The UCLA Gymnastics team will travel today to Birmingham, Alabama to compete at the NCAA Gymnastics Championships. The competition begins on Friday, with the semifinals, which is broken into two sessions. The top three teams from each session moves on to Saturday's Super Six, where the NCAA Champion will be determined. On Sunday, the top qualifiers in the individual events (based on Friday's scores) will compete for the individual titles. The all-around champion will be determined by Friday's scores, so for our all-around gymnasts (Sam Peszek and Olivia Courtney) there will be an incentive to put up the best score possible.
Friday's sessions will be streamed live on NCAA.com.
Saturday and Sunday will be streamed on ESPN3.com, which sucks. I wish it was at least on ESPNU or even ESPN2.
The Bruins will compete in Session II, or the evening session. It begins at 7pm Alabama time, or 5pm UCLA time. The Bruins will start on balance beam and end on uneven bars. (The actual UCLA rotation will be beam, bye, floor, vault, bye, bars.)
Today we will preview the teams that will be competing with the Bruins in the evening session, which is a ridiculously strong group. In this group is reigning national champion Florida, host Alabama (and the huge SEC crowd to cheer them on), Pac-12 Champion Utah, Nebraska and Penn State. Florida ended the season ranked #1, Alabama 4th, Utah 5th, Nebraska 9th, and Penn State 15th.
Florida, final ranking: 1
RQS: 197.895, Average score: 197.646, Season High: 198.325
How they got here: 2nd place at SEC Championships, Won their regional.
Vault ranking: 5th. Uneven Bars: 2nd. Balance Beam: 1st. Floor: 2nd.
Florida is good. Scary good. Disgusting good. They have the top gymnast in the country, former World Champion Bridget Sloan, who has an RQS AA score of 39.720. That's ridiculous. And she's a sophomore. (She delayed her enrollment at Florida for a year because she tried to qualify for the 2012 US Olympic Team. Although I think she wouldn't have made the team, she was at the final and didn't finish because of injury.) They also have 7th ranked gymnast junior Kytra Hunter, in addition to former national team members the Caquatto sisters. Florida is loaded. Although interesting: they lost to Alabama in each of their meetings this year.
Alabama, final ranking: 4
RQS: 197.615, Average score: 197.361, Season high: 198.250
How they got here: SEC Champions; Won their regional.
Vault: 4th. Bars: 6th. Beam: 3rd. Floor: 6th.
If anyone can give Florida a run for their money, it's Alabama, having taken them down twice this year. Alabama doesn't have big named gymnasts - their highest ranked all-arounder is Kim Jacob at 14th - but they have a good solid team, and in the team competition, that's what is important. They also have quality gymnasts in Diandra Milliner, Sarah DeMeo, and many event specialists.
Utah, final ranking: 5
RQS: 197.575; Average score: 197.271, Season high: 198.025
How they got here: Pac-12 Champions; Won their regional.
Vault: 3rd. Bars: 4th. Beam: 9th. Floor: 1st.
I've been saying it all year - Utah is good. They have proven they are the class of the Pac-12 and one of the top teams in the country. UCLA has seen this story three times already this season - and lost twice. If the Bruins want a chance to get into the Super SIx, they will need Utah to falter on beam, their weakest event, and it has already happened once this year, in UCLA's one win over Utah. Utah has spectacular gymnasts in Georgia Dabritz, Nancy Damianova, and Tory Wilson, their lines on all the apparatuses are beautiful, they are landing sticking machines, and if they're on, they are hard to beat.
Nebraska, final ranking 9th
RQS: 196.895, Average score: 196.682; Season high: 197.225
How they got here: 2nd place at the Big-10 Championships; 2nd place in their regional.
Vault: 9th. Bars: 12th. Beam: 11th. Floor: 12th.
Nebraska has had a nice season, but they most likely will not have enough firepower to place in the top 3. Their top score is 197.225 this season and they'll probably need to be 197.5 to have a chance, and their programs just might not be strong enough. Emily Wong was the Big-10 gymnast of the year and can contend for the all-around. Actually their scoring is a lot like UCLA's, although if UCLA landed everything cleanly, they can certainly contend.
Penn State, final ranking 15th
RQS: 196.475, Average Score: 195.858, Season High: 197.200
How they got here: 5th Place at the Big-10 Championships; 2nd place in their regional
Vault: 14th; Bars: 15th; Beam: 11th; Floor: 12th.
Penn State is probably the surprise of this session. I don't think most expected the Nittany Lions to make it to the NCAA Championships, but they took 2nd in their regional with probably their best meet of the season. They did luck out that Oregon State, which is very young, was in their regional and they were able to take advantage. Watch senior Kassidy Stauber and freshman Emma Sibson. I think Florida let up a bit in their regional to make it appear close (FL won that region with only a 197.050) but Penn State has a huge hill to climb if they want to make it to Saturday.
We'll take a look at the teams in Session I tomorrow, in case UCLA makes it to the Super Six. While I believe in our Bruins, it's a difficult road this year back to the Super Six.