May 4, 2016

I know. I know.

But I think it's time for a site that looks slightly more like something an adult human would have in the current millennium. But only slightly.

You'll hate it for a while, and then you'll get used to it. All the posts and comments are still there, even the oldy old ones in case you want to read about Asi Peko's potential contributions to the UCLA team for some reason (is this no longer relevant??????).

Soon, I'll have this page redirect to the new site, but I wanted to give you a heads up so you know what's happening and can update any bookmarks/shrines to my glory. Feel free to explore the new site. Even though it's exactly the same. I did add a few new menus for quick reference to more of the various post topics (and will add more as time inevitably moves toward Armageddon), but if there are other posts/types you want links to on the main page, just complain about it and I'll hear you somehow.

Also, I'm currently working on another edition of recapping US Olympic Trials broadcast history. Here's a preview.

April 27, 2016

Before They Were NCAA – The 2012 Elites

Now comes the point in the year when we must attempt to wrench ourselves out of an NCAA mindset and pay attention to the elite world again. We're little more than a month away from Classic now, so the Mad Max remake that masquerades as the US Olympic selection process is soon to reach its familiarly feverish levels. "Do we actually need a bars specialist?" he asks, sharpening an abandoned femur into a spear.

As a bridge between the two worlds, I periodically like to take the results of past US elite competitions and examine how the gymnasts ranked at that point compared to how they would eventually fare in NCAA a few years later. Who rises? Who falls? Who is like the mousy girl in the high school movie who takes off her glasses and suddenly turns beautiful in the NCAA code? Who was using elite difficulty to mask deficiencies that are exposed in college? As we know, success in elite and success in NCAA do not have a 1:1 relationship.

Today, I have taken the various AA and event results from the 2012 Visa Championships (Visa Championships...feels so long ago. Like the John Hancock US Championships, which were basically contemporaneous with John Hancock) and bolded the gymnasts who competed in NCAA at some point after this competition (so I didn't include Anna Li since she's a category all her own). A number of items jump out. 

1. Wieber – 69.650/61.250
2. Douglas – 60.650/61.050
3. Raisman – 69.200/69.750
4. Ross – 59.750/60.200
5. Price – 59.600/58.500
6. Finnegan – 59.150/58.450
7. Vega – 56.500/57.950
8. Baker – 58.050/56.400
9. Dowell – 55.7800/56.900
10. Sloan – 56.250/56.150
11. Milliet – 55.250/55.150
12. Brown – 54.200/55.500
13. McLaughlin – 55.400/53.150
14. Jetter – 53.550/54.850
15. Skinner – 55.550/51.600
16. Jay – 52.550/53.150
17. Wofford – 51.900/53.350

Fewer than half of the future NCAA gymnasts who competed AA at the 2012 championships continued to do AA in college (and only two or three of the eleven have been full-time AAers for multiple seasons), which helps illustrate the danger of assuming NCAA dominance for all elites. Those who continue at the same strength as all-arounders, your Sloans and Prices and Bakers, are the exception more than the rule. Instead, we have the usual random smattering of competition and success levels, ranging from barely-one-event status to best-in-the-country status. But what's of most interest here is the reason they're not competing AA in college.

We tend to assume that the biggest obstacle for elites transitioning to NCAA is health, that they all would be top-ranked gems if their bodies weren't halfway to the glue factory by now after so many trips to Martha's Texas Adventure. While that's true in several cases, many are relatively healthy but simply not making all the lineups. Even someone who counts in the all-around category like Brianna Brown probably wouldn't have done AA this year if Casanova had been available, and Brandie Jay spent three years not even getting close to Georgia's beam lineup, not because of health but because of "Aaahh, beam!" In her 2015 season at Oklahoma, Dowell was in a similar position to Jay. Sometimes, in spite of an elite pedigree and strong rankings through the age of 18, gymnasts are just not top six on their NCAA teams, even on events that were elite strengths.

In breaking down some of the specific rankings, I'm not taking Sloan into account much because she wasn't up to her full level during 2012, so this isn't really reflective of her standing in the elite world the way 2008 and 2009 were. It's not like Sloan was some middle-of-the-pack elite who suddenly bloomed in college.

Brandie Jay is one who leapfrogged many of her higher-ranked elite peers to become a bigger and more influential contributor in NCAA than she was in elite, finishing largely on par with the likes of Kennedy Baker, who was a higher scorer and more compelling contender during the end of the last quad. Jay is probably the best example here of someone whose dominant years were still ahead of her in 2012.

Finnegan is also an interesting case because if we were to judge her freshman year by the second-behind-Price standard that 2012 gave us, the 2016 season would be considered somewhat average and not the dominance and team-leading influence normally expected of an Olympic alternate. Yet, having gone through years of "does she do gymnastics?" in between, her three events of 9.850-9.900 and ability to leg-event at all this season are a somewhat unexpected and welcome revelation. A lot happens between elite and NCAA, and we don't often maintain expectations for NCAA based on elite results, especially for certain types of gymnasts. I don't think many would say Abby Milliet's NCAA career has been disappointing so far, but she's certainly not top-6 AA level. Even before Grace McLaughlin started at Florida, she was at "maybe a beam routine?" status, not AA-queen status.

A lot of this does come down to injury history/gymnastics style. We tend to maintain elite expectations for gymnasts with Raisman legs who look like they can hold up to four more years of gymnastics, but with the fragile-looking spinny twisties, we're just happy to see a routine at some point, even if it's an exhibition bars. We're like, "Good for her! I can see knees! She still has them!"  

It's worth noting that there are no "whoops, I broke and then disappeared into witness protection without another word" gymnasts in this AA collection, which is encouraging. Everyone either made the Olympics and turned pro, did NCAA, or will do NCAA. The only one in the whole 2012 competition who doesn't fit into those categories is Bross. There are usually more.

Vault (one vault, two days)
1. Wieber 15.650/15.900
2. Price 15.800/15.600 
3. Douglas 15.350/15.800
4. Sacramone 15.450/15.500
5. Raisman 15.450/15.300
6. Ross 15.100/15.250
7. Finnegan 15.000/14.900
8. Baker 14.650/14.800
9. Skinner 14.550/14.600
10. Jay 14.600/14.500
11. Dowell 14.250/14.700
12. Vega 14.100/14.500
13. Jetter 14.100/14.150
14. Milliet 14.050/14.150
15. Brown 13.950/14.100
16. McLaughlin 13.800/14.200
17. Sloan 13.850/14.150
18. Brannan 13.800/14.150
19. Wofford 12.000/12.200

April 24, 2016

Great Moments in Beam Choreography

End of post.

While Catalina's attempt to explain the schematics of her plan for a space railroad may be the gold standard, Ponor is far from the only member of the "Is this...what is this?" beam hall of fame. The US system has been churning out champions left and right for years and years.

For artistry. We do so much for artistry. And has it ever said thank you? Even once? Pssh.

I mean, who can forget The Legend of Ol' Flappy?

Fly away home, Nastia. Fly away home.

Like any great artist, she inspired a generation who wanted to be just like her.

Nope. Fallen out of the nest.

We all remember where we were the first time we saw this revelation.

Scholars have hotly debated the author's intent in this piece since its debut, and they may never stop. Is she advertising an old-people smoothie juicer? Milking a hover-cow? Explaining how many Memmels it takes to screw in a lightbulb? (Four?) Perhaps it's intentionally ambiguous. For art. 

April 22, 2016

Comings and Goings

Oklahoma won the national title six whole days ago, which is like a thousand years ago. Sorry, Oklahoma. We're moving on. What have you done for us lately? Basically nothing? That's what I thought.

The 2017 season is just around the corner, as long as that corner is really, really far away. We don't know anything real about 2017 yet, but we do know which valuable gems and enthusiastic leaders in the training gym we won't see next year, along with which bright new lights full of possibilities and undiagnosed shin problems will be joining the teams in their place.

Detailed looks at each team and roster will come much later, when the season approaches and I actually vaguely know who these JO gymnasts are, but let's call this a preliminary glance at who's coming and who's going on each team now that the 2016 season is closed and locked away forever and the traditional eight-month moratorium has been placed on the terms "parity," "yurchenko arabian," "confident leadoff," and "life lessons." I've placed the top teams into various categories based on the current outlook and added the RQSs for the routines they will lose after 2016.

This is, of course, assuming that people do what they're supposed to and don't suddenly turn pro or run off to join a traveling circus or whatever.

