2018 NCAA Minneapolis Regional Preview

It’s finally that time of the year! We know where each of the top 36 teams in the country will travel to compete for a chance at advancing to nationals. In the days leading up to the championships, we’ll preview and analyze each of the six regionals, discussing which teams have a chance of moving on and which individual could qualify as well. First up is the Minneapolis regional, featuring No. 1 Oklahoma, No.12 Kentucky, No. 13 Denver, No. 24 Minnesota, No. 28 Iowa State and No. 35 Iowa.

Don’t forget to enter your postseason predictions in the 2018 NCAA Gym Bracket Challenge! The deadline for submissions is Friday, April 6 at 7 p.m. ET.

Rank Team RQS Average High Score Starting Event
1 Oklahoma 198.120 197.850 198.375 Floor
12 Kentucky 196.800 196.469 197.100 Beam
13 Denver 196.785 196.496 197.300 Bye Before Floor
24 Minnesota 196.250 195.745 196.675 Bye Before Bars
28 Iowa State 196.045 195.752 196.700 Bars
35 Iowa 195.775 195.231 196.400 Vault

The 1-12-13 regional is typically an exciting meet, and this year should be no different. Oklahoma is the only team here that is almost certain to make it out of this regional and qualify to nationals. The Sooners have been dominant all season and this regional should follow suit. They are coming off a 197.775 at the Big 12 championship and have scored over 197.500 in all but one of their meets so far—including not scoring below a 197.700 in its final six meets following its beam implosion at the Perfect 10 Challenge. The team is ranked in the top three nationally on all four events, including a No. 1 on vault and beam. Sophomore Maggie Nichols continues to be the team’s all around star. However, she is not the only star on this team. Junior Brenna Dowell is having one of her best seasons yet and AJ Jackson is showing flashes of her old, dominant self on vault and floor after taking a weekend off while freshman Anastasia Webb has competed all around in all but three of the team’s meets, with just four of her 44 routines scoring below a 9.800.

Where this regional should get interesting is the battle for the second spot. Kentucky and Denver are the most likely challengers, but don’t count Minnesota out either, especially on its home turf. To gauge just how close this regional is, the Wildcats’ RQS is just 0.015 higher than the Pioneers’. The Pioneers, however, have the higher average team score, though again by a slim margin of 0.027. The Pioneers also have a higher season high score than the Wildcats by 0.200. The Wildcats hit 197.000 just once so far this season; the Pioneers have hit the mark twice.

Kentucky finds itself in this regional as the No. 12 seed for the second year in a row despite ranking around No. 9 for most of the season. The team has struggled in the past few weeks, especially on beam which is typically considered its best event. That’s certainly a disappointment since it would have had much better prospects of making it out of a different regional, but instead the team’s struggles and lack of high scores ultimately pushed it down to this precarious matchup once again. It achieved its high score of 197.100 at home on February 23. More recently, the Wildcats scored a 196.550 at the SEC Championships but still did not put forward their best effort. They are led by sophomore all arounder Mollie Korth, as well as junior Alex Hyland. Ella Warren has also provided the team with solid scores since graduating high school early to join the Wildcats in January. With a full hit meet, the Wildcats will certainly challenge, but it will not be a walk in the park for them to qualify to nationals.

Denver looks to play spoiler to Kentucky just like Washington did as the No. 13 seed last year. The potential for the Pioneers has existed all season, but injuries hampered the team to start, forcing them to put up five on vault and floor on some occasions. Finally back to being mostly healthy, the team has been having some of its best meets of the season, especially on the road. Its 197.075 at the Big 12 championship marks its season high road score. Midseason the team took a blow when freshman all arounder Lynnzee Brown went down with an injury. She may be the team’s secret weapon, as she has been working her way back into lineups for the past few weeks now. She recently added back vault and her Yurchenko 1.5 is an asset for the Pioneers. That along with Maddie Karr’s own 1.5 gives Denver the advantage of more 10.0 start values over Kentucky’s one from Korth. If Brown adds floor back for regionals, it could be the difference maker of the meet.

The underdog you shouldn’t overlook is Minnesota. On paper, the Gophers don’t appear as strong as either Denver or Kentucky, but the advantage of being in their home arena shouldn’t be taken lightly. In fact, the last time the Gophers qualified a full team to nationals was from their home regional in 2016. The team has scored over 196.000 in three of its four home meets, including its season high of 196.675. If it hopes to advance, Minnesota must have the support from its two stars, freshman Lexy Ramler and sophomore Ivy Lu, to bring in big scores for the team. These two alone won’t be enough, though—others must perform well, too—but they can certainly help Minnesota’s cause to balance out a lower individual score here and there. On their best day, the Gophers don’t have as high of a ceiling as any of the three teams ranked above them, but they will be waiting in the wings if any of the other teams make a mistake.

The other two teams at this regional are Iowa State and Iowa. Realistically, both are long shots to qualify to nationals. But it’s important to realize that in gymnastics, anything could happen. However, each of these teams would have to go through three of Oklahoma, Kentucky, Denver and Minnesota to advance. They will be looking to capitalize on mistakes if they do happen, but either way, the end goal for each of these teams is to finish strong. Both Iowa State and Iowa have similar statistics to Minnesota, the difference being that Minnesota is at home, and they aren’t.

