9s for both sides. In all, four teams broke the 198 barrier this week, and UCLA came just short of making it five. These kids today with their 198s. Back in my time, if you wanted a 198, you had to get out the checkbook and buy it yourself. You know, the good old days.

Senior night scoring sure makes everyone seem amazing and ready for the postseason. That's not necessarily true, but the level of hitting does make me ready for championship season to see how it all plays out in less fanciful and creative circumstances. Hopefully, everything will come down to earth once we get to four judges, if for no other reason than the beautiful number of passive aggressive coach interviews we'll get whining about 9.850s. The best. 

For now, let's look at where everyone stands with one week of regular meets remaining before conference championships, with particular emphasis on possible ranking and RQS scenarios. The biggest news for now is that Georgia will not be able to pass Auburn before SEC Championships in Duluth, meaning that Auburn will be in the evening session and Georgia will be in the day session. A coup. I just hope that means there isn't a mass exodus of Georgia fans after the first session.

Week 9 Rankings (GymInfo)
1. Oklahoma – 197.845
Week 9: 198.500
Week 9 leaders: AA - None; VT - Scaman 9.950; UB - Dowell 9.950; BB - Brewer 10.000; FX - Scaman 10.000

Road Score 1: 198.150
Road Score 2: 197.875
Road Score 3: 197.700
Road/Home Score 1: 198.500
Road/Home Score 2: 197.850
Road/Home Score 3: 197.650

The Sooners have comfortably eclipsed their final RQS from 2014, which was 197.775, and can now set their sights on beating Florida's top RQS from last season, 197.895. They can do it with a 197.925 away at Alabama on Friday. Judging by last Friday's result and the presumed scoring situation we'll have in Alabama, that seems doable. The RQS record is UCLA's 198.055 from 2004, which is potentially within reach, but it would take a couple more 198s in the final two meets. Possible but tough. I'm excited for that Alabama meet. While the Sooners have had plenty of road meets, they haven't had any big-crowd, tough-environment road meets yet. And because their conference championship is relatively low key, and their Regional will be at home, this meet is a necessary hurdle before Nationals. 

2. Florida – 197.690
Week 9: 198.100
Week 9 leaders: AA - Hunter 39.750; VT - McMurtry 9.975; UB - Sloan 9.975; BB - Hunter 9.975; FX - Hunter, Caquatto 9.925

Road Score 1: 198.100
Road Score 2: 197.425
Road Score 3: 197.200
Road/Home Score 1: 198.225
Road/Home Score 2: 198.125
Road/Home Score 3: 197.600

In spite of that disastrously terrible garbage 198.100 in the loss to Oklahoma, the Gators used their several billion 9.975s to jump ahead of LSU for the moment and become the only team with three 198s so far this year. It's difficult to approach this meet from the perspective of what Florida needs to do improve on the loss because they got a 198. Um, stick more everything? Stop getting those hideous 9.875s. Bridget Sloan came back on beam, and everyone feels safer because of it. More 9.9s! She was in for Boyce this time, but I'm interested to see how some of these Boyce, Baker, Fassbender spots play out in the beam and bars lineups as we head toward SECs. It's not that usual to see Florida playing with lineups this late, but I like it. I'm always in favor of playing with lineups until the end rather than settling on what worked in February and assuming it will be the same. 

Florida will not be able to catch Oklahoma this week, but they do still have a 197.200 to get rid of at SECs, which should allow them to make a bit more of a challenge if they get two big results in a row. Expect senior night to be very senior night.

3. LSU – 197.630
Week 9: 198.375
Week 9 leaders: AA - Gnat 39.725; VT - Courville, Jordan 10.000; UB - Courville 9.925; BB - Gnat 9.925; FX - Hall 10.000

Road Score 1: 197.425
Road Score 2: 197.350
Road Score 3: 197.350
Road/Home Score 1: 198.375
Road/Home Score 2: 198.075
Road/Home Score 3: 197.950

That thing where you get a 198.375 and fall in the rankings. Because Florida was able to record a big road score and the Tigers were at home while holding three solid home scores already, they could not gain much ground. LSU is still lacking that huge road score to rely on, so this weekend they'll need to do exactly what Florida did against Oklahoma if they're to find a way to regain the #2 ranking, though a meet at Centenary doesn't really have that same rah-rah, big-team 9.975 atmosphere.

Courville sat out on beam and floor again this week, which was fine because LSU has enough depth on those events to survive comfortably, but I do think the bars lineup is a bit of a question. It was the weakest event on Friday, clearly feeling the lack of Wyrick and perhaps Ranzy. Ranzy is back on vault now, but if it's at all possible for her to get back on bars, it needs to happen. Gnat and Savona have made great strides, but are they part of the best six? 

March 7, 2015

Saturday Live Blog – UCLA, Stanford, Georgia, Arkansas

Now that everyone has recovered from the American Cup, where Simone Biles won by a million points, everyone got eaten by the pommel horse, dear sweet Oleg stole our hearts, Mykayla Skinner enjoyed some fancy execution scores, and Sam Mikulak continued being every boy you had a crush on when you were 15 in spite of falling twice, it's time to turn our attention back to NCAA for an interesting little Saturday of meets.