Smooth sailing

Out: Jessica Savona, Randii Wyrick, Michelle Gauthier
In: Ruby Harrold, Kennedi Edney, Ashlyn Kirby

Savona - VT - 9.820 avg; UB - 9.840; FX - 9.902 avg
Wyrick - UB - 9.810; FX - 9.905

The Tigers certainly lose a few critical routines, the most important being Savona's floor, though they already gained some experience with life after Savona's vault and floor when she was out early this season (and life after Wyrick's bars when she didn't compete in the postseason). They survived, for the most part. Several of these openings should be filled by people already on the roster, and while I don't think we can have any expectations for Priessman at this point because any week she's healthy enough to compete is just a bonus, Kelley should do more next year. Add to that this freshman class, and I think there's every reason to expect LSU 2017 to be stronger than LSU 2016. 

Out: Lauren Beers, Carley Sims
In: Maddie Desch, Wynter Childers, Shea Mahoney

Beers - VT - 9.905; UB - 9.690; FX - 9.915
Sims - FX - 9.868

Alabama is in a similar position to LSU in terms of not losing that many routines, though Alabama's losses carry a bit more significance, especially on floor with the team's two strongest floories departing. They'll need some of the upperclassmen like Brannan to step up and be a little more Beersy on those events and a little less middle-of-the-lineupy, but with increased contribution from a potential star like Ari Guerra who didn't figure at all by the end of the season and the introduction of Maddie Desch and Wynter Childers, Alabama's first-ever recruit who's also a citizen of District 1, I'm not too worried about the look of Alabama's future roster.

Out: Serena Leong (?), Kristina Heymann
In: Cassidy Keelen, Rachael Mastrangelo

Cal can't have much to complain about in terms of roster shake-ups since the only two seniors on the roster for 2016 were Heymann, who used to contribute a backup vault, and Leong, who has been injured forever and would be in line for a redshirt season. When healthy, Leong was half of the duo that ushered in Cal's rebirth, along with Asturias. Regardless, Cal shouldn't have to lose anything at all from this season's 7th-place team, only gain for next year. The future is bright.  

Dark, but hopeful
These schools will lose many more significant routines than the smooth-sailing schools, but their incoming classes are cause for optimism about maintaining or improving their current levels nonetheless.

Out: Haley Scaman, Keeley Kmieciak, Hunter Price, Nicole Turner
In: Maggie Nichols, Brenna Dowell, Brehanna Showers, Jade Degouveia

Scaman - VT - 9.890; UB - 9.880; FX - 9.945
Kmieciak - VT - 9.865; UB - 9.930; BB - 9.870; FX - 9.870
Price - VT - 9.871 avg

Oh hi, we just won a national championship, and we're going to have Maggie Nichols and Brenna Dowell (back) next year. Oklahoma is losing eight routines from the championship lineups (which is a high but not necessarily devastating number), though nearly every one of those routines was a realistic and regular 9.900. But then, if Nichols and Dowell do show up and deliver next year, that's pretty much your eight high-scoring replacement routines right there (Dowell didn't compete beam in 2015 but I think we all expect that she will Brandie Jay on beam at some point in her OU career). That doesn't even account for the other newcomers, the traditional Oklahoma magicking up of unexpected routines, and the extra redshirt season from long lost Maile Kanewa.

Out: Bridget Sloan, Bridgey Caquatto, Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto, Morgan Frazier
In: Amelia Hundley, Alyssa Baumann, Rachel Gowey, Maegan Chant

Sloan - VT - 9.900; UB - 9.945; BB - 9.910; FX - 9.950
Caquatto - VT - 9.810; UB - 9.915; FX - 9.900
BDG - UB - 9.865

You wouldn't think the Gators would be in much trouble next year since they're simply losing the services of that non-competing walk-on Bridget Sloan. (Who?) Still, somehow, Florida is bleeding the same number of essential routines as Oklahoma, with the added problem of losing the team's big old star, 10.0-machine, and four-year identity of the program. It's a worry. Fortunately, as Jean-Ralphio would say, this freshman class is off the cherrrrts.

Because Florida is losing such important gymnasts, however, these newbies can't come in and be I'm-not-helping elites who are perpetually injured. They have to be multi-event 9.9s, which will make it interesting to watch how they progress during this summer's Trials season. None are in the serious hunt for the US Olympic team, but that doesn't mean they can't be ground into a fine powder trying. Baumann and Gowey are beautiful rays of starlight, but they also have that fragile "I can only do bars and beam in college because my bones are now made of tears and hope" look to them, and Amelia Hundley is from CGA, so enough said. Florida will need to get a couple big leg-event routines out of this group.

April 20, 2016

2016: A Season That Happened

Another NCAA season has come and gone, but our aggressive sighing from the corner of the room will live on forever. They may take our season, but they will never take our eye rolls.

Several days on from Oklahoma toe pointing off into the sunset with a trophy in hand, this seems an appropriate moment to cobble together a series of reflections and important frowns relating to the season just passed and college gymnastics in general. Only eight and a half months until it starts all over again! But, of course, we also have that pitiful little zone meet called the Olympics coming up not nearly soon enough, so I'll be all over the elite action this year with the same level of dedicated preposterousness I usually reserve NCAA. You guys, we have a lot more things to break. At the time, I didn't quite realize what a good job we did breaking Romania last year, definitely took.

That Frogchenko 2/3ish is my new favorite vault. It's going to start from a 10.0 in next year's NCAA code. Cal is already training two of them.

For the second time, and the first time outright, our champions are the Oklahoma Sooners, who were rewarded for their commitment to performing the cleanest gymnastics in the competition. Super Six wasn't a perfect meet for the Sooners by any means, which is what made it exciting in the first place (a season-best hit from Oklahoma, and this thing isn't very close). Weaker showings on vault and the second half of bars kept the competition finely poised, but Oklahoma's errors were less egregious than those of the other teams and did not include any falls. Focus on details like split and chest positions made it much more difficult for the judges to deny Oklahoma those valuable 9.9s in a theoretically tighter-scored environment, and the Sooner managed to snatch twelve of them. Seven was the most 9.9s coming from any other team in Super Six. 

My questions about Oklahoma's title chances coming into the season primarily revolved around the necessity of replacing valuable 9.9 routines on bars and beam with gymnasts who were already on the roster but not making those lineups, often a recipe for regression. While Oklahoma did have to replace a number of those lost routines with tired old sophomores and juniors, the coaching staff was able to get Oklahoma-level routines out of each them. Ali Jackson doing bars? Chayse Capps getting her best scores on bars? What life if this? I went back to my notes about the freshmen from when Capps started, which I still have because I'm a gymnastics hoarder, and I wrote "Capps - VT, BB, FX. Bars - No." So there's that. I also wrote, "beam could be one of her potential contributions." Could be? Potential? You unbelievable idiot.

This is one of the defining characteristics of the Oklahoma team. People compete events no one ever expected them to compete when they started, from Hollie Vise doing a vault her senior year to all these competitors this season. And while I wouldn't consider these bars and beam lineups all-time great Oklahoma lineups, they more than got the job done. 

Other teams also used gymnasts who weren't making lineups in previous seasons, whether it's McLaughlin and Fassbender filling in on floor for Florida or Sanders doing beam for Alabama, but those routines were the replacement-level 9.825 scores we would expect from someone on the cusp of the lineup. They didn't become difference makers in the way that Oklahoma's replacement routines did, a critical factor in the Sooners' triumph.

The year of the upstarts
Some solid noise was made this season by teams we don't normally expect to do anything. Eastern Michigan came, you know, sort of close to making nationals, George Washington broke into the big girls club, and Bowling Green made regionals, not to mention Cal crashing the party of the normal nationals qualifiers, Iowa sneaking into the realm of contenders, and Boise State and Denver spending some serious time in the first tier.

The storylines were different. There were different teams to follow than usual, which is exciting. But that's all a little too positive, isn't it? If some teams break in, others have to fall out and perform worse than is expected or acceptable. The biggest disappointment of the season was Illinois, a team that appeared to have the talent to make its traditional biennial nationals appearance but was clearly well off the pace even before devastating injuries sealed the season. Ohio State has also completely disappeared from the conversation since a nationals appearance several years ago that shouldn't really have been as random and fluky and Kent Statey as it has become in retrospect. Then there's also Penn State and...well...that whole abuse thing. And DOCTOR Rene Lyst being asked to sashay away from Arizona State, a program that was good as recently as 10 years ago and is now the punchline of the NCAA. 

In a somewhat different category are Oregon State and Arkansas, two teams that had perfectly fine  and respectable seasons and might have made nationals with a kinder regionals draw, in the case of Oregon State (Oregon State was the only school that had to face two eventual Super Six teams at regionals), or without some critical injuries, in the case of Arkansas. Still, this makes three straight years of missing nationals for Arkansas and three of the last four for Oregon State, both programs that at this point should expect to make nationals every time.

