Friday, April 26, 2013

The One Where Florida Wins a Championship...

And Florida makes five.

Seeing a new team win a title was the storyline that compelled me to follow NCAA gymnastics more closely, and I was so excited to see this happen. In my previous post that I wrote the morning of the Super Six, I mentioned that I thought Florida would either win the title or struggle in the first rotation. I never imagined they would do both.

After the second fall on beam, my heart was in my throat. I knew that Florida wasn't out of it, as I felt that the Gators were approximately 0.500 better in scoring potential than any other team on the floor. Knowing Florida could come back was one thing. Seeing the Gators actually achieve that comeback was absolutely incredible.

I got more nervous when Florida's first floor performer fell. Yet, the comeback was just beginning. With everything on the line, Bridget Sloan, Ashanee Dickerson, Marissa King, Kytra Hunter, and Bridgey Caquatto nailed their routines. It was one of the best and most complete floor performances I've ever seen- from the tumbling, the landings, the dance and presentation, to the determined fire in their eyes.

That comeback and championship was one of those things that makes you spontaneously high-five the person sitting near you that you just met a few hours earlier, as you bonded over seeing history being made.

As I said, I started following Florida because I wanted to see a new team win. (I'm a fan of college gymnastics as a whole and like most teams, and I try not to show preference on this blog.) However, I admit that I've found a soft spot in my heart for this Gator team and program. Florida hosted the first Nationals I ever attended, and I really enjoyed sharing that experience with the wonderful Gator fans that I met. Over the past four years, I found myself rooting for these talented and passionate Gator gymnasts and coaches. I am absolutely THRILLED for them. I can't believe the girls I first saw compete as freshmen are now seniors, and I can't even begin to imagine Gator gymnastics without Marissa King.

Watch more videos on Gymnastike

Seeing Florida win has only built my anticipation for the future of college gymnastics. I'm interested to see if Florida can continue to win NCAA titles, and I'm also excited to see whether Oklahoma another team can break in and win in the near future.

So congrats, Florida. I have really loved following your program's journey toward that elusive title, and I'm so happy that I was in LA to see that incredible comeback and victory.

I can't wait to see what's next!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The One Where a New Team Wins a Title...

It's the storyline that has captivated me for years. I have always loved gymnastics. Yet, one of the reasons I've been particularly drawn to following NCAA gymnastics is the fact that only four teams and four coaches have ever won. Only three teams and three coaches have won since 1996.

I was captivated. I wanted to know what it would take for a new team to win. Yet, for years I never felt that there was a team that could break through and do it. UCLA was impressive and unbeatable during their championship years of 2000-2004, interrupted only by the one championship Alabama hosted.

Then, Georgia looked unbeatable in their championship years from 2005-2009. While I found Georgia impressive and enjoyable to watch, I grew weary of watching because Georgia was so dominant that they seemed to evaporate any suspense related to the outcome.

Except once. In 2007, the Florida Gators beat Georgia at the SEC Championship. It was that win, and that win alone, that made me think that Florida might be the team who could grab that elusive NCAA title. However, in the years following that win, Florida had trouble living up to that expectation as Georgia remained unbeatable.

In 2010, a new era began in NCAA gymnastics with the retirement of Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan. This was the year that Florida was hosting Nationals, and I thought the combination of Florida's hosting and the Georgia coaching change might result in a new team winning.

So, I decided to go see Nationals in person for the first time. I'd been wanting to go to Florida anyway since I have friends who live near Gainesville, so I thought heading down there for Nationals would be the perfect time to visit. I figured I'd only go to Nationals once. I was wrong. I got hooked, and have made going to Nationals my yearly vacation ever since.

However, at 2010 Nationals, Florida struggled with the pressure of hosting (and faced a fairly unbeatable UCLA squad) and didn't win. Yet, what compelled me most about the 2010 season was that there was a second team that made the case that they could also break through and win an NCAA title.

That team was Oklahoma.

Starting in 2010, the top three spots at Nationals have been split between UCLA, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Florida:
  • In 2010, UCLA won convincingly. Oklahoma and Alabama finished second and third respectively, while Florida finished fifth.
  • In 2011, Florida struggled on beam in the semifinals and didn't make Super Six. Alabama won fairly convincingly as they built momentum towards the end of the season. UCLA finished second, and Oklahoma finished third.
  • In 2012, Alabama won with a magical performance, beating Florida by 0.075 and UCLA by 0.100. This final came down to the last routine and was incredibly exciting. Oklahoma faced injuries during the season and did not qualify for the Super Six.
And that brings us to 2013. I try to back up every opinion I have on this blog with a fact or a video. I'm now going to make an exception. I have felt since the third week of the 2013 season that this really is the year where a new team wins. It's been a gut feeling that I can't actually explain.

I also believe that team is most likely Florida, but could also be Oklahoma. Let's take a look at the Super Six teams.

I think that for a team to win a title, that team has to have experience competing in the Super Six. This is the first Super Six appearance for both Georgia and LSU since 2009, which means that no gymnasts on the current roster have competed in the Super Six. This season, both LSU and Georgia have been improving each time I see them, so they can't completely be counted out. They are, however, significant underdogs at this point.

Injury-ridden UCLA put up an absolutely valiant effort last night to get into the Super Six. UCLA has totally won me over after having seen them compete in person both at Regionals and at Nationals last night. However, UCLA doesn't have the scoring potential to win. No amount of home-field advantage can fix it.

That leaves previous winner Alabama, and legitimate contenders Florida and Oklahoma.

Alabama put up a strong and solid performance last night, and I don't expect the Tide to make mistakes today. I will say that their performance lacked the magic and wow factor that I saw from Alabama both in Cleveland in 2011 and Duluth in 2012.

