By Ashley Wijangco
Coming into the final rotation of the Champaign Regional on Saturday, No. 2 seed Oregon State and Illinois were tied at 147.125. No. 1 seed UCLA had already completed the meet with a 196.800—which would be enough to earn a nationals berth—as did Ohio State at 195.700. But both Oregon State and Illinois had a good chance at overtaking Ohio State’s score to give itself a spot at NCAA Championships; it was just a matter of which team it would be.
Oregon State headed to floor at Champaign’s State Farm Center—an event it averaged 49.475 coming into the meet. Meanwhile, host school Illinois headed to vault—its worst event statistically—giving the Beavers a better chance at besting the Illini. But Oregon State knew it wasn’t going to be easy to grab the second qualifying spot.
“We kind of came in knowing it was going to be a fight,” Oregon State Madeline Gardiner said.
Illinois ended up scoring a 48.700 on vault for a 195.825 meet total and had to play the waiting game while Oregon State made its way through its floor lineup.
At the same time, though, Iowa was having its best rotation of the meet on balance beam.
Iowa came into the final rotation behind Illinois and Oregon State at 146.450. But the Hawkeyes had a strong start on beam with Savannah Borman’s 9.875 and built upon that. Borman’s score was followed up by three scores of 9.9 or higher, threatening Illinois’ chance at making the championships.
Iowa’s Mollie Drenth didn’t hit her beam routine, but Angel Metcalf made up for the miss by anchoring the lineup with a 9.950. Metcalf’s team-high on the apparatus—tying Clair Kaji—gave the Hawkeyes a 196.050, overtaking Illinois’ brief second-place position.
The meet came all the way down to Oregon State’s final floor routine: that of Kaytianna McMillan.
Prior to McMillan’s routine, Erika Aufiero—who was second in the lineup—fell on one of her tumbling passes and went out of bounds. With Aufiero’s score counting toward the team total, Oregon State sat behind Iowa at 195.150.
But McMillan came through, posting the team’s best floor score at 9.875 for a 196.150 team total and a spot at nationals.
“There were some rough patches on floor as well, but we did keep fighting,” said McMillan, who also won the all-around title “That's what it's all about. That's what we've been doing all season, and so we know how to do it. So we came with a fight.”
Oregon State head coach Tanya Chaplin applauded Iowa and Illinois for pushing her team and acknowledged her team for staying strong.
“It's not the way that we wanted to actually compete a regional all the way through,” she said. “But they fought, and they fought hard. And they went all the way through to the last performance, and we knew that's what was going to happen when you get to regionals. It's always a tough fight, and we're happy that we actually made it through."
Oregon State’s score didn’t challenge UCLA’s top finish, as the Bruins hit all but one routine; Katelyn Ohashi’s foot missed the end of the beam on her dismount, causing her to fall but come out unharmed.
Madison Kocian’s individual success helped her team to the first-place finish. She shared the floor title with Oregon State’s McMillan and teammate Angi Cipra and also won the uneven bars title outright.
Despite that, UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field knew her team could do better.
"My overall thoughts were that we did well; we didn't do great, which is fine,” Kondos Field said. “Moving forward, you've got to look at the glass half full versus half empty. We didn't stick a lot on vault or bar dismounts.”
However, Kondos Field made sure to mention her gratitude for her team’s health, saying her team “also came out as healthy as (it) came in, which is really important at this time of the year." She also acknowledged the difficulty that comes with competing in regionals.
"I feel that this is the most stressful meet of the year,” Kondos Field said. “But with the parity that has continued to grow across the country—which is wonderful—this is the most stressful, that you have got to be on your game. Because just having an off night can take you out of competing the rest of the way, at the national championships and the Super Six. So I was really happy how they handled the mistakes we made. They didn't let it bother them."
UCLA’s Kyla Ross felt the team’s start on bars—where it scored its highest event total of 49.425—helped carry the team through the meet. But it was the team’s bond that was vital to winning the regional championship.
Kocian agreed, speaking of the Bruins’ third-place finish at Pac-12 Championship two weeks ago and how they weren’t satisfied with their performance there to contrast how they performed at regionals.
"I think after Pac-12s, everyone was a little bit disappointed, and we definitely worked really hard going back into the gym,” Kocian said. “And I think the big key for us was just staying together as a team. I feel like, at Pac-12s, there were mistakes, and that person often felt like it was their fault. So we kind of dispersed as a team. And I feel like tonight, even though there were a few mistakes, we definitely stayed together and stayed as one."
Along with UCLA and Oregon State, Iowa’s Metcalf and Ohio State’s Alexis Mattern earned berths to NCAA Championships by finishing third and fifth in the all-around, respectively. Iowa’s Kaji will also go to nationals due to her sharing the beam title.
Days until the 2017 National Championships