After an offseason stuffed with transfers, teaching modifications, new groups and convention realignment drama, NCAA gymnastics makes its return on Friday. Like each season, 2024 brings numerous questions and storylines to look at.
Will the Oklahoma reign proceed? What different groups can contend for the title this 12 months? Can UCLA or the turmoil-plagued Utah convey the Pac-12 high honors in its last season as a convention? Which gymnasts will step as much as exchange the large void left by Trinity Thomas, Sunisa Lee and Jordan Chiles?
And, after all, who will go viral? What number of Taylor Swift-themed flooring routines will we see? And can we ever get sick of Beyonce-inspired routines? (Spoiler alert: No.)
The season opens on Friday with a number of compelling meets, together with the so fetch “Imply Women Tremendous 16 Gymnastics Championships” in Las Vegas. Sponsored by the upcoming film, it options 16 of the nation’s high groups competing throughout 4 classes in two days. And that is only the start. Certainly the season will solely get extra intense because it continues, concluding with the crowning of a brand new champion on April 20 in Fort Value, Texas.
Listed below are the must-watch groups and gymnasts coming into the brand new 12 months.
The Sooner dynasty
Oklahoma has gained six of the earlier 9 NCAA staff titles and but that stat one way or the other would not even absolutely sum up simply how dominant this program has been over the previous decade. Working example: Even throughout these uncommon “down” years by which the Sooners did not win the last word trophy, they completed within the high three and had been very a lot contenders on the ultimate day of the season.
And 2024 seems to be no completely different.
Whereas the staff did lose 2023 NCAA vault champion Olivia Trautman, it’s returning a number of of its stars, together with Ragan Smith, Audrey Davis, Jordan Bowers, Katherine LeVasseur, Danielle Sievers and Religion Torrez — and added Georgia switch Soraya Hawthorne and a proficient freshman class.
Whereas different groups could have flashier, harder routines or celebrity names, Oklahoma — ranked No. 1 within the Girls’s Collegiate Gymnastics Affiliation (WCGA) preseason ballot — depends on its practically unflappable consistency and a team-centered strategy. And it is laborious to argue with the outcomes they’ve had. Will the Sooners win their third straight and seventh total come April? The staff is actually greater than able to doing so.
And for these conserving observe at house, Smith will probably be channeling her inside Swiftie on flooring in her last NCAA routine, as she previewed at an intrasquad final month.
— Oklahoma Girls’s Health club (@OU_WGymnastics) December 9, 2023
Whereas Oklahoma has gained the final two NCAA titles, Florida has been the runner-up in each 2022 and 2023 and is ranked No. 2 within the preseason ballot. The Gators have been loaded with capability and potential however merely have not been in a position to get it accomplished on the ultimate day of the season. Will issues be completely different in 2024?
In search of its first title since 2015 and fourth total, a new-look Gators squad may need some rising pains however might turn out to be more and more harmful because the season progresses.
As talked about earlier than, Thomas — some of the adorned gymnasts in collegiate gymnastics historical past — is not competing, however she stays a part of the staff as a pupil assistant coach. The absence of Thomas and Kayla DiCello, who’s out for the collegiate season whereas coaching in hopes of creating the Olympic staff this summer season, will probably be felt on the competitors flooring.
However Florida has a handful of athletes who will do their half to fill the void — beginning with four-time world championship medalist Leanne Wong. The junior is a two-time SEC beam champion and was the 2023 NCAA flooring runner-up. Sloane Blakely, Ellie Lazzari, Victoria Nguyen and a lastly wholesome Morgan Hurd, in addition to some spectacular newcomers, may be difference-makers.
After which there’s Florida’s SEC rival LSU. The Tigers, ranked preseason No. 3, have by no means gained an NCAA staff title earlier than however have turn out to be regulars on the NCAA championships and reached the ultimate day of competitors in 2023. To not point out, this roster is stacked. The staff is led by 2023 NCAA all-around bronze medalist Haleigh Bryant and 2023 flooring co-silver medalist Aleah Finnegan, in addition to eight-time All-American Kiya Johnson, who is predicted to make her return following an Achilles harm that sidelined her for many of final season. Add in freshman and 2022 U.S. nationwide champion Konnor McClain, and there could be no different staff within the nation with this stage of expertise.
