Season’s Best All Qualify to Super Six

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I can’t remember any other NCAA season in which the top six teams set themselves at such a high level that they not only remained firm in the average and RQS rankings all season, but also qualified team by team into the Super Six at NCAA Championships.

This might be boring if the teams weren’t so impressive. Generally there’s usually at least one or two teams outside the top six rankings bubble that can fight their way in, and you actually really want them to, if only to make things more exciting even though it generally weakens the Super Six field. Last year, fifth- and sixth-ranked Utah and Auburn missed out, giving berths to the eight- and ninth-ranked UCLA and Georgia, but neither of these teams could challenge the top four for the title, both finishing half a point behind in what was otherwise a pretty tight battle for the top.

But this year, all six teams in the Super Six have the potential to win. All six have season highs of 197.825 or better, a level of talent, ability, and strength that is practically unheard of. But all six have also proved that no team is perfect, with each having at least one meet where not everything went as planned.

Though RQS rankings are great at showing us the teams that manage to consistently keep it up with the best work all season, but gymnastics is so fun because it’s all about hitting when it counts. As we learned yesterday with Maggie Nichols, ranked first in regular season by over a tenth every week, rankings mean nothing if the one mistake of your collegiate career comes in the competition that determines the titles.

Like Nichols, Oklahoma has led the rankings all season, and the team comes in as the reigning national championships, making them the team to beat in today’s Super Six final. But they weren’t quite as solid in yesterday’s semifinal as we’ve come to expect, letting a few things slide they normally wouldn’t. Coming in with a 197.7250, it wasn’t even close to a bad meet, but a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes on floor, a few big hops on vault, and Nichols’ fall on beam held them back from qualifying at the top.

Instead, it was LSU that made this happen, with the team putting up its best finish of the year to earn a 198.2750 after a monstrous and well-deserved 49.7125 on floor. Almost every piece of the puzzle came together for the Tigers, and they actually still have room for improvement. The couple of little things that didn’t go their way — Ashleigh Gnat not sticking her DTY, a little glitch from Kennedi Edney on beam — were so irrelevant compared to everything that went just right, giving the team a nearly five-tenth lead over second-place Florida.

If it does end up coming down to these two teams, I have to say, coming in from Oklahoma’s side of things is where I’d rather be. You want to hit in semifinals, but you don’t want to give so much of yourself that you peak there and blow it in finals. It’s rare that teams can keep up such a high level over two days, and LSU has a history of impressing right up until the very end, which is why they’ve gone the past few seasons without a title when they should’ve been frontrunners. If Oklahoma knows anything, it’s pacing, so letting some little things slide yesterday is no big deal because you know tonight is gonna be the time to blow it out of the water. For D.D. Breaux to finally get her national title, the Tigers — definitely the strongest team, athlete by athlete — are going to need to hold on to that momentum from last night in order to match Oklahoma’s sheer confidence and poise that has kept them at the top all season.

UCLA is the one team I can see breaking that stronghold. Yes, Florida outscored Oklahoma yesterday, but by less than a tenth and that was with Oklahoma’s uncharacteristic mistakes. I haven’t been over- or underwhelmed by Florida this season, so to quote 10 Things I Hate About You, can I just call myself whelmed? Because that’s how I feel. They’re good enough that you don’t wonder if they’ll get by, but not exciting enough to make me root for them going into postseason. With no graduating seniors, sans Claire Boyce who is medically retired, and lacking some of the depth of the more impressive teams this season, they’re kind of in this limbo of ‘meh’ and aside from a few key individual standouts, I don’t see them wowing enough for the title tonight unless other teams have mistakes. No hate, it’s been a respectable, solid season for the Gators, but it’s also nothing to put in the history books.

