DD" Breaux

LSU coach "DD" Breaux (right) hugs Sydney Ewing after Ewing's balance beam routine during the NCAA college women's gymnastics championships on April 18, 2014, in Birmingham, Alabama.

 

Florida gymnastics walked into Fayetteville, Arkansas, on the first day of March and walked out as regular-season SEC Champions.

It held the honor undisputed for the first time in the program’s history. With only a single loss in SEC play (against the Georgia Bulldogs) and a dominant victory over Penn State to end the regular season, it appeared far and away that the Gators were the SEC’s very best team during the regular season.

Except that according to the seeding for the upcoming SEC Championships in New Orleans, they weren’t.

The LSU Tigers were.

During UF’s break, LSU defeated the No. 30 Arizona Wildcats and, in the process, clinched the No. 1 seed in the tournament, which it has won the past two years. The Tigers not only knocked the Gators down to the No. 2 seed, but they also overtook them in the Road to Nationals Rankings, claiming the No. 3 spot and moving UF to No. 4.

But if Florida was crowned the regular season champion — a title LSU wasn’t even in contention to share — and it defeated the Tigers earlier this year, how did LSU clinch the No. 1 seed in the tournament?

The answer lies in a statistic known as NQS.

National Qualifying Score (NQS) is the metric through which the gymnastics ranking system, Road to Nationals, determines its rankings. To calculate it, a team’s best six scores are taken — three of which have to be from road or neutral meets — and the highest score is dropped. The average of the remaining five scores is a team’s NQS.

The Tigers had an advantage that Florida didn’t: they scheduled more meets. UF’s season started on Jan. 11 against the Missouri Tigers, but by that point, LSU had already won a meet against then-No. 8 California. Overall, the Tigers competed in 11 dual meets this year, whereas UF only competed in nine.

What’s even more staggering is the difference. The Tigers defeated Arizona 198.175-196.225 the week after the Gators’ season ended. They  used that win as the drop score of their six highest scores for their NQS, and it was still barely enough. The Tigers’ NQS is just 0.005 higher than Florida’s, 197.680 to 197.675. Had LSU’s drop been its second-highest score, a 198.150, it wouldn’t have been the No. 1 seed.

As the No. 2 seed, the Gators will compete in the second session of the SEC Championships, and they’ll compete in the order of bars-beam-floor-vault. UF hopes to complete an SEC sweep with a victory in the conference’s postseason tournament. The Tigers, meanwhile, seek to win their third-straight SEC tournament and avenge their loss to Florida at the beginning of the regular season.

Follow River Wells on Twitter @riverhwells and contact him at [email protected].

River Wells is a sports writer for the Alligator and covers the University of Florida women’s tennis team. He has previously covered UF swimming and diving. He has worked at the paper since Fall 2017.