2021 Athens Regional Preview

After nearly two years, it’s almost time for NCAA gymnastics postseason again! We know where each of the top 36 teams in the country will travel to compete for a chance at advancing to nationals, and in the days leading up to the championships, we’ll preview and analyze each of the four regionals, discussing which teams have a chance of moving on each day and which individuals could qualify as well.

First up is the Athens regional. Thursday will feature No. 26 N.C. State and No. 35 Western Michigan in round one. Friday we jump into round two action with No. 8 Minnesota, No. 9 Denver, No. 18 Georgia and No. 24 Oregon State competing in the afternoon session and No. 1 Florida, No. 16 Illinois, No. 25 Central Michigan and the winner of round one in the evening session. Two teams from each of these Friday competitions will advance to round three on Saturday where the top two from that meet make it to nationals.

There’s also a handful of individuals that will compete on Friday in both of the round two meets. Simply put, the top all arounder and event specialists qualify to nationals. To determine those gymnasts, combine Friday’s individual event and all around results, wait until Saturday’s meet concludes, take out all the gymnasts from the two qualifying teams and take the top individual on each event and in the all around.

Easy enough, right?

For a more in-depth explanation, including how the tie-breaking procedure works (it’s complicated), how the whole format is structured and even how judges are selected, check out our NCAA postseason resource guide.

Finally, don’t forget to enter your postseason predictions in the 2021 bracket challenge! The deadline for submissions is Wednesday, March 31 at 7 p.m. ET. Once you enter, you can follow your progress here. Note that when you submit your picks, it will take up to a few hours to see your submission appear in the standings spreadsheet.

Round One

Date: Thursday, April 1 at 3 p.m. ET

How to Watch: ESPN3

Teams: No. 26 N.C. State vs No. 35 Western Michigan

Team NQS Average High Score Starting Event
No. 26 N.C. State 196.250 195.713 196.900 Vault
No. 35 Western Michigan 195.769 194.939 196.050 Bars


You know the story by now: N.C. State had a strong year, put up the No. 4 score in program history, nabbed some stellar floor rotation scores over the season and was placed in the play-in round. We’ve discussed that at length. The Wolfpack has a chance for one of its best finishes in recent memory, but it has a difficult path given this extra day of competition. Western Michigan had a bit of an up-and-down season but hit its stride in February. Since then, it has excelled on vault and floor while struggling on bars and beam. Still, though, the great mid-season run secured its berth here.  

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance

We’ve talked a lot the past week about how N.C. State got shafted when the selection committee dumped it into a play-in. We haven’t talked about what it means for Western Michigan. The Broncos would’ve had an uphill battle against Kent State to be sure, but the matchup would’ve been a little more even. N.C. State scored a 196.050 at EAGLs and had a high 195 the first weekend of March. If the Wolfpack has a meet like that and Western Michigan replicates its best numbers of the year—two 196s from mid-February—everything could come up Broncos. That’s a tall order, though, and means Western Michigan cannot afford a miss on its weakest event in rotation one. Both of those 196s came on two of the Broncos’ best three bar outings of the season. We’ll know a lot about the way this one is headed after one event.

Routines You Shouldn’t Miss

Payton Murphy is Western Michigan’s star all arounder. After coming back from a neck injury last season, she has had a good run this year, especially on beam where her high is 9.950. Teammate Ronni Binstock is also an all arounder and is especially important on floor, where her consistent season culminated in a 9.900 at MACs. Emily Shepard and Chloe Negrete are highlights for N.C. State. Shepard is a strong all arounder with no true weak event. Negrete is a critical piece of the Wolfpack’s vault, beam and floor lineups. She had only one miss all year, a week two beam routine. Murphy (AA), Shepard (AA) and Negrete (VT, BB, FX) are all individual qualifiers and will advance even if their teams do not.

Round Two

Session One

Date: Friday, April 2 at 1 p.m. ET

How to Watch: ESPN3

Teams: No. 8 Minnesota, No. 9 Denver, No. 18 Georgia and No. 24 Oregon State

Team NQS Average High Score Starting Event
No. 8 Minnesota 197.431 196.905 197.750 Beam
No. 9 Denver 197.344 196.835 197.650 Bars
No. 18 Georgia 196.781 196.425 197.325 Floor
No. 24 Oregon State 196.419 195.475 196.550 Vault


Minnesota is the crown jewel of the session, coming off a historic season and Big Tens upset over Michigan. Denver has had a strong run as well, nearing its program marks from 2019. Georgia’s season has been decent but not smooth: A handful of rough beam outings and a few misses on bars have kept the team from its potential. That said, its two full hits scored 197s. Oregon State started out in disaster territory, with a 191 the Beavers would like to never think about again. A lack of up-to-the-level bar routines has hampered it all year, but Oregon State had a series of mid-196 meets in February and March nevertheless.  