But UCLA does have some of that excitement and flash, and I think they could be a sneaky contender for a title. Their one problem? They can’t ever have something go right without something else going wrong. Case in point, semifinals. With a floor rotation that surpassed pretty much any of their meets this season, the Bruins were lackluster elsewhere, with mistakes on vault and beam and a mostly lackluster bars rotation, aside from a couple of stellar performances near the end. If everything comes together, the Bruins could get up near LSU and Oklahoma, as they still managed a 197.5000 even without top-notch rotations, but I don’t think I’ve seen that happen all season so they’d really need to fire on all cylinders to come out as national champions. Can you imagine a fully hit meet from them? It’d be amazing, and I’m totally here for it.

Alabama is a bit like Florida in my mind, good but not so impressive that I’m excited for them. In fact, despite enjoying Alabama especially with some of the team’s newest recruits over the past couple of seasons, I found myself rooting for Nebraska to upset them yesterday, and I don’t even really particularly like Nebraska much at all. But Alabama showed a tremendous fight, putting up some heroic performances in the latter half of their beam performance after a fall from Abby Armbrecht, finishing third in their division and fourth overall with a 197.6000, a score that also puts them in contention with the others in this bunch, though I’m still just not feeling it here.

Utah was the bottom qualifier to the Super Six with a 197.05000, nearly five tenths behind the rest of the pack. It wasn’t because of a particularly bad day, and they didn’t have any falls or major mistakes, but their vault landings were shoddy and bars were rough, with mistakes from nearly everyone — including an arched handstand from MyKayla Skinner, major leg separation from Missy Reinstadtler, and an ankle-crunching dismount from Kari Lee — dragging their event score way down. I don’t see them contending, honestly. Their best scores this season all came at home, with more realistic outcomes on the road, so I don’t really see them challenging without major mistakes from some of the other teams.

The Utes actually didn’t place in the top six in semifinals, with second-session team Nebraska outscoring them with a 197.2125. Like the two-per-country rule at the Olympics, Nebraska was the victim of the rules, as the top three from each semifinal qualify and not the top six teams overall. It’s a shame, as they had an incredible day, coming back from an early fall from Sienna Crouse on bars to post strong scores throughout the rest of the meet.

Coach Dan Kendig was a little salty about his team’s scores as they compared to the scores from some of the top teams in his session, commenting that he didn’t really want to say much more because he didn’t want to get in trouble, and while I agree that the team was a bit short-changed on a couple of routines, I don’t think they would’ve finished ahead of Alabama either way. Also, we could say that it’s too bad fate sent the team to the second rather than first subdivision, but with the scoring in the first session a little lower overall, who knows if they would’ve outscored Utah there? You can’t say for sure that they would have, so let’s just chalk this up to a fault in the rules and that no scenario in NCAA semifinals will ever be truly fair.

The other teams finishing out of contention were Washington, Denver, Michigan, Oregon State, and Georgia, in that order. Washington, am I right?! The eight-best score at nationals?! I can’t get over how insane that is, and even though I’ve been gung-ho about them for a few seasons now, I never expected them to get this far this fast. It was an epic season with an epic end, and they’ve got to be very happy. The same goes for Denver, which fought back from TWO falls to finish strong, and Oregon State, which had a few small blunders that added up but overall still had a mostly good day.

Unfortunately, Michigan — a real potential threat for a top finish in the Super Six — ended up counting a fall on beam after both Lexi Funk and Talia Chiarelli came off in the third and anchor spots. Otherwise they were okay on vault and bars, and had an explosive performance on floor, finishing on a high note after the bummer that was beam, but the damage was done and the Wolverines ended up tenth overall.

As for Georgia, I don’t think anyone expected a magical finals appearance from this team in its rebuilding period — after their first meet this season, just staying in the top ten and making nationals was impressive enough! — but I definitely didn’t think they’d have the rough performance they ended up with. Beginning on beam, last season’s nemesis but not quite as bad this year, the team had lots of wobbles and then a fall from anchor Rachel Schick, so while they didn’t have to count a fall, they only counted one score above a 9.8 — Vivi Babalis in probably the best beam performance of her career — with the rest all in the 9.6-9.7 range. The Gym Dogs also gave up quite a few landing errors on vault, and had to fight back from Rachel Dickson’s fall on floor and Lauren Johnson’s scary Gienger catch on bars to post just a 195.8000 at the end.

