Monday, 30 March 2015 23:09

2015 Women's Regional Preview

Written by Greg
Oregon State's Madeline Gardiner Oregon State's Madeline Gardiner (c) 2014 Lloyd Smith

It's the final push to Nationals for the final 36 teams!  Who will advance from the Regional?  Which Top 12 team will be upset?  It's anyone's guess.  Here's a short preview of a pressure-packed weekend.

It's a fight for Fort Worth, and the 36 teams are ready and divided into six fields.  After battling to qualify, the teams were placed in Regions according to their seed, as determined by their Regional Qualifying Score (RQS).  The top 18 teams were divided into trios of 1-12-13, 2-11-14, and so on.  Where there was a host team in the trio, the trio was anchored in that region (e.g, Auburn).  Otherwise, the highest ranked team was given geographic preference in placement.  The remainder of the field was selected from "pods" of teams ranked 19-24, 25-30, and 31 to 36.  These teams were placed by geographic proximity.  Where there was more than one team in a "pod" from the same Region, the lower ranked team was placed in another Regional where the field lacked representation from that "pod".  This was done to promote uniformity of the strength of the fields.  A little bit of luck is involved here.  To be quite frank, not all Regions are considered equal.  Regions that contain a host in ranks 2, 3, or 4 are inherently more challenging.  Also, the 6-7-18 pairing is usually one of the toughest, as it features the widest spread in rank between the Top Two seeds and Seed Three.  

There is another factor at play, one that involves a bit of chance.  Not all of the judges have been judging to the same level of strictness this season. While this tends to level out in the post-season, variances can still occur.  These variances can manifest in Regionals that are judged more strictly than another, or a single event that gets judged more flexibly. A strict panel can magnify a team's gap to leaders of the Region, on their weakest event.  Conversely, a loosely judged event can mask a team's weakest event.  The phenomenon we call the "soft bottom" makes the obvious errors in execution, like steps and bobbles, more important.  The "soft bottom" occurs when the best routines are judged relatively strictly to maintain separation at the top of the standings, while routines with a number of errors are rated only a tenth or two behind.  While every effort is made to minimize these types of variances, it has occured in the past, and more than likely will happen this weekend.  Teams will just need to power through it all and minimize the errors they make overall.  With the rising level of skill and execution in the NCAA, you can bet that the Top 36 teams have all been focusing on sticking their landings in the practices leading up to the meet.  Every step will count as the teams chase the Top Two seeds.      

Ames Regional (Iowa State, host) – 5 p.m. ET

1. LSU
2. Nebraska
3. Denver
4. Washington
5. Michigan State
6. *Iowa State

LSU is the heavy favorite to advance out of the Ames Regional.  Led this season by Rheagan Courville, Ashleigh Gnat, Lloimincia Hall and Jessie Jordan, the Tigers should easily advance, barring a major meltdown.  Nebraska is also a heavy favorite to advance as well, but their path is a bit less straightforward.  They are led by Hollie Blanske, Jessie DeZiel and Grace Williams.  The Huskers started off strong this season, but minor injuries and inconsistency have slowed them down as they headed into the post-season.  At the Big 10s, they were shakey on BB and failed to break 49, in a relatively loosely scored meet.  NU can post big scores on VT (#6 by RQS) and a big 49+ on FX, but they've shown inconsistency and a lack of depth on UB (#13) and BB (#15).  By hitting, the Huskers control their own destiny.  However, with any problems, the door opens.   We'll know right away, though, as NU starts on UB and BB and then get to finish on their best events, FX and VT.  It's a near perfect draw for them, and one they'll look to take advantage of. 

Waiting to break through is Denver, led by Nina McGee.  McGee is a clear standout in the Pioneer lineup, especially on FX where she tumbles one of the country's best double layouts.  DU has had some issues with inconsistency and depth as well, but can shine on VT and FX.  But on UB, they rank just #25 and they've struggled at times with falls on BB and FX.  BB is first up for this squad, and we'll know early on if they are able to challenge.  Washington was sent over from the West Region to even out the Regionals, as the West region had two teams in the "pod" of teams ranked 19 to 24.  The Huskies are led by AAer Allison Northey, and are unusual in that their highest four scores have all come on the road. Usually, teams tend to score higher at home.  DU and Washington's nearly identical road averages suggest that both squads are roughly equal and it could be an open race if NU falters.  But, that's a big if.

A few steps back are the much improved MSU squad and host Iowa State.  The hosts always have a built-in advantage in the Regional meets, but knocking off three higher ranked teams is challenging.  MSU has had some inconsistency, but has hit for some 196+ scores on the road.  MSU is led by Lisa Burt while Iowa State features Caitlin Brown. They will both look to chase spots at Nationals.       

