Today begins the first day of the NCAA Gymnastics Nationals semis, as we winnow our way down to tomorrow’s Super Six. The Tide comes in competing the best it has all year — and the most consistent it has been in several.
Here is the field and their regional scores going into nationals.
Oklahoma Minneapolis 198.000
Florida University Park 197.725
LSU Raleigh 197.675
UCLA Columbus 197.650
Nebraska Raleigh 197.525
Utah Salt Lake City 195.475
Alabama Tuscaloosa 197.225
Kentucky Minneapolis 197.050
Arkansas Columbus 196.775
California Salt Lake City 196.725
Georgia Tuscaloosa 196.500
Washington University Park 196.275
We’re going to skip over the SEC teams, who you know, and just say a few things about the rest of the field and who to watch:
UCLA: The Pac 12 champs just won their 18th regional. As impressive as that it, they did so in a region 2300 miles across the country — the same region that also hosted perennial powerhouse Utah. Keep on eye on Christine Peng-Peng Lee, she’s a beam slayer — even nailed a 10 in the Columbus regional -- she’s had four this year. But, she’s not a one trick pony: Lee has five 10s overall and is a finalist for the AAI award given to the nation’s top senior gymnast. Also watch Kyla Ross, who was the co-regional all-around champion with Skinner. As for team events, the beam you know. But watch UCLA’s exceptional floor. They won’t get many 10s, but all five performers can rack up great scores. And, like most PAC 12 teams, the Bruins kill it on the uneven bars.
Utah: All-around champion Mykayla Skinner is the workhorse of a Utah team that isn’t quite as strong as in years past. Missy Reinstadtler has probably been the one most responsible for the Red Rocks returning to nationals. Like Alabama’s Abby Armbrecht, she has been a solid all-arounder that gets overlooked on a team with an all-American senior. This is an excellent vault team, but they’ve been undone on the beam quite a bit this season. Still, in a conference that also hosts the Bruins and Cal, Utah was able to finish second in the regular season and the P12 Championships.
Nebraska: Known more for their men’s squad the past 20 years, the Cornhuskers eked in from a point-happy Raleigh regional that had exceptionally cushy scoring for all the competitors. The darkest of dark horses, the ‘Huskers were a clear Number Four in the B1G behind Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota. Danielle Breen is an SEC/P12-calibre elite gymnast, but probably won’t win any medals Friday. This is the first Nationals for UNL in 15 years, and you have to think the moment will be too big for a team that most don’t think really belong here in any event.
Oklahoma: Not much to say here about the Sooners. We saw them in Tuscaloosa, and they’re the class of the country. No matter how well you perform, OU always seems to be just a little better. They have an absurd eight meets where the team has hit 198.00 or above — no one else has more than four. If the Dirt Burglars don’t win it all, consider it an upset. Florida actually leads the nation in 10s scored, but since the nationals aren’t in Gainesville, one is most likely to emerge from an OU or UCLA competitor.
Cal: Poor Cal reminds you of Kentucky — an all-around solid team that wishes it were in another conference. The Bears had a good regular season, but it still wasn’t enough to overcome the Utes/Bruins duo that dominates the West Coast. This may be the deepest floor team in the country — all five compeititors rank in the Top 50. But, despite that depth, it’s not enough to overcome the uneven bars, where the Bears have had to simplify things just to stay competitive in meets. The falls have lessened, but the scoring leaves a lot to be desired. If Berkley eliminates itself today, it will most likely be because of lower start values and mistakes on that apparatus.
Washington: Call You Dub the Nebraska of the Pac 12: They really shouldn’t be here and it shows. Hailey Burleson is the star for the Gym Dawgs; she’s legit on nearly every rotation. Unlike a lot of teams in Nationals, the Huskies are very good on the bars — one of the better units out there, in fact. Where Washington has struggled, and where I think they really struggle today, is on the floor — there are too many powerful competitors, and many more solid teams with great choreography, for UW to overcome.
Super Six: LSU, Oklahoma, Florida, UCLA, Alabama, Utah
National Champion: Oklahoma
Alabama takes to the floor today in the early session, noon central on ESPN 2. Here’s the rotation schedule, where the NCAA has placed four of the six SEC teams in one session, including a reacquaintance for the Tide with archrival Georgia:
Roll Tide, and hope for the best in St. Louis.