Georgia is at home, and it's time for the Gym Dogs to break out with a big 197. They have the gymnastics, at least on 3.5 of the events. They just need to bring it. Now or never. Well, now or next week. Or the week after. Or the week after that. Whatever. Arkansas is so good at getting that solid 196.3 (perhaps higher at a Georgia meet) that can destroy you if you're not on point through all four events.

It's Senior afternoon for Sam Peszek at Pauley, so if last night's senior-night enthusiasm is any indication, she will get a 40.000. Do the back with a full.

Flashback to "Samantha Pessik"

Both UCLA and Stanford appear to be rounding into form now that it's March, as they often do, but neither team should feel very comfortable with the current RQS standard. They'll need to keep up the not-bad today. No excuse for scoring under 197, right? I don't think there is.

March 6, 2015

Friday Live Blog – Michigan, Utah, Alabama, Auburn, LSU

Friday, March 6
6:00 ET/3:00 PT – Arizona, Eastern Michigan @ Michigan State (Scores) (CSL)
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Auburn @ Kentucky (Scores) (SECN)
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – Alabama @ Missouri (Scores) (SECN)
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – Centenary @ SEMO (Scores)
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Florida @ Oklahoma (Scores)
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Iowa State @ Iowa 
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – Minnesota @ LSU (Scores) (SECN)
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Michigan @ Utah (Scores) (Pac-12)
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Alaska @ Boise State (Scores) (Stream)
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Central Michigan @ BYU (Scores)
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Arizona State @ Southern Utah (Scores)
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – NC State @ Washington (Scores) (Pac-12)

A glance at Minnesota before the Gophers take on LSU tonight:

Lots of senior nights tonight, so if you're a fan of people bursting into tears at the end of their floor routines, this is like your Christmas. I'll be here from 7:00 ET/4:00 PT.

March 5, 2015

The Weekend Ahead – March 6th-9th

Elite and NCAA in the same weekend. Worlds colliding. It's very disturbing. It's like two groups of friends meeting for the first time.

That's right, it's American Cup time. So get ready to watch Simone Biles take some names (so she can follow them on instagram) and watch the men look fairly unready to compete the all-around because it's March. Hooray! As always, the American Cup will be preceded by the annual Nastia Liukin NCAA Preview on Friday. The Nastia meet is always a useful glance at the gymnasts who are going to get 9.900s in a couple years, but as is tradition, it takes place at the exact same time as significant meets involving current, actual NCAA gymnasts. Sigh. Tomorrow is very much a multi-screen day. For our immediate purposes, a few of the Nastia competitors will be starting college next season, including Alicia Boren, who will be Florida's new star, Olivia Karas and Emma McLean of Michigan, Macy Toronjo of UCLA, and Makenna Merrell of Utah, so keep an eye on them.

In the rankings, Oklahoma will remain safe at #1. LSU and Florida are quite close together and will be fighting it out for the #2 spot, with the Gators having a slight advantage since they have the weaker score still to drop. Utah has a chance to challenge for a higher ranking but would need at least a 197.700 and some help from either Florida or LSU to move any higher than 4th. Beyond that, with two meets this weekend and a 196.175 to get rid of, Alabama looks the most primed to make a surge toward the top 4, with Auburn in a similarly advantageous position. Both teams should move up with anything resembling normal performances in their meets this weekend. 

It's also worth beginning to look at the top-36 Regionals cutoff. West Virginia is a little too close for comfort right now in 34th place, especially because they're slated to host a Regional this year. It would be rough if they fail to make the top 36. WVU's season high is just a 195.350, which doesn't cut it. They'll need something real against Penn State this Sunday. NC State and George Washington currently occupy the last two spots, with North Carolina, Utah State, and San Jose State all challenging, and we could still see some shifts among that group this weekend.

Friday begins with Auburn and Alabama on the road in what should be comfortable wins for both, but the meets still carry some significance. Auburn has a road 195 to get rid of and could jump right up to challenge #5 Michigan with a solid 197 performance. Alabama is coming off the kind of loss that makes Kayla Williams do Roza-Galieva-face and the whole team needs a mental recovery, not just with a win but with a big mid-197. In other action, LSU will take on Minnesota in a meet that is much more important for Minnesota than LSU. The Gophers are in desperate need of a road 196 to keep them solidly in the top 18 for seeding purposes.

But really, let's get to the good stuff. Florida. At Oklahoma. Yessssss. Clash of the titans. Last year may have ended in a tie, but as far as I'm concerned, this is the tiebreaker. Sadly, it's only available on one of those Fox Sports regional networks that I don't get, but I'm excited about it nonetheless. The Gators still have to prove that those huge 198s are not just a home phenomenon, and they'll probably need exactly that in order to beat Oklahoma in Oklahoma. Florida's highest road score so far this year is a 197.425, and I doubt that's going to get the job done this time.

