Just Because: NCAA Gymnastics!

By Tori Kitchens

By Tori Kitchens

The NCAA Gymnastics season is reaching its end as all eight teams in the National Semifinals have been decided. Today at 3 p.m., the University of Florida Gators will try to earn its spot in the finals.

But how did we get here? Let me tell you!

The four regional competitions concluded last weekend. Round one of the regionals was a play-in competition between two teams in each regional. NC State defeated Ball State, Boise State defeated BYU, Penn State defeated Towson, and Arizona defeated North Carolina to earn a spot in the second round competition.

Round two featured eight teams per regional where four would face off for two spots in the regional final. Round three, the regional final, included the four teams that advanced. These four teams competed for two spots in the National Semifinals in Fort Worth, Texas.

Oklahoma, Kentucky, Ohio State, and Alabama earned their spots and faced off in the Norman regional final. The Oklahoma Sooners and Kentucky Wildcats advanced with scores of 198.05 and 197.85, respectively. The Sooners had an incredible final two rotations after having to count a low score on the balance beam. The squad did not score below a 9.90 on the floor, and junior Katherine Levasseur scored another perfect 10.0 on the vault to push her team to victory. The other three teams in the final were within 0.20 points, but Kentucky was able to get the victory over the Buckeyes and the Crimson Tide.

Utah and UCLA edged out Missouri and Washington in the Los Angeles regional final with scores of 198.05 and 197.925. The competition included three perfect 10.0 routines: Jaedyn Rucker from Utah on vault, Jordan Chiles from UCLA on floor, and Selena Harris from UCLA on vault. This was the freshman Harris’ first 10.0, and she was very emotional. UCLA and Utah will have to fight for a spot with the reigning champion team, Oklahoma.

UCLA’s Jordan Chiles with a perfect floor routine at the 2023 regional finals

California-Berkley and Florida advanced to the National Semifinals with scores of 198.075 and 197.80 over Michigan State and Arizona State. The Florida Gators faced some difficulty during round two as their star all-around performer and fifth year senior Trinity Thomas stopped in the middle of her floor routine with a lower leg injury. This left the team in a difficult position as they needed to put gymnasts to fill in during the following two rotations and the regional final competition. California put together an incredible all-around performance scoring their third highest score of the year. Florida barely edged out the Michigan State Spartans as the Gators scored lower on the vault and floor exercises than their average.

In the final regional in Denver, drama unfolded before our eyes as Denver and LSU defeated 2021 National Champion Michigan and Oregon State. Denver scored a 197.875 and became the lowest seeded team to advance to the National Semifinals. LSU and Michigan tied with a 197.75, so a tiebreaker left both teams holding their breath as they awaited the news of who would continue their postseason run and who would go home empty handed. The NCAA officials added the sixth score to each rotation to see who deserved to advance. Michigan had falls on the uneven bars and the balance beam which gave them low scores that they worked hard to drop. However, with the necessary tiebreaker, these scores had to be added to their total, which allowed LSU to swoop in and advance.

California, Denver, Florida, and LSU will compete in the first Semifinal for two spots in the National Championship. This side of the bracket features Florida, the most probable squad to advcance. Without Thomas, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Champion Gators will face a greater challenge than in prior rounds.  

California won their first NCAA Regional final with their highest road and postseason score in school history, and they produced the highest score of any team with a 198.075. At the regional final, they did not record a score below 9.80, showing that they were solid on each event.

Denver is not a stranger to the National Finals as they have qualified six times, most recently in 2019. This was the Pioneers’ second regional win. Fifth year senior Lynnzee Brown scored 9.95 on each event to produce the second highest all-around score in program history and a personal best 39.80. Junior Bella Mabanta scored a 9.975 on the beam which was the highest beam score in the history of Denver’s postseason activity.

The Florida Gators made it to the Semifinals for the third consecutive year and are hoping to make the Final Four on the Floor for the third consecutive year. Even though Florida has been a consistent competitor in the finals, the last championship that they won was in 2015. With it being unknown if Thomas will be available to compete, the Gators have had time to prepare for the rest of postseason. Thomas, as an individual, is two 10.0 scores away from owning the NCAA record.