The presence of these upstarts puts more and more pressure on the top teams to be better during the regular season so that they don't end up with those very challenging regionals draws, which is positive because it makes the regular season mean more. Stanford did not have an impressive regular season and was a whisker away from being unseeded at regionals, which would have produced an even more challenging setup. For a team that currently has only three home meets a year, several of which are in a glorified black box theater, the incentive to make regular-season meets a more invigorating and successful experience grows stronger.

Scoring the rotation order
Another significant characteristic of the season, perhaps the most extreme, was the presence of the fifth event, Home Floor. Home Floor is the phenomenon in which a host team goes to floor in the final rotation only to find that the code of points has suddenly been replaced with a rainbow lollipop made of panda hearts. Home floor has always been a thing, but this year, floor scoring reached a ten-year high, rendering the effects of home floor more pronounced than ever. If you were a top team who didn't get 49.500 on floor at home, you might as well be counting 80 falls.

So, end-of-meet scoring is a problem, and one that's not simply confined to floor and home meets. At nationals, we also saw the effects of scoring the rotation order and elevating scores based on when the routine came in the meet. In Super Six, the average team score per rotation was 49.206 in the first rotation, 49.2375 in the second, 49.369 in the third, 49.225 in the fourth, 49.350 in the fifth, and then suddenly 49.500 in the final rotation. The highest team score on each apparatus in Super Six was recorded by the team that happened to be competing on it in the final rotation. Of the 37 scores of 9.9 or greater given out in Super Six, 23 came in the second half of the meet compared to 14 in the first half of the meet. As many 9.9s were given out in the final rotation as in the first three rotations combined. Amazing how all the teams got to perform on their best events in the second half of the meet. What a coincidence.

The rotation order should be random nothing. It shouldn't decide the scores, and finishing on a bye (or not starting on a bye) should not be an actual disadvantage in the competition the way it appears to be now. It's a judge's job not to get excited by the circumstances of the meet (which is why smiling should be banned forever—it reads as unprofessional), and judges need to be made aware of tendencies to elevate scores at the ends of meets. They must make a point of judging the first routine of the first rotation with the same lens as the sixth routine of the sixth rotation and repel the natural instinct to loosen and elevate scores as the meet becomes louder, longer, and more exciting, not allowing themselves to be swayed by the siren song of fervent cheering and a passionate atmosphere. They're not here to enjoy this. They're here on business.

April 16, 2016

Super Six Live Blog

The end's not near, it's here.

This is the part where we're supposed to use a lot of nonsense sports cliches, I think. It all comes down to this. The best of the best. All in this together. Teamwork-sisterhood. Teamwisterhood. Lessons. Desire. Heart and grit and other terms that are ambiguous enough so as to avoid actually providing analysis or having anything to say. Montage beginning with a closeup of a sweat droplet to symbolize the hard work no one sees. Leave it all on the floor. Is that making you feel sporty and championshipy enough?

Well, tough.

Anyway, it's Super Six. So, try to enjoy it or whatever. Or actively loathe it if that's your thing. Utah fans, that's probably your thing today. We begin at 9:00 ET/6:00 PT.



Here is the rotation order, along with the semifinal scores for each team on each event. Once again, the highest score of that rotation is highlighted.

Alabama ending on beam, Florida ending on bars, LSU ending on vault...everyone always gets the same order. We all remember Florida finishing on bars last year because McMurtry, and Alabama had this rotation order in 2012, 2013, and 2014. UCLA also famously had this order in...2012? The year EHH went OOB in the first rotation and that ended up being the difference for the title.

April 15, 2016

National Semifinals Live Blog

The time is now. The teams are here. The beam is angry. The only thing we have to fear is everything.

The first semifinal begins at 2:00 ET/11:00 PT, so you'll be familiar with this as the moment when you start to get weirdly nervous, like too nervous, even though you're not one of the competitors and don't even have a vested interest in one result over another. And yet you're still inexplicably freezing. 

Live scores 
Live scores - Semifinal #2
ESPN3 stream-a-thon

By way of unnecessary repetition's nationals today!'s the rotation breakdown with team RQSs for each event. The highest score in each rotation is highlighted, i.e. the team that "should" win that rotation/gain ground there, but mostly just so that there are colors here to make it look brighter and therefore interesting. 

April 14, 2016

The National Championship Is TOMORROW

Tomorrow. As in, you know, tomorrow.

Let this be your headquarters for all the necessary and wildly unnecessary links and information you could possibly need for the championship. But before I present the links, I have some truly terrible news. Nationals will be using statbroadcast for the live scores. Sigh. They might as well be sent by raven or etched in cuneiform on a tablet and then buried by the sands of time. We all need to be there for each other in this time of crisis.

At least ESPN is continuing the system from SECs and giving us both a TV broadcast and the four-event online view.

"Live" scores
ESPN3 four-event and single-event streams

Going with the main TV feed and the four-event window seemed to work well during SECs. We'll still miss things because there are too many important events going on at one time, but now we have only ourselves to blame instead of the old "I CAN'T BELIEVE THEY DIDN'T SHOW HER, BURN LIFE," which is actually a shame. It's a gymnastics tradition. Where would we be without it?

Times are central, with semifinal #1 at 1:00 CT and semifinal #2 at 7:00 CT. Just know that it's your whole day. You will not be able to do anything else. These are the rules. Super Six is later this year than in the past, at 8:00 CT on Saturday. Oooh, nighttime. Spicy. 

Semifinal #1
Semifinal #2
Super Six
Individual titles

Semifinal #1, projected lineups and regional scores

Semifinal #2, projected lineups and regional scores

A few little nuggets of news have also been rattling around this week, significantly that Lindsay Mable scored the upset of the century by beating Bridget Sloan for the AAI Award, news that has been communicated in exactly zero places. Great job once again, college gymnastics. Seriously, there's not even an article on Minnesota's website about it. Anyway, it's kind of a big deal. I'm assuming some strategic voting was in place here that gave it to Mable instead of Sloan, enough people thinking that everyone was going to vote for Sloan, so they decided to throw votes at the underdog pick. Or people thinking that Sloan had already won everything and life, so why not go a different direction? Sloan got Streeped here, I think. 

Yesterday also began the spring NLI signing period, which has become the annual Stanford and UCLA former elite announcement day. Stanford signed rare Canadian gem Aleeza Yu, who will fit right in because she's already in a knee brace. Welcome to the team! UCLA announced the signing of Felicia Hano to join the giant bangarang class for next year that will cover everything in sheets of gold and fix all the problems, including Kyla Ross, Madison Kocian, Anna Glenn, Grace Glenn, Schmuel Glenn, Curly Glenn, and Zeppo Glenn. Nica Hults was also supposed to sign for next season but is currently nowhere to be found. If you're thinking that's a lot of people, it is. Even without Hults, my current count of UCLA gymnasts for next year who at least were on scholarship at some point is Cipra, Gerber, Glenn, Glenn, Hall, Hano, Kocian, Lee, Metcalf, Mossett, Ohashi, Preston, Ross, and Toronjo. That's 14 people, so who wants to play a rousing game of Which of You Aren't on Scholarship Anymore?

Also, can Hano maybe vault tomorrow? That's probably allowed, right?

April 13, 2016

National Championship Preview Part 4: Do We Care About Individuals? (Not Really)

Individuals are the worst. 

The quest for the individual AA title and event titles has never been anywhere in the vicinity of a primary focus during the NCAA gymnastics ALL ABOUT THE TEAM Championship, brought to you by THE CLOSEST GROUP OF SISTERS. Spoiler alert: It's all about the team. All in. No regrets. Life lesson. Teamwork. Growth. Having each other's backs.

Individual accolades are the ugly stepsister of college gymnastics, the one who is hidden in the attic and not allowed to come out when guests are around. (You have one of those too, right?) Publicly acknowledging a desire for individual recognition is strictly taboo. I'm just here to help the team succeed. No member of the team is more important than any other. Leader in the training gym.

To reinforce this culture, the coaches elected to do away with Sunday's individual event finals entirely this season, ostensibly because of the new TV deal that will televise Friday and Saturday's competitions live, even though...what does that have to do with Sunday? You could still have competition on Sunday, even if it's not part of the TV broadcast. This has never been explained. Now, the individual event titles will be decided on Friday along with the all-around and the qualification to Super Six, making it, if possible, even more of a crapshoot afterthought parade of nothing than it was before. Remember how Lloimincia Hall never made a floor final in her whole career?

Individual Events

Let's be honest, the winner of each event title will be whichever gymnast anchors the lineup of the last team competing on that event. You know it. On vault, that would be Gnat in the first session and Bresette in the second session, so we'll go with Gnat. She would likely be the choice anyway. On bars, that's Rogers in the first semi and Sternberg in the second, and I have no problem at all picking Rogers to win bars (even though it will probably be Wofford or one of the Floridas, both going in the 5th rotation of their semifinals). On beam, it's Sloan in the first semi and Capps in the second semi. OOOF. Two very likely nominees to win. We'll go with Capps. On floor, it's Atkinson in the first and Hughes in the second. That's tougher. They'll both get good scores, but Gnat and McGee are probably the floor favorites.