Oklahoma also put up a strong performance last night which I felt was underscored. Oklahoma has beautiful polish on beam and floor and makes it difficult for the judges to take deductions from their routines. (Apparently, the judges worked pretty hard at it last night, which makes me concerned that Oklahoma may not have earned the perception as a national title contender in the judges' eyes.) They earned it from me four years ago, so everyone needs to get with the program.
Here's what Oklahoma has going for them:
  • They have the Olympic order rotation.
  • They don't make significant mistakes and are very polished.
  • They have a bars rotation that can keep pace with Florida's, in my opinion. Pay attention to Oklahoma's bar scores in rotation 3.
  • They will have absolutely no pressure on them.
Here are the concerns:
  • Oklahoma was underscored in the opinion of many last night, suggesting that they may not have the perception they deserve.
  • We haven't seen Oklahoma compete against Florida this season, and the Sooners may not have the scoring potential on the power events to keep pace with Florida. A particular concern is vault- they'll have to stick five vaults to have a chance.
So, that brings us to the Gators. It is important to note that Florida had the highest score in the semifinals yesterday by four tenths, and their performance had a number of issues on which the Gators can improve today:
  • Kiersten Wang (floor) and Rachel Spicer (beam) struggled in their leadoff routines on the respective events. While the remaining five gymnasts did well, having a low score does affect the overall scoring potential of a rotation. You want to count your five best scores, not the only five hits you get.
  • Kytra Hunter didn't have her best meet yesterday. She had a rough landing on floor and didn't stick her vault. I missed her bar routine, but read there were issues with it as well.
  • I can usually sense a team's energy when I watch them compete and felt that Florida was a bit nervous and tight on both floor and vault. I thought their energy became more relaxed and enthusiastic on bars after their bye.
We'll know the storyline of the Super Six early since Florida starts on beam. Will they continue to struggle in the first rotation of championship meets? Can Rachel Spicer improve on the leadoff routine from yesterday? The positive about the Gators' starting on beam today was that the last five routines from yesterday were rock-solid and impressive. Mackenzie Caquatto's and Marissa King's routines were amazing. Hopefully, the Gators take the momentum from the end of yesterday's beam rotation and use it to begin today's. If the Gators hit beam, ending on bars could allow them to put up such a huge rotation score that they cannot be caught.

I don't know what is going to happen tonight, but I feel like something big is about to occur. We'll soon find out!!

Friday, April 19, 2013

My Picks for Rotations and Routines to Watch

I can't believe it. It feels absolutely surreal that the season is ending and that the semifinals of championships start tomorrow. Since we can't watch every routine on every event, I wanted to share with you the routines and rotations I plan to focus on tomorrow. The relative success of these rotations and routines will affect which teams advance tomorrow.
For those of you watching online, I hope you get to see as much of these picks as possible.

So, let's get started!

Illinois (starting on vault):
Storyline: Illinois put up a solid and consistent performance at Regionals to hold off Nebraska's comeback and unexpectedly advance to Nationals. The Illini are not expected to advance out of the semifinal round.
Key Rotation(s): Beam and floor. These are Illinois' best events, and they do consistent routines with nice choreography and polish.
Key Routine(s): Any event from Alina Weinstein, particularly floor. I would like to see her make floor finals.

Georgia (bye before bars):
Storyline: After winning five consecutive championships with Suzanne Yoculan, Georgia failed to advance to the Super Six for three straight years with Jay Clark. New coach Danna Durante has the team in a position where they are expected to advance to the Super Six. After struggling on beam in January and February, the team has been the second-best team on beam in the NCAA in March. Can the GymDogs make the Super Six when the pressure is on them?
Key Rotation(s): Bars and beam. Look for Georgia to have a comfortable lead after these events, as more teams can match them on floor and vault.
Key Routine(s): Brittany Rogers on bars and beam, Chelsea Davis on bars, Shayla Worley on beam, and Kaylan Earls on beam. These girls can bring in 9.9+ scores, so look to see whether they receive them in the early afternoon rotations.

Minnesota (bars):
Storyline: Minnesota had an amazing season this year, culminating in being the "surprise team" that advanced to Nationals. Minnesota has the best chance of the "surprise teams" of recent years to advance past the semifinals. They'll likely need five stuck vaults and help, but it's doable.
Key Rotations: Vault. Minnesota beat out Auburn for the spot at Nationals by ending on vault and nailing landings. Minnesota ends on vault again, so they could pull out another big score and upset if the necessary factors align.
Key Routines: Freshman Lindsay Mable is the star of this team and is capable of 9.9 scores on all four events.

LSU (beam):
Storyline: LSU is a talented, young team that is a study in contrast. Their scoring potential is stratospheric on vault and floor, yet the team lacks the polish and finesse that other teams have on bars and beam. LSU is having their best season in four years and is expected to advance to the Super Six on the strength of their vault and floor performances.
Key Rotations: Normally, LSU's key rotations are floor and vault, but I want to call attention to their bars. LSU is not a top three bars team in this session, so look for them to have a comfortable position before their ending rotation to secure advancing.
Key Routines: Lloiminicia Hall's floor is the most unique, most frenetic, and most controversial routine in NCAA gymnastics. Don't miss it.

Stanford (bye before floor):
Storyline: We have learned that Stanford is unpredictable in the postseason. In 2011, they failed to advance to Nationals as the top seed in the Regional. In 2012, the team unexpectedly made the Super Six on the strength of an amazing beam rotation. (When I typed out the draft, I ended that sentence with a question mark as a typo, but a question mark does symbolize how I feel about Stanford.) While Stanford isn't the most likely pick to advance, they have the scoring potential and reputation to pull off another surprise.
Key Rotations: Beam. Stanford got into the Super Six last year by ending on beam and turning in solid and beautiful routines. The Cardinal end on beam again.
Key Routines: Watch how many 9.9 scores are turned in by Ivana Hong, Kristina Vaculik, and Sami Shapiro throughout the meet to see how likely Stanford is to advance. They'll probably also need a 9.9 on beam from Amanda Spinner.