Auburn Regional (Auburn, host) – 7 p.m. ET

1. Alabama
2. *Auburn
3. Minnesota
4. Iowa
5. Maryland
6. George Washington

Alabama has continued to improve as the season has progressed, as their young squad has gained competitive experience.  Led by Lauren Beers and Kaitlyn Clark, the SEC Champions will be tough to unseat.  If there is such a thing as "momentum" in gymnastics, the Crimson Tide have it.  Host Auburn is the #2 seed.  Hosting a regional gives the squad a built-in advantage; they don't have to travel, they are familiar with the arena and are familiar with the equipment.  However, the pressures of the home crowd can sometimes be a double edged sword.  Top AAer Caitlin Atkinson leads the way for the Tigers, capably supported by seniors Bri Guy and Megan Walker.  Auburn has had a history of problems at Regionals, but all the pieces are in place for them to succeed and qualify. 

Waiting to step forward in case one of the top two falters are Minnesota and Iowa.  Minnesota has been led by standout AAer Lindsay Mable.  Mable and her squad have been known to put forward consistent efforts.  However,  this year's squad has been hampered by the coaching transitions of the Fall and a general lack of depth and experience.  The key event for the Gophers will be UB and BB; they've counted falls the last two meets.  A much improved Iowa squad will be looking for an opportunity to step forward, after consistent efforts the last two meets.  They are led by Mollie Drenth, Sydney Hoerr and Angel Metcalf.  However, this Regional remains a tough draw, as both of the top two seeds are in-state crowd favorites.

Maryland captured the #5 seed while GWU capped off a strong season to nab the 6th seed.  They finished 30th and 31st in the National RQS Rankings, a bit back from the top four.  They'll look to build off a strong season and contend even more strongly next season.   

Berkeley Regional (California, host) – 9 p.m. ET

1. Utah
2. Georgia
3. Boise State
4. *California
5. Utah State
6. BYU

Utah heads the fields in the Berkeley Regional, and is a strong favorite to advance, despite the loss of star Tory Wilson to an Achillles' tendon injury at the Pac 12 Championships.  The Pac 12 Champions will be led by Georgia Dabritz and Corrie Lothrop, and a deep and large roster of gymnasts.  Wilson's loss will be felt on VT and FX, where her potential 9.9+ scores will be missed the most.  Her experience as the BB leadoff was also critical.  Her experience and ability to handle the pressure set the stage for the rest of the squad.  The Utes will need another leader to step into this role.  However, barring a complete meltdown, the Utes should advance easily. 

Number #2 seed UGA drew a tough challenge, by virtue of the Regional assignment methodology --- there's that element of "chance" creeping in.  The higher ranked team in the trio of qualifiers, in this case Utah, gets the geographic preference in the Regional selections.  Thus the Gym Dogs find themselves in California, facing a consistent Boise State squad and the host Bears. UGA's young squad is led by Mary Beth Box, Chelsea Davis, Brandie Jay and Brittany Rogers.  The BB has been the Gym Dogs nemesis, and Box and Rogers will need to bookend a strong, consistent performance for the Gym Dogs to advance.   In general, UGA's can post some big "second half of the lineup" scores, but their first half of their lineup will need to keep pace. 

Boise State will look to post another solid effort, led by Kelsey Morris, Krystine Jacobsen and Ciera Perkins.   The Broncos have experienced some inconsistency and lower scores on BB, where they've struggled a bit with execution.   They'll be starting here, and so we'll know early on how they handle the pressure.  UB is their standout event, along with Vault, and they'll look to post strong tallies there to close the meet.  Cal has been strongest at home, where the comfort of the home gym has produced their most consistent performances.  Their weak event has been the Balance Beam, and they'll be forced to end on that event.  They are led by frosh superstar Toni Ann Williams and soph Charlie Owens, both AAers.  This meet could very well be determined on the Balance Beam, where all four squads have had their issues in the past.   

USU and BYU complete the field, and they'll look to finish their season in a strong fashion.

Columbus Regional (Ohio State, host) – 6 p.m. ET

1. Michigan
3. Arizona
4. Central Michigan
5. Kentucky
6. *Ohio State

The Columbus Regional features the toughest combination of seeded teams for any non-Top 12 team to knock off:  Seeds 6, 7 and 18.  Michigan and UCLA are both looking strong at the end of season, especially as their frosh gain experience and they get key athletes back in the lineups.  Michigan has excelled this season with a small squad.  They've had standout seasons from the likes of Nicole Artz, Brianna Brown and Sachi Sugiyama and look set to power through the Regional.  This trio of AAer has formed a strong core which has carried the Wolverines to a Big 10 Title and the #6 seed.  The squad as a whole may lack some depth, but they should have no problem advancing, barring a disaster.  UCLA is also peaking at the end of the season, as they usually do.  Danusia Francis, Peng Peng Lee and Samantha Peszek lead the way for the large Bruin squad, which has built consistency as the season has progressed.  They'll need to stay consistent once again, and avoid too many mistakes. 

