Sunday, 01 April 2018 19:07

Women's 2018 Regionals Preview

Written by Greg
Alex Hyland and Kentucky Hope to Advance to Nationals Alex Hyland and Kentucky Hope to Advance to Nationals (c) 2017 Lloyd Smith, Used by Permission

It's finally year, the last Regionals weekend before the NCAA switches to a new format next year.  36 teams, six teams per regional, will battle for one of two team slots that advance to Nationals.  In addition, the top two AAer not from advancing teams will also qualify, plus any individual event winner. 

The final placement of the teams based on geographic proximity and the very nature of the Top 18 seeds often creates Regionals that appear to be tougher than another.  The presence of a host in the field can suddenly mean a lower ranked team gets boosted by the familiarity of the home arena and the extra confidence instilled by a home crowd.  While certain "trios" are naturally tough ("12" and "13", for example), others can be unexpected be tough when a team on the rise has not been able to shed lower scores from earlier in the season, but appear to be peaking at the right time.

One other factor beyond the team's control bears worth mentioning.  As any more than casual observer of college gymnastics can attest, the degree of judging strictness can vary from meet to meet, and even event to event.  What's worse, some judges also take the opportunity to get stricter in scoring evaluations during the post-season.  When a tightly judged event or meet hits, it can impact the standings by exposing weaknesses that have not been evident due to loose regular season scoring.  In contrast, a loosely scored event can mask a team's weak event and also cause too much emphasis on steps and obvious mistakes.  In a sport where advancing to Nationals is often determined by 0.1 to 0.3 tenths, the entire outcome can be impacted by this unpredictable factor. 


Minneapolis Regional  (Minnesota)

1.  Oklahoma (1)

2.  Kentucky (12)

3.  Denver (13)

4.  Minnesota (24)

5.  Iowa State (28)

6.  Iowa (35)

Oklahoma heads into the Regional a strong favorite to advance with ease.  Pending a meltdown on BB like they had earlier in the season, they should advance relatively easily.  The big battle will be for the second spot, where #12 Kentucky must fend off #13 DU and host Minnesota, plus Iowa State.  With Maggie Nichols leading the way, and teammates like Brenna Dowell, Nicole Lehrmann and Anastasia Webb giving chase, OU will look to stay consistent and avoid any injuries prior to Nationals.  The Sooner stars will also make it tough for any individual to advance (although it is not impossible, especially on UB and VT). 

Kentucky may still have a sense of deja vu, as they enter into yet another Regional meet as they once again enter the Regional as the #12 seed with a strong #13 to challenge them.  As the #2 seed, they'll begin the meet on BB, perhaps their strongest event but where perhaps their ability to post a big event number will be hampered by being early in the meet (rotation one scores tend to be lower).  They've battled with minimizing errors at times on UB and BB, but seem to be gaining strength in the post-season.  A big meet from Mollie Korth, Alex Hyland and Sidney Dukes will be key. 

Although DU is not hosting, they are on a definite upswing after breaking 197 in their conference meet.  Star frosh Lynzee Brown missed a good portion of the middle part of the season, and is only just coming back.  With another two extra weeks to heal, we'll see if she's able to further boost the Pioneers.  Denver has lacked depth and any key injury has an outsized impact on their scoring potential.  DU has also suffered at times with inconsistency, especially from their other newcomers.  We'll see how they handle the pressure of ending on BB, and how high star Maddie Karr can lift the entire squad.  

Host Minnesota is looking to play spoilers, behind super frosh Lexy Ramler and soph Ivy Lu.  For the Gophers, consistency and depth have been issues, especially after the loss of Ona Loper.  They'll be hoping for a mistake from UK or DU.  Iowa State is also lurking, and will look to surpass the others to pull a big surprise.  AAer Haylee Young leads the way for the Cyclones. 


Raleigh Regional  (NC State)

1.  LSU (2)

2.  Nebraska (11)

3.  Oregon State (14)

4.  GWU (19)

5.  NC State (20)

6.  Maryland (31)

LSU heads into the Raleigh Regional as a heavy favorite to advance.  Led by Kennedi Edney, Sarah Finnegan and Myia Hambrick, the Tigers have been a consistent force all season long.  With the post-season approaching, they've been getting healthier and more daring, adding upgrades while perfecting their sets. Like OU, it would take a major issue for LSU not to advance.

Nebraska has had an up and down season, with a brilliant meet countered by an error-plagued one.  Their chances on Saturday depend on which Husker team shows up, the 197+ version or the 195- version.  The Huskers have a number of stars that are coming back from injury, like Kynsee Roby and Taylor Houchin, and the lack of numbers has resulted in some inconsistency.  Sienna Crouse and Meagan Schweihofer lead the way, and having them in top form will be key.

