The gymnastics team finally gets the chance to put the SEC Championships behind them, as the NCAA Regionals take place the weekend. LSU dropped to the #4 overall seed, but still got a pretty nice draw, and the Tigers will travel to Ames, Iowa. More importantly, LSU dodges a lot of the scary lower seeds.
A quick talk about the format for those of you who didn't keep their notes from last year. First off, stop doing that. This will be on the test. Anyway, there are six six-team regionals at which the top two teams will advance from each regional to the Championships.
The National championships will have twelve teams broken in to two session. The top three teams from each session will advance to the Super Six, where the national champion will be crowned. LSU is a heavy favorite to make the Super Six, but every journey starts with a single step and all that. This is that single step.
So who do we gotta beat? Glad you asked, rhetorical device. The other teams in the regional, listed by their regional seed, are #9 Nebraska, #16 Denver, Washington, Michigan St., and Iowa St. The home team usually gets a boost to its scoring and performance, which is a real win for LSU because the Cyclones have little chance of advancing even with that performance bump. We are not exactly walking into the lion's den.
Let's take a look at the competition, one at a time:
Our heroes. LSU ranks 3rd in the vault, 5th in the uneven bars, 4th on the beam, and 1st on the floor. Ummm... that's pretty good. A well-rounded team that then kills you on the final rotation on the floor. There's a reason we are the favorites.
The Cornhuskers rank in the top 10 nationally on two rotations: 10th on the floor and 6th on the vault. Those are the highest scoring rotations, so this is a dangerous squad that can pick up a ton of points on a good night. But if you win the beam to win the meet... well, they don't win it. Nebraska's worst rotation is the beam, where they will try to avoid disaster. They will go as far as Jessie DeZiel takes them, which can be pretty far. She's great at the vault (9.925 average), but scores highly in the all-around. She'll be the best gymnast not in purple and gold.
Another top 10 team on the floor. That's likely going to prevent LSU from running away from things on the floor and instead win this meet on the bars and the beam. Denver's average night on those two rotations would put them on pace to score right at 196.000. They need to have an exceptional night to just keep up with Nebraska and LSU there, or hope someone makes a big mistake. Nina McGee scores a 9.955 average on the floor, so Lloimincia has her work cut out for her.
The Huskies barely crack the top 25 in the nation in Qualifying Score (23rd) and are only in the top 25 of two disciplines. Not a single gymnast on the squad has an average over 9.900 on any rotation. Their goal here is to beat Denver and then hope disaster strikes one of the top two seeds, allowing them to sneak into the next round. They are roughly the same quality of squad as Arkansas, a dangerous squad that can beat you if they catch you napping. The odds are against them, but it's not ridiculous to think they could advance.
Hey, if the hoops team can make the Final four, why not? The Spartans are not in the top 25, but they do crack the top 25 in two rotations: bars and the floor. Yet again, we're talking about a team that excels at the floor exercise, which should be the most hotly contested part of the meet. Sparty ranks 16th, and Elena Lagoski is capable of winning the floor regional title. I can't stress this enough, watch the floor exercises for each team. That's going to be everyone's strengths. LSU should put teams away on the beam and the bar, but the floor could be a free for all.
With the home crowd boost, Caitlin Brown and Haylee Young might contend for the all around, and Brown also should compete for honors on the beam. Other than that, it would take a miracle for this team to advance. Never count out the home squad, so they should finish out of the cellar. It's hard to see them doing much more than that. But... that's why the play the games, right?
All in all, a pretty manageable regional. LSU is the heavy favorite to win, and there should be some wiggle room should the team struggle. The floor exercise competition should be tight and Nebraska will push LSU on the vault, but LSU should win this meet going away on the beam and the bars. That should be the difference. Win the beam, win the meet.