April 19, 2014

Super Six Live Blog

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

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

Here's the rotation order for the day:


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

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

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

LIVE SCORES

LIVE VIDEO

April 18, 2014

National Semifinals Live Blog - Get Excited Immediately

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

LIVE SCORES

LIVE VIDEO

ROTATION ORDER

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


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

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

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

April 17, 2014

Wake Up, It's Nationals Tomorrow

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

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

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


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

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

The rotation schedule.

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

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

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




April 16, 2014

Nationals Preview Part 4: Individual Times

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

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

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

Bridget Sloan - Florida

RQS: 39.720
High: 39.825

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

Rheagan Courville - LSU

RQS: 39.620
High: 39.750

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

Katherine Grable - Arkansas

RQS: 39.610
High: 39.725

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

April 15, 2014

Nationals Preview Part 3: They'll Cut Each Other

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

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

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

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

FLORIDA


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

April 13, 2014

Nationals Preview Part 2: Who Is Suddenly Amazing?

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

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

UTAH


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

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

April 12, 2014

Nationals Preview Part 1: All About the Beamjamins

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

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

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

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

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

GEORGIA


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