Arizona draws the tough assignment, being the #18 seed.  It's especially a tough draw when the #6 and #7 are the Wolverines and the Bruins.  Arizona has overcome a number of injuries, most notably to AAer Allison Flores, to finish the season strong.  They are consistent and solid, a characteristic which has produced a number of key wins and 196+ road scores.  Their lack of depth, however, is starting to show on VT, and they'll need to stay consistent and hope for mistakes from the Top 2.  CMU looks to finish the season strong after a somewhat rocky early start.  They are led by Kylie Fagan, Halle Moraw and Taylor Noonan, who are clear standouts on the squad.  Like Arizona, they'll look to a strong finish to their season.    

Kentucky also had a strong start, only to be hampered by injuries and the newly diagnosed illness of Shelby Hilton.  They can still produce a strong effort and will look to knock off one of the higher ranked teams.  Host Ohio State has struggled this season, as they lost a wealth of senior talent the last two graduating classes.  Their talented frosh class is still adjusting to the rigors of NCAA competition.  But as the host, they'll look to parlay that advantage and finish well.      

Morgantown Regional (West Virginia, host) – 4 p.m. ET

1. Florida
2. Stanford
3. Illinois
4. Arkansas
5. New Hampshire
6. *West Virginia

Defending co-Champion Florida will be heavily favored to advance, barring a disaster on beam.  Led by Kytra Hunter and Bridget Sloan, the Gators were denied yet another SEC Championships after numerous troubles on the BB.  The highly talented Gators are in full control of their destiny; they will advance as long as they keep the mistakes to a minimum.  Perhaps the tightest battle in the Regional field, however, will be the battle between Stanford, Illinois and Arkansas.  Stanford is finishing strong, with the return of stars Kristina Vaculik and Elizabeth Price to the lineup.  Each week that has gone by, the squad has gotten stronger.  Staying consistent and confident will be keys for the Cardinal, as they've struggled at times on the road.  In contrast, Illinois has not only gotten stronger as the season has progressed, they've rarely wavered.  Consistency, not big tricks, are the hallmarks of the Illini squad.  They've used this formula to make Nationals, and will look to repeat the feat.  The Big 10 runner-ups are led by Giana O'Conner and Mary Jane Horth,  

Perhaps just a bit behind the top three seeds is Arkansas.  The GymBacks have had some issues with consistency and the adjustment of their young squad to college competition.  They've been led by Amanda Wellick and frosh Paige Zasiski.  If both the Cardinal and Illini falter in their pressure-filled battle, Arkansas will look to take advantage and sneak on through.  Further back are UNH and host WVU.  UNH has a much lower road average than their home average, and suffered a key injury in the latter half of the season that stalled their progress.  WVU has been building throughout the season but has broken 196 just once this season.   They'll both look to finish their seasons strong. 

Norman Regional (Oklahoma, host) – 5 p.m. ET

1. *Oklahoma
2. Oregon State
3. Penn State
4. Southern Utah
5. Missouri
6. NC State

Host Oklahoma will the heavy favorite to advance from the Norman Regional.  The defending National Co-Champions and current #1 have been nearly invincible this season.  Led by Chayse Capps, Brenna Dowell and Haley Scaman, it would take an upset of historic proportions for the Sooners to be knocked out.  While always a possibility, you can bet the field is not counting on it.  Instead, all attention will be pu on the the "States".  PSU and Oregon State will battle it out, and the rest of the field hopes the pressure of the competition creates an opening for another squad to squeak through.

Penn State is coming off a strong season that featured strong contributions from their experienced core and talented frosh class.  The Nittany Lions are led by Emma Sibson, Briannah Tsang and Krystal Welsh, but were missing Lauren Li at the Big 10s.  Because PSU has a smaller squad, her absence was felt as some of the squad is still working through old injuries.  They feature big vaults and tumbling, but drop off a bit on UB and BB.  Oregon State is a more balanced squad, but had a number of troubles early in the season on FX, where their tumbling execution suffered.  As the number 2 Seed, they'll start on UB, a very strong event for them.  In contrast, PSU will have to start on the BB, which is always a pressure filled event.  Last year, PSU hosted a Regional and knocked Oregon State out of Nationals.  You can be certain the Beavers want their revenge, but they'll need to hit their FX routines and stay steady on the BB.  It should be another interesting battle to watch unfold.   

Looking to break through if both of the "States" falter are SUU, Missouri and NC State.  In the past, the intense battle between Seeds 2 and 3 has produced a number of errors from both squads, allowing a lower ranked squad to sail through.  SUU has been building throughout the season and will look to end the meet with consistent performances and put themselves in that position.  They may need a mistake or two to slip by the "States", however, based on the most recent road scores.  Missouri and NC State both finished strongly to qualify for Regionals, and will also look to post strong scores.  Both squads feature some standouts, but lack the overall depth to advance without some major mistakes by the leaders.   

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