The 2019 NCAA National Championships are only a few days away. So, who will win?
|Team||NQS||Average||Highest Score||Starting Event|
|UCLA (no. 2)||396.085||197.781||198.400||Vault|
|LSU (no. 3)||395.310||197.327||198.175||Beam|
|Utah (no. 5)||394.785||197.371||198.025||Floor|
|Michigan (no. 6)||394.595||196.842||197.750||Bars|
|Team||NQS||Average||Highest Score||Starting Event|
|Oklahoma (no. 1)||396.590||197.808||198.325||Vault|
|Denver (no. 4)||394.920||197.175||197.775||Beam|
|Georgia (no. 7)||395.365||196.838||197.525||Bars|
|Oregon State (no. 8)||393.525||196.320||197.450||Floor|
The two favourite teams are Oklahoma and UCLA. The Sooners are historically more consistent, but this year they proved that they are not infallible. Floor is their weakness and, as I said before, if the judges want to be picky, they could take significant marks off, especially in those twist-based routines. We also still do not know whether Maggie Nichols will be back in the all around or not: Oklahoma’s floor rotation would be much more stable with Maggie in it. Beam, the Sooners’ traditional strength, was also a bit underwhelming this year. When things go well, the Sooners are still the number-one team in the nation, but this year they had some inconsistencies. Even at Super-Regionals, although they did not score below 9.900, there were some quite evident wobbles and imperfections. UCLA‘s weakness is vault, not for lack of depth, talent or 10.0-start values, but because they struggle to hit a whole lineup consistently. Throughout the season they also struggled to hit six routines on beam week after week, but they proved to be very resilient and they never had to count a fall. This is Miss Val’s last season and scores have shown it, the Bruins are a team of stars, full of positive energy and outspokenly very close, so I would say that they are the favourite to win the title. Overall, however, I believe that on the day it could go either way.
LSU is the third favourite team in my opinion. The Tigers started the season slowly and although they have the third NQS and they won both the SEC Championships and their Super-Regional, I still think of them as slightly wobbly. What I find particularly concerning is that the Tigers perform some routines that can score either 9.900 or 9.750 indifferently according to what the judges decide to see or not to see. Yet they cannot be counted out and not only because the judges may decide not to see the bent knees, the flexed feet and the low chests. The Tigers are not the dream team of 2017, but they have a lot of heart and Sarah Finnegan and can hit that magic 198, and if UCLA and Oklahoma are less than perfect, they could notch that elusive title.
Behind the top-three the challenge is wide open and very exciting, as on a good day all five remaining teams could make it to the final. Historically, Utah seems the favourite, but I have a feeling that history may not be enough this year. For one thing, they are on a tough Semi-Final and they need to beat both UCLA and LSU (and Michigan) to advance to the Final. The Utes, moreover, are undoubtedly a strong team and they have MyKayla Skinner anchoring all events, but they have more routines on bars and beam likely to score in the 9.8s than in the 9.9s, and they rely on a lot of FTYs on vault. On a perfect day, Utah could be through, but it seems to me that they will be consistent in the low-middle 197s, rather than in the high 197s. On the contrary, Denver is building their momentum and, after surprisingly winning its Super-Regional, they must be even further galvanised and energised going into Nationals. The Pioneers are competing in a slightly easier Semi-Final: if we consider Oklahoma almost automatically through, they will have to battle Georgia and Oregon State for a spot in the Final. Georgia are a real threat and looked exceptional at Regionals, but Denver was the more consistent of the two during the regular season. The weakness of the Pioneers, as with every team on the rise, is that in every lineup some routines are significantly stronger than others, and this showed, for example, in the second round of Regionals, where Denver started very slowly on vault, having to count multiple scores in the 9.7s. Another weakness of teams on the rise is that they tend to struggle to hit 24-for-24 twice in a row. During the Super-Regionals, for example, Denver had a strong performance and still scored over 197, but the gymnasts looked a bit tired, especially in the leg events. And a low 197 may not be enough to qualify to the Four on the Floor and almost certainly not enough to win the title. Nevertheless, who knows? Few gymnasts in the country have the same level of energy of Maddie Karr and Lynnzee Brown and for the Pioneers it would be a fantastic result only to qualify to the Final.
