The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Jessica Taylor Price, April 17, 2021

NCAA Semifinals — Elite upgrades — Must-click links

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NCAA Nationals

It’s nationals day! Yesterday, Oklahoma, Michigan, Utah, and Florida all advanced from the national semifinals to today’s national final.

#4 Michigan killed it in the first semifinal, leading for all four rotations and scoring a whopping 197.8625 over #1 Florida, which scored a 197.4375, just .075 over #5 California. Florida’s placement was controversial, as they had several falls and NCAA scoring is just wonky in general, but that’s another newsletter.

#2 Oklahoma ran away with the second semifinal, winning with a 198.0875 over #6 Utah. But the bottom three were super, super close. Utah scored a 197.6000, just barely edging out #7 Alabama (197.5750) and #3 LSU (197.5625), which was in the lead after two rotations. So, it was tight.

But most importantly, Oklahoma wore a leotard that I actually kind of like:

Individual titles were also awarded yesterday. But before we get into those, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring your attention to the latest issue of Essence magazine, featuring four Black gymnasts from UCLA — Chae Campbell (who fit right in with her adoptive champs team), Nia Dennis, Margzetta Frazier, and Sekai Wright — in a beautiful cover shoot:

In the all-around, Anastasia Webb won with a 39.7875, also tying for first on vault and floor. 

She was followed by Luisa Blanco (who also won beam) with a 39.6500, tied with Sierra Brooks of Michigan. All-around favorite Trinity Thomas competed on all four events, placing 11th with a 39.5625; and Lynzee Brown of Denver was doing great until her final rotation, when she sat her vault, finishing with a 39.0875.

As per usual, there were a lot of ties in event finals. Haleigh Bryant co-won vault: 

Maya Bordas (who is Cal’s first-ever national champ) and Maile O’Keefe tied for the bars title, and Lexi Graber and Maile O’Keefe shared the floor title.

For the team final, I’m giving this one to Oklahoma; I don’t think Florida is “on” like it needs to be (their semifinal score was the sixth-highest yesterday). That said, I love to see Michigan keeping things interesting and want them to win it all.

Nationals will air live today at 3:30pm ET on ABC.

100 days out

Aside from the always pleasant unveiling of the team uniforms, we got some news this week in celebration of 100 days until the unlikeliest of Olympic Games. 

But first, some Euros roster updates. Nina Derwael has withdrawn from the competition, Eythora Thorsdottir is out as well with an ankle injury (snaps to @dutchgymnerd), and Jennifer Gadirova of Great Britain has withdrawn out of an abundance of caution. Of the three, Gadirova is the only one who was eligible to qualify an individual spot for the Games. While we’re here, here are the schedule and links for Euros.

In other continental news, looks like Pan Ams are happening in Rio this June against literally all odds. Lauren Hopkins at The Gymternet speculates that this is basically happening so Brazil will get an extra individual spot, which they would have to forgo if the competition was canceled. The remaining qualifiers — the African Championships, the Oceania Championships, and the Asian Championships — are still set to be held in May. It would be terribly unfair if one of these were to be canceled and European countries got to compete for Olympic spots while other countries couldn’t and we went back to the 2019 worlds pool, but that’s where we are.

Finally, the fun stuff. Several U.S. gymnasts marked #100days by gracing us with upgrades and training updates. Some highlights: Shilese Jones showed off a 1.5-twisting double tuck:

Jordan Chiles has brought her Amanar back from the dead, Jade Carey has a new connection on floor, Riley McCusker has a double double and a laid out full out on floor, and Kayla DiCello’s on the double-double train, too. Konnor McClain’s DTY is looking beautiful; ditto with Lilly Lippeatt’s bar routine. But honestly, the best part of these posts is the heartwarming comments from their teammates.

Meanwhile, Melanie de Jesus dos Santos did a Nabieva to Pak:

…and Becky Downie celebrated 100 days by looking fantastic on bars as per usual.

This week in women’s gymnastics

Athlete safety news

Elite news

NCAA news

Tweet of the week

Five at The IX: Sierra Brooks and Beverly Plocki

Here’s what Michigan sophomore Sierra Brooks and Michigan head coach Beverly Plocki had to say after winning the first national semifinal. Edited for clarity and length.

Sierra Brooks
Can you talk about your performance and the team’s performance?