Florida (floor):
Storyline: Oh, Florida. I think you all know their story. Widely heralded since 2007 to be that "fifth team" that breaks into the winner's circle in NCAA gymnastics, the team hasn't always performed to their potential at Nationals and still has never won. 2013 is the Gators' best chance yet, as they showed at Regionals that they pack more scoring potential than any other team. Florida is amazing to watch, as they combine the difficulty and polish of elite gymnastics with the enthusiasm and spirit of NCAA gymnastics. (They remind me of the iconic Georgia and UCLA teams of the past decade.) I had always thought that Florida's winning a title would be a really big deal, as it would represent that a fifth school had carved its way into the group of top programs. Yet, I'm not sure I see a Gator title as so earth-shattering, as Florida has already broken into this group based on their recruiting, rankings, and collection of SEC Championships. However, this team is too impressive not to have a title on their resume. Can the Gators get the Hollywood ending we've been anticipating?
Key Rotations: For the national title, all rotations have no room for error. For tomorrow, floor. Florida has a history of shaky starts in the first rotation in postseason meets, so we'll see if they have this under control. Yet, they also have a history of rallying after these shaky starts, so no reason for concern tomorrow if the floor routines have landing issues.
Key Routines: Again, for the title, all 24 routines. For tomorrow, I'm going with Marissa King's floor and Bridget Sloan's beam. The team tends to feed off of the energy and momentum generated by these particular routines.

Arkansas (starting on vault):
Storyline: Coaches Mark Cook and Rene Lyst win my overall award for getting their team to outperform their regular season at Regionals, and 2013 was no exception. While the Razorbacks seemingly advanced to Nationals because Oregon State threw their bars rotation in the trash, Arkansas actually put up a score that would have challenged Oregon State if the Beavers had hit bars. I don't think Arkansas can advance further in such a stacked session, but they do know how to capitalize on mistakes:
Key Rotations: I would say floor. Arkansas ends on floor and it is the team's strongest event.
Key Routines: Everything from Katherine Grable. She'll need four 9.9 scores if Arkansas wants to advance.

Alabama (bye before bars): Storyline: Alabama is going for their third consecutive national title. They have a history of winning national titles after being underestimated and counted out based on their ranking in the regular season. This talented and well-coached team should show up at Nationals doing their best gymnastics of the season and has a good chance to win. If Alabama does win, they have a chance to go for four in a row next year in Birmingham. Don't underestimate their motivation to do this.
Key Rotation: Vault, vault, and also vault. If Alabama wants to challenge Florida, they have to beat the Gators on this event. Look for Alabama to win this event in their semifinal and easily advance because of it. Key Routines: Aside from vault, look for 9.9+ scores on Ashley Priess' bars and beam, and Kim Jacob's beam and floor.
Side Comment: Ohio State's Sarah Miller will be rotating with Alabama and performing on beam only. I'm really interested to see what kind of score she gets after "following" Jacob and Priess, and whether she makes event finals.  

Michigan (bars):
Storyline: After missing out on Nationals last year, the tenacious and powerful Wolverines are back with a vengeance and a great chance to get into the Super Six. Michigan has already competed at Pauley Pavilion this year and set a season high when doing so. I expect a confident performance.
Key Rotation: I'm going to call attentiont to Michigan's beam- the only rotation where the Wolverines don't look like a Super Six team. Watch to see whether or not the Wolverines lose ground to Alabama, Oklahoma, and UCLA on this event. Michigan's other events are 49.500 worthy when hit.
Key Routines: Watch Joanna Sampson on all four events, as she could be a challenger for the all-around title in the evening session. Her floor is particularly impressive.

UCLA (beam):
Storyline: What's not to love about these scrappy Bruins? UCLA lost a good chunk of their 9.9 routines due to injury this season, and the gymnastics "peanut gallery" worried that the Bruins could miss out on the Nationals which they are hosting. However, UCLA rallied. While this Bruin team doesn't have the scoring potential of past Bruin teams, they are actually quite consistent and less likely to count falls. If UCLA manages to pull off a Super Six appearance in this competitive session, it would thrill the crowd and be quite an accomplishment of triumph over adversity. By the way, new Pauley looks fantastic, and Wooden references are everywhere. UCLA should give the fans a scavenger hunt to find all the Wooden memorabilia and quotations on campus while we wait between sessions.
Key Rotation: Floor. If UCLA wants to maximize home-field advantage, it's on this event where they'll have to do it. Look for 49.500.
Key Routines: Vanessa Zamarripa on all four events. Aside from being a strong contender for the all-around title, Zamarripa will have to deliver 4 9.9+ scores (on the mend from an ankle sprain) to give UCLA any shot to advance.

Utah (bye before floor):
Storyline: You know this story as well. We always think this is the year where Utah misses the Super Six based on their regular season, but they never miss. The Utes should have tremendous fan support in LA. Can they pull off their 3959830th consecutive Super Six appearance?
Key Rotation: Beam. Utah has not scored particularly well on beam when on the road this season. Look for the Utes to have an unexpected yet comfortable lead going into the last rotation to have a good chance to move on. (That said, I don't think that there's any such thing as a comfortable lead in this power-packed second session.)
Key Routines: To be honest with you, I haven't watched enough Utah meets this season to be sure.