Still, sticking to my principle that scores are too heavily based on lineup and rotation order and that the winner of each event will simply be the most recent competitor, my official picks are Gnat on vault, Rogers on bars, Capps on beam, and Atkinson on floor. Feel free to submit your own. We'll all have a good shot of winning because I'm sure there will be a billion ties even with the increased number of judges.

Silver lining: we will no longer have to wait through an interminably long event final because thousands of qualifiers tied for fourth place in a semifinal. Those vault finals some years, when they did two vaults, and had 25 qualifiers...

Plus, what would have been the day of event finals is now the day of the WAG Test Event, so we can still use that to help pretend our lives are full. Romania, you guys. We broke it and it never got fixed.

The all-around title, also decided on Friday, is usually slightly less random, but only slightly. We all know who the top all-arounders are, and they'll each be pecking around the top of the standings, but then also sometimes Kim Jacob wins. When the scores are this closely packed, weird things can happen very easily. To break the race down, I'll run through the gymnasts I see as the most likely winners, so we know it will be none of them.

Bridget Sloan – Florida

RQS: 39.630
High: 39.775

Obvi. We could probably just leave it here. Sloan has been the favorite to win the AA every year of her college career, and now, in her final competition, she's basically rolling to the title and would probably need to make an actual error to be denied. We have seen that happen this year. Probably too many times, but she's predominately in the driver's seat given her scoring potential across all four events and status as Bridget Sloan. Could not starting from 10.0 on vault hurt her?

Elizabeth Price – Stanford

RQS: 39.570
High: 39.675

If Bridget Sloan hits her ideal all-around, the one person in this competition who could still beat her is Price. Similarly to Sloan, Price does not have a weak event, though her beam score has mostly been stuck in the 9.8s this year, largely the result of a challenging dismount. That's where Sloan will be expected to score higher (unless those beam woes return), but Price's DTY on vault should get rewarded and can lift her ahead of Sloan there. Price, however, does not have the same scores building up to her routines from Stanford that Sloan does from Florida and is less likely to get a "lineup score" as a result.

April 12, 2016

National Championship Preview Part 3: You're All Super to Me, Except for Five of You

Without knowing how the semifinals will play out, previewing Super Six is like looking for shadows in a blindfold factory. Still, performances so far this season have provided a pretty good indication of which teams are in serious contention to win the title and which teams are simply looking to make Super Six/snatch a respectable finish if one of the top teams falters. Surprise, surprise, the four most likely title contenders are also the four top-ranked teams.

Those rankings exist for a reason. The ultimate champion has not come from outside the top three since the beginning of the Georgia dynasty in 2005, when Georgia entered the postseason in 5th, and for each of the last three seasons, the regular-season top three has also finished Super Six in the top three places. So while a weird upset or two in the semifinals could help the chances for a cusp team like Utah to get into the rarefied territory of podium-land, the four teams that should be challenging for the title of Superest of the Super Six, because you're all just super, are Oklahoma, Florida, LSU, and Alabama. The only other team that spent any time in the top three this season was Michigan, and that ship has sailed. 

A rotation-by-rotation team comparison as to the pace they'll need to set won't be possible until we have the rotation order, although this is the draw for Super Six for quick reference once we know how the semifinals finish.

The winner of the second semi gets Olympic order, and the winner of the first semi gets to start on beam. Fun. The third-place teams are the ones who will end on byes, as by design.

Of course, to win Super Six, you have to be good on all the things, but rather than just go through the teams and say, "It would be nice if Florida got a good score on bars, and also beam, and floor, and vault. That would make it easier to win" (duh), I've assigned each of these four teams a critical event, not necessarily a "must-win" event because that's hyperbolic (and I never, ever, ever write hyperbolically), but one that should be a massive strength, can't be a massive weakness, or is generally the best indicator for that team as to whether a title chase is really on.

Vault – LSU

LSU's ability on vault and concerted use of Gnat Power has made the Tigers the only non-Oklahoma team to occupy the top spot on any event to end the season. If circumstances play out the way they have during the regular season, vault appears to be the juiciest opportunity for the other teams to strike a blow to the Sooners since Oklahoma's RQS is just a pitiful 49.415 here. (Like, are you even trying?) LSU is the best poised to do that.
Difficulty has become the watchword on vault this year, though it has not exclusively dictated success. Among these four teams, Alabama shows the most 10.0 SVs with three 1.5s and an Omelianchik but is ranked the lowest of the four, while LSU and Oklahoma each show three 10.0 SVs and Florida shows two. In spite of performing the least difficulty in the group, Florida is ranked second on vault, largely by virtue of having the two best fulls in NCAA as well, but LSU has displayed the best balance of difficulty and stickitude to make this event the place where the Tigers can shake off underdog status and and put pressure on the more-favored teams with a 49.5.

The most significant contributor to LSU's vault success this season has, of course, been Gnat's DTY, which has spent most of the season in automatic 9.950 for a hop/10 for a stick, Zamarripa territory. It has been judged in an entirely different galaxy from Price's DTY, so one of the more interesting aspects of semifinal day will be seeing how Gnat's and Price's DTYs are evaluated by the same panel of judges in the same session of the same meet for the first time (Price wasn't yet performing the DTY when the two teams met earlier this season at Metroplex). Stanford vaults in rotation five of the semifinal, and LSU vaults in rotation six. The judges will not be able to justify evaluating them with different lenses, so does Gnat's score come down to what Price's has been, or does Price's score go to up what Gnat's has been?

LSU need the latter to be true in this meet and relies on that gigantic number for Gnat's DTY to get the vault advantage over the other teams. Another significant factor in LSU's vault score is Savona, who has returned from injury to perform her 1.5 again, though the landing control has not been there so far and her score has been dropped a few times. With one sometimes-9.750y vault in the lineup from Finnegan/Cannamela/Macadaeg, LSU can't afford to be forced to drop Savona's score in a Super Six context.

Who's lunging on a 1.5 for 9.850? That's the major question for all of these teams on vault because we've seen nearly everyone who has upgraded to a 1.5 in NCAA this year have moments of bounding forward out of it and making the team drop her critical score. The landing control for Jackson and Scaman accounts for the variation in Oklahoma's vault results and has created this opening for other teams that wouldn't necessarily have been there last year, as does Alabama's reliance on Beers' 1.5 in particular. She basically decides if the vault score is going to be competitive. Florida has the safety net of the Sloan and McMurtry fulls which can still get 9.900 and show less unpredictability in landing, but it's the Boren and Baker 1.5s that dictate whether it's a good vaulting day or a title-winning vaulting day.

Every time one of these teams throws up a 1.5, there is a legitimate one-tenth swing in the scores hanging on that landing, which is a dramatic margin in Super Six. These vaults I mentioned are going to be a real treat for us in Super Six because every stick is a gold star and every shoulder-width lunge is a kick in the stomach to title hopes. You can't get 9.850 on a critical, late-lineup vault in Super Six and expect to win. I anticipate a lot of "should she really have been doing a 1.5?" second-guessing once the results of Super Six are in. I anticipate it mostly because I will 100% be doing it.

Bars – Florida

This was supposed to be Florida's year to dominate bars, with 5/6 of last year's lineup intact including three near-guaranteed 9.9s, while Utah lost Dabritz and Oklahoma had to reconstruct its depleted bars lineup using nothing but kindling and double-sided tape. Florida has been extremely strong on bars this season but has not been the very best team. That title goes to Oklahoma for superior handstands and stick frequency. I was concerned about Oklahoma's bars this year because of what seemed like a dearth of options, but it's a sign of a top bars school that they have been able to take "don't even look at the bars" routines from Capps and Jackson and turn them into suddenly serious scores this year, much as Florida was able to do with McMurtry last year. For all of the light-speed eye-rolling we do about McMurtry's scores, her pre-Florida bars work was never-making-a-lineup-ever level.

Still, Florida shouldn't be letting this happen. If you were to offer me Sloan, Caquatto, McMurtry, BDG, Boren, and Baker against Wofford, Kmieciak, Scaman, Capps, Lehrmann, and Jackson, I'm taking Florida's group every time. That should be the NCAA's best bars team, and while second place is not a slouch position and 49.4s are not slouch scores, that becomes less true when you're trying to win Super Six. Second is no longer good enough. Florida currently doesn't have a first-place ranking on any apparatus, but bars is a mighty opportunity to win an event given the talent of this lineup.

