The first session of regional competition on Friday at the NCAA Athens Regional, featuring Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, and Iowa State, was kept close throughout as no team made any major mistakes to take themselves out of the meet early. All teams hit four solid events, with only one rotation out of the entire competition scoring under 49.

The top seed in the session, number eight Georgia- hosting the competition-, jumped out to an early lead and never let it go, staring out with a huge 49.5 on vault, with a stuck vault from Mikayla Magee starting out the rotation, a start that Head Coach Courtney Kupets-Carter called the “key” of the rotation. With a 9.950 on a big Yurchenko double full from freshman Rachel Lukacs, who said she focused on “trusting herself,” another highlight, Georgia grabbed the lead early and never let it go. A 9.900 from Alexa Al-Hameed was the high score of the second rotation on the uneven bars for Georgia, where they totaled a 49.25.

The Gymdogs had to overcome an early-lineup fall on balance beam in rotation three, and did just that with the other five routines very solid. Junior Sabrina Vega, who anchored with a 9.925, said she focuses on “staying in the moment,” and knowing that the “past is the past” to not add any extra pressure on herself. Georgia ended on floor with a huge 49.325, anchored by a near-perfect 9.975 routine from Vega, who said the routine was one of the moments that “make all the hard days worth it” and that the joy comes from “doing it for [her] team”. The team is focused on resting up to get prepared for the competition tomorrow, with Kupets-Carter saying the main goal for tomorrow being for each individual to “improve on something little from today and make it better.”

Mollie Korth celebrates with Tim Garrison after competing at the SEC Gymnastics Championship in New Orleans, Louisiana/Kentucky Athletics

The other qualifying spot to the Saturday super regional from session one was grabbed by the number nine Kentucky Wildcats, who were very consistent across every event to total a 196.85. Starting off on beam, the Wildcats hit six for six routines, with senior Alex Hyland the high score of the rotation, anchoring with a 9.900. Kentucky then went on to have their strongest rotation of the night on floor, totaling a 49.35 with a pair of 9.900s anchoring, coming from senior Sidney Dukes and junior Mollie Korth. Kentucky moved to vault for the third rotation, overcoming a fall to still garner a very respectable 49.2 on the event. Closing out on bars, Cally Nixon was the highlight on her sole event, scoring a 9.900 to help Kentucky finish with a 49.125 on the event and secure their spot in Saturday’s super regional competition.

Just missing qualifying but with one of their best meets of the season, Missouri finished third with a 196.625. The Tigers did not have a single fall in the competition, hitting 24 for 24 routines. Floor was the highlight event for the Tigers, where Aspen Tucker and Morgan Porter anchored with 9.875s to lead the 49.225 rotation. Missouri did not score below 49 on any event, with their lowest rotation total a 49.025 on vault, finishing their season strong despite the disappointment of not advancing to the super regional tomorrow.

Rounding out the competition but still very close behind, Iowa State finished with a 196.25. Iowa State also hit 24 for 24 routines for one of their strongest competitions of the year. Bars and floor were the highlights, where the Cyclones scored matching 49.175s. Meaghan Sievers anchored floor with a 9.900, and the team ended their season on a high note.

In session two of Friday’s regional competition, OklahomaCal, Maryland, and NC State all competed for the two spots in Saturday’s super regional. The top-ranked Sooners had one of their best meets of the season, scoring a huge 198.3 and dominating the competition from start to finish. Starting out on vault, the Sooners jumped out to an early lead with a 49.525 on vault, led by senior Nicole Lehrmann’s leadoff 9.950 and junior Maggie Nichols’ return to the lineup. Nichols, who says she has been “really motivated to get back on vault,” scored a huge 9.950 after sticking her Yurchenko one-and-a-half, made even more impressive because she has only trained vault “a few days in the gym” recently.

Maggie Nichols performs on the balance beam for the Oklahoma Sooners at the NCAA Athens Regional in Athens, Georgia/Sooner Sports

Oklahoma than moved to the uneven bars, where the Sooners truly distanced themselves from the field with a huge 49.65, with every gymnast competing scoring 9.900 or higher. Nichols again was the high score of the rotation, scoring a near-perfect 9.975 in the anchor position. Oklahoma kept rolling on beam, where sophomore Carly Woodard posted the highest score of the rotation for Oklahoma with a 9.925, and the Sooners again posted a high rotation total, scoring a 49.5. Ending on floor, Oklahoma scored a huge 49.625. Sophomore Anastasia Webb, who led off the Sooners with a 9.900, described the rotation as “amazing,” noting the “improvements from the struggles earlier in the season”. Freshman Olivia Trautman anchored the rotation with a near-perfect 9.975, capping off an incredible performance that Nichols said makes her “really excited for the rest of season”. The Sooners are focused on resting and getting prepared to compete at their best tomorrow, with Nichols confident the team has been prepared and will “be great”.

Number 16 Cal grabbed the second super-regional qualifying position with a solid performance across all four events for a 196.75 final score. Staring out on beam, Cal had to overcome a early-lineup fall to score 49.2, seemingly settling in as the rotation progressed. In the second rotation, a few bouncy landings kept the rotation total just under 49 with a 48.925, led by a 9.875 from sophomore Kyana George. George continued to shine on vault in rotation three, sticking a gorgeous Yurchenko full for a 9.900, a score that was immediately followed with a 9.950 for freshman phenom Milan Clausi, the two leading the 49.325 rotation total. The Golden Bears wrapped up their competition on bars with a 49.275, with every gymnast competing scoring 9.825 or higher on the event.

NC State and Maryland rounded out session two with scores of 195.4 and 194.65, respectively. NC State competed well, following up their play-in meet win from Thursday with an even higher number than the day prior, with the 195.4 the Wolfpack’s second highest road total of the season. Maryland had a few uncharacteristic mistakes and were never quite able to recover from counting a fall in their opening floor rotation, but will look to improve to come back even stronger next year.

Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Cal will all be competing tomorrow in Saturday night’s super regional for two spots to advance to nationals and all the teams will be looking to be at their best in hopes of advancing.

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