The good news was that the Pac-12 Championships were unlikely to affect anything for the Arizona GymCats. They were safely into the postseason, far above where they needed to be to avoid a “play-in” meet. And performing in the early session of the conference championships was probably not going to give them a score they needed to improve their NQS.

“The score was never gonna count,” said Arizona head coach John Court. “Last year the score didn’t count for any team on their NQS. This year, they can only count for Stanford, not for the other three teams. Here’s hoping in the Big 12 it’s different.”

Whether they got a score that would help their NQS or not, Arizona had opportunities to finish second in the session. It let those opportunities slip away on one of its best events. The team finished third of the four teams in the session, falling behind ASU in the final rotation with a total score of 196.475.

Stanford won the session with a 197.175. No one else got close to a 197. Utah won the title after the completion of the evening session.

The GymCats started on floor exercise, which has been their second-best event this season. They came in ranked 20th in the country on floor and tied for 19th on balance beam.

They got a solid score on floor. After the first rotation, they were in the lead with a 49.200. However, there was the risk of getting lower scores on one of their better events by going early in the meet. Sometimes, judges can hold scores until later in the meet when they have a basis for comparison.

“We came out on the floor strong,” Court said. “I think you know that floor, that’s one of our best events. We picked that. I knew that we could be sacrificing a tenth here or there—and when we are sacrificing one-tenth at a meet like this…that could be a big deal. But we were competitive from the gate.”

Vault was next. While Arizona isn’t ranked as highly on vault as it is on floor and beam, it has improved over the last several years. It was solid enough to keep the team in second, just 0.025 behind Stanford. A big part of that was the performance of junior all-arounder Alysen Fears.

“We had five of six go 9.8 or better (on vault), so that looks good,” Court said. “So, a nice halftime score. Aly went 9.9…Aly won vault.”

Starting the season, Fears was excited about being an all-arounder this year, but she might not have always felt that way. Vault was the reason.

“Growing up in club gymnastics, vault was my least favorite event,” Fears said. “It was the event I struggled on the most. It was my least favorite. I always dreaded practicing it and competing it. And now this year, I can say that vault is one of my best events and I would say one of my favorites. I finally have just gotten more confident in myself and comfortable in my body and my abilities. I feel like I mastered vault this year and it’s been pretty cool to see my scores reflect that.”

It has improved to the point where she scored the same on her best event—uneven bars—as she did on vault. Fears is a former Level 10 national champion on bars.

Fears scored a 39.475 in the all-around, coming in fourth of sixth all-arounders in the meet. She is Arizona’s only all-arounder now as Malia Hargrove no longer competes in all four events.

In many aspects, Fears is taking over the position Hargove has held for the past several years. In addition to being the only all-around performer on the team, Fears is the most reliable gymnast on the team. She rarely misses a routine.

Fears is also a leader, someone who freshman bars specialist Sophie Derr credited with inspiring her decision to come to Arizona. With Hargrove in her fifth year and out of eligibility after the postseason, Fears provides some comfort for the team going into next season.

Arizona didn’t take advantage of its strong start or Fears’ performances. Standing in second headed to the last rotation, they didn’t perform as well as they usually do on beam. The 49.000 was their lowest score on any event. It was well below the 49.305 NQS they had on the event going into the meet.

“We kind of had a couple of uncharacteristic checks and bobbles,” Court said. “And when there are four judges they’re going to judge. This is not a dual meet when it comes to judging. Judging in the postseason, it’s about execution. It’s about making routines. It’s about executing your routines. And we made some routines, but we didn’t execute them as well as we could have. And that was a difference…I don’t think we could have caught Stanford. Stanford was on fire tonight. Good for them. They had a rotation that was beneficial. Well deserved. I tip my cap to them I think it would have been nice to catch ASU. We were really close and we needed to make some routines then we would be lined up to do that.”

The Wildcats now await for their placement in a regional. Every Pac-12 team except Utah and UCLA lost places in the final NQS before NCAA postseason. Utah maintained its position at No. 5 while UCLA rose two spots to No. 9.

It is not uncommon. In recent years, Pac-12 Championships have not resulted in boosted scores like some other conferences’ championship meets have. That allows teams from other conferences to jump over Pac-12 teams in the rankings that determine postseason placement and seeding. As Court alluded to, the hope is that changes with the team’s move to the Big 12 next season.

The GymCats are at 24, down two spots from last week. Both Kent State and Towson jumped over them. Towson also jumped over ASU, which was ranked No. 21 last week. That should still be enough to keep Arizona out of the play-in.

Court had feelings about what he’d prefer, but he didn’t think it was extremely important.

“You’d love to go to a place with a one-seed as the host team,” he said. “We’re not gonna go to Cal. I have no problem going to Florida, that’s for sure. I don’t think that will happen because of geography and things like that. So it’s Arkansas or it’s Michigan. I don’t know where. I don’t have a preference. It’s 50-50 at this point.”

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