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Better Know a Regional: Denver

LSU’s not the only team making the trek to nationals

The Denver Regional of the 2023 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championship begins Thursday at 3:00 p.m. with the first round meet between North Carolina and Arizona, a play-in round to the regional semifinals. The regional semifinals are on Friday, with the first between LSU, Oregon State, Georgia and Nebraska beginning at 3:00 and the second between Michigan, Denver, Minnesota and the winner of the first round beginning at 8:00. The top two teams from each regional semifinal advance to the regional final on Sunday at 6:00 and the top two teams from the regional final advance to nationals. All regional rounds will be streamed on ESPN+. Each stream will have a view of each event as teams compete, so you won’t have to worry about missing any routine.

Things you need to know before watching:

The play-in: The North Carolina-Arizona meet is a simultaneous dual meet. Arizona will go in the order of a home team in a dual meet (vault, bars, beam floor) while UNC goes in the order of a road team in a dual meet (bars, vault, floor, beam). Unlike the dual meets you’ve seen on ESPN or SEC Network, both teams compete at the same time.

Quad meet rotations: The NQS of each team determines the event on which teams start their rotation within the Olympic order (vault, bars, beam, floor). For the regional semifinals, the team with the top NQS begins on beam (LSU and Michigan), the team with the second-best NQS begins on floor (Oregon State and Denver), the team with the third-best NQS begins on bars (Georgia and Minnesota) and the team with the worst NQS begins on vault (Nebraska and the play-in winner). For regional finals, the team with the best NQS among advancing teams begins on bars, the one with the second-best NQS begins on vault, the one with the third-best NQS begins on beam and the one with the worst NQS begins on floor.

Individuals at regional semis: The top 12 all-arounders and top 16 individuals on each of the four events among teams who were not selected to regional semifinals (as determined by the individual’s NQS) qualify to compete at regional semifinals for a chance to qualify as an individual to nationals. There are two things I think you should know about them. First, Arizona and UNC have individuals among that set of 76 gymnasts that way they are guaranteed an opportunity to compete even if their team gets eliminated in the play-in since the play-in was the appendix left over from the old six-regional format. Second, the individual qualifiers rotate with one of the regional semifinal teams and compete after the team with which they rotate finishes on their event.

Two thing I feel I should point out about the previews for each team. First, event rankings are based on NQS, not average. Second, the numbers by each team represent their NQS ranking. The NCAA gives a seed to the top 16 teams and places the rest of the teams using a system that is absolutely awful. On top of that, Denver’s NCAA seed is 14 and not 13 because they were forced into the regional in which the 14 seed is placed because they are the host. Anyway, let’s dive into the only regional in which all nine teams have an individual NCAA title in their program’s history.

#35 North Carolina (196.295 NQS, 20-8 overall, finished 3rd at EAGLs)

2022 finishes: 32nd overall, 5th at EAGLs

Program overview: 0 team titles, best finish ever: 15th (’04), 7 conference titles (2 ACC, 5 EAGL, last in ’11), 2 individual NCAA titles (Courtney Bumpers on floor in ’04 and ’05), 0 nationals appearances, 0 Super 6 appearances (1993-2018), 0 Four on the Floor appearances (2019-present)

Event rankings: 37th on vault (49.065), 22nd on bars (49.275), 35th on beam (49.095), 48th on floor (49.065).

Preview: The Tar Heels squeaked into the tournament once again after another perfect EAGL regular season, their last before the ACC sponsors gymnastics again with Clemson adding the sport. UNC was a bubble team until they secured their spot after conference championships. Their best event by far is bars. They went 48.850 in their opener and haven’t gone below 49 on it since. Floor has been hit or miss, with 6 49+ rotations in 11 meets. UNC had three individuals qualify to regionals. Chloe Negrete qualified on vault, Lali Dekanoidze qualified on vault and bars and…

Whom to watch for: Julia Knower was one of the 12 individual AA qualifiers to regionals with a 39.300 NQS. Her best event is floor, on which she’s scored at least 9.900 in seven of her 11 routines. Dekanoidze’s bars routine is incredible, too. Her season low is 9.850 and she has three 9.975s.

