Like most gymnastics fans after the NCAA gymnastics regionals selection show on Monday, we had a lot of thoughts about the draw. And while we dive into it a bit in a couple pieces already published this week—like Jenna’s opinion piece or our winners and losers analysis—we wanted to expand on our thoughts about the team placements themselves, as well as expand on some complaints.
What are your initial thoughts about the regionals draw?
Elizabeth: Regionals has the potential to be more exciting this year than in recent memory, which means it’ll be super boring. But my hopes are cautiously high. Don’t worry, I’ll get into the negatives a little later.
Emily M: Ummmmm wyd selection committee? Look, if we want true regionals, based on geography, fine. But doing this half-seeded half geographical (lol apparently George Washington is closest to Salt Lake City?) weirdness is bad. It’s bad every year. This year it’s extra bad.
Talitha: When I saw the draw, I basically turned into a GIF of Chandler from Friends screaming “My eyes, my eyes!” because the allocations look so unfair.
Claire: “Seriously? SERIOUSLY?” Every time I thought it couldn’t get worse, it got worse.
Mary Emma: WHY!?!? Did the selection committee write all the unseeded teams on a board and then throw a dart to see where everyone goes? It makes no sense in lots of ways.
Kalley: Selection committee: you good? Jenna’s opinion piece sums up a lot of my thoughts nicely, but generally speaking it left me feeling frustrated and confused.
Katie: I have to agree with Kalley and say that Jenna’s opinion piece is pretty similar to my own thoughts. Particularly the fact that N.C. State has to compete in the play-in round when it’s ranked No. 26?
Which regional are you looking forward to most?
Elizabeth: Athens. One of Denver, Minnesota and Florida is going to miss out on nationals. Plus, Georgia is hosting yet stands a real chance of missing even making it to the regional final. However, it’s Georgia at home, so anything can happen. Remember the 2019 Athens regional 9.9-fest?
Emily M: Tuscaloosa! That Alabama-Arkansas-Iowa-Iowa State session is a monster. Plus, we get two in-state rivalries with Iowa-Iowa State (Cy-Hawk is BACK baby) and presumably Alabama-Auburn if both advance to the final round.
Talitha: Morgantown, where one of Michigan, California and UCLA will not qualify to nationals. It will be tough to watch but also one to watch.
Claire: Athens. Three top 10 teams battling for two spots, not to mention a scrappy Georgia home team and Illinois (both of whom have upset top teams with 197-plus performances this season). Also, who can forget what happened last time Oregon State and Denver met Florida at regionals?
Mary Emma: I’m looking forward to the Tuscaloosa bloodbath, particularly the semi-final with Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa and Iowa State. It has the potential to go any way, and since I pretty much like each of those teams equally, I can just sit back and enjoy the fight without getting too nervous to see who makes it out.
Kalley: Tuscaloosa. I can’t even wrap my mind around how intense session one is going to be with Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa and Iowa State (I also love the in-state Cy-Hawk rivalry). The Athens regional will be equally as exciting, but I’d be lying if I said that one wasn’t guaranteed to leave me feeling somewhat devastated regardless of how it plays out.
Katie: Athens is the most exciting of the group and the hardest to predict all the way through. Georgia, Florida, Minnesota, Denver in one regional is certainly exciting. Session one on day two will be a heartbreaker for one of these teams as well.
Which regional do you consider to be the toughest?
Elizabeth: Numbers-wise, I’d have to say Athens because, like I said in my previous answer, one of Denver, Minnesota and Florida isn’t making nationals. There’s also the absolutely ridiculous fact that N.C. State is in the play-in yet also stands a real chance at being a surprise regional finals qualifier.
Emily M: Overall? Athens. You’ve got the No. 1 overall seed, Oregon State feels like a real wild card and two of the best up-and-comers. Minnesota and Denver will probably advance to the final but then they’ll meet Florida yikes. Illinois’ 197-plus number was an outlier, but I think it would be foolish to dismiss the Illini entirely. Plus! We’ve got No. 26 N.C. State in a play in. You know they’re mad about it (as they absolutely should be, I’m also furious). Mad gymnastics can be amazing.