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance

No team in this session is a guarantee. Minnesota is the surest thing, but even the Gophers had some weird misses this year, including counting falls. Despite its recent spate of 197s, Denver can also sink into the mid-196s, which is right where Georgia and Oregon State reside. If Denver does dip into that range, the Gymdogs will be waiting. That said, Georgia absolutely must hit beam in the first rotation to position itself well. Oregon State’s shot is an outside one, but this is the team that upset Florida in 2019. The Beavers must maximize their bar total in rotation two to be competitive, but anything in the near-49 range will keep them in it.

Routines You Shouldn’t Miss

Minnesota’s all around duo of Lexy Ramler and Ona Loper perform can’t-miss gymnastics week in and week out. Freshman teammate Mya Hooten has a 10.0 on floor already this year and is a treat to watch on that event. Denver’s Lynnzee Brown remains a top all arounder, and her floor this year is especially magnificent. Fellow Pioneer Alexis Vasquez is a stunning beamer and owns a career 10.0 on the event. Georgia’s Haley De Jong has had a breakout season; she’s especially important since she excels on the Gymdogs’ weakest two, bars and beam. Soroya Hawthorne is the team’s floor standout, and Rachel Bauman owns 9.950s on beam and floor this season. The Beavers’ Kaitlyn Yanish is a stellar floor worker and someone we’ve been eyeing for a 10.0 for years. Madi Dagen is a Yurchenko 1.5 stick machine and is capable of great beam and floor numbers. Kayla Bird is an important piece of the struggling Oregon State bar lineup, where she has put up some of the team’s only 9.8s on the event this year.    

All Around Vault Bars Beam Floor
Elizabeth Culton (UNC) Isabel Goyco (TWU)

*Note: Individuals from both round one teams are included in the individual draw to account for one team being eliminated after Thursday’s competition. The spots from the individuals on the advancing team will not be filled.

Individuals to Keep an Eye on

Elizabeth Culton got a tough draw, going up against the likes of Ramler, Vasquez and Florida’s lineup on beam. Ramler, Ellie Lazzarri and Leah Clapper all rank higher nationally than No. T-6 Culton on the event. Thankfully, since Minnesota and Florida are likely to advance, Culton has a very reasonable shot at heading to nationals on beam if she does her normal. Madi Dagen is in a similar situation on vault, where she is No. 12. Assuming Minnesota and Florida advance, Dagen will likely qualify. Yanish has a fair shot at the floor spot, though that event is much more open. Lynnzee Brown is the most likely all around qualifier, though if she misses that spot, she may qualify on any of vault, bars or floor. Should Minnesota fail to advance, look for Gophers to dominate the individual qualifiers.

Session Two

Date: Friday, April 2 at 7 p.m. ET

How to Watch: ESPN3

Teams: No. 1 Florida, No. 16 Illinois, No. 25 Central Michigan and No. 26 N.C. State or No. 35 Western Michigan

Team NQS Average High Score Starting Event
No. 1 Florida 197.944 197.594 198.275 Beam
No. 16 Illinois 196.863 196.265 197.575 Bars
No. 25 Central Michigan 196.275 195.275 196.425 Floor
No. 26 N.C. State OR No. 35 Western Michigan Vault


The Gators have reigned supreme as the team to beat in 2021. They’ve had their ups (hello, Trinity Thomas’s 39.900) and occasional downs (most notably that inopportune bars meltdown at the SEC championship), but Florida is still the team to beat this postseason and should have no problem advancing to round three even with an off day; its season low 196.975 is still pretty darn good. Illinois has consistently asserted itself as a top 20 team this season, with 196-plus performances in every meet since week four. A solid mid-196 performance will likely be enough to see the Illini advance alongside the Gators. 

That said, either Central Michigan and N.C. State could swoop in for the second spot if Illinois makes mistakes. The Chippewas have posted a season high 196.425 twice this year while the Wolfpack scored 196 or better more often than not. As great as Western Michigan has been this season, it would need a season high and then some plus misses from the other teams to get out of this round (and that’s after defeating N.C. State in the play-in round the day before). 

