While the official rankings are a great indicator of how a team is scoring, they don’t always tell the full story of how a team is actually doing. Overscoring, injuries, upgrades and downgrades are all things a score can’t necessarily tell you about, so I will. In my biweekly Report Card, I will grade our top teams on each event while giving feedback on what’s working well and what needs to improve to make the Honor Roll – where you want to be to truly contend for an NCAA championship.
With the regular season now behind us, it’s time to shift the focus from posting good scores and managing NQS to simply winning. While one can still be proud of a good, non-winning performance, every program’s goal this weekend will be to win their conference championship. This week’s grading is reflective of each team’s performance on that event throughout the regular season based strictly on numbers, with an NQS of 49.600 or better warranting an “A+” and grades decreasing every tenth the NQS does. As for analysis, it’s all about why each team will or won’t be the 2022 (insert conference here) Champion.
Top of the Class
|Vault: A||Bars: A||Beam: A||Floor: A|
Why It Will Win: Currently boasting the highest possible score if everyone were to match their season high (199.475), the Gators have shown the potential to explode for humongous totals on any event. Trinity Thomas is a quarter-tenth shy on bars of earning a 10.0 on every event in a single season, and she’s led Florida to an undefeated season and ability not to lose that none of the other title favorites currently possess.
Why It Won’t Win: Some sports superstitionists would say Florida is due for a loss, and with its recent string of postseason missteps they may be onto something. The Gators did post several low-49 totals this season that they levied with outlandish scores elsewhere and could find themselves in a position unable to erase a deficit if late lineup routines start falling short of 10s.
|Vault: A-||Bars: A-||Beam: A-||Floor: A-|
Why It Will Win: Not only has Auburn been the biggest surprise of the SEC this season, it’s been the surprise of the entire NCAA. As soon as Sunisa Lee stepped on campus the Tigers jumped on an accelerated timeline to ascend into the top 10, and having the right pieces surrounding her gives them a chance to cap off their remarkable season with some titles. Any team who can tie Florida while posting an NCAA-leading score is a contender.
Why It Won’t Win: As the new belle of the ball, nobody knows how Auburn will truly fare with a target on its back instead of playing the role of underdog. Even with a superstar anchor, bars and beam have fallen flat at times, and the Tigers are still looking for more 9.9s out of their vault lineup with plenty of difficulty to earn them.
|Vault: A||Bars: A||Beam: B+||Floor: A+|
Why It Will Win: The Wolverines have lived up to the expectations of reigning national champions all season long, going undefeated in Big Ten action and adding wins over two SEC teams and one Pac-12 foe to their list of accolades. Currently atop the country on vault and floor, Michigan is the only school leading the NCAA on two events and its quartet of top 25 all-arounders have it firmly on most fans’ shortlist for nationals.
Why It Won’t Win: Even without counting falls, beam’s event totals have been a step behind the other events for Michigan this season. The Wolverines’ high-scoring prowess elsewhere has offset that, but if there’s issues on another event, it could open up a crack in the facade for an upset like we almost had when vault had its problems against Nebraska.
|Vault: A-||Bars: A||Beam: A||Floor: A|
Why It Will Win: The Sooners have been cruising of late, posting no event total lower than 49.350 for over a month and picking up a statement win over then-No. 1 Michigan in the process. With the Big 12s next best challenger having an NQS over a point lower than Oklahoma’s, nothing close to a perfect meet should be needed for a conference championship to grab some momentum heading into regionals.
Why It Won’t Win: Entering conference championships as the heavy favorite with the target on your back tripped up Oklahoma just last season as it lost to Denver. Even with less star power, the host Pioneers could jump the Sooners once again if KJ Kindler decides to rest a few routines and the reserves aren’t hitting.
|Vault: A-||Bars: A-||Beam: A+||Floor: A|
Why It Will Win: The Utes showed they’re capable of hanging with truly anybody when their roster of Olympic medalists, world champions and former elites tied the nation’s best total this season. Beam is once again an event where Utah can separate itself from the pack in a good way, especially with Kara Eaker an option again after missing a majority of the season with injury.
Why It Won’t Win: Despite how great it can be, beam has failed Utah on more than one occasion this season, and it’s never fun to be holding your breath on an event where it’s paramount to bring in your best total. Vault has fallen a little flat at times too in a way that could leave the door open for another upset throughout the postseason.