Oklahoma (floor):
Storyline: Over the past four season, Oklahoma has emerged as another team that has a chance to be the fifth team to win an NCAA gymnastics title. I won't hesitate to say that there have been points over the past four years where I've thought that Oklahoma (not Florida) would be that fifth team. (I love both Oklahoma and Florida, and I think the fact that there are two schools that could break in and win makes NCAA gymnastics more compelling as a whole.)
Oklahoma has impressed with their polish, their strategy, and their ability to make beam look like a choreographed dance done on the floor. However, the Sooners seemed to hit their peak in February in their home meet against UCLA. Can the Sooners find a second peak performance?
Key Rotation: In addition to beam, pay attention to Oklahoma's bars. This bars rotation is probably underappreciated for its scoring potential. I feel Oklahoma must win bars in this session to easily advance.
Key Routines: Routines that must go 9.9+ are (among others): Maile Kanewa on vault. Brie Olson and Taylor Spears on bars (watch to see if they stick two very difficult dismounts). Taylor Spears on beam. Haley Scaman on floor (she has the best toe point in a double layout that I've seen).

I know there will be an online broadcast tomorrow and plenty of quick hits. I'll be attending both semifinals and will tweet any notable observations that I think might not show up on the online feed. (I know sometimes there are things you can actually see better on the online feed, such as vault heights and landings.) If you have anything specific you want me to look for, let me know via the comments or on Twitter and I'll make sure to watch for it.

Before ending the post, I wanted to share a few snippets of my day in LA with you. Read on if you like.

I was walking around the UCLA campus earlier today when I was approached by someone trying to get a charity donation. He greeted me with "So, how does it feel to be short?" I just smiled- it's amazing to me how many people (and strangers) comment on height, and I'm used to it. Everyone who tells me "your bag is bigger than you!" thinks that I've never heard that before.

I'm only four foot ten, and I've always been happy to be short. After all, my mom enrolled me in gymnastics because she thought it would be a good sport for me due to my height. It was the best sports-related decision she's ever made. (For the record, the worst sports suggestion she ever made was that I try lacrosse. I decided that the purpose of the lacrosse stick was to cover my head to prevent myself from getting hit by the ball, and the coach never bothered to explain otherwise. I just got benched.) I definitely should have stuck to gymnastics.


If you've read my blog for a while, you know that one of the things I enjoy about traveling to gymnastics meets is the road trip itself. I pride myself both on my sparkling-clean driving record and ability to drive long distances. When I drove to NCAA Nationals in Gainesville, I visited my grandmother as well and drove from Ohio to South Florida. If I'd had time, I would have wanted to drive to LA, but I had to fly.

So, I wanted to have the experience of driving up Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu, and decided to rent a car. I learned that the combination of a completely unfamilar car, traffic I didn't know was possible, and hilly instead of flat Ohio terrain was too much. I was proud of myself for making it around the block and back to the parking lot.

There's a big difference between driving in Ohio and driving in LA. Gymnastically speaking, it's like mastering all the gymnastics skills in Level 5 to perfection, and then figuring you're ready to try for elite. (I was able to drive around Westwood later, so that was progress. I apologize if any of you were behind me.)

Happy Gymnastics Christmas Eve!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

1997: The Last Time a New Team Won

In 1997, UCLA broke into the winner's circle and joined Utah, Georgia, and Alabama as the only four schools ever to win a title in NCAA women's gymnastics.

So, the last time a new team won a gymnastics title:

  • Bill Clinton had just been inaugurated into his second term as president.
  • Republican Pete Wilson was the governor of California.
  • Unemployment was at only 4.9 percent.
  • There was no Facebook, no Twitter, and no Harry Potter.
  • Apple Computer underwent extensive layoffs as they struggled to keep pace with Microsoft.
  • ER, Seinfeld, and Friends were the top-rated shows on television.
  • The top songs were "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" by Puff Daddy (that was his name then), "Foolish Games/You Were Meant for Me" by Jewel, and "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls.

UCLA won their first title in Gainesville, Florida. You can relive their win in the videos below. Can Florida break into the exclusive group and win their first title in Los Angeles, sixteen years later? We'll find out in four days!

I'm leaving for LA tomorrow morning. I want to wish everyone who is going to LA safe travels, and I hope all the teams have a healthy and happy week of practice and competition.

Thanks for reading and wishing you all a wonderful week!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Team Rankings from Last Four Meets and Implications for Nationals

As far as I know, the selection committee for NCAA basketball considers not just a team's overall body of work, but how the team performed in the weeks leading up to the tournament when seeding each team. Additionally, our discussions of NCAA gymnastics each season do include significant chatter about which teams peak at the right time.

So, I decided to calculate rankings for each of the 12 Nationals teams based on their average score from their last four meets (up to and including Regionals) to see if we could get more insight about how the teams will do at Nationals. I have color coded the teams for first session (red) and second session (blue).

1. Florida (198.175)
2. Alabama (197.640)*
3. Georgia (197.625)*
4. LSU (197.350)
5. Oklahoma (197.250)
6. UCLA (197.206)
7. Utah (197.144)
8. Michigan (197.081)
9. Minnesota (196.925)
10. Stanford (196.656)
11. Arkansas (196.575)
12. Illinois (196.244)

*I did NOT include Alabama and Georgia's neutral deductions at SECs in their averages. I wanted the numbers to reflect performance only.

So, what did we learn?

1. Florida (198.175)
3. Georgia (197.625)
4. LSU (197.350)
9. Minnesota (196.925)
10. Stanford (196.656)
12. Illinois (196.244)

The conventional wisdom that a) this is Florida's championship to lose and b) that Florida, Georgia, and LSU will advance from the first session if they hit is reflected in these average scores.