Talitha: I agree that Athens looks the toughest. Not only one of Florida, Denver and Minnesota will not make it to nationals, but Georgia will also pose a challenge as the home team, and Oregon State and N.C. State will be wildcards, too.
Claire: Athens. There are so many plausible outcomes, and it has the most potential for upset(s).
Mary Emma: Athens for sure. At least one of Denver, Minnesota and Florida won’t make it to nationals, plus you factor in unseeded Georgia at home as a potential spoiler. It already makes me anxious and we’re still over a week away.
Kalley: Overall, I’d say Athens, but Tuscaloosa is a close second.
Katie: Athens is hands-down the hardest to me. Georgia has had some poor performances this season, but at its best it can certainly score well with Minnesota and Denver. The competition will be fierce to make it to round two. Additionally, the Saturday competition will be another thriller with two of those teams likely competing against Florida and Illinois. Will the Gators have a comeback meet or will we see a 2019 repeat?
Which single session do you think will be the most cutthroat?
Elizabeth: I have to agree with Emily about that Tuscaloosa round two session one quad. While I think Alabama will go through relatively unscathed, any of those three remaining teams can make it to the regional final without another messing up terribly.
Emily M: Sorry, I’m a broken record. Alabama-Arkansas-Iowa-Iowa State at Tuscaloosa. Alabama is on fire, but Arkansas proved it’s not invincible at SECs and both teams from Iowa have huge potential. Yikes.
Talitha: Yes, Emily is right about Tuscaloosa’s round two session one. Morgantown’s potential round three with California, BYU, Michigan and UCLA will also be a nailbiter, though.
Claire: Round two of Tuscaloosa or round three of Athens. I keep seeing the word “bloodbath” tossed around about both sessions, and that is accurate.
Mary Emma: Round two session one in Tuscaloosa. With Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa and Iowa State all with high scoring potential, you could probably make a strong case for any of them to get through.
Kalley: Athens, round two, session one. Truthfully, this one is straight-up cruel. It is going to be a bloodbath: the possibility that Minnesota, Denver or Georgia might not even make it to the final round of regionals is unfathomable to me.
Katie: I’ve said it before but Athens once again. The real question is which session will be the most heart wrenching… Session one round two or round three? If I have to pick one, I think having either Denver, Minnesota or Georgia not making it to day three may be the fiercest.
Are there any strategies you hope teams do (or don’t) use?
Elizabeth: Teams need to be super careful about who they rest during round two because that’s the important day for individual qualification. With some tough sessions, I don’t think many teams should feel secure about making nationals, meaning they shouldn’t risk resting a big gun just to be ready for the regional final. In 2019, I remember being pretty anxious when Michigan pulled Olivia Karas on floor because if the Wolverines didn’t end up qualifying to nationals, Karas wouldn’t be going as an all arounder either. It might not be as much of a problem this season with tougher round two matchups and teams likely wanting to go all out just to make the regional final, but it seems like every season an individual loses out because of a random decision that comes back to bite them in the butt.
Emily M: Here’s another lovely place where nothing makes sense: While it’s not likely that N.C. State makes the regional final, it’s possible. The Wolfpack would need to top Illinois and Central Michigan in round two. Doable. That’s a theoretical three consecutive days of competition. Who do you rest? When do you rest them? Not in round two, because as Elizabeth points out that’s where individual finishes matter. So then, what, you put up a depleted team in your round three victory lap? Risk injury to gymnasts just for that third meet? I don’t know what the answer is, but no matter, it’s sticky.
Talitha: Yes, I agree with the others that round two looks like the place where teams need to go all out, both because individual placements matter and because it’s where gymnasts are most likely to show their nerves. Strategy in round three very much depends on the depth of each field, which is uneven. I remember that two years ago LSU put under-the-weather Sarah Finnegan up last on floor, to be given the green light only in case the team suffered a fall. They didn’t and Finnegan didn’t have to compete. I thought that was a smart strategy.
