The West Virginia University gymnastics team will attempt to keep its postseason play alive when they compete in the NCAA Regional Championships on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
In order to qualify for the National Championships, you must place in either the top two spots where you will be granted an automatic bid straight into competition or you must finish third or fourth where you will compete in a semifinal match for the right to go to the championships.
It may be an uphill battle for the Mountaineers who were given the fifth seed in the championship in a Southeast region that is known to be home to some of the top powerhouses in women’s collegiate gymnastics.
They will be vying for one of the top four spots against the likes of No. 4 Alabama, No. 10 California, No. 15 Boise State, No. 21 Kentucky and unranked Bowling Green.
The top-seeded Crimson Tide are the clear favorites heading into the meet. West Virginia competed against them in Tuscaloosa earlier this season and lost by a score of 197.9 to 195.25. The 197.375 mark was the second-highest score recorded against the Mountaineers this season.
The Alabama squad is led by senior Lauren Beers and sophomore Mackenzie Brannan, both of whom have been lights out for the team all year long.
Brannan is the top-ranked all-around competitor in the meet, holding the No. 18 spot nationally and boasting a regional qualifying score of 39.410. Beers holds a top ten ranking on the vault and a top 20 ranking on the floor. Beers season was highlighted in a meet against Georgia where she scored a perfect 10.0 on her vault routine.
Top to bottom, this Crimson Tide have the most talented roster and it would be a shock if they didn’t win the meet in their home gym. However, one team with at least a semblance of a chance at shocking Alabama is the second-seeded University of California.
The Golden Bears had their ups and downs throughout the season, putting up scores ranging from 194.225 to 197.5. However, California saw it’s best scores toward the end of the season, and they have been building on the momentum ever since. They boast a team RQS of 196.77.
The gymnast to watch for the Golden Bears is sophomore Toni-Ann Williams, who leads the team at every event except for the balance beam. Look for the team to rely heavily on her scores in Tuscaloosa.
Boise State comes next in line and earned the rights to the three-seed. The Broncos opened up the season with a 195.7, and never scored south of 196.0 the rest of the season.
The team has been improving exponentially week by week, earning their top two scores of the season in their previous two meets. Their last meet was the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference Championship, which they won outright with a score of 197.025.
Not much drama is expected within the top three spots, although Boise State has a real chance of slipping by California for the second place. The real battle will be between Kentucky and West Virginia for the fourth and final spot.
The Wildcats and the Mountaineers competed in Morgantown earlier this season in what was the closest finishing margin either team had all season. The final score favored Kentucky, 195.8-195.6.
The meet in Morgantown showed the Wildcats have two stars in Sidney Dukes and Katie Stuart, both of whom earned individual wins and put on incredible performances. Whether or not Kentucky will edge out West Virginia relies almost solely on the performances of those two gymnasts.
The Mountaineers have not qualified for the NCAA National Championships since 2000, and they have as good a shot as ever to qualify this year if all the pieces fall into place on Saturday.