I don't particularly like saying that this is Florida's championship to lose, because I want Nationals to be suspenseful and exciting. Alabama proved at SECs to be a worthy challenger. Also, saying that a team is "expected to win" can also add to the pressure and expectation on their performance at Nationals, and then I start worrying that the pressure will get to them. Florida has been amazing to watch all season due to their difficulty, polish, and a spirited competitiveness that has emerged over the last month. I hope the Gators perform the same way at Nationals, and I certainly think this 2013 squad is the strongest team Florida has ever had, both in scoring potential and competitiveness. Can they make history?

Watch out for Georgia. They were the third-ranked overall team in March and achieved this total with only one home meet. I think the Gym Dogs improved in March more than any other team. So much of Georgia's narrative this season has been about coming together as a team with a new coach that I feel their performance level is just coming together and they haven't even peaked yet. There will be tremendous pressure on Georgia to make the program's first Super Six since 2009. If the Gym Dogs handle this pressure, they could really exceed expectations. Danna said at the beginning of the season that her goal was to make the Super Six. I thought it was an aggressive goal at the time, but Georgia's in a good spot to do it.

LSU and Challengers:
If one of the top teams is vulnerable in the first session, it looks like that team is LSU. I'm a little bit worried about LSU's ending rotation on bars, and would like them to have a bit of a cushion going into their last event. Minnesota will be ending on vault, and if Minnesota and LSU are close at the end of the competition (not that likely), Minnesota's vault can outscore LSU's bars. Additionally, bars is the event where Stanford has the potential to gain ground on LSU. I believe LSU directly follows Stanford on bars, and the back-to-back comparison could also affect LSU's scoring potential on the event. That said, Stanford is unpredictable and Illinois likely has no chance to move on.

Overall, Florida, Georgia, and LSU are in a great position to advance and it would take something unexpected for this not to happen. However, let's reflect back on the second semifinal from 2012 Nationals, where many were saying that it would take something unexpected for Florida, Alabama, and Georgia not to advance. The unexpected DID happen- and Arkansas cracked into the Super Six after Georgia fell on beam three times. Anything can happen- especially when the expected result looks so straightforward.

2. Alabama (197.640)
5. Oklahoma (197.250)
6. UCLA (197.206)
7. Utah (197.144)
8. Michigan (197.081)
11. Arkansas (196.575)

Um, holy crap. I would say that Miss Val's calling this session a "bloodbath" just about sums it up. Let's delve into analyzing this session in more detail.

While there are no guarantees in this session (or in any session), I would be stunned if Alabama doesn't advance. First of all, Alabama has proven in their last two championship seasons that they can clean up any remaining ragged edges between Regionals and Nationals. I expect Alabama's performance in the semifinals to be their best performance of the season. It is important to note that Alabama achieved their season-high score at SECs without senior Ashley Sledge in the lineup, and she is expected to be back. Also, Alabama ends the semifinal session on vault. Vault is Alabama's best event, and in the rankings I compiled over the last four meets, Alabama is ranked #1 on vault. If Alabama needs a big score here to secure advancing, the Tide can probably get it.

Arkansas is about 0.500 behind the other teams in average score, which suggest that the Razorbacks need help to advance. I expect the teams in this session to be on their game, and I don't think Arkansas will get enough help to move on.

That leaves four teams going for two spots- Oklahoma, UCLA, Michigan, and Utah. Let's discuss.

Oklahoma is the strongest of the four teams. While it is not ideal to end on a bye when the competition will be close, Oklahoma's rotation order is ideal. They will be starting on the power events (floor, vault) and then moving to the finesse events (bars, beam) where their form and polish can shine and be rewarded. Vault is a concern for Oklahoma, as Michigan and Utah are capable of outscoring the Sooners. Oklahoma will need to stick as many vaults as possible to avoid losing ground here.

I have spent so much time this season talking about Oklahoma on beam that I've forgotten to mention the quality of their bars rotation. These bar routines are delivered with Oklahoma's usual polish, have varied and interesting composition, and are packed with difficulty. For example, Brie Olson does a Deltchev release and a full-twisting double layout dismount. Based on my analysis of the last four meets, Oklahoma is the top bars team in their session and the second-best team on bars overall. Look for Oklahoma to get a huge score on bars (and to win the event within the session) to maximize their chances of advancing.

When I compiled my rankings based on the last four meets, I didn't adjust UCLA's number at all to account for the fact that they are hosting Nationals. I am not convinced that being the host is a huge advantage. However, in a semifinal session where the teams are this close, hosting could be the boost UCLA needs. UCLA starts the semifinals on beam, where the Bruins will need to hit to have a chance to move on. Floor is the event where UCLA can maximize their home-field advantage, and I am not thrilled that UCLA will only be the third team to go on floor. I would think that UCLA needs to manage a 49.4+ score on floor to have a chance to move on. Vault and bars are events where UCLA can hold their place, but they are not events on which UCLA can make up serious ground over Oklahoma and Michigan.

I can hear it now. UTAH? Seventh? How is averaging the scores from the last four meets going to present an appropriate picture of Utah if it includes that 198.125 score at home?

I actually think that including that data point does give us a more relevant picture of Utah. First of all, Utah isn't the only team to benefit from high scoring. The score at that meet was particularly noticeable because it seemed to affect the overall outcome of the meet. And, while scores at that meet were high, I still felt that Utah put up a solid mid-197 performance which showed us that the team shows up prepared and ready for big competitions.

Most importantly, that score reflects the fact that Utah does have perception and history on their side, a factor which could help Utah again at Nationals. I also expect Utah to have the most fans in the audience aside from UCLA, a helpful factor in a close competition.