Claire: I really hope the play-in teams tweak lineups as needed to give their potential individual qualifiers the best shot at advancing. Yes, team upsets are always a possibility, but—given the asymmetry in this year’s bracket—it’s far more likely that a standout individual will make it through.
Mary Emma: I hope teams (except maybe the ones who are almost for sure going to qualify to nationals) don’t rest major contributors on the second day since that’s when individual qualifiers are decided. I remember Michigan rested Karas on floor in round two in 2019, which meant she didn’t even get a shot for the nationals all around or floor spots if the team hadn’t qualified.
Kalley: As everyone else has mentioned, teams will need to strike a balance between properly resting key athletes and giving it their all when it counts. Now isn’t the time to get fancy or creative with lineups; teams are going to need to do what they know works and hope their training is enough to push through the weekend without getting too fatigued.
Katie: I agree with what Talitha said regarding putting an athlete they wanted to rest last in the lineup. That way if the athlete’s score was needed they could still use them. I think it’s important to compete with what works and avoid resting athletes if it hinders their chance to individually qualify for nationals.
Which non-top team individuals do you think have the most chance of advancing to nationals?
Elizabeth: If Boise State’s Emily Muhlenhaupt doesn’t nail bars and make nationals, everything is canceled. I don’t make the rules. I’m also watching for UNC’s Elizabeth Culton on beam and BYU’s Abbey Miner Alder on floor.
Emily M: Kynsee Roby (Nebraska) has a real shot on bars and beam. I also wouldn’t rule out Ella Hodges (Ohio State) on beam. She can be a little hit-and-miss, but when she has a big hit she can go 9.950. Certainly also Emily Muhlenhaupt on bars, if Boise doesn’t advance.
Talitha: Carolina’s Elizabeth Culton on beam and Boise State’s Emily Muhlenhaupt on bars look like solid contenders to me, too. Natalie Hamp of Northern Illinois also stands a chance on bars, I believe. Emily Shepard of N.C. State could also have a shot at the all around spot, though given the difficulty of the Athens regional, who knows who will end up getting it?
Claire: Hannah Joyner (Rutgers) has been stellar this season, particularly on beam. She’s definitely one to watch.
Mary Emma: Elizabeth Culton is having a stellar season on beam particularly, where she’s currently No. 6 in the country. With her being at the Athens regional of death, it’s going to be tough, since she’ll have to beat some very good beamers to qualify, but she has the potential. Towson’s Emerson Hurst will also be one to watch. She has a peak score of 9.975 this year and is tied as the second best beamer at her regional (behind only Natalie Wojcik).
Kalley: Emily Muhlenhaupt on bars is such a sure-thing in my mind that anything shy of making nationals will feel like the world is falling apart. If UNC’s Elizabeth Culton was in any other session I’d probably throw her into the same category, but that is going to be a tough group. Jada Rondeau and Caitlin Satler from Eastern Michigan are two others I’m watching on beam.
Katie: Like my fellow editors, I would be shocked if Emily Muhlenhaupt didn’t qualify for nationals. Emily Shepard for N.C. State has been as consistent as anyone this season and has scored 9.900 plus on each apparatus.
Which top team do you think will miss out on nationals? Similarly, which has the greatest potential for upset?
Elizabeth: Due to the nature of only eight teams making nationals now, there’s always going to be a deserving team staying home. UCLA is an obvious answer to this question. It hasn’t been up to its usual standards this year and stands a real chance at missing out even if it (finally) puts together a hit meet. There are also some other potentially vulnerable teams like Denver and dare I say Michigan and Florida? As for upsets, my answer again is UCLA, but that would be kind of a boring upset, so I’m going with BYU instead because why the hell not?
Emily M: Look, don’t throw things at me! I’m worried about Florida. Minnesota and Denver are dangerous. Never mind that Oregon State is also headed to Athens. Talk about 2019 flashbacks. If we’d seen even two events from Trinity Thomas at SECs I’d be less worried, but zero leg events? Let’s all take a deep breath. On the other end, Arizona State has some real potential to shake things up in Salt Lake City. If we assume a Utah-LSU-Arizona State-Kentucky final round, I think the Sun Devils have potential to shock the big two with a strong hit.