Basically, this season has been the most boring in a way, with no real upsets at all thus far, from the regular season to regionals through to semifinals. But with the six strongest, most consistent teams of the season all ending up in the Super Six, we have the potential for one of the best NCAA team finals in years. While some teams are slightly better than others, anything can happen in gymnastics, and unlike in previous years, literally any of these teams has the potential to pull off the win. It’s gonna be an exciting night in St. Louis.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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14 thoughts on “Season’s Best All Qualify to Super Six

  1. That was the worst over scoring last night I’ve ever seen seen the judges were playing favorites all year they were going to give this to Oklahoma no matter what in qualifying a fall and mistakes and then the rediculious scoring the judges throwing out 10 s for routines that didn’t deserve it Utah def was getting screwed on the scores skinner hits 56/56 this year and still getting rail roaded what a complete joke

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    • Skinner’s fantastic and deserves recognition. Utah as a whole is not. They’re in a rebuilding period. I told you this weeks ago when you whined about them getting “lowballed” at OSU. Among the top teams this season, Utah had the widest scoring disparity between at home and on the road. That’s because they’re grossly overscored at home. Get over it. Did you really not watch Utah last night and see how many mistakes they had??? Like are you blind or what?

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      • You must be smoking something or just biased and can’t see on the semis not only did Maggie have a fall and Oklahoma had numerous mistakes and still got a 197.7 don’t tell me they we’re over scored and they have been getting gifts all year how may 198 shave they gotten that they didn’t deserve you must be smoking something or are just biased I’m not sure

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        • Oklahoma was third in semis. Maggie had a fall but Oklahoma didn’t have to count it…it’s not like without her fall they would’ve had a 198.9 or something hahahahaha lawd you are impossibly dumb about gym. You could come sixth in semis and still win in finals, lmao. It’s a totally different day.

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    • Oklahoma had the meet of their lives and deserved every score they got. I’m a huge OU fan, but would’ve been happy to see it go to LSU too, mostly because those girls are amazing and humble. Utah WAS NOT gipped, they weren’t victims, etc. they had a bunch of mistakes. 2 OOB on floor, and a few mistakes on bars. OU was impeccable.

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    • I am a major Utah fan and have had season tickets for 9 years. Utah placed where I expected them to. They had mistakes and are dealing with 25% of their team injured. It is success just making it to the Super 6 where I feel they deserved to be. I thought 5th or 6th based on season circumstances. Also a very young team. Give them a healthy year and watch out. I do think Skinner was underscored in vault and floor but oh well – it’s subjective. I think there was some wonky scoring but ultimately the best team won – LSU missed by a smidge and it could have gone either way. Florida brought their game and UCLA was impressive. All in all it was a good meet – no one got badly injured and it was a lot of fun. Looking forward to next year.

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    • That was decided on Friday during semifinals. McMurtry won all around and there were a ton of ties on bars. I think skinner won floor

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        • Gnat and Skinner tired for floor. And the rest of the podium was almost entirely LSU. McMurtry was awesome! I know some disagree but I think she should have had the vault title as well, but that went to Edney, with McMurtry second. Bars was ridiculous and don’t remember who was squeezing in together. And I also forget beam…

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      • They really need to go back to event finals on the Sunday. These young ladies deserve a fair competition for their individual skills. Historically individuals don’t score as well as team members. Elizabeth Price is the prime example. She is amazing and due to the Stanford teams lower ranking (not due to effort or talent/numbers and injury got them this year) Elizabeth was sort of shafted. Event finals can be more exciting than the team competition and it gives them another opportunity to shine and to be judged the all at the same time by the same judges. Also, it would give a true all around champion (DON’T yell at me – McMurtry was the bomb this year – well deserved) BUT events need to come back.

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  2. And I never said Utah should have won so don’t put things into my mouth you’re probably also going to say skinner shouldn’t won the aa let’s see what you say about that because I believe she should have won and was underscored numerous times this year

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