Plenty of Potential
|Vault: B+||Bars: A-||Beam: A-||Floor: A-|
Why It Will Win: Joining the conversation after a statement double-198 weekend, it wouldn’t be the postseason without the Crimson Tide in contention. Alabama hasn’t totaled anything below a 49.225 since January with its averages trending in the 49.500 direction, and with eight 10.0 start value vaults to choose from it won’t find itself at a difficulty disadvantage against anybody.
Why It Won’t Win: The vault difficulty has yet to be worth it, having only just touched 49.500 once this season, with landings leaving them susceptible to being matched by clean Yurchenko fulls. Throughout the regular season Alabama typically either won its meet handily or lost in a close matchup, bringing into question how clutch this team can be when the pressure is at its greatest.
|Vault: B+||Bars: A-||Beam: B-||Floor: A-|
Why It Will Win: With roughly half the hype of any other top 10 team, third ranked all arounder Raena Worley and Kentucky have been cruising all season long and are peaking at the right time. A pair of events rank in the top 10 and the Wildcats have seemingly figured out at least a way to stay on beam right now, meaning that we shouldn’t be surprised to see them in a top three spot at SEC’s or snagging a spot at nationals. Yet, many people will be, but Kentucky seems to be thriving in that role this season.
Why It Won’t Win: Although the Wildcats put up a competitive four 10.0 start value vault lineup, the three non-Yurchenkos have yet to capitalize on their difficulty having yet to bring in any title-contending 9.9s this season. Beam has also struggled to notch big numbers even when Kentucky goes fall free, meaning it will likely need some help from other teams to fulfill any championship dreams.
|Vault: A-||Bars: A-||Beam: B+||Floor: A-|
Why It Will Win: It wasn’t the ideal regular season for the Tigers, but at the end of it they found a way to finish ranked second in the SEC and still appear to have the pieces in place for a potential title run. Not only are Haleigh Bryant and Kiya Johnson looking in top form, but LSU has shown eight routines that have gone 9.825 or better on every event to give itself plenty of depth to work with.
Why It Won’t Win: The constant shuffling of lineups to work around the injury situation has caused bouts of inconsistency for nearly every contributor on the roster at times this season. Beam has had its issues and bars hasn’t exploded for a score above 49.500 yet this season, places where other conference contenders can pick up tenths on the Tigers.
Room for Improvement
|Vault: B||Bars: B||Beam: B-||Floor: B-|
Why It Will Win: The Pac-12 regular season co-champ has been steadily building and climbing up the rankings all season long, seemingly to peak just in-time for the postseason. Already with wins over UCLA and fellow co-champ California this season, the Sun Devils have shown an ability to perform in clutch situations and could build upon last season’s finish where they fell just a few tenths shy of nationals.
Why It Won’t Win: With only three gymnasts having hit 9.950 throughout the entire regular season, Arizona State’s scoring potential is much lower than that of its co-champs and other fringe nationals teams who’ve had as many gymnasts (or more) go for 10s. The Sun Devils’ max score if everyone hit a season high – 198.150 – is a score other programs are hitting with near without season-bests.
|Vault: B||Bars: A-||Beam: B+||Floor: B+|
Why It Will Win: Motivated after winning a share of the program’s first-ever Pac-12 regular season championship, the Golden Bears can ride the wave of their season-high regular season finale into the evening session of the championship meet. California bested the Utes already this season, and the potential for the miraculous return of Kyana George for the postseason could be a game changer.
Why It Won’t Win: In a season where 198s became popular, the Golden Bears failed to achieve the mark and didn’t even come close until its last meet of the regular season. Pressure has also been unkind to California this season, with it squandering multiple chances at winning the Pac-12 title outright and suffering an additional March upset with a 196 that would never challenge for a conference crown or nationals slot.
|Vault: B-||Bars: B||Beam: B-||Floor: B+|
Why It Will Win: Now with Mia Takekawa firing on all cylinders, the Illini’s recent string of 197s makes them a formidable upset pick even if they’re not competing in the evening session. A handful of beam disasters early in the season have Illinois lacking in the rankings, but since those issues have been ironed out (and Takekawa’s inability to score below 9.950) it is looking much more competitive.