As a whole, we had a phenomenal team performance. It’s been interesting to see this season where our best event is, because we have a great vault team — we have six full and a halfs and it’s awesome — then we had an amazing bars at regionals, and then today we came out and had our best floor rotation of the season. I think that’s made us very motivated to just really hit on all four events and just do our best gymnastics. We came in today with probably the best energy possible; we didn’t overhype the meet or just get overwhelmed at any point, and I think that’s what led to us just having a great performance overall. 

Personally, I was really happy with my performance. I just wanted to hit very well with my team, and we were just in a really good headspace going into everything, and that definitely helped.

You’re currently in the lead in the all-around and on beam and floor. How do you feel about the prospect of being an individual national champion?

I think that it’s awesome; it’s very exciting. It’s almost overwhelming because I came in today just really wanting to hit for our team. We wanted to make Saturday so badly, so that was definitely at the top of my mind. Looking [at the individual standings] and seeing that, that’s very, very awesome, and honestly, it being beam and floor is surprising to me, but that’s just really exciting and I’m just really happy with that.

You guys did great on floor today. How do you think that helped the attitude of the team?

Earlier in the season floor was a hit-or-miss event for us, and I think this past month we’ve really just let it hit that we are an amazing floor team and when we hit, we hit phenomenally well. I think today, just seeing that, we were so excited for everyone. Everyone was hitting the best that they could. It was really fun to watch as a whole. And I think that kept our momentum going because we were like, “We’re in this. We can do phenomenal gymnastics on any event; it doesn’t matter what it is.” I think that’s just what we needed to keep it going. We even went and had a semi off vault rotation, but we knew we hit floor and we can go and hit bars. It just kind of helps you calm down and not put so much pressure on yourself for the rest of the meet.

How has this season prepared you for nationals?

I think this season as a whole has just shown us how much things can change. There was a point in preseason where we were like, are we even going to have a season? And then here we are actually competing, and we’re at NCAAs. Our team has had so much prep … we’ve had to come back from meets where we didn’t do as good as we wanted to. And we’ve had the highs of highs — we hit 198 so many times this season, and we had never done that before. So I think we were prepared for this meet because it’s been something that we’ve been working for for literally almost two years. I’m a sophomore;  we had that taken away from us last year … we’ve done all the prep in the world. We do our best gymnastics. We work so hard in the gym, and this is the time to just let it show.

Beverly Plocki
What are your thoughts on your team’s performance today and your thoughts heading into tomorrow?

I’m so incredibly proud of this group of young women. And Sierra said it, everything that we’ve been through … University of Michigan Athletics had a two-week pause in the beginning of the season. Just when we got started, we stopped again. So I think this has just been a season of, we kind of laugh about the term “fluid,” we have to be able to step up and be ready for anything, and in a weird way I think that’s helped us a little bit to kind of take each moment for what it is, not get too far ahead, not get caught up on what’s past. I’m so proud to be here, and excited to have the opportunity to compete for a national championship tomorrow night. 

What was the mentality starting off on beam?

We wanted to be very intentional about where our emotions were, where our adrenaline levels were, and I think they did a really incredible job. It’s a blessing and a curse when you start on beam; it’s difficult but it’s amazing when it’s behind you and we did as well as we did on beam. I think it started the momentum and the flow of the competition for us. 

Michigan has had some near misses getting to finals. What is your process with the team for staying positive and keeping some of the more difficult memories out?

Well, until people like you bring them up, we haven’t thought about that. As Sierra said, last year we felt like we had an incredible team; we were positioned to come in and do this great thing, and then we had the season pulled out from under us. This is a really incredible team and I don’t have any hesitation whatsoever in thinking about the past. We are completely in the present and thinking about an opportunity we have in front of us for tomorrow.

What’s the conversation like with your team tonight? What do you say to get them ready?

Tonight it’s just about enjoying this moment, recovery, everything that we want to do to make our bodies and minds relaxed and feeling fresh for tomorrow … that’s what this is all about. You would think that there would be a lot of nerves. But we’re looking at this as such an incredible opportunity for us to step out on the floor with the best teams in the country and go to battle. And we feel that we are one of them. We feel like we deserve to be here and we feel like if we hit to the best of our ability in four events, we may be the team to beat. There’s going to be a lot of really good gymnastics on the floor, and we’re thinking of it more as an incredible opportunity, nothing more than that.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By Sarah Kellam @sarahkellam, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer

Written by The IX Team