It's little things that have brought Florida "down" on bars lately. Sloan's DLO used to be an auto-stick, and it isn't right now. Also, sometimes the judges say, "Stay with me on this one, but maybe McMurtry's bars routine isn't perfect..." Plus, Baker, Boren, and BDG can get a little 9.850 with their dismounts, especially because it's so hard to take only a .05 step on a double front like Baker's. Usually it's either a stick or a bound for a tenth. Baker possesses a great talent for minimizing her hops, planting so quickly that even though it seems like she's starting to bounce a million miles, she suddenly stops much closer to her landing position than it seemed like she would be, forcing the judges to make a decision about how significant her lack of control really was. Still, her score can go down to 9.800-9.850 depending on the dismount in a snap, and Florida can't tolerate any of these little issues when trying to beat Oklahoma on bars.

April 11, 2016

National Championships Preview Part 2: Deja Vu in Spoilertown

Every year. Every year it's the same. One semifinal looks like it's going to be close and exciting and weird and controversial, and the other looks like a straightforward stroll through the local meadow in a world made only of springtime. Except, it never really works out that way. Take last year's second semifinal, when Oklahoma, LSU, and Alabama squared off against Auburn, Nebraska, and Oregon State. "Ah ha ha," we said. "Bring me another glass of port. Oklahoma, LSU, and Alabama will surely advance."

Nope. The infamous freshman-lost-her-mind heard 'round the world saw Auburn qualify instead of LSU. Nebraska managed to produce a similar complication the year before, against many of the same teams we see gathered this year. Almost all of them. I know. The straightforward semifinal tends to have a way of getting our attention, so how confident do we feel that Oklahoma, Alabama, and Utah will emerge from this session? What tricks do the Bruins have planned for us? Whom will they exhume to perform a surprise routine this time?

Competing teams (starting event)
[1] Oklahoma (bye before floor)
[4] Alabama (bye before bars)
[5] Utah (vault)
[8] UCLA (bars)
[10] Cal (beam)
[12] Nebraska (floor)

Competing individuals
All-around – Maddie Gardiner, Oregon State; Nina McGee, Denver; Amanda Wellick, Arkansas; Brianna Brown, Michigan; Mollie Drenth, Iowa; Lisa Burt, Michigan State

Vault – Taylor Allex, Arizona State
Beam – Risa Perez, Oregon State; Shani Remme, Boise State
Floor – Lizzy Leduc, Illinois; Rachel Slocum, Eastern Michigan

Though three clear favorites have established themselves in this group, it's not quite as meadow-like as some of the "easy" semifinals have been in past years. Alabama and Utah did not perform overwhelmingly at regionals, and UCLA absolutely possesses the talent to advance on a good day. Something I hadn't realized until now: Since the advent of Super Six, UCLA has never gone three straight seasons without qualifying. Having missed out on Super Six the last two years, the Bruins are in line to make an unfortunate piece of history if they don't secure the upset this time around. #saveuskyla

Let's get to it.

The Sooners have begun to separate themselves from the rest of the teams in recent weeks, not showing the same variations in performance, blips, and inconsistencies of the other top contenders. Oklahoma's regionals score was the highest in the country by a pretty solid margin and the performance was by far the cleanest.

Oklahoma must be the title favorite at this point but far from a prohibitive one. Several areas have emerged, from security of vault landings to floor difficulty, that may be cause for concern in a Super Six context when needing to defeat the likes of Florida, but for now, Oklahoma is the safest pick. If the Sooners were to lose it at the semifinal stage, it would be the biggest upset of any of the teams. Oklahoma hasn't had a single fall in a competition routine since February 7th and hasn't seen two actual falls in the same rotation all season long. That's a rather remarkable feat, so while we can question some of the details, Oklahoma would have to count a fall to fail to emerge from this semifinal. And that would be a first.

I'll go into detail in the Super Six preview, but a critical area I'll be watching in the semifinal is how those early-lineup floor routines are evaluated, especially with the Sooners starting on that event. At regionals, Brown and Capps pretty much nailed their routines and got 9.850s (and Jones performed somewhat near her normal for a 9.800), but Oklahoma is going to need higher scores for those routines to reach a national-championship-winning total. The last four winners (counting Florida and Oklahoma in 2014 as two different winners) have all scored over 49.6 on floor in Super Six. Given the evaluation of floor this season, I imagine that will be the standard once again.

Alabama and Utah were twinsies on regionals day, each scoring 197.125 at a home regional. Alabama had some flopsy moments on beam and got hit by the bars landings monster, while Utah was sort of fine across the board but will need better vault and floor landings come nationals. Both exposed patches of minor concern and showed just four 9.9s (all of Alabama's coming on floor), which isn't enough for championships to be sure about fending off other 197-capable teams.

Bars landings. When both these teams have recorded significant results this season, they have done so by sticking bars dismounts. Alabama broke 49.5 on bars both during the landslide against Georgia and at SECs, as did Utah during its own win against Georgia for a season high 197.675. Aside from floor (for floor reasons), bars should be the next-highest score for both teams. Alabama has proven 9.950-for-sticks from Winston and Brannan, but also has those high-risk dismounts from Beers and Jetter that we've all seen dancing with the devil from time to time. The Tide cannot afford 9.800 for those routines at nationals. Bars is too important.

A big bars score is especially significant for all the top seeds because the most likely challenger is UCLA, and UCLA's bars rotation usually hovers somewhere between "well..." and "ack." Alabama and Utah will both look to rack up a significant edge solely because of bars so that if UCLA does end up having one of those great beam and floor days to get up into the 197s, there's still a buffer.

April 9, 2016

Pacific Rim Live Blog

Because why not?

In a weekend without NCAA gymnastics, we must find some way to occupy our time, so USAG has charitably provided the Pacific Rim Championship, the Pacific Northwest's most important geographically arbitrary biennial international gymnastics competition. It's kind of a big deal, you guys.

It's the precursor to next week's Countries That Share a Border With Another Country That Has a Name Ending in Y Championship. Prestigious. Sorry, Brazil, I can't invite you because...I think you might border the Atlantic.

It's also the chance for Simone Biles to square off against Canada, Australia, and a bunch of gymnasts who are dismounting bars with a Nastia flyaway and then go, "Oh, did I win?" Yes, Simone. You won.

I love that Russia and China don't even bother sending women's teams anymore. For a while they would fake it by sending some C Teamers and Maria Kharenkova, but now they can't even bring themselves to throw a random junior at us. The Russians are far too busy fulfilling drug tests with a piece of notebook paper that says "NO MELDONIUM HERE." Done and done.

Also, in case you thought the rules of this competition dictated that teams had to send three seniors and three juniors...nope. Not anymore. Because it was really important that the US send an impossibly strong team of seniors to make sure to win this competition by 78 points. Winning by 5 points would have been so embarrassing. What is the expression, taking a gun to a knife fight? The team the US has sent to this competition is like taking a gun to a sewing circle. Put away that gun, Louisa.

To the gymnastics? Shall we?

April 7, 2016

National Championships Preview Part 1: Innocent Gymnasts versus the Beam Troll

Gather round, darling children, and learn about the NCAA national championship, a far-off magical land where all the most glorious gymnasts assemble in an arena made of gumdrops and frozen tears for a battle royale to see who can force the biggest fake smile after her teammate falls on beam. It's always a really close contest. 

As is only traditional, let's begin at the start. The first of the two semifinals will take place in the void between the dimensions on April 15th at 2:00 ET/11:00 PT and should be a doozy. 

Competing teams (starting event)
[2] Florida (bye before floor)
[3] LSU (bye before bars)
[6] Auburn (vault)
[9] Georgia (beam)
[16] Minnesota (floor)
[18] Stanford (bars)

Competing individuals
All-around – Nicole Artz, Michigan; Alison Northey, Washington; Morgan Porter, Missouri; Sidney Dukes, Kentucky; Alex Hyland, Kentucky; Danielle Ramirez, Southern Utah

Vault – Meaghan Sievers, Iowa State
Beam – Lexi Mills, Arizona
Floor – Talia Chiarelli, Michigan; Brianna Tsang, Penn State; Lindsay Offutt, Pittsburgh

An argument can be made for five of these six teams advancing without having to concoct very many insane circumstances at all (sorry, Minnesota, but it would take a splatfest from the others). The big five should all expect to score into the 197s and will be disappointed by anything less than that. Even though we see 197s fall all over the place during the regular season, it's not a given that the challenging teams will reach that plateau in this meet as scores tend to tighten at nationals (tend being the operative word). The highest score that has ever failed to advance from a semifinal is 197.025, an ignominious mark shared by Utah 2014 and Michigan 2015. That's not a particularly impressive score these days during the regular season, but 197 remains a thing at the national championship.