Why It Won’t Win: Outside of Takekawa, the Illini lack any true starpower and haven’t found other routines that warrant a consistent 9.9 or better score. Those beam issues were also truly disasters, with more than half of Illinois’ totals on the event having fallen below 49 this season.
|Vault: B-||Bars: B||Beam: B+||Floor: A-|
Why It Will Win: All season long, the Spartans have been showing off what we’ve missed from them in their recent championship absences. They just added a road 197 to their resume that also includes a pair of home 197s and an upset win over Minnesota. Michigan State has been appropriately rewarded with a seed for regionals, and has shown throughout the season it has the pieces in place to play spoiler at Big Tens and regionals.
Why It Won’t Win: Not only are the freshmen lacking postseason experience, but due to unfortunate circumstances resulting in abruptly canceled seasons, so are most of the sophomores and juniors. There is no way to truly replicate the intensified pressure of the postseason, so it is unknown how this roster will handle this new territory. Even for the few Spartans who have competed in a Big Ten Championship or regionals, it’s been three years since they have done so.
|Vault: B+||Bars: B+||Beam: B-||Floor: A|
Why It Will Win: After joining the 198 club, the Gophers responded by notching the program’s second-best score ever on the road and again at home to build momentum heading into Big Tens. Minnesota’s key trio – Lexy Ramler, Ona Loper, and Mya Hooten – are especially hot right now, giving it a great chance to defend its title.
Why It Won’t Win: Compared to other conference and nationals favorites, the Gophers have fallen into the 196s more frequently. While Minnesota’s ceiling is just as high, its basement is lower than the other contenders’ and leaves it susceptible to plenty of teams should the early lineup routines start to max out in the 9.7s like they have before. The Gophers have to make sure the trio’s scores make a difference and not make-up for lost tenths.
|Vault: B||Bars: B||Beam: B+||Floor: A-|
Why It Will Win: The impact of the outstanding freshman class hasn’t been lost on Missouri, as its newcomers and experienced upperclassmen have combined for a banner year. The Tigers were competitive in the SEC all season long, hanging with the likes of champion Florida and beating runner-up LSU, and after breaking the program scoring record for a second time to finish the regular season they enter the postseason as a sneaky underdog.
Why It Won’t Win: The championship contending 49.500 event total has only been achieved by the Tigers on floor this season, meaning it would take a near miracle to push for the 198 many think it will take to contend for titles this season. With a lower scoring potential, Missouri’s chances at a championship aren’t fully in its control, likely needing help from higher ranked foes.
|Vault: B-||Bars: B||Beam: B-||Floor: B+|
Why It Will Win: With its scores trending up, a trio of 197s in the last month, and earning a spot in the evening session of Big Tens, Ohio State is seemingly peaking at the right time. As the host, the Buckeyes’ deep roster of specialists could pull off the B1G upset, just as they did to finish off their regular season with a home win over top 10 foe and Pac-12 champion California.
Why It Won’t Win: Like many others considered a spoiler, the Buckeyes’ scoring potential just doesn’t match that over the title frontrunners to be able to challenge without faults from the favorites. Low and sub-49 event totals are also a little more fresh for Ohio State than many of its challengers.
|Vault: B||Bars: B-||Beam: B+||Floor: B+|
Why It Will Win: Jade Carey has shown us all season long to never underestimate her. The 9.950 queen continues to make a case for not only freshman of the year, but gymnast of the year after leading Oregon State to a share of the Pac-12 regular season title. She can legitimately make a run at every individual title the postseason has to offer. If the Beavers can find a way to go 9.85-plus in their early lineup routines, Carey will undoubtedly seal the deal on lofty event totals with her guaranteed big numbers.
Why It Won’t Win: While Carey has been phenomenal, the rest of her supporting cast hasn’t been able to boost Oregon State into the 197s this March with Kaitlyn Yanish recently sidelined with injury. Even if she is able to return to full-strength for the postseason, the Beavers haven’t put up a nationally competitive lineup on bars all season long.
|Vault: B||Bars: C+||Beam: B||Floor: B+|
Why It Will Win: It may have taken a few months, but the Bruins’ 198 a few weeks ago was a great example of their potential when the roster hits. UCLA boasts as many Olympians, fan-favorites, and overall scoring potential as any other program in the country, and nobody will be that surprised to see the Bruins come out on top of Pac-12’s from the afternoon session.
Why It Won’t Win: While they can be great, the Bruins have more often been mediocre in putting up some clunkers that everybody was surprised to see from this roster. The numerous injuries, falls, and prolonged outside of the gym drama that have plagued this team all season long could easily spell the demise of UCLA once again.
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Article by Brandis Heffner
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