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?
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
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
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.
Chayse Capps – Oklahoma
Where has this little AAer come from? Until about 30 seconds ago, Capps was among the many wonderful three-event gymnasts in NCAA, but she got barsified in the preseason to become one of the nation's top-scoring all-arounders. We know the beam score is going to be brilliant, though with earlier-lineup positions on the majority of events, it may be more challenging for her to get the 9.950s it takes to win an AA title. Capps looks like she'll need some tiny errors from Sloan and Price to be in with a shot, but did we think she would even be in this position a couple months ago?
Caitlin Atkinson – Auburn
Atkinson is another who does not have a weak event and is capable of 9.9s across the board, particularly with her 1.5 on vault and what's as close as you'll see to an auto-stick of a bars dismount. Unlike Capps, Atkinson anchors every rotation for Auburn, so the team's entire scoring effort funnels right toward her, which certainly helps her chances if the semifinal is a big day for Auburn. It's just a matter of landings.
Lindsay Mable – Minnesota
Another senior looking to manufacture something brilliant in her final opportunity, Mable has the clean execution across all events and should be very competitive with everyone on beam and floor for scores in the 9.9s. The questions for Mable are her full on vault, which is lovely but just a full, and her bars routine that can often turn into a 9.8. If Minnesota is out of it early, will she have the team scores to lift her?
Kennedy Baker – Florida
Sloan is Florida's most likely winner, but Baker has the big difficulty vault and floor routines that could put her ahead of Sloan/everybody, which is what happened when she became SEC all-around champion. The biggest factor sending Baker down the depth chart of AA contenders is her first position placement on bars and beam, making it less likely that she can get into the 39.7s. She'll need the scores to be kept down so that a 39.6 can win the title. Post-Sloan, Baker will be one of the very top favorites in the all-around.
Alex McMurtry – Florida
I almost forgot about McMurtry because I was skimming through the RQS standings to make sure I hadn't missed anyone, and she doesn't have an RQS. If McMurtry is competing on floor (which she did not do at regionals, so asterisk here), she has a very compelling argument given that her vault is regularly 9.900 even without a stick and her bars is...well-documented already. Her best event this year, however, has been beam, where she has become the team's 9.9 rock. She'd have to be on fire returning to the floor lineup to actually win the title here, but I can see a lot of 9.9s falling McMurtry's way.
These are the most likely winners but by no means the extent of the options. Under normal circumstances, they would be joined in this category by Nina McGee and Nicole Artz, both of whom are also capable of 39.7s in the AA but will be competing without a team here.
Time to Get Your Jenny Hansen On
It's so much harder to make noise at nationals as an individual, but McGee and Artz will have to channel their inner Jenny Hansen, who won three consecutive AA titles competing as an individual, to snatch the scores they're quite capable of earning.
Nina McGee – Denver
We all know about McGee's floor, but her 9.9s on bars have been an overlooked contributor to her AA success this year. The question for McGee is beam, which can sit in the lower 9.8s and was down to 9.700 at regionals. That's not a score that can win an all-around title, so we'll have to wait to see how McGee endures beam in rotation three to judge if she's in it to win.
Nicole Artz – Michigan
Artz has the pedigree to win an AA title, though given the injuries she has been working through lately and competing without a team, it seems everything is against her. Still, she's in the conversation because bars, beam, and floor can all realistically go 9.950. The issue for Artz is vault, which has never been a real strength and can stick around 9.750-9.800 too often, which would take her out of the hunt.
Keeley Kmieciak – Oklahoma
It's easy to overlook Kmieciak because she doesn't have the big big biggest routine for Oklahoma on any of the events, but she's just so solid. She's the one who got a 10 on bars this year and is usually good for a stick on vault. Floor is often in the 9.8s and, like Baker, she doesn't have the lineup placement on several events to get a gigantic number. With a hit meet for everyone, she's not going to challenge Sloan and Price, but she could totally Kim Jacob this thing.
Myia Hambrick – LSU
Hambrick is not supposed to be LSU's star. She's supposed to be a supporting player, but she's the team's only AAer and has emerged as a scoring star on each event in spite of her early-lineup positions. She has been scoring into the 9.9s on bars, beam, and floor from the second position with exceptionally well-executed and stylish gymnastics, but does she have the solidity and ironclad performances to beat everyone else from the second position at nationals?
Breanna Hughes - Utah
Hughes went from competing one OK event to being an all-around star in about a millisecond, and she's ranked right up with the top players in the AA now. She has made improvements to her 1.5 on vault and her pirouette finishing positions on bars to turn herself into a much more competitive scorer across a whole meet, and she does have the lineup positions to spur her forward. Beam is unlikely to be a huge score, but I could see a very competitive AA total overall.
Alicia Boren – Florida
We've all been excited about seeing Boren's vault and floor routines in NCAA for years, and she has not disappointed. Those events will be strong scores, but her challenge in an individual race will be getting equivalent numbers on bars and beam. It can certainly happen if Florida is having a big day, but you'd have to think that if Florida is having a big day, then at least one of Sloan, Baker, and McMurtry will be finishing ahead of Boren.
Brandie Jay – Georgia
Brandie Jay in the all-around. It happened. Vault and floor have always been there and continue to be, though with more reliable composition and improved control on her full out to make floor a consistently useful score. She has also shown enough stickitude on that DLO 1/1 on bars lately that it doesn't become a hobgoblin to her total. The big deal, of course, is beam, where she has gone from being "eek, Brandie Jay's beam" to the team's most reliable worker. Her routine is still often in the 9.7s, which would take her out of the AA race and is the primary reason she's down the list as low as this, but with a hit she'll be somewhere in the mix.
Hollie Blanske – Nebraska
So as not to commit the sin of overlooking Nebraska as we all so often do because we rarely get to see those meets and have little idea what Nebraska is even doing, Blanske is a legitimate threat for a 9.9 on every event. She has the 1.5 on vault and the biggest floor routine on the team to anchor that lineup, though she's more likely to have a few 9.850s thrown in there which take her out of the range of the very top AA scores.
I'll also use this opportunity to mention Brittany Rogers, who hasn't been doing floor lately when the whole team is intact, but she stepped in for Snead at regionals. So, if she's doing the AA again and has somehow survived this whirlwind gymnastics tour of hers, she's another possible 39.6er waiting in the wings.