UF’s Trinity Thomas scores a perfect 10 on the floor at the SEC Championships

The LSU Tigers have made it to the National Championship round eight times but have never won a title, yet they have placed second three times. They are strong competitors in the SEC as they have won three titles in that tournament in the last ten years. They were consistent competitors in the semifinals in Fort Worth, but they barely missed out on qualifying last year. After a rough season full of injuries, the Tigers have made it back to the National Semifinals.

Oklahoma, Utah, UCLA, and Kentucky will face off for the final two spots in the National Championship. This matchup will be very difficult as the number four UCLA Bruins will try to wedge their way through the top ranked Oklahoma Sooners and the number five Utah Utes to keep them from returning to the National Championship competition.

The Sooners have appeared in the final 11 times and are hoping to make another championship run. Oklahoma has been ranked first in the country all year and have produced very high scores, making them likely to go back-to-back and become champions for the sixth time in program history.

Utah’s Red Rocks have been one of the most decorated programs in the history of NCAA Gymnastics as they have made it to the National Semifinal every year since 1982 (with the exception of the COVID year) and came up victorious ten times, tying for the most titles with the Georgia Gym Dogs. The Utes have not won the National title since 1995, but they have come very close in recent years.

The Bruins of UCLA have made it to the finals 23 times and won the title seven times. This team has had a few coaching shifts over the past few years. In 2019, Valorie Kondos Field retired from coaching after being the head coach of the Bruins for 28 years. Field was the longest reigning head coach of UCLA. Since then, Chris Waller became the head coach for two years, and Janelle McDonald is in her first year. With fifth year Margzetta Frazier and Olympic silver medalist and sophomore Chiles, the Bruins will try to win back their crown as they did in 2018.

The Kentucky gymnastics program has only made it to Fort Worth once (2018), but the Wildcats successfully punched their second ticket after scoring a 197.85. Senior Raena Worley led her team with an impressive 39.65 to tie for runner-up in the all-around. The Wildcats have not been the strongest program over the years, but they are proving everyone wrong as they will compete to win their first national championship.

These eight teams will compete today for the chance to keep fighting and win a National Championship. The team with the highest score in Saturday’s competition will take home the trophy.

In addition to the team competition, four all-around competitors and 16 event specialists qualified to the National Championship to compete for individual titles, as their teams were eliminated in the regionals. Each regional produced one all-arounder and four event specialists, one from each event. The individual champions will be decided in today’s competition.

Payton Harris from the Norman regional with compete in the all-around representing Ohio State University. She produced her season high all-around score with a 39.60, and she has an average score of 39.358. Chloe Widner of Stanford will be the all-around athlete sent from the Los Angeles regional as she scored a 39.55 and has an average of 39.068. She scored as high as 39.625 during the regular season against Oregon State, and she will look to replicate this performance in the National round. Hannah Scharf of an up-and-coming program at Arizona State will compete in the all-around from the Pittsburgh regional with a 39.625 performance. Finally, senior Abby Heiskell will represent the Michigan Wolverines in the all-around competition as she scored a 39.675.

Courtney Blackson from Boise State, Naomi Morrison from Michigan, Ava Piedrahita from Penn State, and Lauren Williams from Arkansas will compete as individuals in the vault. Luisa Blanco from Alabama, Natalie Wojcik from Michigan, Emily Lopez from Boise State, and Cassidy Rushlow from Penn State will compete on the uneven bars. Nora Flatley from Arkansas, Gabrielle Stephen from Michigan State, Alisa Sheremeta from Missouri, and Jade Carey will compete on the balance beam as individuals. Finally, Sierra Brooks from Michigan, Elexis Edwards from Ohio State, Derrian Gobourne from Auburn, and Delanie Harkness from Michigan State will compete in floor exercise.

My Predictions:

Team Champion – Oklahoma
All-Around Champion – Trinity Thomas from Florida (if healthy) or Jordan Bowers from Oklahoma
Vault Champion – Olivia Trautman from Oklahoma
Uneven Bars Champion – Leanne Wong from Florida
Balance Beam – Trinity Thomas (if healthy) or Ragan Smith from Oklahoma
Floor – Sierra Brooks from Michigan and Derrian Gobourne from Auburn