#28 Arizona (196.570 NQS, 9-15 overall, finished 7th at Pac-12s)

2022 finishes: 26th overall, 7th at Pac-12s

Program overview: 0 team titles, best finish ever: 6th (’93), best finish since 1998: 11th (’02), 0 conference championships (best finish: 2nd in ’90, ’92, ’02 and ’05), 2 individual NCAA titles (last was Heidi Hornbeek on floor in ’96), 9 nationals appearances (last in ’02), 1 Super 6 appearance (’93), 0 Four on the Floor appearances

Event rankings: t-23rd on vault (49.170), 37th on bars (49.065), 15th on beam (49.325), 38th on floor (49.215).

Preview: The play-in rounds are supposed to be for teams ranked 29-36, but there’s always that one top 28 team that gets forced into this round because of the 400-mile rule requiring teams to go to a regional if it’s within 400 miles of their campus. #29 West Virginia got the spot Arizona should’ve had. The Wildcats did the unthinkable last year by upsetting Utah in a dual meet for the first time in program history. They haven’t seen such incredible luck this season with their only Pac-12 win coming over conference winless Washington. The highlight of this season came on senior night when they scored a 197 for the first time since 2015 and for the first time at home since 2004. Other than that, they’ve been fine. Beam has been their strong point all season, with only one sub-49 rotation in the team’s 12 meets. Arizona had three individuals qualify for regionals. Sirena Linton and Jessica Castles qualified on beam and Alysen Fears qualified on bars. As for the third…

Whom to watch for: Malia Hargrove qualified as an individual on everything except bars. She’s been solid on floor and vault all season, but she’s only been on beam sporadically and had two falls including one at Pac-12s. Her season high is 9.975 on vault.

#18 Minnesota (197.015 NQS, 17-9-1 overall, finished 3rd at Big 10s)

2022 finishes: 6th overall, 4th at Big 10s

Program overview: 0 team titles, best finish ever: 6th (’22), 6 Big 10 titles (last in ’21), 1 individual NCAA title (Marie Roethlisberger on bars in ’90), 6 nationals appearances (last in ’22), 0 Super 6 appearances, 0 Four on the Floor appearances

Event rankings: 14th on vault (49.315), 19th on bars (49.320), 40th on beam (49.020), 12th on floor (49.470).

Preview: This has been a season many expected following the graduation of school legends Ona Loper and Lexy Ramler, who helped the Golden Gophers make nationals each of the last two seasons. They are one of the best teams outside the top 16 and finished 3rd at Big 10s from the afternoon session, but their biggest weakness is beam. The Gophers set a season high with a 49.425 at Big 10s, but that was their highest mark on the event by 0.275. They’ve combined for one sub-49 rotation on the other three events and five on beam including a 47.900 at the Big 5 in which they recorded two 9.700+ scores. They’ve gone over 197 and 49 on beam in each of their last three meets, so perhaps their finding their groove at the right time. If the Gophers hit beam, watch out for them on floor. They’ve scored 49.500+ on floor four times this season including twice on the road. Their other two events are decent enough for them to stay competitive if Denver or Michigan is off.

Whom to watch for: Mya Hooten is the gymnast that best represents this Minnesota team. She’s struggled on beam in her five appearances, she’s been solid on vault and bars and she’s killed floor. Hooten’s season low on floor is a 9.825 from the Big 5. It is her only sub-9.900 score on floor all season including a Big 10 floor title-winning 9.950. She has two floor 10s and the third-highest floor NQS of any individual with a 9.970.

#13 Denver (197.445 NQS, host, 17-4 overall, finished 2nd at Big 12s)

2022 finishes: 13th overall, 2nd at Big 12s

Program overview: 0 team titles, best finish ever: 4th (’19) (note: won 1983 NCAA D2 natty), 4 conference championships (1 WGC, 1 WAC, 1 MRGC, 1 Big 12, last in ’21), 2 individual NCAA titles (last was Lynnzee Brown in ’19), 5 nationals appearances (last in ’19), 0 Super 6 appearances, 1 Four on the Floor appearance (’19)

Event rankings: 9th on vault (49.375), 7th on bars (49.455), t-8th with Alabama on beam (49.445), t-26th with Stanford and Western Michigan on floor (49.340).

