The 2018 NCAA Regional Championships, featuring the teams that ranked in the top 36 during the regular season, begin today in just under an hour.
Six teams have been seeded into each of the six regional sites with the top two teams from each site earning a berth to nationals, for a total of 12 teams competing at NCAA Championships in St. Louis later this month. The seeding works so that the top 12 teams all season long will be most likely to qualify, but every season has upsets, and several of this year’s regional sites will be sure to see some surprises along the way.
We have a quick look at each of these sites below, as well as the schedule (all times EST) and links for each regional championship meet held today across the country.
LSU is the sure bet here, coming in ranked No. 2 in the country with the potential to outscore the other teams here by a point. They’ve looked solid and strong all season, and regionals for them is nothing more than a stepping stone onto the real challenge for them, which will be the Super Six.
This will be one of the toughest regionals for the second spot, however, as both No. 11 Nebraska and No. 14 Oregon State have been neck-and-neck all season and are capable of scoring similarly. If I had to choose, I’d say the Beavers have a greater level of depth and strength on an individual to individual level, and I think for many meets this season, they were a bit lowballed and when up against Nebraska face to face, they’ll come off as the stronger program.
Of the programs not in the top 18, I think No. 19 GWU is one of the strongest, and with this year’s senior class pretty much the program’s best class of all time, it’d be awesome to see them be rewarded with a trip to nationals. It won’t be easy for them to come out on top of the two higher-ranked teams, but if everyone hits and if they can rely on some mistakes from the others, I wouldn’t count them out.
This regional will also see competition from No. 20 NC State and No. 31 Maryland.
This should be an easy regional for No. 5 Florida, which despite not having its best season is still set far enough ahead of the other programs in this division that they shouldn’t have a problem taking this one if they hit. Without Kennedy Baker, they’re not quite as strong, but they’d have to have a truly terrible day with multiple falls counted before they miss a shot at nationals.
No. 8 Washington has been on fire in the latter half of the season especially, and I actually think they’d be capable of upsetting a slightly weak Florida, as they’ve looked a bit tighter and more put together overall, especially in the last few weeks. No. 17 Arizona State is having its best season in years, and while I don’t see them upsetting either of the top teams, I hope they can at least come through with an excellent performance to end a great season on a high note.
The other three teams here, No. 27 West Virginia, No. 29 Penn State, and No. 30 New Hampshire, won’t have much of a shot at getting in but we should see some great work from all if they hit, and several gymnasts from this pool will have a fair shot at qualifying to nationals as individuals.
No. 1 Oklahoma has been unbeatable all season, and will go into nationals as a two-time reigning national champion and the team to beat. Even a bad day here would still be more than likely to result in a nationals berth, so this meet will be all about the second spot.
I can’t think of another meet that would be closer than the contest between No. 12 Kentucky and No. 13 Denver. The Wildcats are in the same boat they’re in last year, needing to come into a difficult high-pressure setting after an excellent season, and with last year’s near-miss at nationals, I think they’ll have some extra motivation even when facing super tough competition from the Pioneers. I do think Kentucky has more of a shot with a larger number of talent spread throughout the program, but Denver’s handful of superb top talents have gotten them some seemingly impossible wins in the past, so I wouldn’t count them out, though I’d be devastated to see Kentucky ousted for the second year in a row.
No. 24 Minnesota, No. 28 Iowa State, and No. 35 Iowa will also compete here, and while Minnesota could have a slight advantage as the host team, I don’t think they have quite the overall team presence that the top teams will show, though I’m hoping for big things for their stellar freshman class.
Had No. 6 Alabama competed at any other regional in the country, I’d consider them the biggest top ten risk for not making it to nationals, but since they’ll be at home, I don’t see them missing out even if they do end up with a few mistakes here or there. They’d need a legitimate meltdown to not get in, and while they haven’t been as on fire this season as they’ve been in the past, they’re also still pretty reliably strong.
I’m thrilled we’ll see No. 7 Michigan get to compete in an SEC regional, because they’ve been low-balled all season long compared to most teams. Having seen them up close and personal this season, they’re a far better team than their scores suggest and should be fairly competitive with most of the top six teams when judged on the same spectrum.
Earlier this season I would’ve said No. 18 Georgia could come in as a silent threat, but they haven’t been consistent enough and with a last-minute injury to senior Lauren Johnson in training yesterday, I can’t see how they’d have a shot, especially since they’ll have to fight through fields of only five on a couple events. I’d actually consider No. 22 Missouri, No. 23 Illinois, and No. 36 Central Michigan just as likely as upsetting one of the top two teams as the Gym Dogs are, but I think it’s fairly unlikely that any team but Alabama or Michigan has a shot here unless something truly crazy happens.
The No. 3 UCLA Bruins come into this regional as the team to beat, and should come out of this with a huge lead as they’ve had their best season since 2010 and are looking like a legitimate contender for the national title.
I’m excited for what should be an excellent battle between No. 10 Arkansas and No. 15 Boise State, which I think could go either way depending on who has the stronger focus on the little things today. After a near-miss last season, I’d love to see the Broncos make it in, as they’ve been strong and consistent all year, but Arkansas has been on fire this year after a few weak seasons. Both are capable of the same level of competition and of the same outcome, so it’s not about who’s better, but rather about who has the better day.
Also competing here will be No. 25 Ohio State, No. 33 Pittsburgh, and No. 34 Kent State. I’m especially thrilled to see Pittsburgh step up this season and get to regionals, but I don’t see any of these teams as a legitimate threat to the top three.
No. 4 Utah will be the obvious choice here, especially in front of a home crowd, but I actually think this could secretly be the best regional for the remaining teams, as all five have shown a very high level this season and even while there are stark differences between their averages and regional qualifying scores, having seen what they’ve done this season, I think legitimately any of them could sneak in.
The two most expected are No. 9 Cal and No. 16 Auburn, both of which have a similar story this season, starting out weak but then slowly growing into top programs. Cal has been crushing it over the past few weeks, and the Golden Bears have one of the widest margins between their average and RQS thanks to some great replacement scores near the end of the season.
But Auburn will give them quite the challenge, No. 21 BYU has been so steady and fun to watch all year long, No. 26 Stanford has Elizabeth Price as a secret weapon on top of a team of gymnasts who can legitimately challenge if they hit, and No. 32 Southern Utah on a good day can also reach a mid-196, so I’m hoping this regional will see all teams in top form in order to make this a super competitive meet that could be impossible to predict.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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