My point is that I feel Utah is just as much in the mix to advance as Oklahoma, Michigan, and UCLA. While Utah's performance at Regionals did show significant vulnerability, Utah fell in the rankings because of this low score and is much stronger than a typical tenth-place team. When you add in that Utah has a history of showing up prepared for big competitions, making the Super Six when their regular season doesn't suggest that they will, earning positive perception from the judges, and performing well in front of their fans- they have a reasonable shot.

However, Utah will have to handle ending on beam. It's important to note that Utah's highest beam score this season on the road was a 49.175. The Utes will likely need to better that score to advance. They are in the unenviable position of following Oklahoma on beam, which may lead to their scores tightening up in comparison.

Like Oklahoma, I feel that Michigan has a slight disadvantage from ending on a bye, but that their rotation order is ideal. Michigan is stronger on the power events than they are on bars and beam, so it is beneficial for Michigan to end on floor and vault.

On bars, Michigan has the potential to score well due to the amplitude of their release moves and ability to stick landings. However, Michigan does bars in the first rotation where scores would be tighter. A score of 49.250+ would be an excellent start. On beam, Michigan doesn't have the scoring potential to gain ground on the other teams. It's about staying on. Michigan is fabulous on floor and can easily go 49.4+ here. The problem is that Alabama, Utah, UCLA, and Oklahoma are capable of matching the Wolverines on floor, so whether or not Michigan gains ground is dependent on the performances from the other teams as well.

If Michigan is to advance to the Super Six, I really don't think they can do it without a 49.500+ score on vault. Over the past four meets, Michigan has been the #3 team on vault behind only Alabama and LSU. Michigan will be the second to last team to vault. If they are to advance, look for Michigan to put up the highest vault score of any team in the session so far. (Alabama is the last team to vault, and a 49.500+ rotation from Michigan would push Alabama's vault scores even higher.)

Hard to summarize such an unpredictable session, but I will give it a shot:

  • I will be surprised if Alabama does not advance, and surprised if Arkansas does advance.
  • Oklahoma, UCLA, Michigan, and Utah will be battling for two spots.
  • Oklahoma's tickets to the Super Six are a solid, polished performance on beam, as well as winning bars in the session.
  • UCLA's ticket to the Super Six is maximizing their home-field advantage on floor. (They'll also need a 39.600+ performance in the all-around from Zamarripa, who is recovering from an ankle sprain.)
  • Michigan's ticket to the Super Six is a stuck vault rotation which scores 49.5+.
  • Based on their performance at Regionals and their beam performance all season, Utah looks vulnerable. However, the Utes cannot be counted out due to their history of hitting in the semifinals and their perception. They have made the Super Six in consecutive seasons by taking advantage of opened doors.
I can't wait to see what happens!

If you're interested, here are the event rankings by team based on average score from the last four meets, color-coded by session. I've also highlighted the places where a team that is seeded in the top 3 for the session (Florida, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma, Alabama, UCLA) is not in the top 3 on the event. (Based on numbers, the vulnerable rotations include UCLA's vault, Oklahoma's vault, UCLA's bars, and LSU's bars. Based on actual observations of the teams, I'd agree.)

1. Alabama (49.488)
2. LSU (49.481)
3. Florida (49.469)
3. Michigan (49.469)
5. Utah (49.419)
6. UCLA (49.400)
7. Georgia (49.350)
7. Minnesota (49.350)
9. Oklahoma (49.294)
10. Stanford (49.275)
11. Arkansas (49.194)
12. Illinois (48.981)
*If Alabama is to win it all, look for them to significantly outscore Florida on vault.

1. Florida (49.581)
2. Oklahoma (49.406)
3. Alabama (49.390)
4. Georgia (49.388)
5. Utah (49.344)
6. Michigan (49.300)
7. UCLA (49.250)
8. Stanford (49.194) 
9. LSU (49.163)
10. Minnesota (49.113)
11. Arkansas (49.088)
12. Illinois (49.044)

1. Florida (49.538)
2. Georgia (49.456)
3. Alabama (49.275)
4. LSU (49.269)
5. Oklahoma (49.188) 
6. Minnesota (49.181)
7. UCLA (49.125)
8. Arkansas (49.063)
9. Utah (49.019)
10. Michigan (49.013)
11. Stanford (49.006)
12. Illinois (48.944)
*It's worth noting the drop in the average between Florida/Georgia, and the rest of the pack. However, Alabama and Oklahoma are capable of beam rotations significantly higher than these averages show.

1. Florida (49.588)
2. Alabama (49.488)
3. LSU (49.438)
4. Georgia (49.431)
4. UCLA (49.431)
6. Oklahoma (49.363)
6. Utah (49.363)
8. Michigan (49.300)
9. Minnesota (49.281)
10. Illinois (49.275) (watch their floor, it's beautifully choreographed)
11. Arkansas (49.231)
12. Stanford (49.181)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Highlights from Regionals- Part 3

Here's Oklahoma's highlight video from Regionals:

By the way, it's worth pointing out what great coverage Oklahoma had for their Regional. On the web, they offered feeds from each event, as well as a televised broadcast. As far as I know, Oklahoma was also the only Regional from which coverage was archived. The Sooners are doing an amazing job promoting their program, and it is imperative for them to raise exposure and interest when they don't have the opportunity to compete in a high-profile conference championship.

That being said, Oklahoma is doing a great job getting top teams on their schedule for both home and road meets. This year, the Sooners went to Georgia and Alabama, and UCLA and Stanford both came to Norman. When Oklahoma makes a point to compete against these schools, they expose the fan base of the other school the polished gymnastics they perform. Also, wins against these schools improve Oklahoma's perception as a national title contender.

I started following Oklahoma back in 2010 when the Sooners beat Florida in the first meet of the season and went on to have a season where they made the Super Six and completely elevated the perception of their program. It was immediately apparent to me how strong Oklahoma was, and I've been following them ever since. This season, I have a feeling the Sooners have pulled in more interest in the same way.

