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Questions, Comments, Concerns: Conference Championships

It was an expectedly eventful and hectic beginning to the 2024 postseason, and as usual, the lead-in to regionals left us with more questions than answers. Here’s what I’m watching, anticipating, and worrying about as we approach the really brutal part of this season.

Question: What’s going to happen in Gainesville?

Florida. Utah. Michigan State. Missouri. You could tell from the looks on Michigan State’s faces at the selection show that this was the tough one.

Michigan State shouldn’t even really be here. The Spartans, currently No. 10 nationally, were demoted two spots to the No. 12 seed to resolve hosting conflicts. It’s a brutal move for one of the biggest upset threats in this year’s draw, but it doesn’t mean that Michigan State can’t do it. It also doesn’t mean that Missouri, the most dangerous of the 13 to 16 seeds, can’t do it. In fact, they both very much can, which is what makes this so wild. Everyone has the upside to get through this, and Florida’s struggle day at SECs puts a target on the Gators’ back. Whichever team you support, you shouldn’t feel comfortable here.

Bonus Questions:

Why did Illinois State have to melt down on bars? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the sentimental home win for Lindenwood at MICs, but the Redbirds were in cruise control all meet and then blew it at the last possible second. They were leading the meet by eight tenths after three rotations. I’m sure they’re more bummed than I am about this.

How prepared is N.C. State to play with the big kids? I love the way the Wolfpack does gymnastics, and I was super excited to see this group get a regionals seed in its last year with Emily Shepard and Chloe Negrete (although there have been rumors of a Negrete sixth year after she wasn’t celebrated at N.C. State’s senior day). I choose to believe N.C. State entered this season fueled by malice against the round one regional, with which it’s had a…complicated history, and overshot the mark. There’s some pressure that comes with an achievement like this, though, and sometimes it can be followed by a letdown. To get to a regional final, N.C. State will have to go through an extremely dangerous Ohio State.

Comment: This season has been a gamechanger for Division III

When Whitewater set the Division III record, a 194.400, in Tennessee back in January, it made sense in the context of…everything else that happened that day. Then that score was followed by a 194 for Brockport and two for Oshkosh, including another new Division III record this week at nationals. A truly bananas number of Division III teams have set program records this year. 

Like their higher-ranked counterparts, there’s definitely a judging component in the uptrend in these teams’ performances, but that doesn’t discount the scale of what they’ve accomplished. This weekend’s national championships was a breathtaking end to a remarkable season, and it shouldn’t get lost in the other meets that happened.

Bonus Comments:

I still miss event finals at nationals, and I still want them back. We could even expand individual qualification to nationals to make event finals more fun! Wouldn’t that be exciting? Why did we get rid of the best meet day of the year?

Finishing second at conference is a really good result for Alabama! We’ve been waiting for the Tide to put it all together all year, and while this wasn’t that perfect day, it was a real performance under pressure, and the equivalent at regionals would give Alabama at least a fair chance to get through. Gotta call that a win.

Concern: Why can’t the selection committee just be normal for once?

It’s always something where the selection committee is concerned. This year, we mercifully avoided the drama of having a team ranked 28 or higher in the play-in. (That said, team assignments still weren’t totally without drama. What about that policy of avoiding in-conference matchups where possible and then putting Washington in Berkeley with almost the whole rest of the Pac-12?)

The individual assignments are where it fell apart. What seems to have happened is that the committee used a different tiebreak policy than publicly announced. The result is that two projected qualifiers on floor and one on vault were replaced with different athletes.

Then, adding to the confusion, on Tuesday afternoon the three athletes who were initially left out were announced as qualifiers by their teams. There are also two qualifiers, Emily Leese and Courtney Blackson, who we know or believe to be injured, plus some uncertainty on Karina Muñoz, who may have hurt herself at Big Tens. Different documents claim different withdrawal deadlines, so we weren’t sure when we would get those updates or even who the replacements would be, since the alternate procedures weren’t clear either.

Since then, suspected alternates have been given the green light, but it’s just grating that year after year there’s always some issue. Even putting aside the fact that qualifying to regionals is a huge accomplishment for athletes and there should be some accountability about making sure the right people go. There should also be some accountability for spelling their freaking names right. Who is Karina Monoz? Miya Randolph? Molly Adams? Please. It’s just disrespectful, and it’s not that hard to do it right.

Bonus Concerns:

Hosting a conference championship and/or holding one at a “neutral site” that is definitely affiliated with your school was super effective this year! Sooner or later we’re probably going to have to do something about that. Of the options, I really prefer just having a school host the meet rather than doing the non-neutral nonsense. At least that way the beneficiary can’t count it as a road score for NQS and the audience engagement is better.

Pressure’s on for Cal and Florida. These two had real disappointments at their respective conference championships, which are worrisome for different reasons. Cal’s dearth of experience contending in the late stages of postseason forces us to ask how they’ll handle the pressure this year, despite being an unquestionably phenomenal team for the whole regular season. Florida has a history of putting things together at the right time, but as we discussed, the Gainesville region is terrifying. A repeat of conference champs would be in all likelihood insufficient to get either of these teams to Fort Worth. Time to get serious.

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Article by Rebecca Scally

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