Talitha: UCLA is certainly the first team that comes to my mind. The Bruins’ lack of polish this year goes beyond their problems on beam, and given Michigan’s and California’s strength, they could seriously miss out on nationals. Likewise, though, if they can solve some of their most glaring issues, they could jeopardize the Wolverines’ or the Golden Bears’ path. I agree with Emily that Florida could be in danger, too, as the issues it showed at the SEC championship went beyond a missed routine on bars. Thomas not performing her leg events is a real problem, but it seems that the Gators are still trying to find the right postseason mentality that can lead them to victory. Minnesota has had a hit-or-miss season thus far, so it has to be really careful, too, and so does Denver, which also has to hope to have Alexis Vasquez back in time for regionals. Finally, Oklahoma seems to have an easier ride than most, but I wonder to what extent their lack of consistency this year will affect them mentally.
Mary Emma: UCLA is the obvious answer here, but is it really considered a top team this year? Historically it is, and not having UCLA at nationals is just weird to think about. Obviously, one of Denver, Minnesota and Florida is going to miss out, and all three have had seasons that show they deserve to be there. I already hate it.
Kalley: I might be in the minority here, but I am not all that concerned about Florida. The Gators have shown us they are capable of big numbers without Trinity Thomas; I think their showing at the SEC championship was a bit flukey and am hopeful they got it out of their system. And if Thomas is healthy and back on at least two events, then I think they are completely golden. UCLA is the most vulnerable team here, as others have said. I think Denver and Minnesota have the biggest chance for an upset, especially if those teams continue to hit as well as demonstrated over the back half of the season.
Katie: I honestly haven’t really looked at UCLA as a top eight team this season, so I definitely think the Bruins are in danger of not advancing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Minnesota and/or Denver not advancing to the second round of regionals as well as nationals.
We know there are issues. What’s your top complaint?
Elizabeth: If you don’t want to do things geographically, just don’t say you’re going to. It’s as easy as that. Honestly, I think all 36 teams should be seeded because as it stands now, teams aren’t saving any significant money by “geographic placement,” especially not when you’re sending Temple to Utah. Plus, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, so of course this is the season where geographic placement has made the least sense in recent memory. My other piece of evidence against geographic placement is the distribution of teams that typically make regionals. I haven’t done the actual math, but I’d guess a majority of regional teams are located in the midwest and on the east coast, meaning geographic placement for regionals will never make sense if you want equal regionals, at least if you don’t choose the regional sites after determining the teams to better position them for travel. Last point: Mary Emma pointed out that Deja Chambliss, the George Washington vaulter traveling to Utah to compete for 10 seconds, is assigned to a regional with five other vaulters where all other regionals don’t have more than four. Why not send her to Athens where there’s only two other vaulters, or Morgantown where there are only four and she can literally take a car?
Emily M: If I were Kim Landrus I’d be dead, because my head would’ve exploded into one million tiny shards in a fit of unbridled rage. Imagine guiding your team to a very respectable No. 26 final ranking and thinking you’re ready to head to session two at regionals and then getting thrown into a play-in. IMAGINE. It’s unbelievable. Not to mention that it throws off the individuals. Chloe Widner also has a right to be screaming at everyone.
Talitha: Gosh, I have so many. The most obvious one is that you can’t apply geographical and numerical rules arbitrarily. Geography and math are not a matter of opinion, so then why is No. 26-ranked N.C. State competing in round one of regionals? Having an automatic qualifier compete in session one is not only unfair, but it also upsets the individual rankings, as poor Chloe Widner found out. Speaking of individuals, I also find it so unfair that fully qualified teams can take up individual spots on the eventuality that they don’t make it to round two. Finally, some regionals shouldn’t be evidently more difficult than others. This issue with the regionals draw algorithm was already clear in 2019, which makes it even more infuriating that the NCAA didn’t try to do a better job this year.
