2017 Regional Analysis: Champaign

By Caroline Medley

It’s a Pac-12 rematch in Champaign next weekend as top seeds UCLA and Oregon State will fight to keep the status quo and qualify to nationals as the presumptive winners. However, the path to qualification will not be easy, as the Bruins and the Beavs have some tough competition. Only 21 places separate the top-ranked team from the bottom one. Iowa and Illinois will be clawing their way to the top, and things will get especially interesting there since the Illini are at home. Ohio State, too, will join its conference-mates in an attempt to qualify while Eastern Michigan has been steadily on the rise throughout the season. UCLA and Oregon State have both seen upsets this season, and all of the remaining teams have had excellent seasons—should make for an exciting night!​

​Don’t forget to enter your postseason predictions in the 2017 NCAA Gym Bracket Challenge! The deadline for submissions is Friday, March 31 at 7 p.m. ET.

​Team Qualifiers

High Score
Starting Event
No. 5
No. 8
Oregon State
No. 17
Bye before Floor
No. 19
Bye before Bars
No. 22
Eastern Michigan
No. 24
Ohio State

Top seed UCLA is coming off a massive disappointment at the Pac-12 Championship, placing third and losing to regionals opponent Oregon State. It wasn’t for lack of trying, considering they still scored a 197.1, but after one mistake on every event, it was clear the Bruins were not at their best. In fact, it was actually some of its biggest scorers who faltered in Palo Alto. It is worth noting that UCLA has only scored under 197 three times this season, but the last time was only four weeks ago, at its disastrous Monday tri-meet against USU and Bridgeport. Miss Val will need every one of her girls to be at their best if the team wants to regain its definitive status over Oregon State and fend off the rest of its competitors. The Bruins have had perfect 10.0s this season from four different gymnasts (Peng-Peng Lee, Kyla Ross, Madison Kocian and Katelyn Ohashi, in case you forgot), but each of those gymnasts has also had some unusual misses. There’s no more time to be figuring out lineups, or missing SV, or building up stamina to finish a floor routine. We’re in postseason, the time is now to put it all together and knock it out of the park. Regionals needs to be a perfect 10.0 night, not a missed opportunity.

Conversely, Oregon State is coming off a second-place finish at a super-successful conference championship, where they hit 24 for 24 and notched their second-highest score of the season, a 197.4. That is a nationals-qualifying worthy score that could pretty handily win this regional if UCLA falters again. Kaytianna McMillan is on a roll recently, scoring a perfect 10.0 two weeks ago against UIC and winning Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year for her efforts. She and Maddie Gardiner are a great one-two all around punch, and with the support of specialists like Erika Aufiero and Dani Dessaints, who won bars and vault respectively at Pac-12s, the Beavers are in really great shape to score high at regionals. They will want to work on some of their supporting vault scores, as that’s the only event where they rank outside the top 10, but if all goes to plan, they should have no trouble qualifying. The interesting story will be whether or not they can beat UCLA to the punch.

The third seed in this regional is Iowa, who may seem unable to challenge at first, but they’ve gone four straight weeks scoring 196.4 or higher. That kind of dependability at a mid-to-high 196 can really take advantage of misses from another team, particularly if the Hawkeyes can hit beam and floor as highly as they’re capable. Mollie Drenth and Angel Metcalf serve as Iowa’s own one-two AA punch, but watch for freshmen Charlotte Sullivan and Clair Kaji, who can really boost the team’s scores from good to great. They’re all four capable of 9.9+ on multiple events, so if all of them can reach their potential, the Hawkeyes could be a real threat.

Illinois, however, beat out the Hawkeyes at Big 10 Championships last week, and it’s quite within their power to do it again. They’ll have to pass more than just Iowa to qualify to nationals, but as the home team coming off a season-high 196.875, the Illini may just be able to do it. Stellar performances will be required of everyone, not just star players. Lizzy LeDuc and Mary Jane Horth have shown they are very capable of putting up big numbers, as LeDuc placed third in the all around and Horth won bars at Big 10s. But as is the theme of this regional, it takes more than just two gymnasts to make a team. To make a push for nationals, the Illini will want to make vault and bars a little less 9.75-y than usual. It’s ranked 36 on vault and 23 on bars, whereas its beam is No. 11 and its floor No. 15. Illinois will want to improve the former two significantly if it wants to stand a chance against the vault and bars of Oregon State or UCLA.

While not as record-breaking as last year, Eastern Michigan has shown little to no sign of slowing even with the coaching change. Sarah Shire Brown has led the Eagles to two 196+ performances and a top conference ranking on both bars and beam. Their win at MAC Championships, in a tight field that saw four teams score over 196, can largely be contributed to their success on the aforementioned events, especially bars. Catie Conrad, Natalie Gervais and Lacey Rubin all scored 9.9, and Kendall Valentin has consistently scored just as high, though she did not last week. Overall, EMU tallied a 196.5, a score that could easily compete with average performances from Iowa or Illinois. If the Eagles can replicate this kind of success in Champaign, they could easily jump a team or two with mistakes and see themselves fighting for their first-ever nationals berth.