By the way, if you haven't seen this article from Gymcastic with notable quotes from the press teleconference with the NCAA coaches, you should check it out. Pay attention to the quote from KJ at the end, where she is asked about her strategy for peaking her team, since the Sooners' 198.375 season high came at the end of February against UCLA.

Oklahoma blew me away with this performance against UCLA, where they looked like a serious national title contender. Since that night, Oklahoma hasn't quite made the same impression for a number of reasons (in my opinion):

1. Raised Expectations: Oklahoma's 198.375 performance and score raised our expectations of the Sooners. High 197 scores seemed more expected than impressive. We (the collective fan base) began to see them as much more than a team who was incredible on beam and hit consistently. We saw them as a team that could legitimately challenge and win due to being a top team on four events, not a team that could win only by taking advantage of an opened door. When I evaluate a team as a national title contender, there is a higher level of scrutiny.

2. Lineup Adjustments: Keeley Kmieciak was not in the lineup starting at the North Carolina/Stanford meet on March 10th through the conference championships. She is capable of 9.9+ scores on all events.

3. Schedule: Oklahoma had an unbelievably grueling schedule this season, consisting of fourteen meets. NINE of those meets were on the road. The Sooners didn't take a bye week. I would say that a typical schedule would be twelve meets, consisting of ten regular season meets, conference championships, and Regionals. Unless a team was hosting conference championships or Regionals, this would usually break down as five home meets and seven road meets. I thought the Sooners looked a bit tired when they competed at Alabama and broke their amazing streak of nine meets with a 197+ score.

4. Beam: Since the UCLA meet, Oklahoma counted one fall on beam. In the six meets Oklahoma has had since the UCLA meet, they only got six hits on beam in two of those meets. Oklahoma's biggest "wow factor" is how their beam routines look like one continuous choreographed dance from the leadoff routine through the anchor routine. It seems like each routine picks up where the previous routine left off and builds upon it. If Oklahoma doesn't get six hits on beam, I would argue that the whole rotation doesn't pack the same punch as a result. While the individual routines are always strong, the impression of all six together is bigger than the impression any routine has on its own.

The good news is that Oklahoma hit six beam routines at Regionals. Kmieciak was back in the lineup (in place of Brie Olson). The Sooners will likely need to score higher than 49.175 on beam in the Semifinals to get into the Super Six. They have a very good chance to get such a score, particularly because they will end on beam. While the floor, vault, bars, beam rotation order is ideal for Oklahoma, I plan to be biting my fingernails off since they do end on a bye.

Will Oklahoma show up at UCLA looking like the 198.375 team that beat UCLA back in February? I can't wait to find out!


Speaking of UCLA, Here's their interview discussing the team's performance at Regionals and the upcoming Nationals they are hosting:

I've mentioned on this blog (and on the message board) that I thought UCLA might be vulnerable at Regionals. The funny thing is that as soon as I saw the Bruins start to compete at Regionals in person, I wasn't nervous for them at all. I can usually sense a team's energy and mindset when I watch them compete, and UCLA really did look calm and relaxed from the beginning. (That's why it's always worth it to me to go to Nationals in person, no matter how far away it is.) By the way, I think Miss Val considers holding up the vault numbers to be an opportunity for a choreographed dance. I'm pretty sure she was pointing her toes while doing it.

UCLA brought their calm and relaxed energy over to beam. (Miss Val was dancing to the floor music while they were competing.) Even after Zamarripa missed her foot on her dismount, I really wasn't concerned. As soon as Danusia Francis got up on beam to anchor, her poise and confidence captured our attention. My mom commented "Who is she- she's really good!"

I mentioned on the message board that UCLA's floor rotation at Regionals was one of my favorite moments of the season. Certainly, due to injuries, UCLA's 2013 narrative hasn't been what we expected. (I honestly expected a national title rematch between Alabama, Florida, and UCLA that went down to the final routine.) Instead, UCLA lost almost 50% of their expected lineup to injury (Peszek, Lee, Larson) and had to rely on gymnasts for key routines who weren't even expected to make the lineup. I enjoyed UCLA's floor rotation because you could feel that every girl in that lineup understood that their routine played a role in whether the team made it to Nationals, and they weren't going to squander the opportunity. Alyssa Pritchett has become a consistent 9.9 score for the Bruins. Zamarripa turned in a great routine even after spraining her ankle on the beam dismount. Byum and Sawa, after struggling with consistency this season, performed the best routines I've ever seen them do.

In the above interview, Miss Val seems realistic about UCLA's chances to make the Super Six. She says that the team will have to be better than they were at Regionals in order to qualify, which is absolutely true. In fact, I would advise every team in that second session to plan on being better than they were at Regionals- there are no guarantees in such a difficult semifinal. I can't even fathom the concept that (at least) one of Oklahoma, Alabama, UCLA, and Michigan won't be competing on the final night. To make qualifying even tougher, there's Utah. While Utah seemed to have an underwhelming performance at Regionals and isn't a top three seed in the session, they haven't missed a Super Six since plastic was invented. It's difficult to imagine a Super Six without the Utes.

Can UCLA pull off qualifying for the Super Six at home? In a week from now, we'll know!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

9.9 Scores at Regionals

I was curious to see which teams scored the most 9.9s at Regionals, in order to learn something about each team's scoring potential at Nationals, as well as which Regionals might have had higher/lower scoring overall.

Here we go!

