It’s a big week for Florida gymnastics. With its big SEC regular-season title implications and the imminent arrival of the National Qualifying Score ranking system, tonight’s meet in the O’Dome against No. 8 Alabama deserves a preview.
First, lets talk about NQS.
The National Qualifying Score (NQS) is the system that is used to rank the teams for the postseason. The score sets the seeding for conference championships and NCAA regionals. The national rankings will switch from average score to NQS after this weekend. The NQS is also used to rank team apparatus scores, as well as individual apparatus and all-around scores.
The NQS isn’t a straight average of scores. Instead, it is calculated by taking a team’s top six scores (three of which must be non-home scores), dropping the top score, and then averaging the remaining five scores. (The usage of scores from road and neutral-site meets is an attempt to reduce the impact of home scoring, something that has been a topic of much debate over the history of college gymnastics, with insinuations of overscoring at home for a variety of reasons.)
If we were to compile NQS rankings right now, the top eight would be:
1. Oklahoma (197.920)
2. Florida (197.550)
3. UCLA (197.115)
T-4. LSU and Denver (197.075)
6. Utah (196.975)
7. California (196.805)
8. Minnesota (196.775)
You can see that Oklahoma and Florida seem to have pulled away from the pack — with Oklahoma almost as far beyond Florida as the the Gators are from the rest of the field — while the teams from No. 3 to No. 8 are clustered quite closely together. Things will definitely start to shift around as those teams can start to drop their lower scores. Some team’s scores are also currently benefiting from having competed more meets and already being able to drop scores — Oklahoma and LSU have seven meets to their name.
Florida has only competed six meets (3 home and 3 away), so all six are counted for their current NQS score. If the Gators score well at home this week they can drop a good-but-not-great 197.350 from the first home meet, but more importantly if they do well next weekend at Georgia they can drop that pesky 196.850 from the Missouri meet. With those two scores out of the way, the Gators should be fairly locked in to a top-four seed by the time the postseason arrives.
One team that you may notice is missing from the top teams by NQS is Alabama, which is ranked No. 8 in the current average polls. By NQS, Alabama comes in at 10 (196.680), also using all of their current scores (six). If the Crimson Tide score well at Florida tonight, they also can move up in the rankings by dropping a low 196.025 from their opening meet at Auburn.
After last year’s regionals, I am out of the prediction game. So I will just let the rankings speak for themselves on how we should expect this meet to play out.
The Crimson Tide come to Gainesville to compete in the Gators’ annual Link to Pink meet. Alabama, one of the all-time powers in collegiate gymnastics, leads the series 74-46-2, but Florida has been better of late, winning three of the last four dual meets between the rivals.
This season, the Crimson Tide has scored over 197.3 twice, but both were at home. Alabama did, however, beat LSU in Baton Rouge this season and with LSU being plagued by injuries the Crimson Tide may be one of Florida’s biggest challengers for the SEC championship. Beam has proved to be a concern for the Crimson Tide with only one meet so far seeing them break a 49.30 event score. Sporting top-seven rankings on the other three events — fifth on bars and floor, seventh on vaul — beam is the only thing standing in this team’s way of making it into the top group of seeds for regionals. If they can figure out beam, Alabama can hang with the best.
However, by comparison, the Gators are ranked in the top four nationally in all four events (first on beam, second on floor, third on bars, fourth on vault) and have scored over 197.3 in all but one meet, so they should also be aiming to put up a big — hopefully 198+— team score to help their NQS. As usual, if the Gators can get their vault landings under control, they should be able to put up a huge score.
Individually, the Crimson Tide are led by junior all-arounder Lexi Graber, who was second at last year’s SEC Championships, where she beat Florida’s pair of excellent all-arounders Trinity Thomas and Alicia Boren. She can score 9.9+ on all four events, but is strongest on floor, where she is ranked 12th in the country. Keep an eye on her to put up a big score on the floor in the O’Dome.
Freshmen Makarri Doggette and Luisa Blanco have come in strong to keep the Crimson Tide in the fight this season. Blanco trained at WOGA (the same club as Alyssa Baumann) and has elegant long lines on the beam which has led her to all scores 9.825+ on the event this season. Doggette is strongest on bars and floor, where she has already scored 9.95 this season.
The Gators will want to be on their best individual game to make sure that they can win the event titles with strong Alabama athletes ready to compete.
Florida (5-0 SEC) is the only undefeated team in the SEC at this point, so with a win over Alabama (3-1 SEC) they will also clinch the SEC regular-season title tonight in the O’Dome.
The trophy is coming to Gainesville for the potential special occasion.
Fans should try to show up early if they are planning to head to the meet — which starts at an unusually early 5:45 p.m. because TV is broadcasting this one. And there are tangible reasons to arrive early, too: The first 1,000 fans get a Link to Pink poster and the first 3,000 fans get a Link to Pink t-shirt. The gates of the O’Dome will open at 4:30 p.m.
For those of us who can’t be there, the meet will be opening up Friday Night Heights on the SEC Network at 6 p.m. and will be commentated by Gator great Bridget Sloan and fellow Olympian John Roethlisberger. You can follow along with live scores here.