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance

While Illinois’ season (and program) high 197.575 is nearly a point higher than its second highest season score, the Illini have turned in 196-plus performances in their last seven meets. When it hits, Central Michigan can go score-for-score with Illinois and even outranks the Illini on vault and floor. However the Chippewas have been plagued by inconsistency throughout the season, namely on beam. They’ll finish the meet on that event, meaning they should be able to keep the pressure on Illinois throughout the first three rotations. N.C. State came within a hair’s breadth of a 197 in its final regular season meet. If it can match or even exceed that performance, it could sneak into the final. Granted, that’s a tall order, given the Wolfpack will be coming off that inexplicable Thursday play-in berth.

Routines You Shouldn’t Miss

Florida is ranked in the top five on all events, and No. 1 on both beam and floor. Even if Trinity Thomas isn’t at full strength, these lineups will be worth watching. Illinois has a pair of Mias who you don’t want to miss: Sophomore Mia Takekawa is one of the top beam workers in the country and perpetually on 10 watch after reaching perfection during her freshman year, and sophomore Mia Townes leads the Illini on the power events, performing the team’s only Yurchenko one and a half. Central Michigan’s star all arounder Hannah DeMers and Sierra DeMarinis have both consistently gone 9.9-plus on floor this season (no small feat in the MAC). 

In addition to N.C. State standouts Shepard and Negrete, be sure to keep an eye out for Madison Benson on vault. She performs a rarely seen round-off half-on front tuck off, and does it really well. Also, Carina Jordan’s floor is exceptional. Western Michigan’s Murphy is one of the best comeback stories of the year and especially shines on bars and floor while MAC Freshman of the Year Sarah Morvansky has a sky high Yurchenko full. 

All Around Vault Bars Beam Floor
Emily Shepard, N.C. State (with Western Michigan) Chloe Negrete, N.C. State (with Western Michigan) Katelyn Cox, N.C. State(with Western Michigan) Chloe Negrete, N.C. State (with Western Michigan) Kylie Piringer, Nebraska (with Central Michigan)
Payton Murphy, Western Michigan (with N.C. State) Anika Dujakovich, Nebraska (with Central Michigan) Meredith Robinson, N.C. State (with Western Michigan) Kynsee Roby, Nebraska (with Central Michigan) Chloe Negrete, N.C. State (with Western Michigan)




Kynsee Roby, Nebraska (with Central Michigan) Kynsee Roby, Nebraska (with Central Michigan)  


Kinsey Davis, Nebraska (with Central Michigan) Kathryn Thaler, Nebraska (with Central Michigan)

*Note: Individuals from both round one teams are included in the individual draw to account for one team being eliminated after Thursday’s competition. The spots from the individuals on the advancing team will not be filled.

Individuals to Keep an Eye on

Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is going to be extraordinarily difficult for any of session two’s individuals to advance. The top three all arounders in the country—Trinity Thomas, Lynnzee Brown and Lexy Ramler—are all competing in Athens and only two of their teams go to nationals with them. The prospects are the same on the individual events as well: Loper, Ramler, Thomas, Brown, Madi Dagen and Maddie Quarles are all top 12 on vault; Thomas, Brown and Ramler are top three on bars; Ramler, Thomas, Vasquez, Culton and Minnesota’s Mary Korlin-Downs are top 13 on beam; and Thomas, Brown and Loper are top 10 on floor. There’s also the Georgia of it all. The Gymdogs typically save their best performances for home and broke 198 when they hosted regionals in 2019 despite a lackluster season.

Round Three

Date: Saturday, April 3 at 7 p.m. ET

How to Watch: ESPN3

Teams: top two teams from each Friday session

Starting Event Team
Vault Session 2, Team 1
Bars Session 1, Team 1
Beam Session 1, Team 2
Floor Session 2, Team 2

The Bottom Line

Barring a repeat of Georgia’s 2019 regionals performance, Minnesota and Denver will likely face Florida and Illinois in the final. Florida’s the closest thing to a sure bet at this regional, and even it isn’t invulnerable to an upset. The Gators don’t have to be at their best to advance, but they absolutely cannot afford to count a fall.

Both Minnesota and Denver proved that when the stakes are high, they are ready and able to capitalize on mistakes from top teams. These teams have been consistently impressive this season and are about as evenly matched as possible: Minnesota has the edge on vault and beam while Denver is higher-ranked on bars and floor. Minnesota’s team NQS, average and season highs are a hair higher than Denver’s, but its team lows are also lower. Even the star all arounders, Brown and Ramler, are tied, sharing the No. 2 spot in the national all around rankings.

We also can’t overlook the Illinois factor: The Illini posted a program record 197.575 to upset the Gophers in their final regular season meet then tied Iowa for third at Big Tens. They would need some help to advance, but stranger things have happened this season.

READ THIS NEXT: The NCAA Postseason Format, Explained

Article by Claire Billman and Emily Minehart

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