Mary Emma: Lots of things about this bother me, but the biggest is putting N.C. State in a play-in and letting Kent State advance to the second round. I know they’ll claim it was because of “geography,” but does that really even make much of a difference here? N.C. State is going to Athens, and Kent State is going to Morgantown, and while it makes the drive a bit easier for both, just switching them wouldn’t make it far enough to make that much of a difference. Plus they decided to send Temple and Deja Chambliss from George Washington all the way to Salt Lake City, so clearly they don’t really care that much about “geography” to begin with.
Kalley: I am furious for Stanford’s Chloe Widner, who should have qualified as an individual in the all around but didn’t because of poor decision-making by the selection committee. Putting N.C. State in a play-in makes absolutely zero sense, and the consequences impacting an athlete’s opportunity to compete are not sitting well with me at all.
Katie: N.C. State having to compete in the play-in round when its NQS ranking say otherwise. It’s unnecessary for them to compete in another competition when they earned the right to qualify straight to round two.
What would you change about the format to improve it in future seasons?
Elizabeth: I ranted about it in the previous question, but don’t worry, I have more changes I’d make. Rebecca started to form this idea, and I’d like to expand on it: Have the top 32 teams qualify like normal and reserve the final four spots for conference champs that didn’t qualify in the top 32 and wildcards when that doesn’t equal four teams. Making conference championships even more consequential would never be a bad thing.
Emily M: Look, the “geographical” argument is a farce. The regional sites aren’t geographically spread out anyway (and the Durham to Athens switch is only part of it, it still would’ve been poor with UNH hosting), and we’re sending folks every which way but calling it geographical. You can’t just say “we did it by geography!” and then send Deja Chambliss and Julianna Roland to Utah. So let’s just forget geography! Seed everyone. Do whatever Jenna will suggest to make the team distribution better via math, I trust her. It’s just goofy.
Talitha: Given that Elizabeth and Emily have already talked about the team format and geography, I’m going to talk about individuals. As I said earlier, fully qualified teams shouldn’t obtain individual spots. Gymnasts who meet the individual qualification criteria and whose team competes in round one should be considered as individual qualifiers, but have an asterisk next to their name, meaning that, if their team qualifies to round two, their potential qualification to nationals will go through the normal procedure. If their team doesn’t qualify, they will be allowed to compete as individuals in round two on top of the other individual qualifiers, whose team didn’t qualify to regionals in the first place.
Mary Emma: There needs to be at least some sort of seeding for the 17-36 ranked teams so that we don’t get so many unbalanced regionals. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a snake format like the top 36, but you could take 17-20, distribute them “geographically,” then 21-24, distribute them “geographically,” and so on. Since the unseeded teams often don’t end up spread very geographically anyway, it’s not going to affect things that much and you’ll avoid outcomes like N.C. State being ranked No. 26 and being in a play-in, as well as the Tuscaloosa semifinal of death. Also, I’ll echo what Talitha said about not counting play-in teams as individual qualifiers and letting those individuals who are on a team that doesn’t make it compete in addition to the gymnasts from non-regionals teams.
Kalley: Stop making geographical regionals a thing, especially when you aren’t even following the rules you set for yourself. Also, individual spots should not be taken by teams. My fellow editors have expanded on both of those things very well, and I am inclined to agree with them.
Katie: I think they should go by the rankings and distribute them from there with a few minor changes for the hosts if necessary. You have to commit to geographically or rankings. This in-between process does not work.
READ THIS NEXT: 2021 Regionals Draw, Individual Qualifiers Announced
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Something else not fair/not getting mentioned – this is also unfair for any individual on the NC State team who could have tried to qualify to Nationals. Now they need to complete two days in a row so that lessens their chance at nailing it on day 2 to qualify. I think that this isn’t getting mentioned a ton because I don’t know that NC State has anyone we think would qualify… but imagine if UNC or Stanford was in this position and Elizabeth Culton or Kyla Bryant had to compete an extra day and what that might do to their chances of qualifying…