After an excellent season that saw it break 196 on two separate occasions, Ohio State faltered at Big 10 Championships, scoring only a 195.525. The Buckeyes had mistakes on every event and had to count a miss (though not a fall) on beam, which cannot happen if they hope to perform well at regionals. OSU will need Alexis Mattern in particular to get back on track, as she had a lower score on beam and missed big on floor for just a 9.575 on what is typically one of her best events. Jamie Stone, too, is typically a rock for the Buckeyes on three events, but botched her vault for a 9.575 and couldn’t put a big score together for beam either. Ohio State is No. 41 on beam, its lowest event ranking of the four, and will want to minimize its losses there if it wants to stand up to the likes of Bruin, Beaver or Hawkeye beam.

​Individual Qualifiers

All Around
Nicola Deans (MSU)
Jovannah East (BGSU)
Jessie Peszek (WMU)
Jessie Peszek (WMU)
Elena Lagoski (MSU)
Rachael Underwood (WMU)
Lauren Feely (BGSU)
Hailee Westney (MSU)
Jovannah East (BGSU)
Kira Frederick (MSU)
Anna Corbett (WMU)
Alt: Sarah Ebeyer (Ball State)
Alt: Lindsey Lemke (MSU)
Alt: Baylee Bell (Ball State)
Alt: Kayla Rose (BGSU)
Ashley White (Centenary)
Alt: Kaitlyn Menzione (Ball  St)

If UCLA and Oregon State are the qualifying teams, it’s going to become very difficult to qualify as an individual. Luckily, the two all around spots are wide open without the likes of Kocian, McMillan or Gardiner, so we’ll see a number of gymnasts gunning for those individuals berths. Iowa’s Drenth punched her ticket last year, and though she’s likely to do it again, her RQS does put her lower than some other AA competitors in this regional. Ohio State’s Mattern is actually the highest-ranked all arounder (aside from any Bruins or Beavers) in this regional at No. 26, closely followed by Illinois’s LeDuc at No. 30 and Drenth at No. 31. Individual regional qualifier Nicola Deans of Michigan State follows at No. 40, and EMU’s Conrad and Western Michigan’s qualifiers, Anna Corbett and Rachael Underwood, could also contend for the AA spots. Both WMU gymnasts actually beat Drenth in the AA in their season opener after some mishaps, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility to see a Bronco qualify. And though she’s not ranked in RQS, Iowa’s Metcalf could sneak in to grab a spot, having scored a 39.375 at Big 10 Championships last week.

However, individual event qualifiers are not guaranteed any berths to nationals at all. This means they have to beat, or at least tie, the scores of those event winners in the qualifying teams. Bar workers and beamers had best be on their game competing against the likes of Kocian, Lee, Ross, Ohashi and McMillan who among them have ten 10.0s just this season between these two events. However, it’s important to remember that 10.0s at regionals are highly unlikely, so a 9.9 or 9.95 may be good enough for an event title. On vault, Mattern is again the highest-ranked individual not from a presumed qualifying team, No. 25 in the country with four 9.9s to her name this season. Individual qualifier Jovannah East, of Bowling Green, is just behind her at No. 28, scoring 9.9 in the last meet of the regular season. And she’s only a freshman! LeDuc, Drenth, Deans and Corbett are all very close to each other in RQS, but only Deans and Corbett have passed the 9.9 mark on vault this season. Corbett actually scored a 9.925 at the MAC Championship last week, which won her the vault title there and could be very competitive in Champaign.

On bars, the most likely to compete with the likes of the star-studded Bruins is actually Kendall Valentin of Eastern Michigan. She’s ranked No. 7 in the country on bars, just a few spots beneath Peng-Peng Lee, and she’s scored 9.9 or higher on seven separate occasions just this year. Iowa’s Metcalf is ranked No. 30, crossing the 9.9 threshold five times this season, and she’s currently on a streak of three in a row! Continuing that streak could potentially punch her ticket to St. Louis even without her team. Horth is close behind at No. 33, but with fewer 9.9+ scores to her season record. Her 9.925 at Big 10s, though, could definitely put her in the running if she can replicate it. Individual qualifiers Jessie Peszek (WMU) and Hailee Westney (MSU) are also very capable of 9.9s but are somewhat less consistent than those coming to regionals with teams, but don’t count them out just yet.

Beam, too, will be difficult competing against Bruins like Ohashi and Ross who both have two 10.0s on the apparatus. Lizzy LeDuc of Illinois is the most likely to put a fight, ranking No. 17 in the country tied with Bruins Lee and Kocian. Iowa’s Drenth is another likely choice at No. 28. With tons of flair and difficulty to her routine, she joins the UCLA school of thought with a big risk, big reward mentality. This has served her well much of the season, but it’s also come back to bite her. She’ll have to hope for one of her good beam days at regionals if she can’t make it as an all arounder. Illinois’s Bridget Hodan has also crossed the 9.9 mark multiple times this season and hasn’t missed a beam set this season, so in the event of a beam-tastrophe, she could sneak in and punch her ticket with a hit routine.

​LeDuc will be the gymnast to watch for the floor title. Winning floor was how she earned a berth at nationals last year, and as the top-ranked individual without a presumed-qualifying team on floor in Champaign, all eyes will be on her to represent the Illini, should the team competition not go their way. Ohio State’s Mattern is another contender, ranked only a few places behind LeDuc and scoring 9.925 two weeks in a row earlier this season. Nicola Deans, Elena Lagoski and Kira Frederick of Michigan State are fresh off a tie for the floor title at their conference championship, each scoring 9.925, and all of them will be individual representatives for the Spartans here in Champaign. Especially with the Bruins and Beavers weaker on floor, qualifying to nationals would be a huge opportunity for the three seniors to represent their school and go out with a bang.

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