Oregon State looks to challenge the NU squad, no matter if the Huskers hit or not.  For the Beavers, it's been a year with step-up performance from a rotating cast of sophomores.  The class has risen in a number of ways to fill in gaps in the Beaver lineup.  Sabrina Gill, McKenna Singley and frosh Kaitlyn Yanish have lead the way, but it's gymnasts like Destinee Davis and Alyssa Minyard that have provided a much-needed boost in depth.  For the Beavers, they'll need to ensure the entire lineup is avoiding major mistakes, and they'll hope to see the full return of Dani Dessaints.

If both NU and Oregon State have troubles, host NC State and fourth seed GWU will look to challenge.  NC State has been on a strong improvement trend, and they'll look to capitalize on any chance they get.  GWU lost the conference title two weeks ago and will be seeking to redeem themselves.  Maryland looks to cap a strong season and set the stage for next season. 


Columbus Regional (Ohio State)

1.  UCLA (3)

2.  Arkansas (10)

3.  Boise State (15)

4.  Ohio State (25)

5.  Pittsburgh (33)

6.  Kent State (34)

UCLA heads the Columbus Regional and looks to advance behind the 10-power of stars Kyla Ross, Peng-Peng Lee, Katelyn Ohashi, Felicia Hano and Madison Kocian.  That quintent will make it very difficult for any individual to advance, and it will take a big breakdown to keep the Bruins from advancing.  The Bruins will look to build upon a consistent effort and get ready for Nationals.

The big battle will be for the second slot.  Arkansas is the #2 seed, after a strong reason that saw them return to the ranks of National contenders.  The return of star Amanda Wellick and the breakout performance of sophomore Sarah Shaffer and frosh Sophia Carter have been keys to the GymBacks success.  Combined with returning standouts Jessica Yamzon, Braie Speed and Hailey Garner, Arkansas is coming off a win in the first session of the SECs.  They have experienced bouts of inconsistency and their weakest events are VT and FX, the leg events, and so the middle part of the meet will be key for them.

Set to challenge Arkansas is Boise State.  The Broncos have come "oh so close" to making Nationals but have not yet been able to break through.  The key event for them will be the Balance Beam, where they only rank #26.  They are led by Shani Remme, Courtney McGregor and Sandra Collantes.  The Broncos stand out on VT, where they are capable of throwing a large array of 10.0 start value vaults.  They also have some big tumbling, but small deductions have added up at times, particularly on the BB.  

Host Ohio State will look to ride the momentum from the home crowd and home arena to pull off an upset.  They are coming off a strong performance at the B1G Championships, where they placed 5th.  They are led by Alexis Mattern, Jamie Stone and Olivia Aepli.  Consistency has been an issue with the Buckeyes, and a strong BB performance will be necessary to mount a challenge.  Pitt and Kent State complete the field.  Pitt is coming off a strong season under a new coaching staff, led by frosh Haley Brechwald.  Kent State senior Rachel Stypinski will also look to challenge for an individual AA slot.   


Salt Lake City Regional (Utah)

1.  Utah (4)

2.  California (9)

3.  Auburn (16)

4.  BYU (21)

5.  Stanford  (26)

6.  SUU (32)

Host Utah enters the Salt Lake Regional as a heavy favorite to advance to Nationals.  The support of 15,000+ Red Rock faithful tends to elevate the performance of the entire squad, giving them an extra boost of confidence and propelling them to big team scores.  Leading the way for the Utes is MyKayla Skinner and MaKenna Merrell-Giles, the Utes 1-2 AA punch.  Although the Utes have shown some depth and inconsistency further down the lineup, these issues tend to evaporate at home. 

Cal is the number two seed, and they'll be facing the BB in the first round.  They started the season slow, with inconsistency problems on UB and BB.  But, with star Toni-Ann Williams leading the way, the Bears have gradually improved, culminating in a third place finish at the Pac 12 Championships.  Vault is perhaps their strongest event, but interestingly enough, FX is their weakest event (by rank), where some of their tumbling lacks the power of the top teams. 

Auburn is another squad that has experienced some ups and down throughout the course of the season.  This inconsistency has led to a wide range of scores, with a number of 195s late in the season but also a score as high as 197.  Abby Milliet, Gracie Day and frosh Drew Watson have led the Tigers, and they'll need to be at their best to challenge Cal.  Like Cal, their best event is VT, where they can throw a number of 10.0 start value vaults. 

