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Questions, Comments, Concerns: Week 8

Now that we’re actually into NQS rankings and most of our anticipated national contenders are showing what they can do, it’s the part of the season where we really focus on what’s at stake and who’s ready to take advantage. Here’s what I wondered, pondered, and worried about this week.

Question: What about last week made all the lagging top teams decide it was time to get serious?

198s back-to-back from Florida, Alabama, and Utah kept us on our toes Friday night. We knew all of those things would likely happen eventually, but now that they have, it feels like the race is really on. I’m just not sure why they all did it in the span of a couple of hours.

Alabama turning in its season-high after a serious injury to Makarri Doggette in warm-ups speaks to a capacity for a competitive mindset that I’ve been waiting to see all season. There’s plenty of room to improve on Alabama’s NQS and some attractive big-team road meets on the schedule at which to do it. 

Utah’s win over UCLA in Pauley last weekend felt like a galvanizing moment to me, even though the gymnastics and the score were both lukewarm at best. An inaugural 198 immediately afterward definitely validates that feeling. I still have some consistency questions for the Utes, but this week was a major step—and we can’t forget that Amelie Morgan will be back soon. 

Florida, meanwhile, needed its best to defeat No. 2 LSU and produced exactly that in a matchup that delivered huge shock value by actually being a little bit equitably scored. Florida is a late-season team coming into its own exactly on schedule. Improving meet-over-meet all the way to the end of February is wildly impressive. I’ve talked before about how taking early season struggles from the Gators seriously is naive, but even I didn’t project an upward trajectory quite this smooth. Another No. 2 finish by Florida at nationals doesn’t feel unlikely at this point.

Bonus Questions:

Can Cal take No. 2 back from LSU this weekend? It ought to happen eventually. Cal’s strength on the road and generally stronger execution should ultimately pay off while LSU is back in the PMAC this weekend and thus can’t make a big NQS move. Since LSU competes first this weekend, we’ll know what Cal has to do, but what we know now is that Cal will have a mathematical chance at No. 2 regardless of what the Tigers do on Friday.

Is Washington ever going to score something different? The Huskies have the lowest NQS upside in the country right now. Their top and bottom NQS scores are separated by just a quarter of a point. Their last four meet scores all fall within a tenth of each other. Consistency is a virtue, but it also makes you a sitting duck in the rankings. A double-meet weekend this week is a great opportunity to make a move.

Comment: The future Sooners are just as good as the current ones. 

It was already great news for Oklahoma to qualify six commits to the Nastia Liukin Cup this year. Even for such a persistently strong recruiting team, six is a huge number of qualifiers. (Last year, Florida led all college teams in commits qualified with three, and many recent Cups have had no more than two active commits from any single school.) 

In the competition itself, though, the Sooner contingent was even more impressive. All six astoundingly finished in the top ten, with signee Elle Mueller taking the crown and 2025’s Ella Murphy walking away with bronze. From Mueller’s drilled Yurchenko one and a half to Murphy’s breathtaking Komova II to Mackenzie Estep’s effortless landings on floor, the highlights didn’t stop coming. A single-meet performance so complete from a college “team” outside of NCAA is something I haven’t seen since… Florida at world team trials last fall, I guess. It was an alarming showing from the perspective of anyone who isn’t a Sooner fan, to say the least. 

Bonus Comments:

COVID year announcements are coming with the impending wave of big team senior nights. Prepare yourself. If you’re getting tired of this, console yourself that it’s the last time. And, as always, spare a thought for Ivy League athletes who are part of the small minority of college athletes who actually missed their 2021 season and yet aren’t eligible to take a bonus year.

I’m so happy that it’s Kentucky senior week again! Kentucky’s tradition of a senior night prank war between head coach Tim Garrison and the seniors brings me joy year after year. Totally delightful.

Concern: The NQS cut score for regionals is going to be absolutely brutal.

Last year’s regionals cut score was just short of 196.300. Twenty-eight teams have already passed that number this year. It’s going to be worse and more painful this year. 

This is obviously partially a scoring inflation problem, but it also means that teams having genuinely great seasons face moving goalposts. No. 35 Towson scored a 197.425 last week, and it wasn’t even in Tennessee. No. 31 Iowa, whose season high is just 196.400, needs to find a higher ceiling very rapidly or get left behind. We’re going to see a number of teams who have had historically regionals-caliber seasons on the outside looking in. I was totally convinced that Maryland would slot into the mid-twenties as soon as it got its last road score, but no. Teams like Illinois State, which looked like bubble contenders earlier in the season, now have a lot of ground to make up to have a chance. It’s just a very punishing landscape right now.

Bonus Concerns:

Let’s hope that boot on Malia Hargrove is conservative management. There were enough injuries this weekend, and we deserve good news about somebody’s ankle.

Michigan is now the only team in the top 10 (11, actually) without a 198. I don’t have a lot of analysis on that except that the absence of Naomi Morrison limits the Wolverines’ upside a lot while the other teams around them in the rankings keep improving. It’s a tough position to be in, but there’s time to turn it around.

READ THIS NEXT: Questions, Comments, Concerns: Week 7

Article by Rebecca Scally

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