In Morgantown Saturday Alabama gymnasts hope to do what they have done 31 times before, more than any other team in the nation: win their NCAA gymnastics regional. In all Alabama has advanced to the championship 34 times, since 1983, the fourth season under a fledgling coach named Sarah Patterson. The rest of the story is as we say, “writ in crimson flame.” Patterson took her team to 6 national titles, the first was in 1988. To see those highlights click here.
The Carnivorous Opposition: ‘Skunk Bears’ and T-Birds
This weekend 36 teams compete at 6 different sites, including Gainesville and Fayetteville. The top two teams move on to the next round. In the Morgantown Regional the Tide is the top seed and will face competition from Michigan, Southern Utah, Kent State, West Virginia, and George Washington University. This group should not pose that high a degree of difficult, but.....
A quick scan of scores/rankings from NCAA.com show that while overall #7 Michigan sits just behind #6 Alabama with an RQS of 197.135 to Bama’s 197.355, the Wolverines’ highest score of the season 197.825 matches Alabama’s highest to the one-thousand of a point. So the dreaded ‘skunk bears’ are capable of matching or even besting Bama if things go sour on, say, the uneven bars.
Fair warning: #18 Southern Utah’s highest score this season 197.025 is better than the Tide’s average score of 196.963 and Michigan’s average of 196.823, so it is within the realm of possibility the Thunderbirds could soar on to St. Louis — if they have a phenomenal afternoon and the Tide or Wolverines stumble. Again the top two finishers move on.
Since there are six teams performing in only four events, two teams sit out each rotation. Alabama begins on its weakest apparatus, the uneven bars. (good to get that out of the way early) In the second rotation the Tide moves to its best event, the balance beam. Then the ladies sit out the third round. In the fourth rotation Alabama heads to floor; the fifth rotation takes the team to vault. The Crimson Tide sits out the final rotation hoping that its final score will hold up against the teams still competing. (While Bama sits out, Michigan finishes on its best event, floor exercise.)
Season in a Nutshell
While this year’s 7-4 campaign hasn't been the Tide's best, part of that can be attributed to rapidly improving competition in the SEC, and the rise of Oklahoma as a force. Alabama opened 2017 with a loss at top-ranked Oklahoma, followed by a home loss against #2 LSU. Understandable (perhaps) defeats, but this season also included first-ever losses to Arkansas and to conference upstart Kentucky. Off-setting those losses were victories over #3 Florida and #10 Georgia.
Putting competition aside, another major stumbling block has been a lack of consistency, particularly on the uneven bars. In its last outing, the SEC Championships, the Bama ladies took third with an okay score of 197.4, (behind LSU and Florida), in a performance marred by mistakes in all four events. Confidence-wise the Tide needs to win and perform solid routines with clean landings.
Gymnasts to Watch and Where to Watch.
In Kiana Winston and Nickie Guerrero, Alabama has two of the nation’s top gymnasts. Winston is ranked fourth in the all-around, 5th on floor, and 7th on beam, 12th on vault. Guerrero is fourth on beam. Opponent alert: Michigan’s Nicole Artz is ranked twelfth nationally on all around, 8th on floor.
Interestingly, all six regionals start at 4pm in their time zone. For those of us in the central time zone that’s 3pm. SECN + is carrying only the regionals at Gainesville and Fayetteville. To see the Tide roll: link to WVU’s live stream of the event. (click here).
My prediction: The Tide will move on Nationals.