Preview: The regional hosts come in as one of the biggest threats to LSU and Michigan for stealing a spot to nationals beyond having the benefit of home scoring. The Pioneers are coming off a poor showing at Big 12s at which they scored 197.125, their third-lowest score of the year. The last time they competed in Magness Arena, they scored a 198.150 thanks to a 49.600 on bars and an unreal 49.825 on floor. That score is 0.500 higher than their second-highest score of the season, and the team hovers around the 197.300-197.500 range. That range is far from their potential, though. The team’s had 10 49.500+ rotations this year, but they’ve only done that once in a meet where their low rotation was a 49.200. They went 49.075 on vault in their 198.150, which means they have unbelievable potential. There’s one word that sums them up well: if.

Whom to watch for: Jessica Hutchinson is 16th in AA NQS and has had an incredible season. She only did vault vs West Virginia, but that’s the only meet in which she didn’t do all four events. She was one of four individuals to tie for the 2023 Big 12 floor title and has a floor 10 and beam 10 this season. Another person worth mentioning is Lynnzee Brown, who tore her Achilles last season alongside the other members of her senior class. She came back for her fifth year and has returned to form. She added floor again in the middle of the season and scored a 10 on her second senior night.

#3 Michigan (198.080 NQS, 25-2 overall, Big 10 meet champions)

2022 finishes: 8th overall, Big 10 meet champions

Program overview: 1 team title (’21), 27 Big 10 titles, 9 individual NCAA titles (last was Natalie Wojcik on beam in ’19), 26 nationals appearances (last in ’22), 10 Super 6 appearances (last in ’11), 1 Four on the Floor appearance (’21)

Event rankings: 2nd on vault (49.530), 3rd on bars (49.585), 7th on beam (49.495), t-3rd with Oklahoma and LSU on floor (49.595).

Preview: Michigan is extremely good and deserving of their ranking. The Wolverines have scored a 198 five times this season, second to Oklahoma in number of 198s by a team this year. Their only losses are to Oklahoma at Super 16 and at Michigan State, an outlier meet in which they counted a 9.550 on beam. The only event on which they haven’t had a 49.700+ is beam, their worst event. This is a powerhouse team that relies heavily on upperclassmen. Only one of their 24 routines from Big 10s came from a freshman or sophomore: freshman Kaylen Morgan’s vault. Michigan should advance out of the Denver Regional with relative ease so long as they don’t have a meltdown like they did on bars at 2022 nationals.

Whom to watch for: It was tough to narrow this down to one person, but I decided to go with senior Sierra Brooks. Her AA NQS of 39.665 is best on the team and in 8th in the NCAA, and she’s t-5th on vault in the NCAA with a 9.940 NQS. She was one of six people to tie for the 2023 Big 10 bars title. She’s also very good on floor. Her floor NQS of 9.935 is t-18th in the country, but her floor average of 9.927 is t-8th. Natalie Wojcik and Abby Heiskell are two more incredible gymnasts, with Wojcik having been mentioned earlier as the 2019 NCAA beam champion.

#23 Nebraska (196.730 NQS, 13-13 overall, finished 6th at Big 10s)

2022 finishes: 38th overall, 7th at Big 10s

Program overview: 0 NCAA team titles, best finish ever: 4th (’89, ’00, ’03, ’11), 23 conference championships (12 Big 8, 9 Big 12, 2 Big 10, last in ’13), 5 individual NCAA titles (last was Richelle Simpson in AA and on floor in ’03), 26 nationals appearances (last in ’18), 12 Super 6 appearances (last in ’18), 0 Four on the Floor appearances

Event rankings: 25th on vault (49.165), 24th on bars (49.240), t-27th with Ball State on beam (49.155), 32nd on floor (49.275).