Georgia, another historic team, are also a serious contender for the Final. The Gymdogs are a very young team, but they have been showing their best gymnastics in the post-season. I am so impressed by the improvement of this team over the past two years, Courtney Kupets Carter and Suzanne Yoculan are doing a fantastic job. Georgia have some weaknesses they need to overcome: they have the potential to be outstanding on bars but have struggled with consistency, beam has historically had a ‘situation’ and landings on vault could be problematic, although at Regionals 9.9s were awarded like sweets. Yet, even though the Gymdogs are a team with several question marks, if they can put it together as they did at Regionals, they are a threat all the way through. So, are Denver or Georgia more likely to qualify? It is a tough one. Denver impressed a lot during the regular season, but Georgia is the one that seems to be peaking at the right time. Based on what we have seen in the post-season, Georgia may have the slightest of advantages, but I think that it is going to be very close.
How about Michigan and Oregon State? I would love to see Michigan qualify to the Final and they have the potential to do so, even though it would entail having a near-perfect competition and possibly a few mistakes from the other teams. I believe that the Wolverines should aim at a 197+ in their Semi-Finals and be happy with that result, whatever it entails. If that is enough for a qualification, then great – they will give it all in the Final. If not, as with Denver, their moment will come soon and this is fantastic experience! Oregon State is the only one of the eight teams that did not score over 197 at their Super-Regional and they are the big surprise here. The Beavers have nothing to lose, can relax and enjoy, and as with all teams who have nothing to lose, they should not be underestimated. I would be very surprised if they qualified to the final, but I am delighted to get another chance to watch them, and this is great experience for them and a big boost of confidence.
Now, what about the all around final? UCLA’s Kyla Ross seems to be the big favourite: she is the perfect-10 queen, has a 10.0 start value on vault and has the judges on her side. LSU’s Sarah Finnegan has also never been better, but although perfect, her FTY could hurt her overall score and judges are not as generous with her as they are with Kyla. The two Denver queens, Maddie Karr and Lynnzee Brown are also serious contenders, on a good day they can easily go 9.950 on all apparatuses, and so is Oklahoma’s Brenna Dowell. If Brenna’s teammate Maggie Nichols is back in the all around, then of course she would be a top contender, as well as the defending champion. Judges tend to be relatively generous with her as well, especially on her leg positions on dismounts. Michigan’s Natalie Wojcik is also a serious contender. Judges are not as generous with her as with others, but the talent is all there. Speaking of ungenerous judges, a couple of individuals could also upset the results. One is Florida’s Alicia Boren, who everyone would love to see hit all her routines, score a perfect 10.0 on floor and pull an Ebee Price (standing ovation included, please); the other is Minnesota’s Lexy Ramler, who should also break the world by scoring a perfect 10.0 on beam and who, judges aside, also has all the potential to win. Finally, after two second place finishes in the past two years, is this Utah’s MyKayla Skinner‘s year? It could be, of course, but I doubt it, both because of her bars and beam, and because judges seem to be rather tough on her, but another silver medal is well in her reach.
For all the event finals, it is hard to differentiate between predictions and heart, but here are some thoughts. On vault, Kyla Ross seems to be the favourite, because of her form and her consistency at sticking her Yurchenko 1.5. Brenna Dowell and MyKayla Skinner are the defending champions and could repeat their victory as well, and so could Maggie Nichols. Natalie Wojcik could also upset everyone and pull a Kennedi Edney (after all, also Kennedi started her career at LSU with a stuck Yurchenko 1.5), and speaking of the former champion herself, Kennedi Edney has a shot at the title too, although is it just me, or her legs are more prominently bent than they used to in her freshman year? Another contender is UCLA’s Felicia Hano, though judges do not seem to agree with me, as well as Maddie Karr and Lynnzee Brown. My heart goes out to the two individuals, Nebraska’s Taylor Houchin, who stuck one of the best Yurchenkos 1.5 I have ever seen at Regionals (and did not score a 10.0!!!!) and Florida’s Savannah Schoenherr. I believe that Savannah has too many leg problems in her vault for the title, but Florida’s most consistent vaulter this season needs some further recognition!
