2017 Pac-12 Championship Preview: UCLA Aims To Defend Title

2017 Pac-12 Championship Preview: UCLA Aims To Defend Title
Photo: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
The Pac-12 championship is up for grabs in two sessions at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, California, on Saturday. Arizona, Arizona State, No. 16 California, and meet host Stanford face off in the early session. In the night session, No. 15 Washington, No. 10 Oregon State, No. 5 Utah, and third-ranked UCLA will battle it out for the title. UCLA aims to defend its championship, while Utah will be fighting to take it back.

Session 1:

WATCH: Live on Pac-12 Network at 4 PM ET

California: Hitting all four events

The Golden Bears were narrowly edged out of being in the second session at these championships. They will be looking for a complete meet in order to hold on to their No. 16 ranking, which gives California a three seed when it comes to regionals. 

Cal has struggled this year with injuries, notably to junior standout Toni-Ann Williams, who tore her Achilles tendon in practice. But the Golden Bears have rebounded nicely and have been consistently in the 196 and 197 range over their past four meets. Cal has been stellar on both vault and balance beam but has struggled on the uneven bars and on floor exercise. Zoe Draghi has been the highlight on floor exercise, where she has scored a 9.800 or better on six of seven routines.

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

Arizona: Hitting balance beam and uneven bars

Arizona has also been hit hard by injuries this season. The Wildcats have struggled on balance beam throughout the season and on uneven bars early on but seem to have righted that ship. They will need to hit both if they wants to have a chance to improve their RQS. Arizona does struggle on vault, where it has been forced to count 9.7s on a regular basis.

The Wildcats have Madison Cindric back in the lineup after she missed much of the season with injury. She hasn't been as consistent in competition but hit 4 for 4 in last weekend's season finale against BYU, including season highs on bars, beam, and floor. Victoria Ortiz has been huge for Arizona on uneven bars and has potential to score a 9.900 or better, which she has done in five straight meets. Krysten Howard also has potential to bring in solid scores on both bars and beam.

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

Stanford: Shuffling the lineup after more injuries

The Cardinal's biggest struggle this season has been simply staying healthy. Like others in the Pac-12, they've lost a number of athletes on a seemingly weekly basis. Stanford has not scored better than a 196.325 all season and has only scored over 196 twice this season. The Cardinal will look to rebound after a disastrous performance in last weekend's season finale at George Washington. That quad meet was punctuated by five athletes going up on uneven bars after multiple injuries during warmups. 

Stanford has clinched its spot at regionals, so the Cardinal will be shuffling their lineup once again to account for the injuries this weekend. Elizabeth Price has been the bright spot and has potential to go 9.900 or better on three events: vault, uneven bars, and floor exercise. The big question for Price will be if she steps into the balance beam lineup. She competed just once this season but is capable bringing in a solid score.

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

Arizona State: Hitting all four events

The Sun Devils season will end at the Pac-12 Championships, so the goal for the team will be hitting all four events to finish on a strong note. There has been plenty of upheaval in the program over the last several years. This season brought plenty of improvement with a highlight coming in a win against in-state rival Arizona.

The Sun Devils are a young squad--there is only one junior and one senior on the team--and will be looking to build the program in the future. Junior Nichelle Christopherson is one of those two upperclassmen and brings solid numbers in on balance beam, uneven bars, and vault, though it is her weakest event.

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

Session 2:

WATCH: Live on Pac-12 Network at 9 PM ET

UCLA: Hit uneven bars and balance beam

The Bruins' best two events will come in the middle of the competition, and UCLA will need to hit both uneven bars and balance beam set the team apart from its competition. All eight of the perfect 10s the Bruins have earned this season have come on these two events, and UCLA is definitely capable of bringing in some big scores on both. The balance beam lineup is particularly loaded with Madison Kocian, Kyla Ross, Peng Peng Lee​, and Katelyn Ohashi as the final four in the lineup.

UCLA will want to build up its lead during those two rotations, particularly with the Bruins' vault lineup not being as strong as rival Utah. UCLA will also need its full bars and beam lineups to really hit, not just the stars.

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

Utah: Finding their landings

The Utes enter the meet as the two seed and will be looking to take back the title from UCLA. Utah won its head-to-head meeting with the Bruins earlier this season in Salt Lake City. But the Utes have struggled at times this season to find their landings, particularly on vault and the uneven bars.  While there is plenty of potential for the Utes to outscore UCLA on vault and possibly floor exercise, it will come down to those tenths on landings.

MyKayla Skinner will be one of the favorites for the all-around title at the championships and could bring in great scores on floor and vault. She has yet to consistently stick her double-twisting Yurchenko, but if she does, it will definitely be a huge score. Senior Baely Rowe and sophomore Kari Lee could also contend in the all-around. Rowe contributes solid scores on bars and beam, while Lee has been great on bars, beam, and vault.

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

Oregon State: Keep the momentum going

The Beavers have been strong this season and will look to keep the momentum going. They have scored 197 or better in their last three meets, and, if they can keep that momentum going, could be a dark horse for the title. Oregon State edged out Utah at home back in February and fell to UCLA by just over six-tenths on Jan. 28. If either of the top teams falter, look for Oregon State to be the one to capitalize.

Kaytianna McMillan contributes solid scores on all four events with potential to go 9.900 or better on uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise. She's coming off a 10.0 on bars in last weekend's season finale. Madeline Gardiner has also been stellar in the all-around but really shines on balance beam, where she has scored a 9.800 or better in all but one meet this year. She has scored a 9.900 or better in five of her last six routines.

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

Washington: Keep it going on beam

The Huskies have been one of the surprises this season, and balance beam has been their top event. Washington is currently ranked 10 th in the country on balance beam. The Huskies haven't put up a score lower than a 49.075 on beam this season. In fact, they have not counted a score lower than a 9.750 all season on beam.

Hailey Burleson and Joslyn Goings have been the standouts in a stellar beam lineup for Washington. Burleson and Goings each have eight scores of 9.850 or better on balance beam. Burleson is the top all-around competitor for the Huskies and brings in solid scores on vault and bars. She also has great scoring potential on floor exercise, where she has seven scores 9.800 or better. 

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