Preview: Georgia may be the best known team to have fallen from grace, but Nebraska had the bigger thud. The Cornhuskers are back in the tournament for the first time since 2019 after missing the last two tournaments for the first time since 1985. In 2020, the NCAA sanctioned Nebraska for illegally paying for choreography and violating the organization’s limitations on coaches. The program went into a freefall that they’ve managed to control and get them back on the path to being good again. They put up their first 197 in over 3 years on March 3, finished second in their session of Big 5 over Minnesota and Ohio State and was 0.100 behind Denver in their home finale. They’re an okay team, but they’re here and that’s the biggest thing of all.

Whom to watch for: Emma Spence is Nebraska’s only gymnast ranked in the top 30 on anything. She ranks 27th in the AA with a 39.480 NQS. She’s done the all-around at every meet and has a season high of 9.975 on bars. She’s scored 9.750 in 42 of her 44 routines and has scored at least 39.000 in the AA in every meet.

#19 Georgia (196.955 NQS, 6-18 overall, finished 8th at SECs)

2022 finishes: 30th overall, 8th at SECs

Program overview: NCAA-record 10 team titles (last in ‘09), 16 SEC titles (last in ‘08), NCAA-record 42 individual NCAA titles (last were Brandie Jay on bars and Brittany Rogers on beam in ‘16), 35 nationals appearances (last in ’19), 20 Super 6 appearances (last in ’16), 0 Four on the Floor appearances

Event rankings: t-19th with West Virginia on vault (49.195), t-14th with Arizona State on bars (49.350), 23rd on beam (49.210), t-20th with Maryland on floor (49.375).

Preview: The SEC sent all eight conference members to the NCAA tournament and Georgia is definitely one of them. The GymDogs are having a much better season than 2022. They won a home meet over an SEC opponent unlike last year with an upset win over a Kentucky team that’s really good and nearly upset Alabama when the Tide were low. Despite that, their season high on the road is the 196.925 from the LSU meet on February 3rd and they haven’t been much of a threat. This is the first step toward what they’re hoping to build, though. Over a third of their roster is freshmen and they’re bringing in the top recruit for next season. As for this year, though, it’s been very meh on each event, especially for the SEC.

Whom to watch for: Haley De Jong is UGA’s best all-arounder whose best event is bars. Her scores don’t pop off the page thanks to the mixture of 9.8s and 9.9s alongside the sub-9.8 scores on all events but bars, but she’s a solid performer who’s done 47 of a possible 48 routines this season.

#11 Oregon State (197.490 NQS, 15-7-2 overall, finished 4th at Pac-12s)

2022 finishes: 17th overall, 3rd at Pac-12s

Program overview: 0 team titles, best finish ever: 4th (’82 and ’91), best finish since 1998: 6th (‘19), 6 Pac-10/12 titles (last in ’13), 6 individual NCAA titles (last was Amy Durham on floor in ’93), 26 nationals appearances (last in ’19), 2 Super 6 appearances (’95 and ’96), 0 Four on the Floor appearances

Event rankings: 16th on vault (49.285), 21st on bars (49.300), 4th on beam (49.565), 8th on floor (49.510).

Preview: Oregon State is a good team, but their NQS is a bit misleading. The highest score the Beavers are counting in their NQS is 197.950, 0.400 higher than the next highest score they’re counting. This is a team that tends to score in the 197.200-197.500 range with the potential to score in the high 197 range on a really good day. They put up a 197.200 at Pac-12s after putting up 197.550+ in the three prior meets. Their tendency to score in the low-middle 197s could work in their favor if someone slips up in regional finals, but their capability of scoring very well on a good day makes them a threat. By the way, the Beavers are an unbelievable success story on bars considering they never went above 48.825 on bars in 2021.

Whom to watch for: Jade Carey. She’s a former Olympian who won gold on floor in Tokyo and has a decorated elite career. She’s absolutely dominated since her NCAA debut last season. On March 4, she became the 13th NCAA gymnast ever to earn a gym slam with her first career 10 on beam, completing an in-season gym slam in the process. Her individual rankings are as follows: 2nd on vault (9.960), t-4th on bars (9.965), 2nd on beam (9.975), 1st on floor (9.985) and 1st in AA (39.820). She’s absurdly talented.