To some extent, we're in the dark about how scoring will play out in the semifinals because we're entering a whole new era. Starting this year, six judges will work each event beginning with the semifinals. Will that depress the scores? Possibly. That's two more whole people who have to be slipped a roll of cash under the bathroom door, which is a lot of work. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

This was instituted in an attempt to prevent a heap of ties for event winners now that those titles will be decided on Friday as well, and in case you're wondering, it's terrible. Theoretically, having more judges and more oversight for scores at the most important meet is a great idea, but this is also going to result in a ton of really ugly-decimal scores that will be inconsistent with the round-number scores we've seen all season long. It's the most unappealing thing I've ever heard. I just want to buy a crate of apples and stab them all about it. the teams!

Closer to nationals, I'll do a Super Six preview, which is ludicrous to do before we know who has qualified to Super Six but when has this blog ever been unludicrous? I'll save a more detailed discussion of Florida and LSU and how they match up against the other title contenders for that preview since they should both be in the mix. Of course, there's still the semifinal to get through, and counting a fall could ruin the year for any team at this point, but these two are the clear favorites to emerge from this semifinal. If either doesn't make it, it's an upset. For the rest of the teams in this group, it isn't.

Florida looked distinctly meh at regionals, and while that's a near-annual tradition that shouldn't necessarily indicate anything real, the score was a far-from-peak 196.725. I'm not expecting a 196.725 to make Super Six. By contrast, Florida also looked a little meh at regionals last year, but the score was still 197.475. Just a sliver of doubt begins to creep in, though I would be surprised by a repeat of those weak landings once we get to nationals. Another significant contributor to Florida's low score was the Kennedy Baker ankle situation. She landed short on her double pike on floor and was pulled from vault as a precaution, and with normal hits from her on those events, Florida is close to—if not at—197 already, even with the same blah landings. Baker is essential to Florida's title hopes, so the amount that ankle does/does not affect her will be a critical storyline on semifinal day.

LSU did not have the same issues as Florida at regionals, comfortably breaking 197 and sliding through to qualification without a question. Very reassuring. Except nothing is reassuring ever. Most doubts as to LSU's ability to fulfill expectations this year are based on traumatic flashbacks to last season, when the Tigers were in an essentially identical position and seemed a sure qualifier to Super Six until three falls on beam happened. It didn't come out of the blue last year. LSU had an iffy but manageable beam performance at regionals right before, which is why that 9.6 and 9.7 action from this year's regionals did not help alleviate any of those flashbacks.

Still, this is prognostication about the likelihood of counting falls, which is a fool's game, but that's what it would take to knock Florida or LSU out of this. Based on the quality of the gymnastics we've seen this season, both of these teams should be in the hit-and-advance category. Elimination with a hit meet would be a massive shock.

Basically, I could copy-and-paste the "Auburn v. Michigan v. Stanford" section from the regional previews here and just replace the word Michigan with Georgia. It would be upsettingly accurate and appropriate, hearkening back to some of my frustrations with the repetitiveness of the current postseason assignments. We more or less just did this, and if everything goes to plan, it will be these three teams facing off against each other, only now it's a fight for one spot instead of two. The comparison is particularly congruent because Michigan was thwarted by the beam at regionals, and Georgia is Georgia. Just swap one for the other.

As I said then, I still consider Stanford the challenger of the group rather than a likely qualifier because of those weaknesses on vault and floor. Everything worked out at regionals because bars and beam came through as they were supposed to and the other teams had errors, but at some point relying on just two events won't be enough. Still, if Stanford's first-place tie at regionals taught us anything, it's that this is more than possible. Georgia misses beam, Auburn repeats its uninspiring regionals performance, and hello Stanford once again. 

April 6, 2016

2016 Vaults in Review

The tyranny of the yurchenko full. Since the dawn of life on earth, we have been hearing about the wicked prevalence of yurchenko fulls on vault and how a lineup consisting of six of the same average, snoozer vaults is super boring. Then, in the year 2015, the NCAA coaches did something shocking. They actually decided to get up from their Rip Van Winkle naps and try to change the rules in order to improve the sport. I know. I'm still not over it. They downgraded the yurchenko full and (theoretically) the yurchenko half to a 9.95 start value with the dual aims of increasing variety on vault and encouraging/rewarding those who are able to show more difficulty. With a season of vaults under the new values behind us, let's look into how it actually worked.

A cursory glance at the lineups of the top teams tells us that we did see a greater variety of vaults this season than in recent years, though usually by about one vault per team. Oklahoma is vaulting three yfulls in 2016 compared to four last year. Florida and UCLA both have four yfulls this year instead of five like last year. LSU and Georgia were already showing a number of higher-difficulty vaults last year and stayed constant at those numbers. Utah showed one 1.5 and five fulls again this year, and Auburn's non-full options remain the same. Alabama and Michigan adapted the most among the top tier, each showing three 1.5s (when Casanova was healthy), compared to one most of last year for both teams.

The change has come about pretty much the way we all expected, with a number of top vaulters who have always been fully capable of performing 1.5s upgrading back to vaults they used to perform, like Kennedy Baker, Haley Scaman, Lauren Beers, Mack Brannan, Talia Chiarelli, and Elizabeth Price to the DTY, providing some more variety in their teams' lineups, as much as you can consider a yurchenko 1.5 instead of a yurchenko full "variety."

We've also seen a few 1.5s make it into vault lineups they weren't making previously from the likes of Breanna Hughes and Pua Hall. Hall is an interesting example of someone who prooooobably wouldn't be making that lineup if the 1.5 and the full were the same value because her landing gets a little 9.750, but the extra .05 in SV makes it worthwhile compared to an average full.

It isn't worth it for everyone, however. We know Bridget Sloan can do a 1.5. We all lived through the "BRIDGET SLOAN IS TRAINING AN AMANAR YOU GUYS I SWEAR" years, but she has stayed with the full all season to get a more reliable score and, primarily, to frustrate Kathy Johnson who always thinks she's going to do a 1.5 and is always disappointed. Not every gymnast who can do a 1.5 has been encouraged to do so by the paltry gift of an extra .05. 

Less common, but still occurring, are Hunter Price situations. These are the pot of gold from the change in values. Price's handspring pike 1/2 has been on the cusp of that vault lineup forever but wasn't quite worth it in the lineup. She has used the .05 advantage to push her way into Oklahoma's six and provide a little extra variety. 

I have not yet addressed those vaults-that-shall-not-be-named that masquerade as arabians and get a 10.0 SV, mostly because I'm done talking about them forever. The rule just needs to change for next year, though certainly teams have been getting an extra boost of 10.0 vaults and alleged variety by exploiting that loophole. This is the one area in which the new vault values have been a clear and indisputable negative, adding controversy where there should be none and confusion where there should be clarity. 

April 5, 2016

Who Is Going to Make Super Six?

Are you still alive? Maybe? Ish?

The extended frigid hellscape that was regionals day is now squarely behind us, with all the Michigan tears and Stanford celebration dances accounted for, and if you were able to emerge from that 58-millenium barrage of meets and marathon of interminable bye rotations without passing out and deciding that you hate gymnastics now, you're the winner.

For a recap of all the action you may have missed, or seen, or intentionally got amnesia about, or found infuriating, be sure to listen to this week's episode of Gymcastic. I join Jessica and Uncle Tim to go through the day regional by regional to speculate about whether the Iowa regional was judged by three lemons and the concept of winter, argue over the merits of the handspring-onto-the-springboard vault, and warn that in spite of what you may have heard from your friends, the Stanford Rhythm Method is not a reliable form of making nationals. Among other topics. Get ready.

For the moment, let's look toward nationals. We know our semifinalists, and the rotation order has been released, so it's time to get a-speculatin'. 

It was probably going to be the case anyway, but the Michigan upset has left what looks to be a golden opportunity for several teams to snatch the third spot out of the first semifinal, assuming that Florida and LSU are the favorites. After all the terrors of this season, has Georgia become the pick to advance? The Gymdogs get to start on beam again. Nothing like a high-budget dystopian horror comedy to start the day. But they hit beam at regionals! Kind of! They did enough! Hooray!

Few of the rotation assignments jump out as particularly disastrous for any of these teams, though I do think that Stanford benefited from finishing on its good events at regionals and will have the opposite order here, starting with events that need to score massively and finishing on events that are unlikely to. Stanford will need the judges to be willing to flash the 9.900-9.950s right from the first routine of the first session because Stanford really must get 49.5s on bars and beam.

In the coming days, I'll delve into more detailed prognostication about the semifinals, Super Six, and whether we even care about the individual competitions anymore, but for today, let's set things up with a glance at the numbers. Which are the key events to watch if we're looking for an upset? And who's capable of pulling it off? Categories in which a team places in the top three in the session (a qualifying spot) are highlighted. 


