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Questions, Comments, Concerns: Regionals

We’re down to eight teams, and numerous narratives we watched all season have drawn to a close. It’s fun now to revisit what I wrote about in the early weeks of this season. “How will the new Michigan routines stack up against last year’s standards?” Not too well, as it turns out. “How badly will losing Jordan Chiles and Ana Padurariu hurt UCLA?” Not insurmountably, but it definitely didn’t help. It’s a good time of year for analysis, as we shift into postmortem mode for teams that disappointed at regionals and get really granular about the dynamics of the two remaining championships. Here’s what I’m wondering, pondering, and worrying about regarding the last women standing in the 2024 NCAA gymnastics season.

Question: How long does it take to understand a coaching era?

The successes of Arkansas and Stanford this week, in their head coaches’ fifth and seventh years, respectively, while UCLA struggled in its coach’s second, prompted some to conclude that we just need to be way more patient before assessing how good a coach really is. 

When it comes down to it, I think that gymnastics coaches tend to stay in one place for too long to make classifying a coaching era as successful or unsuccessful make sense based on a peak result. There are going to be ups and downs, from randomness if nothing else, and it’s rare for a coach’s legacy to be as simple as elevating a bad team to greatness. Bev Plocki’s body of work at Michigan includes a history of coming up short in the postseason. It also includes many championships, including the big one. It also includes a startling decline after winning the big one. It also includes several other decades I haven’t even touched on. So, if she retires now, do we ultimately assess her tenure by taking a talented team to a No. 19 ranking? 

It’s great that Jordyn Wieber and Tabitha Yim led their teams back to nationals this year. This is not a new frontier or a program-best result for either team. Does that matter? How many years of non-contention are outbalanced by one championship qualification? 

And then, there’s the recruiting question. I object to the implication that McDonald inherited years of weak recruiting at UCLA. There’s definitely one class that could have been better, but she also inherited the No. 1 freshman her first season in Westwood on top of multiple All-Americans. Does it take a full recruiting cycle to alter a team culture to your liking? Potentially, but coaches in most college sports don’t get a five-year grace period before they experience scrutiny or pressure on their continued employment. It just seems like a very optimistic perspective that the standard is having one good year in your first 10. 

Bonus Questions: 

So, are you going to take a COVID year…? I’m on the record as being a little bit sick of the COVID year thing at this point, but that doesn’t mean I’m not impatient to find out about some major players. Kat LeVasseur? Haleigh Bryant? Andi Li?

When do we transition to thinking of the new conference alignments? I’ve seen a lot more “Wow, the new ACC is sending two teams to nationals!” than “Wow, the new SEC is sending Oklahoma to nationals!” There’s going to be an adjustment period here.

Comment: I! Love! Final! Rankings!

As you will have noticed if you follow me on Twitter, I love seeing the final rankings come together this time every year. To me, it’s a perfect combination of reserving the highest stakes for the biggest moments with respecting regular season performance. When teams like Arizona State and Penn State pulled off amazing round two upsets, one of my first thoughts was how wonderful it would be for them to be rewarded with a top 16 ranking.

It’s just so exciting to see all of the ups and downs of a season coalesce into a final result, and it also makes every round of the bracket more exciting knowing that every tenth matters even for teams that aren’t advancing. By my tentative math, Kentucky earned the No. 9 ranking over Denver by just a hundredth! There’s no moment and no routine of regionals that doesn’t have stakes. It’s perfect.

Bonus Comments:

Didn’t I tell you Florida would be fine? Forget SECs. These Gators, finding their strength at the right time and delivering great routines across the experience spectrum, didn’t inspire any concern at all about their ability to contend for the team final.

You have to hand it to Iowa State. I don’t know what exactly the magic in Ames was this year, but the Cyclones deserve a lot of credit for not only scraping back into regionals after a horrible 2023 but also delivering an admirable performance once there.

Concern: Who won the nationals draw? Does it matter?

I always agonize over the draw when it comes out only to never think about it while watching the meet. Nevertheless…

Oklahoma gets Olympic order in the semifinals and then, if it wins the second semifinal as expected, will get Olympic order in the final. Can’t complain about that. 

I won’t even speculate about who else will advance out of the second semifinal, but I will say that the rest of the first rotation features Alabama on bars, Utah on beam, and Florida on floor. Those are all strong events but also crucial ones. If anyone has a shaky first rotation, it’ll be tough to overcome. 

Cal starts on floor in the semifinal. I think that’s fine. Either starting or ending on vault could be a little tricky, so taking care of it in the middle is probably the best option. (Obviously, it’s always possible for the Bears to vault like they did in the regional final, but we can reasonably assume it’ll be a little weaker.)

LSU, like Oklahoma, gets Olympic order for the semifinal, but the winner of the first semifinal starts on floor and ends on beam in the final. That’s definitely the least comfortable order for the Tigers. The alternative, if LSU finishes second in semifinals (presumably to Cal) is starting on beam and ending on bars. That might not be a dream rotation order either, but it’s the one that LSU had in the regional final in Fayetteville, and obviously, that went just fine. If the Golden Bears beat the Tigers in the semifinals, I don’t think LSU fans should be terribly upset about it. 

Bonus Concerns:

Let’s not say Four on the Floor this year. Because it’s a stupid name, and I’m tired of it. Don’t even get me started on the Final Floor nonsense. Final Four or team final are just fine. 

What’s on the agenda for Oregon State? After a relatively disappointing regionals, the Beavers now enter conference purgatory. Will they join the Mountain West? Compete as an independent? Or literally hold the Pac-12 championship all by themselves? 

READ THIS NEXT: Judge’s Inquiry: Breaking Down Every Perfect 10 From Regionals

Article by Rebecca Scally

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