March 2, 2015

Week 8 Rankings and RQS Update

In week 8, Florida returned home and managed to win the high-score championship for the second time in the last three weeks with another home 198. As is often the case, floor was where things got really enthusiastic as every competitor in the rotation broke 9.900, causing a bit of an uproar as Bridgey Caquatto got a 9.975 in the anchor position, riding the scores from the bigger routines from Baker and Hunter before her.

There's sort of a traditional notion that rotation orders should culminate with the best routine (which would be Hunter's...or Baker's more and more), but Florida has been able to squeeze so many big scores out of Caquatto's routine over the last several years because of the lineup position. I don't know why more teams don't take that cue and manipulate the lineup order to their advantage. Florida will consistently score better on floor finishing with Baker, Hunter, Caquatto than they would with Caquatto, Baker, Hunter. You don't need Kytra in the anchor position because her routine is big, impressive, and famous enough that it doesn't need to be 6th to get a 10.

Sam Peszek's vault was another discussion topic, as she stuck a very strong vault and originally received a 9.925 for it, which is a normal score but was a little silly based on the scores given to the previous vaults in the lineup.

It was ultimately raised to an appropriate 9.950 after Miss Val performed one of her classic interpretive movement pieces entitled "Open Mouth, Silent Outrage, Tears of a Nation." Peszek definitely did not obey the heels-together-post-stick guideline, leaving a pretty big foot separation as she held her stick, but it reinforces the frustration that if you're going to impose stricter standards to the best vaults, you also have to impose the same strict standards to the weaker vaults, otherwise the scores end up being too similar, which happened in UCLA's vault rotation.

In other news, we're moving dangerously close to Regionals with every passing day, so for reference, here is what the Regional placements would look like if the season ended today. We have a lot of hosts this year who aren't currently in the top 18 (Cal, Ohio State, Iowa State, West Virginia), which always makes things a little more interesting.

Regional 1: [1] Oklahoma (HOST), [12] Illinois, [13] Stanford
Regional 2: [2] LSU, [11] Penn State, [14] Boise State
Regional 3: [3] Florida, [10] Georgia, [15] Oregon State
Regional 4: [4] Utah, [9] Auburn (HOST), [16] Minnesota
Regional 5: [5] Michigan, [8] UCLA, [17] Denver
Regional 6: [6] Alabama, [7] Nebraska, [18] Arkansas

Week 8 Rankings – (GymInfo)
1. Oklahoma – 197.740
Week 8: 197.875
Week 8 leaders: AA - None; VT - Capps, Dowell, Scaman 9.925; UB - Scaman 9.925; BB - Capps, Clark, Sorensen 9.925; FX - Jackson, Scaman 9.925

Road Score 1: 198.150
Road Score 2: 197.875
Road Score 3: 197.700
Road/Home Score 1: 197.850
Road/Home Score 2: 197.650
Road/Home Score 3: 197.625

After a couple weeks of normal, Oklahoma jumped back up into the high 197s for the second-highest team score of the season, and did it mostly because of an epic final rotation on beam. That's the beam rotation we've been missing the last few competitions. Things are about to get really interesting for the Sooners now. They've had a couple meets with top teams so far this season (LSU, Michigan) and have come out on top, but with Florida and home and Alabama away in the next two weeks, we'll get a great sense of where they stand in the actual title race heading right into conference championships.

Oklahoma extended the lead over LSU with the performance this weekend, getting rid of a 197.3 and spiffing up the RQS outlook to the point where there aren't really any scores to drop or worry about. It's unlikely that they'll reach a historic RQS this season, but with a 197.825 against Florida on Friday, they can eclipse their final RQS from last season with a couple weeks to spare.

2. LSU – 197.485
Week 8: 197.350
Week 8 leaders: AA - Jordan 39.575; VT - Hambrick 9.925; UB - Courville, Gnat, Jordan 9.875; BB - Jordan 9.900; FX - Jordan 9.925

Road Score 1: 197.425
Road Score 2: 197.350
Road Score 3: 197.350
Road/Home Score 1: 198.075
Road/Home Score 2: 197.950
Road/Home Score 3: 197.350

In spite of the score being 197.350 and relatively pedestrian compared to what we've come to expect from the top schools this season, this was a big win. If LSU needed a further statement that this team is ready to beat everybody, becoming the first team to beat Alabama at Alabama was it. It was not an ideal performance, but they delivered a very strong floor rotation when necessary, and even though the beam score was the lower rotation score on the day, that was a nailed rotation with the exception of a nervy, Kathy-Johnson-destroying routine from Macadaeg. Jessie Jordan's beam routine was the best 9.900 beam routine you'll see this year. I supposed that gets balanced out by some of the charitable bars scores for routines with clear errors.

The Tigers are home against Minnesota this weekend in their home finale, so they will not be able to challenge Oklahoma in the #1 spot even with a season high. It will be hard for LSU to move up from this #2 spot with that guaranteed-to-count 197.425 road score because Oklahoma's current low RQS score is already two-tenths higher than that.