Iowa State is the stronger of the Iowa teams. Led by senior Haylee Young, the Cyclones can make this meet interesting on their best day. However, they only have two away scores above the 196.000 mark. Most recently they took third place at the Big 12 championship with a 195.650—below two other teams in this regional, Denver and Oklahoma—after having mishaps on beam and bars. The Cyclones matched up with every team at this regional except Kentucky, including topping Minnesota in Ames in February. When everyone hits, the team is capable of scoring in the low to mid-196 range and could capitalize on errors from one of the top teams. At the very least, the Cyclones will look for a hit meet and to end the season on a strong note.

Iowa has had a subpar year by its recent standards. The Hawkeyes went from a No. 18 ranking overall in 2017 to dropping to No. 35, barely squeaking into regionals. Not helping the situation was the loss of sophomore Clair Kaji to injury early on. But be sure to watch for her classmate Charlotte Sullivan along with junior Nicole Chow, who is absolutely gorgeous on bars and beam. The Hawkeyes have reached 196.000 just twice this season, but the good news is that both of those scores came from away meets. In addition to that, the majority of the team’s other scores have been in the mid-to-high 195 range. One of these came at the Big Ten championship, where the Hawkeyes scored a 196.400. It will be hard for Iowa to pass any of the top teams in this regional, but the real value in it is giving this team postseason experience for next year since the Hawkeyes are only losing one contributing gymnast after this season.  

Individuals

Vault Bars Beam Floor All Around
Mikaela Meyer (Utah State – rotating with Iowa St.) Anna Salamone (Air Force – rotating with Iowa St.) Autumn DeHarde (Utah State – rotating with Iowa St.) Autumn DeHarde (Utah State – rotating with Iowa St.) Lisa O’Donnell (UW-W – rotating with Oklahoma)
Madison Ward (Utah State – rotating with Iowa) Brittany Jeppesen (Utah State – rotating with Iowa) Emily Briones (Utah State – rotating with Iowa) Madison Ward (Utah State – rotating with Iowa) Tori Erickson (UW-Eau Claire – rotating with Kentucky)
(Alt) Faith Leary (Utah State) (Alt) Jazmyn Estrella (Utah State) (Alt) Taylor Dittmar (Utah State) (Alt) Faith Leary (Utah State) Brooke Terry (UW-Stout – rotating with Denver)
Samantha Wiekamp (UW-La Crosse – rotating with Minnesota)
(Alt) Sierra Beaver (UW-Stout)

To qualify to nationals as an individual, a gymnast must win or tie for first on an individual event or be one of the top two all arounders not on a qualifying team. Winning an event won’t be an easy feat in this regional, as with any meet against a team like Oklahoma that has individuals consistently scoring above 9.900.

Assuming that Oklahoma qualifies as a team, that leaves various scenarios for all arounder qualifications. If Kentucky fails to qualify a team to nationals, its most likely gymnasts to qualify are Mollie Korth and Alex Hyland in the all around, with Korth holding the higher RQS. The strongest non-Oklahoma all arounder at this regional is Denver’s Karr, who holds a No. 5 ranking. Should Denver not qualify, Karr is highly likely to move on as an individual. Pioneer Mia Sundstrom has consistently competed all four all season but doesn’t have as high a ceiling as some other contenders. If Lynnzee Brown adds back floor, she has a good chance at making it as an all arounder as well. For Minnesota, the star is Ramler. Her and Korth are ranked No. 13 and No. 14 in the all around, respectively, so expect to see a fierce battle between the two. Cyclone Haylee Young should be in the mix as well while Iowa’s best chances at qualifying an all arounder are in Sullivan or Chow. Neither are as strong as the aforementioned group but will present themselves as contenders nonetheless.

As far as individual events go, the name of the game will be who can hold pace with Oklahoma’s scores. This will be a tough task and will likely require at least a 9.900, if not more, on an event. Denver’s Kaitlyn Schou has a good chance of advancing as a beam specialist, as will Sundstrom and Emily Glynn on bars, Brown on vault and bars and Nikole Addison on floor. Sidney Dukes also has a chance to qualify on beam and floor. Gopher Lu has a good shot on bars and beam, having even scored a 10.000 on the latter. She’s only scored below 9.900 once on bars all season. Cyclones that have the best chance at qualifying individually are Meaghan Sievers on vault, where she advanced to nationals back in 2016, Sophia Steinmeyer on vault or Hilary Green on bars. Hawkeye Nikki Youd will also challenge on beam, as will Chow if she does not make it as an all arounder. Chow also has a shot on bars, as does Lanie Snyder on floor.

It’s even more difficult to qualify as an individual without a team there to provide support and a typical team atmosphere. Utah State’s Autumn DeHarde has scored over 9.900 on both beam and floor, so she should be in the mix on those two events. Teammate Madison Ward also has a season high over 9.900 on floor, so watch for her there as well. Emily Briones shares DeHarde’s season high of a 9.925 on beam, so she could threaten while Air Force’s Anna Salamone has a season high of 9.900 on bars; however, she tends to score in the 9.800s and 9.700s more often.

All of the individual all around gymnasts come from the various Division III University of Wisconsin schools. It’s unlikely they’ll qualify to nationals, but it is a huge accomplishment in and of itself just making it to this regional competition. Don’t ignore these gymnasts just because they aren’t likely to qualify. A lot of people don’t tend to watch Division III, so take the time to appreciate the gymnasts and their unique skills and routine compositions.

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Article by Tara Graeve

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