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Aly Raisman, John Roethlisberger to Lead NCAA Nationals Coverage

The NCAA national championships is always the biggest meet of the season, not just for the gymnasts but media, broadcasters, and every individual in between. It’s an honor for those that get the nod to work the show, especially when it comes to commentary. John Roethlisberger, who is in his tenth season as a commentator, will be joined by Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman in her first season in this new role to cover their first national championships on ESPN2 and ABC. 

Eight teams will be competing in two semifinal competitions on Thursday, April 18, with the hopes of advancing to the team final on Saturday. And while there are frontrunners for the title, the meet is truly anyone’s game, as many fans saw at regionals with underdogs Arkansas and Stanford making it through.

“One of the most beautiful things about sports is you truly never know what’s going to happen,” said Raisman, reflecting on what it would take for an underdog team to qualify into the finals or win the national title. “It just takes everything falling into place on that day. You also need to have a little bit of luck too. There’s so many things that can happen.” 

For each of these eight teams, it is going to come down to the little things; who sticks more vaults, who holds their handstands just a little bit longer, and who has more captivating dance among so many other factors that could allow one team to push past another.

Recently, there has been a lot of concern with inflated scores, deductions that aren’t being taken, and rules that may not be consistently applied. So much so that it can be easy to forget about the actual gymnastics being done. However, at the end of the day, only one thing matters.

“Does the right team stand on top of the podium?” Roethlisberger said, emphasizing the point by asking, regardless of the scores, is the team that did the best, cleanest gymnastics walking away with the title? “As commentators, there’s not much we can do to address [the judging],” he added. “We too are guilty of getting caught up in the hype. The rules don’t need to be fixed; they just need to apply the rules.”

He continued on, noting that in the postseason, there are more eyes on the competition, whether it’s viewers watching on TV or judges at the table, with six-panel evaluations on each event at the national championship compared to four at conference meets and regionals.

Raisman added to this sentiment by expressing what it’s going to take for athletes individually and teams to set themselves apart to get these higher scores and secure the title. “I would love to see more of a differentiator between that routine that is fantastic…But I would personally love to see more of a differentiator between that 9.95 and a 10.”

These extra quarter and half-tenths could very well the the difference in which team lifts the trophy Saturday night and which head home disappointed.

But scoring hasn’t been the only adversity gymnasts have had to face this season. Both Raisman and Roethlisberger shed light on what it means to these times to have accomplished such a big goal. Being an Olympic year, there have been several athletes who have been training both NCAA and elite.

“It’s really impressive how these athletes are navigating both,” Raisman said. “They are able to gain more confidence and experience competing, but [on the flip side] they’re probably really fatigued. This weekend, I really want to make a big deal out of these athletes who are doing both because I don’t think people realize how challenging this is.”

Among these athletes are Alabama’s Luisa Blanco, Utah’s Amalie Morgan, Oregon State’s Jade Carey, Florida’s Leanne Wong, and a plethora of others across the qualifying teams. There are also those, like Florida’s Kayla DiCello, who made the hard decision to defer the year, missing out on the opportunity to help their teams reach this point.

Roethlisberger emphasized how impressive it is, with how many high-scoring athletes the Gators lost that they were able to have so many young contributors step up and already compete at such a high level. Then there are teams like Utah, who lost Morgan for a handful of meets in the heart of the regular season in addition to facing other challenges with team personnel turnover

“[Utah] has responded [to these challenges] in a way that they might be better because of the adversity,” Roethlisberger said. “This is the type of thing where you need to watch out because the smooth road sometimes might not lead you to the destination you want to get to. Sometimes its the rough-and-tumble journey that actually prepared you better.” 

Every competitor at the meet has done so much preparation and overcome challenges to get to this point, and it’s going to come down to the best gymnastics. Both Roethlisberger and Raisman note that consistency will be the most important factor, as well as the attention to detail and the trust throughout the team that it will take in order to have success.

Fans can tune into ESPN2 at 4:30 p.m. ET and 9 p.m. ET on Thursday for the semifinals, and to ABC at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday for the team final.

READ THIS NEXT: Oklahoma’s Vault Dominance Propelled by Coach Lou Ball’s Expertise

Article by Julianna Roland

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