BYU is another program that has been consistently improving the last few seasons under head coach Guard Young.  Young's squad comes in as the #21 ranked team in the national, led by AAer Shannon (Hortmann) Evans.  Evans leads the Cougars on their best event, the FX.  Stanford's rebuilding season began this year under new head coach Tabitha Yim.  Led by the amazing Elizabeth Price, the Cardinal have been improving all season long.  Whether or not they've improved enough to challenge for a spot at Nationals remains to be seen, as they lack depth, especially on UB, where they rank #40.  It may take another season for them to put up a more competitive lineup on the event.  Completing the field is SUU, who have responded well to a rebuilding year with some strong performances this year. 


University Park Regional (PSU)

1.  Florida (5)

2.  Washington (8)

3.  ASU (17)

4.  WVU (27)

5.  PSU (29)

6.  UNH (30)

Florida enters the PSU Regional as another heavy favorite, despite some inconsistency they've shown since superstar Kennedy Baker went down with an unfortunate season-ending Achilles' injury.  Although the Gators counted a fall on FX at the SECs, they actually won the other three events.  Led by stars Alex McMurtry, Alicia Boren and Alyssa Baumann, the Gators have plenty of superstars.  In fact, the high scoring potential of the stars will make it tough for any individual to advance from this Regional.  Without too many mistakes, this squad should advance. 

Washington enters the meet as the #8 overall seed, which matches their National finish last season.  They've been remarkably consistent and have demonstrated great depth, with nary a counting fall all season (and less than a handful overall).  AAer Hailey Burleson leads the way for the Huskies, and they'll need another consistent effort without too many medium sized mistakes to hold off ASU.   Vault tends to be the Huskies weakest event, and BB their strongest, and so starting on that event may impact the squad.

ASU has also been a very consistent squad, making huge strides this season behind the efforts of frosh Carole Leonard-Baker, transfer Anne Kuhm and sisters Ashley and Kaitlyn Szanfranski.  Like the Huskies, ASU's weak event is the VT, and they'll have to have good landings there to maximize their score.  Execution lower in the depth chart is where the Sun Devils cede some ground, and their keys to their success is how well the #4-5-6 gymnasts do.

#4 seed WVU has been finishing the season strong, led by stars Zaakira Muhammad and Kirah Koshinski.  They'll have to be at their best to hold off host PSU.  PSU is led by star Briannah Tsang and frosh Lauren Bridgens.  They'll look to the strength of their home gym advantage to close the gap on the seeded squads, with hopes of pulling an upset.  UNH completes the field, led by Casey Lauter and Danielle Mulligan, who shine on BB and UB, respectively. 


Tuscaloosa Regional (Alabama)

1.  Alabama (6)

2.  Michigan (7)

3.  UGA (18)

4.  Missouri (22)

5.  Illinois (23)

6.  CMU (36)

 Host Bama will hope to ride the support of the home crowd to another Nationals appearance.  This Regional is stacked, with #7 Michigan looking to challenge for the Regional title.  Alabama had a slow start to the season, with small troubles extending deep into the season due to a rash of injuries.  With the post season approaching, Bama appears to be moving into form, with strong contributions from Kiana Winston, Ari Guerra, Nickie Guerrero and frosh Lexi Graber.  They'll need to stay consistent to advance, as a counting fall could put them in danger of a loaded field.

Michigan enters the meet as the #7 seed.  The Wolverines did experience a big setback when star Liv Karas went down with an Achilles' injury.  In her place, Brianna Brown, Lexi Funk and Paige Zaziski have risen as a trio of AAers.  Specialist Emma McLean is also a key anchor on the leg events.  While Michigan's depth has been tested at times, they've remained relatively consistent late in the season, and they'll look to continue that streak.

UGA is in real danger of not advancing to Nationals, and it will take an exceptional effort (and perhaps a counting mistake) for them to challenge.  They've been improving as their gymnasts have regained their health and form, but they could have really used another month in the season to complete this process.  Stars Sydney Snead, Rachel Dickson and Sabrina Vega lead the way, but it's the frosh like Marissa Oakley that could prove to be the difference makers deeper in the lineups.

UGA will have to be at their best to even challenge, in the case of a counting miss from the top seeds, as this is a "Regional of Death" with several teams capable of posting a big score.  Missouri is the fourth seed and although they've had some issues this season, they've also been able to post some solid scores.  Illinois, even under a new coaching staff, remains clean and consistent and is coming off a strong performance at the Big 10s.  Either team could mount a serious challenge if the seeds develop a problem.  CMU competes the field, coming off a big win at the MAC Championships.  They've produced unexpected challenges to the top seeds in the past, and will look to repeat that again this weekend.   

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