Regional score: 196.725 [3]
RQS: 197.795 [1]
Regular season average: 197.502 [1]  
Season high: 198.175 [1]

VT regional score: 49.225 [3]
VT RQS: 49.420 [2] 
VT average: 49.341 [2]
VT season high: 49.500 [3]

UB regional score: 49.125 [4]
UB RQS: 49.500 [1] 
UB average: 49.439 [1]
UB season high: 49.650 [1] 

BB regional score: 49.300 [1]
BB RQS: 49.430 [1]
BB average: 49.318 [1] 
BB season high: 49.525 [3]

FX regional score: 49.075 [4]
FX RQS: 49.505 [2]
FX average: 49.405 [2] 
FX season high: 49.675 [2]

Florida should be the heaviest favorite in the first semifinal and settles in comfortably in the top three here in every category except those pertaining to that lackluster regionals performance. It's worth treating as just an odd blip for now that shouldn't compromise our expectations of Florida making it out of this semifinal safely and easily, but it doesn't help in the race to catch Oklahoma.

April 2, 2016

Regionals Live Blog

It's regionals day! The one day every year where your biggest problem is the decision whether to dedicate your phone to one of the competitions streams or put that pressure on your computer with a extra browser window and risk a critical-mass rebellion. It's a really rough life. We probably need a charity. Or at least a hashtag. #prayforgymfans

Regionals headquarters with all the info is here, but these are the highlights:
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Athens, GAScores - Stream
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Iowa City, IAScores - Stream - Stream (vault) - Steam (bars) - Stream (beam) - Stream (floor)
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Minneapolis, MNScores - Stream
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Tuscaloosa, ALScores - Stream
6:00 ET/3:00 PT – Ann Arbor, MIScores - Stream
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Salt Lake City, UTScores - Stream - Stream (vault) - Stream (bars) - Stream (beam) - Stream (floor) 

After all these months, today is also the first time all season that results actually matter! Hooray! In a few short (long) hours, 36 becomes 12. Top two or bust! You know, that famous goal all athletes have. Clear eyes, full hearts, can finish second and still advance.

The hope for today is that someone, somewhere will pull off some manner of upset. After the top 12 all advanced to nationals last season, we earned something a little more fun. One teensy little meltdown doesn't seem like too much to ask. Put in your upset predictions now, so that you can be showered with praise when it happens.

The day will start slowly, which is charitable, but it will become nightmarish pretty quickly. We will invariably start missing things in hour two, when a number of the crucial bubble teams will all be on beam. Nebraska, Denver, and Cal's beam rotations will all determine quite a lot about what the #3 seeds will (or will not) have to do to score the much-anticipated upset.

April 1, 2016

Regional Championship Headquarters

Tomorrow, you will all be compelled to participate in the annual gymnastics tradition that is Ironman Regionals. It's seven straight hours of frenetic gymnastics watching, multitasking-based panic attacks, third-person auditory hallucinations, spontaneous Miss Val impressions, alcoholism, narcolepsy, uncontrollable blindness spells, dislocated bladders, and ultimately acceptance, during which you will need to commandeer all adjacent devices while clinging to the pipe dream that you'll actually be paying attention at the right time when something important happens. 

As part of that pipe dream, I've put together my annual combined rotation schedule for all the meets, providing a rough estimate of when each team should be competing on each event for all your circling and highlighting and browser-window-prioritization needs. I allow 30 minutes per rotation, which usually ends up being close to accurate in most locations because of all the marching and the waiting and the byes. Oh god, the byes. There's always a location or two that ends up slow as molasses for no reason and gets behind schedule, but this should be a relatively close overview of the timing.

Yeah, Oklahoma, Florida, Alabama, Michigan, and Oregon State are all on beam at the same time. This is well planned. 6:00-7:00 ET is going to be a hellscape.

And now...the meets! Here's everything you could possible need to know. I'll add links as they become available. Teams have not been on top of it with the scoring links so far...

2016 Regional Championships

4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Athens, GA Regional
[3] LSU, [9] Georgia, [14] Oregon State, [22] Arizona, [27] George Washington, [36] Michigan State
Live scores
Live stream
Score sheet/projected lineups/RQSs:

5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Iowa City, IA Regional
[1] Oklahoma, [12] Nebraska, [13] Arkansas, [19] Iowa, [30] Kent State, [35] Central Michigan
Live scores
Live stream (four-event view)
Live stream (vault)
Live stream (bars)
Live stream (beam)
Live stream (floor)
Score sheet/projected lineups/RQSs:

5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Minneapolis, MN Regional
[2] Florida, [11] Denver, [16] Minnesota, [20] Missouri, [28] Ohio State, [31] BYU
Live scores
Live stream
Score sheet/projected lineups/RQSs:

5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Tuscaloosa, AL Regional 
[4] Alabama, [10] Cal, [15] Boise State, [21] Kentucky, [26] West Virginia, [34] Bowling Green
Live scores 
Live stream
Score sheet/projected lineups/RQSs:

6:00 ET/3:00 PT – Ann Arbor, MI Regional
[6] Auburn, [7] Michigan, [18] Stanford, [24] Eastern Michigan, [25] Penn State, [33] New Hampshire
Live scores
Live stream
Score sheet/projected lineups/RQSs:

8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Salt Lake City, UT Regional
[5] Utah, [8] UCLA, [17] Washington, [23] Southern Utah, [29] Illinois, [32] Utah State
Live scores
Live stream
Live stream (vault)
Live stream (bars)
Live stream (beam)
Live stream (floor)
Score sheet/projected lineups/RQSs:

March 31, 2016

Michigan Regional Preview

Here it is. The big one. Are you excited? I'm excited. Ever since it became clear that Stanford's ranking would not emerge from the pitiful category before the end of the season, we've all been waiting to see which of the poor souls that bothered to get good scores all year long would suffer the punishment of being placed with Stanford. The winners are Auburn and Michigan. It's funny because the 6-7-18 regional is usually the boring one, the one where the top two teams have more than a fall of margin over anyone else, but this year, it's the one everyone is anticipating the most. Yes, I just decided which regional you're anticipating the most. It's this. The end.

Of course, that means it will end up being super boring. Without a doubt. It always happens. All of the other regionals will be intensely close throughout, and then this one will be decided in the first rotation. You know it.

Competing teams (starting event) 
[6] Auburn (bye before bars)
[7] Michigan (beam)
[18] Stanford (floor)
[24] Eastern Michigan (bye before floor)
[25] Penn State (bars)
[33] New Hampshire (vault)

Competing individuals
Pittsburgh (Lindsay Offutt – AA; Tracey Pearson – AA; Miya Dotson – UB)
Rutgers (Libby Groden – AA; Nicolette Wilson – VT; Michelle Amoresano – VT)
Bridgeport (Brianna Comport – BB, FX; Christine Liautaud – UB; Randi Cutolo – FX)
West Chester (Majesta Valentine – AA)
Cornell (Kaitlin Green – BB)

The fight – Auburn v. Michigan v. Stanford

No favorites here. There can't be because someone very capable of a 197 will miss out on nationals, and any one of these three teams could be eliminated even with a hit meet.

Still, Stanford must be considered the challenger to the throne rather than the reigning monarch because of a few more clear weaknesses than the others and the lack of consistently competitive scores during the season. In spite of Stanford's definite potential to hit 197 and reputation for suddenly turning great once the elimination meets roll around, there's a reason Stanford is 18th and not 6th or 7th. The scores haven't been there the way they have for Auburn and Michigan, and Stanford really will have to put together a season-best performance to make it out of this competition. Normal won't be good enough. It has to be a Price/Hong 9.950, Rice/McNair 9.850 kind of day to pull out the 197+ score it will take to advance. 

Auburn and Michigan are separated by essentially nothing. Auburn is a wisp ahead of Michigan in overall RQS, while Michigan is a wisp ahead of Auburn on each specific-event RQS. That indicates that Michigan has slightly higher peaks on each event but that Auburn has put it all together in the same meet slightly more often. It's all slight. The advantage of being at home may tip the balance to Michigan, which is why (in addition to Michigan's season high being the best in the competition) I see Auburn as more vulnerable than Michigan if both hit their meets. Really, there should only be a tenth or two between them either way.

Ergo...landings, landings, landings. On vault, for instance, Michigan has more difficulty, and the Olivia Karas grand finale has scored higher than the Caitlin Atkinson grand finale, but we have seen multiple meets this year in which Auburn has earned a very competitive vault score because of high-level landing control. Since Michigan's peak scoring potential has been higher this year, those landings are all the more important for Auburn to close any scoring potential gap.  

