2017 SEC Championship Preview: Keys To The Meet

2017 SEC Championship Preview: Keys To The Meet
Photo: © Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports
Featuring a nation-leading four teams ranked in the top 10, the 2017 SEC Championships will have no shortage title contenders at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday. The eight-team meet is split into two sessions, with Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, and Missouri competing in session one and No. 4 Florida -- the defending SEC champion -- No. 8 Georgia, No. 6 Alabama, and No. 2 LSU following in the night session. Check out the key for each squad to make a run at the SEC title.

Session 1:

WATCH: Live on ESPNU at 2 PM ET

Arkansas: Putting together a complete meet

The Razorbacks have struggled with injuries all season, losing senior Amanda Wellick in the second week of the season to a torn Achilles. They have shown that they can fight back, though, and are currently ranked 26th. The challenge for Arkansas has come in putting together a lineup that allows it a little bit of room for error. In nearly every meet this season, the Razorbacks' depth has been tested by putting up just five athletes (and in one case four athletes) on an event.

The result is a little bit more pressure on the gymnasts who are competing and not necessarily being able to get their best team totals on each event. However, in their final meet of the season, the Razorbacks put up six gymnasts on all four events to notch the team's third score over 196 this season. Freshman Jessica Yamzon has been one of the standouts for Arkansas throughout the season with steady and consistent scores. Arkansas will need to have its best score of the season and hope for some help from the top teams in order to surprise a lot of people and take the title.

Rotation order: Floor exercise, vault, uneven bars, balance beam

Auburn: Youth controlling nerves

One year ago, Auburn put together a historic season, beating rival Alabama to snap a lengthy losing streak and advance to the NCAA championships. The Tigers has a much younger squad this year, with more than half of the team being underclassmen. For Auburn, it will be a matter of the Tigers' young gymnasts controlling their nerves throughout the meet, particularly because they start on balance beam. Auburn has been competing without junior standout Abby Milliet, who suffered a knee injury earlier in the season. She was slated to be out four to six weeks and could still make a return in the postseason, though it is unlikely to be at these championships.

Freshman Gracie Day has been a standout for the Tigers this season, contributing on vault and bars in all 11 meets this season. She has not scored below a 9.800 on uneven bars all season. Sophomore Emma Engler, who suffered a season-ending knee injury midway through last season, has been a key contributor on bars and beam. She has eight scores of 9.800 or better on bars and seven scores of 9.700 or better on balance beam.

Rotation order: Balance beam, floor exercise, vault, uneven bars

Kentucky: Can underclassmen keep bringing in big scores?

The Wildcats have been propelled by their underclassmen this season, led by freshmen Mollie Korth and sophomores Alex Hyland and Sidney Dukes. Hyland and Dukes have each competed in the all-around in all but one meet this season, while Korth has been an all-around competitor in all 11 meets this season.

Korth has been an impressive freshman in the SEC this season. She has nine scores of 9.800 or better on the uneven bars, which includes a big full-twisting double layout dismount. Korth has shown some nerves, or perhaps fatigue, though, in the latter stages of the season with falls on bars or beam in three of her last four meets.

Hyland has put up big numbers on balance beam, including seven straight meets with a 9.900 or higher. She has scored a 9.875 or better in 10 of 11 meets on the season. Hyland has also contributed to a Kentucky floor lineup that is ranked 11th in the country with all but one score above 9.800.

Rotation order: Vault, uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise

Missouri: Hitting vault

For the Tigers, vault has been their top event this season. They've been led by Britney Ward, whose unique vault has her tied for eighth in the country. She has scored a 9.800 or better on all 10 vaults this season, with her season-high 9.950 coming on Jan. 20 against Alabama.

Freshman Aspen Tucker and junior Kennedi Harris have also been great contributors on vault. Tucker has improved her Yurchenko full and has nine vaults that have scored 9.800 or better this season. Harris has competed on vault in all 11 meets and has a 9.775 on all 11 vaults. Missouri ends the meet on vault and could get a boost to finish strong.

Rotation order: Uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise, vault

Session 2:

WATCH: Live on SEC Network at 6 PM ET

Alabama: Get big scores on balance beam and floor exercise

For the Crimson Tide, they have put up the big scores on both balance beam and floor exercise this season. Those are the two events they will have to capitalize on in order to take home the SEC title. They are the third-best squad in the country on balance beam and are ranked fourth on floor exercise.

Kiana Winston, Aja Sims​, and Nickie Guerrero have been stellar for Alabama this season on both beam and floor. Winston scored a 10.0 earlier this season on floor exercise, while both Sims and Guerrero have 9.975s on floor and beam, respectively. Winston and Sims both showcase huge tumbling on floor and great flexibility on their leaps and jumps on both floor and beam. Guerrero has shown excellent poise on balance beam this season and has not scored below a 9.8 all season. She has seven scores of 9.900 or better.

The rest of the lineup, particular on floor exercise, has steadily improved throughout the season. Freshman Maddie Desch has gotten more consistent with her landings and hasn't scored below 9.875 over the last seven meets on floor. Abby Armbrecht and Wynter Childers have both shown that they can jump into the lineup on balance beam and deliver a solid routine.

Rotation order: Balance beam, floor exercise, vault, uneven bars

Florida: Bringing in big scores on floor exercise.

We have not yet seen the best possible lineup on floor for the Gators this season. Kennedy Baker has been nursing an ankle injury that prevented her from competing on floor exercise and vault for the past month. Alex McMurtry broke into the floor lineup in the latter stages of the season. Both McMurtry and Baker have scored 10.0s this season. Amelia Hundley, Alicia Boren​, and Rachel Slocum have all scored in the 9.850-plus range as well.

If the Gators can put together a lineup that takes into account the gymnasts who can put up the biggest scores, it will boost their chances at defending their SEC title. Last year, Florida's championship win came down to the final routine of the night on floor exercise.

(Video courtesy of Florida Gators)

Rotation order: Uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise, vault

Georgia: Hit. Beam.

The Gymdogs' nemesis this season has been the balance beam. They had a rough start to the season on the event but have consistently improved as the season has progressed. Freshman Sabrina Vega and senior Rachel Schick have been key to Georgia's success.

Both gymnasts struggled in the season opener but have been fairly solid ever since. Vega has scored 9.800 or better in all nine meets since with her season-best 9.900 coming on the road at Oklahoma on Feb. 24. She brings a steadiness on balance beam that the Gymdogs will need in their final rotation. Schick rebounded nicely from her opening week fall, scoring a 9.725 or better seven of eight times since. Georgia will close the meet on balance beam. If it wants to have a shot at the title, UGA will have to hit its final rotation.

Rotation order: Floor exercise, vault, uneven bars, balance beam

LSU: Hitting vault and floor exercise.

Vault and floor exercise will be the two events that set LSU apart from the rest of the field. The Tigers have the potential to put up as many as six vaults starting out of a 10.0: Yurchenko 1 1/2s from Sydney Ewing, Kennedi Edney, Myia Hambrick​, and Ruby Harrold; a handspring front pike with a half twist from McKenna Kelley​, and a Yurchenko double twist from Ashleigh Gnat. The scoring potential from that lineup could be huge for LSU, which is the top-ranked squad on vault entering the postseason.

The Tigers have huge potential on floor exercise as well and have posted a regional qualifying score of 49.540. Edney, Kelley, Gnat, and Hambrick are all capable of scoring 9.900s or better. Lexie Preissman, Sarah Finnegan​, and Sydney Ewing have also contributed great scores for LSU.

(Video courtesy of LSU gymnastics)

Rotation order: Vault, uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise

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