After already having competed at the Big Ten Five-Team meet three weekends ago at the University of Illinois, the Ohio State women’s gymnastics team travels to Champaign, Illinois, yet again for an NCAA Regional beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday.
The Buckeyes will be competing against No. 5 UCLA, No. 8 Oregon State, No. 17 Iowa, No. 19 Illinois and Eastern Michigan. The top two teams from the regional competition will advance to the semifinals. Although OSU has high hopes of placing competitive scores, the Buckeyes are more concerned with working towards the goal of posting a season-high team final score during their time at regionals.
“We’ve already been in the arena once, because we were there for Big Five, so it’s a familiar atmosphere,” freshman Amanda Huang said. “But there’s no pressure on us to make nationals. We can just go out there and try our best and have fun.”
Based on a team’s regional qualifying score, the top 18 teams were seeded nationally and placed into the bracket that divides into six regional competitions. The remaining teams — those ranked 19 to 36 — were assigned geographically to one of the six regional locations.
The top-two scoring teams from the Champaign, Seattle and Fayetteville, Arkansas, regionals will compete in one of the semifinals, while the top two teams from the Morgantown, West Virginia, Gainesville, Florida, and Lincoln, Nebraska, regionals will compete in another semifinal.
UCLA is seen as the favorite to win, with Oregon State projected as a close second, but the Buckeyes will also be competing alongside conference competitors, Illinois and Iowa. OSU competed against these two teams in the Big Ten championship and was outscored by both during that final meet. Nonetheless, the Buckeyes see themselves performing on a level playing field with the Illini and Hawkeyes.
“I think we’ll just use it (losing to Iowa and Illinois) as motivation,” Huang said. “They are our Big Ten opponents, but we know we have the skill level, and we’re capable of beating them.”
OSU came in as the sixth seed, and although they are looking to pull a 196-range score and perform on-par with their conference competitors, the Buckeyes are not expecting to hit one of the top two spots to advance to the semifinals.
“Let the cards fall where they may, but to be realistic, to be the top two, I think you’re going to have to be a high 196 to 197,” OSU coach Carey Fagan said. “We’re capable of that, but in my mind a 196 is going to be a success. Below that, I’ll feel like we under-performed.”
The Buckeyes have struggled all season with making strong hits from every athlete in each rotation, which has prevented them from obtaining that 196 mark. Only in the meet at Minnesota earlier in the season did OSU break that ceiling to post a 196.450 final score.
“I think our weakness is just not hitting 24 (for) 24 consistently,” Fagan said. “Even if you have one fall and you don’t have to count it — if it’s one of your best kids that you’re counting on that score — it can be a huge hit (that the team is not receiving).”
The balance beam — the final rotation for the Buckeyes — has also presented a challenge for OSU.
Although Fagan is not thrilled with the rotation given to OSU, she sees a learning opportunity for the team that might even minimize nerves with the less-than-desirable event order.
“Beam, again, will be an area of focus,” Fagan said. “That is going to be our last event, so ending on beam, that’s going to be a good experience, win, lose or draw, for this team to be able to hit under pressure, or maybe going into it with the attitude of nothing to lose.”
OSU will follow a similar rotation pattern to what they saw in the Big Ten Five-Meet, with floor exercise as the first event, vault as the second event, followed by a bye and uneven bars before balance beam. The Buckeyes will have a bye in the final rotation.
OSU has had two weeks of preparation, which sophomore Jamie Stone sees as a great opportunity that will reflect positively for the team’s performances at regionals.
“I always tell myself to compete like I do in practice,” Stone said. “I’m going to go out there and not let my nerves get to me, which I tend to do, have fun and trust my training. We’ve put in a lot of work this past few weeks.”
Huang agrees that with all the practice the team has done this season, the Buckeyes have the potential to pull a strong final score at regionals on Saturday.
“My thing is, I tell myself, to believe in yourself,” Huang said. “You’ve done hundreds of numbers in the gym to this point, so trust your training. It’s your time to shine.”