For both teams, the vulnerability is beam. In fact, it has been a vulnerability for Stanford at times as this year well (but will be absolutely critical if Stanford is to stay in this), all of which is made evident by New Hampshire being ranked as the #2 beam team in this regional.  Each of these top seeds has the potential for multiple 9.9s. Atkinson, Milliet, Demers, Artz, Chiarelli, Price, Hong. There's no shortage of impressive beamers in this meet, but Auburn has a tendency to throw a 9.7 or two out there early in the lineup, and Michigan has been a sudden fall-fest in the second half of the season. Beam will be the most telling indicator about whether Stanford is in this meet because secure hits from both Michigan and Auburn (in rotations one and three) would take away the primary area in which Stanford is looking to pick up tenths (in rotation five).

March 30, 2016

Utah Regional Preview

Welcome to Pac-12s Part Deux: Megan's Revenge, the thrilling summer blockbuster in which Utah will try to beat UCLA for the first time in 2016 following two consecutive losses in what feels like their fifteenth meeting of the season.

Repetitive matchups are one of the problems I have with creating a bracket for the postseason, in addition to the fact that it's not a true knockout event and doesn't have enough rounds for a bracket to be all that necessary. (It should be a true knockout event, but it isn't. The meets are best 2 out of 6, or 3 out of 6, which isn't the same thing and is fundamentally less dramatic. You don't get a bracket until you institute a format that lends itself to a bracket. You don't get dessert until you eat your vegetables.) You might as well just list all the teams at the beginning of the season in two columns, put a box in the middle for the winner, and say, "It's a bracket!" It's not a bracket.  

This will be the third meeting of the season between Utah and UCLA (and their third each against Washington, though at least they were in different sessions at Pac-12s). If they both do qualify, the semifinals will be their 4th meeting and the third consecutive meet day in which they've faced off. We get it. By contrast, Utah and Auburn would have been an interesting comparison, and they probably won't meet at all.

Competing teams (starting event)
[5] Utah (bye before bars)
[8] UCLA (beam)
[17] Washington (floor)
[23] Southern Utah (bye before floor)
[29] Illinois (bars)
[32] Utah State (vault)

Competing individuals 
Sacramento State (Kalliah McCartney – AA; Lauren Rice – AA; Cassie Benning – UB, FX; Julia Konner – VT)
UC Davis (Alexis Brown – UB, BB; Stephanie Stamates – BB, FX; Katy Nogaki – VT)
Seattle Pacific (Maria Hundley – AA)
Alaska (M'rcy Matsunami – AA)

The favorites – Utah and UCLA

Unlike in the regionals previewed so far, this one features two teams that really should go through barring disaster. Disasters are always possible, and always the most fun, but if Utah and UCLA hit five-for-six on each event, they'll advance. The other teams are hoping for a mistake.

The clash between Utah and UCLA should still be quite interesting and telling about both teams' potential to do some damage in the postseason. UCLA's position is bolstered by the two wins over Utah this year, while Utah's position is bolstered by finishing only .325 behind UCLA at Pac-12s in spite of counting a fall. And by being at home this time. The Bruins would counter that they also had some mistakes at Pac-12s that brought down their score, like Cipra's floor fall and Preston's not-in-the-face vault. And we could go on. It should be a close-fought affair. With the home advantage and the stronger scoring pedigree over the whole season (a higher RQS on three of four events), Utah should come in as the favorite between the two, though far from a prohibitive one.

Neither team has a ton of difficulty on vault and both may struggle to compete with the three-1.5 lineups of the SEC once we get to nationals, but Utah's landings were significantly stronger than UCLA's at Pac-12s with a couple vaulters showing season-best sticks. Even without a difficulty edge, Utah's vault beat UCLA's by nearly three tenths because of landings (and direction, and knees), which would be a massive boon if that were repeated at regionals.

UCLA's edge comes on beam, with a lineup that is quite smooth in rhythm, precise in split elements, and varied in skill selection and difficulty. Utah, meanwhile, showed the signs of the Stover-ectomy in counting a beam fall at Pac-12s. It's clear the team needs her back as soon as possible not just to prevent using a fall but to provide a much-needed 9.9.

Interestingly, UCLA beat Utah on bars at Pac-12s, even though bars is supposed to be a weakness for UCLA that compromises postseason hopes while it has been a strength for Utah. If UCLA is able to continue minimizing the bars deficit compared to a team like Utah, perhaps aided by a mysterious secret-weapon appearance of Peng or Ohashi, that would eliminate one major obstacle to postseason success. I'm not convinced yet, but it will be worth watching.  

As for the rotation order, UCLA begins on its two best events, which I don't love. It means the Bruins must get a bunch of big scores early and absolutely need a lead at the halfway point, and a pretty significant one, to have a shot at winning this thing. They'll want a solid 98.800 after beam and floor, which is doable. The Utes will gain ground in the second half of the meet, particularly when they turn to floor as UCLA is turning to vault. As long as Utah is anywhere over 98.500 after bars and beam, even if still trailing, I would consider that on track to put up a competitive total/win. 

March 29, 2016

Alabama Regional Preview

While several of the regionals this year could produce an unexpected nationals qualifier that we will pretend signals the beginning of a new era until next season when everything returns to normal, the most exciting changing of the guard will happen in Alabama. Though some of the challengers elsewhere, like Denver and Minnesota, haven't qualified to nationals for a few years, the teams in this regional have been stranded in the desert for much, much longer. Cal has been absent from the national championship since 1992, and Boise State and Kentucky have been absent since always. In fact, with three all-time nationals appearances, #5 seed West Virginia is the second-most accomplished team in the competition.

Competing teams (starting event)
[4] Alabama (bye before bars)
[10] Cal (beam)
[15] Boise State (floor)
[21] Kentucky (bye before floor)
[26] West Virginia (bars)
[34] Bowling Green (vault)

Competing individuals
SEMO (Alexis Brawner – AA; Lauren Israel – AA; McKinzie Jones – FX)
Northern Illinois (Andie Van Voorhis – VT; Jamyra Carter – UB; Lauren Africano – UB; Megan Greenfield – BB)
Arizona State (Allie Salas – AA; Taylor Allex – VT, FX)
Illinois-Chicago (Mikailla Northern – AA)
Illinois State (Amanda Mohler – BB)

The favorite – Alabama

Alabama is Alabama. Competing at home against a relatively unheralded squadron of challengers and coming off an impressive second-place showing at SECs should really be all we need to know about Alabama's qualification outlook. Coleman may no longer the impenetrable home fortress it once was, now the site of previously unheard of losses to LSU and Arkansas, but the idea of Alabama getting upset at home by two whole teams in this meet is difficult to fathom. 

Unsurprisingly, Alabama had its best meet of the season at SECs, which happened to coincide with actually getting all the good people in the lineups simultaneously for the first time. Amazing how that works out. Winston returned on three events, all the top-scoring floor workers competed, and Bresette was able to show her Omelianchik, which is a higher-scoring option than her full. All of this combined to make Alabama look like a peer of Oklahoma, Florida, and LSU in the title race rather than the leader of the challenging pack. These lineups still don't look fully finalized (you can't quit depth exploration cold turkey), as I'd still perhaps like to see Winston vaulting and, critically, that was not the highest-scoring beam lineup Alabama could put out. Sanders did an excellent job of suddenly being a gymnast now, but hit routines from Beers and Bailey are going to score higher than what she (and potentially Brannan) can bring. 

It's an issue of hitting (both Bailey and Beers fell the week before), but if the coaches feel comfortable putting Bailey and Beers in the lineup, this team looks more formidable and closer to 198. If not, Alabama may be giving up a crucial tenth or two on beam, the rotation that knocked them down below Florida's at SECs.

The fight – Cal v. Boise State

This meet represents a brand new phenomenon for Cal. We've seen Cal perform well in significant meets against strong teams over the last three seasons, but for the first time I can remember, Cal will enter a significant meet not as an upstart, or an underdog, or a spoiler, or a sentimental favorite but as a favorite. Cal should finish second here and should qualify along with Alabama. Not doing so would be a disappointing result given the wonderful opportunity to make nationals presented before them. Welcome to expectations, Cal. It's nice to have you here. 

That's not to say it's going to be a walk. Boise State has been in many ways the surprise of the season (after being the punchline of the preseason when one coach voted BSU #1), scoring a 197.025 at conference championships—at home—which bested the 196.725 Cal put up at Pac-12s. Boise State does, however, remain the least proven entity among the contending teams, having gone the whole season without facing any school seeded 1-3 in any of the regionals. We don't really know how these routines are going to be evaluated when Boise State is suddenly not the biggest and the best in the arena for the first time. The Broncos' last challenging road meet also came at Alabama, in 2015, when they did prove quite competitive through three events and were on high-196 pace until a floor meltdown.