1. Florida (Gainesville Regional)

  • Total Number of 9.9+ scores- 16 (yikes)
  • Vault- 4 (Dickerson, Hunter, Johnson, Sloan)
  • Bars- 3 (M. Caquatto, Hunter, Sloan)
  • Beam- 4 (M. Caquatto, Hunter, King, Sloan)
  • Floor- 5 (B. Caquatto, Dickerson, Hunter, King, Sloan)
I do not expect Florida to score 16 9.9+ scores outside of Gainesville. However, these numbers tell us that Florida is more than capable of the 10-12 9.9 scores it would take to win.

2. Alabama (Tuscaloosa Regional)
  • Total Number of 9.9+ scores- 11 
  • Vault- 2 (Williams, Priess)
  • Bars- 3 (Jacob, Clark, Priess)
  • Beam- 2 (Jacob, Priess)
  • Floor- 4 (Priess, Beers, DeMeo, Milliner)
Like Florida, Alabama may have had a boost from being at home. It will be interesting to see how many 9.9s they get in the semifinals. By the way, since Alabama is ending on vault (their best event) in the semifinals, I would be surprised if they don't advance to the Super Six.

3. LSU (Columbus Regional)
  • Total Number of 9.9+ scores- 10 
  • Vault- 3 (Courville, Lau, Taylor)
  • Bars- 1 (Morrison)
  • Beam- 2 (Courville, Jordan)
  • Floor- 4 (Courville, Hall, Jordan, Mathis)

LSU had the most 9.9 scores of a team not competing at home. I might have scored LSU's bars rotation lower, but I felt that the scores LSU got on beam, floor, and vault were fairly deserved. Actually, looking at these numbers makes me more confident that LSU will advance to the Super Six than I was yesterday.

4. Georgia (Corvallis Regional)

  • Total Number of 9.9+ scores- 7
  • Vault- 0
  • Bars- 1 (Davis)
  • Beam- 3 (Persinger, Rogers, Worley)
  • Floor- 3 (Jay, Persinger, Worley)
Georgia had the Olympic order in Corvallis, so these numbers tell me that either Georgia performed better in each rotation and/or that scores loosened up with each rotation. Georgia had the highest score of any team competing on the road at Regionals and has a good chance to make their first Super Six since 2009.

4. Oklahoma (Norman Regional)
  • Total Number of 9.9+ scores- 7
  • Vault- 2 (Kanewa, Mooring)
  • Bars- 2 (Clark, Spears)
  • Beam- 1 (Spears)
  • Floor- 2 (Olson, Scaman)
This is an interesting development, as I thought Oklahoma could have managed more 9.9 scores when competing at home. Could the Sooners be vulnerable? Oklahoma is competing in the tougher evening session and ending on a bye. I do like that they end on beam before the bye, however I am concerned that the beam score at Regionals was only 49.175. That will have to be higher in the semifinals.

6. UCLA (Columbus Regional)
  • Total Number of 9.9+ scores- 6
  • Vault- 2 (Courtney, Zamarripa)
  • Bars- 0
  • Beam- 1 (DeJesus)
  • Floor-3 (Courtney, Pritchett, Zamarripa)
It is interesting to note that only two of the 9.9 scores came from Zamarripa. If Zamarripa has a better performance in the semifinals, this tells us that UCLA would be capable of 8 9.9+ scores. Eight 9.9 scores would probably get UCLA into the Super Six.

7. Stanford (Norman Regional)
  • Total Number of 9.9+ scores- 5
  • Vault- 3 (Dayton, Hong, Rice)
  • Bars- 0
  • Beam- 1 (Hong)
  • Floor-1 (Morgan)
Stanford scored the most 9.9s at Regionals of the bottom six teams. They do have a shot at upsetting one of the teams in the afternoon session. Stanford has the same draw as last year when the Cardinal pulled off a surprise Super Six appearance (ending on beam). I like this draw for Stanford, as beam is their best event when they hit.

8. Arkansas (Corvallis Regional)
  • Total Number of 9.9+ scores- 4
  • Vault- 1 (Grable)
  • Bars- 0
  • Beam- 2 (Freier, Grable)
  • Floor-1 (Grable)
8. Minnesota (Gainesville Regional)
  • Total Number of 9.9+ scores- 4
  • Vault- 3 (Covers, Mable, Slechta)
  • Bars- 1 (Mable)
  • Beam- 0
  • Floor-0
I had figured that Minnesota's 197+ score at Regionals might have been due to "Gainesville scoring," but I'm not sure that's really the case. Minnesota only got one 9.9 before they got to vault. When Minnesota ends on vault, those vaults really are worth 9.9+ scores. Watch out for Minnesota, they will be ending on vault in the semifinals as well.

8. Utah (Tuscaloosa Regional)
  • Total Number of 9.9+ scores- 4
  • Vault- 2 (Dabritz, Wilson)
  • Bars- 1 (Dabritz)
  • Beam- 0
  • Floor-1 (Damianova)
Of the 12 teams moving on, Utah's performance at Regionals was probably the most disappointing. They would have been vulnerable with a different Regional pairing. Will Utah find a way to pull off another Super Six appearance, or is this the year they miss?

11. Illinois (Morgantown Regional)
  • Total Number of 9.9+ scores- 3
  • Vault- 1 (Weinstein)
  • Bars- 1 (Weinstein)
  • Beam- 0
  • Floor-1 (Weinstein)
All of the 9.9s were from Alina Weinstein.

11. Michigan (Morgantown Regional)
  • Total Number of 9.9+ scores- 3
  • Vault- 0
  • Bars- 2 (Martinez, Sampson)
  • Beam- 1 (Zurales)
  • Floor-0
What happened? Was the scoring in Morgantown really tight, or did Michigan not have their best performance? A little of both? (I didn't see this Regional and haven't seen Michigan post any highlights.) Michigan is certainly capable of more 9.9 scores. When the Wolverines competed at UCLA earlier this season, they put up thirteen 9.9 scores.