Bars is going to be exciting. It should be a battle between the perfect-10.0 queen, Kyla Ross, and the queen-in-the-making, Florida’s Trinity Thomas. If they both hit, I think that Trinity should win, because her routine is as polished as Kyla’s but much more difficult, but I would be happy with a tie as well. Oklahoma has a few gymnasts who can contend for the title (Maggie Nichols, Brenna Dowell and Nicole Lehrmann). Maggie tied for the title the past two years and Nicole is also a 2017 co-champion. The fact that Maggie lands her dismount with a foot in front of the other bothers me a bit though – I understand that she does it to protect legs and obviously safety comes first, but I wish the judges would differentiate perfection from near-perfection. Sarah Finnegan is gorgeous on bars and should be on the podium, though the judges rarely score her over 9.950 for some reason. Lexy Ramler should also be judged more in line with the rest of the top teams, she is fantastic on bars, with the exception of her dismount, which feels a bit laboured at times. Finally, Georgia’s Alexa Al-Hameed has the best Tkatchev in the nation and I would love to see her uniqueness recognised.
Beam could be the most open and exciting of all four apparatuses if only the judges could score all teams equally. My ideal podium would be Minnesota’s Lexy Ramler, Denver’s Alexis Vasquez and Michigan’s Natalie Wojcik – all three gymnasts were outstanding on beam this season and would have all deserved at least one perfect 10.0. Among the top-team favourite are also Kyla Ross (the 2017 NCAA champion), Maggie Nichols, Sarah Finnegan and Katelyn Ohashi. The UCLA star said last year that she wanted to continue the UCLA streak of victories in 2019, by becoming the fifth consecutive Bruin to win the beam NCAA title. Can she achieve it? She certainly can, although Ohashi looked more solid on beam at the beginning of the season than towards the end. Sabrina Vega of Georgia could also be a contender, as well as Rachel Baumann. Rachel’s sister Alyssa Baumann of Florida will compete as an individual on beam at Nationals (and will rotate with Georgia) and it would be a sweet ending to a bittersweet season to notch that title. She certainly has the talent, we’ll see if she also has the nerves. Finally, nothing would make me happier than see Kentucky’s Alex Hyland hit her routine and score over 9.9.
Finally, on floor, Katelyn Ohashi is the super-favourite: she has a viral, all-female-singers-based routine, a split double layout, and the world and the judges at her feet, and she can easily defend the title she won last year. And yet Ohashi is not the only excellent floor worker. Florida’s Trinity Thomas can easily make the podium too and even score a perfect 10.0 if she can control all her power. Denver’s Lynnzee Brown for me is the best floor worker in the nation right now (the height on that double layout!!) and should be recognised for it. Oklahoma’s Brenna Dowell should also gain marks for competing that front double pike (though I have been holding my breath every time I see a double front since Sam’s injury) and Oklahoma’s freshman Olivia Trautman seems to be one of the judges’ favourite too, although I personally believe that her loss of form on her tumbling passes should be deducted more severely. Utah’s MyKayla Skinner (the 2017 champion) is also, obviously, a contender, and so should be Sarah Finnegan, whose form is absolutely perfect on floor. My heart would like to see Alicia Boren win floor (with a perfect 10.0 and standing ovation, please), together with Michigan’s Olivia Karas, who deserves the world and has an outstanding routine, and UCLA’s Gracie Kramer, who is too often forgotten by the judges in that hall of fame that is UCLA’s floor lineup.