In actual fact, the Tigers’ largest drawback this 12 months may simply be learn how to decide who will compete on every occasion each week. However with a protracted and bodily grueling season, such depth could be what propels LSU to its first nationwide title in April. Bryant isn’t any stranger to creating historical past in spite of everything — she grew to become the primary LSU gymnast and fifth NCAA gymnast to report three excellent scores in a single meet final season.
Finish of an period
Due to convention realignment and the important dissolution of the Pac-12 on the finish of the present educational 12 months, it will mark the ultimate season for the convention in gymnastics. Whereas we might go on about what a disappointing conclusion that is for among the best gymnastics conferences within the nation, we’ll as an alternative give attention to what we will anticipate through the Pac-12’s swan track.
No. 5-ranked UCLA is with out Chiles this 12 months as she prepares for an additional Olympic run, however there isn’t a scarcity of star energy in Westwood this 12 months. Reigning Pac-12 Newcomer of the Yr Selena Harris is again and among the best all-arounders within the nation, as is senior Chae Campbell. Fan favourite and four-time All-American Margzetta Frazier returns for a sixth 12 months whereas former Florida standout Nya Reed joins the staff for a graduate 12 months. Reed’s floor routine has already gone viral earlier than the season has even began. The Bruins will look to win their twenty first Pac-12 title in March.
Utah, the convention’s different longtime energy and presently ranked No. 4, enters the season on the heels of controversy. Following allegations of abuse, head coach Tom Farden has been replaced by former affiliate head coach Carly Dockendorf. Kara Eaker, a 2020 Olympic alternate who was one of many gymnasts who spoke out in opposition to Farden, left the staff in October.
Regardless of the upheaval, the Pink Rocks nonetheless have 2023 NCAA all-around champion Maile O’Keefe, 2022 NCAA vault champion Jaedyn Rucker and Olympic medalists Grace McCallum and Amelie Morgan on the squad. Maybe no staff has extra of a query mark at this level, however which may simply give them one thing to show.
Oregon State junior Jade Carey, the two-time reigning Pac-12 Gymnast of the Yr, will probably be competing in a decreased variety of occasions this 12 months with a purpose to stay wholesome for an Olympic bid following the season. The 2020 Olympic gold medalist on flooring advised ESPN she plans on specializing in bars and beam.
UCLA and Utah have a mixed 16 NCAA titles and are persistently two of one of the best groups within the nation. However beginning subsequent 12 months they may not be convention rivals. UCLA will probably be becoming a member of the Large Ten in 2025 and Utah will probably be within the Large 12. Washington will even be becoming a member of the Large Ten, with Arizona and Arizona State becoming a member of the Bruins within the Large 12. California and Stanford are becoming a member of the ACC — which makes its convention debut in gymnastics this season — and Oregon State’s future stays unsure. The varsity is becoming a member of the WCC as an affiliate member in a number of sports activities for the subsequent two years, however the convention doesn’t have gymnastics.
Fisk College made its debut in 2023, changing into the primary HBCU to have an intercollegiate gymnastics staff. And now, only one 12 months later, Talladega School will turn out to be the second. The traditionally Black school in Alabama opens its inaugural season on Jan. 12 with a quad meet at Florida, after which will compete at Fisk three days afterward Martin Luther King Day. The Tornadoes even have meets scheduled at Auburn and Alabama, amongst others, this season. Head coach Aja Sims-Fletcher was an All-American at Alabama and was beforehand a member of the Crimson Tide teaching employees.
The staff is predominantly made up of freshmen however there are additionally a couple of switch college students, together with Alondra Maldonado from Iowa State.
“I am excited to exit on the ground surrounded by a staff of women who perceive one another on a stage I have not skilled earlier than,” Maldonado told the school’s website last month. “It is thrilling to be in a spot the place my persona prospers, similar to everybody else’s.”
Clemson can also be set to make its debut this season, after asserting the staff’s creation in 2021. The Tigers will open their season at house on Jan. 12 in opposition to William & Mary. With the addition of Clemson, 2024 additionally marks gymnastics’ return as an official ACC sport after a 40-year absence. North Carolina, North Carolina State and Pittsburgh make up the opposite groups within the convention this season.
It would not be a school gymnastics season with out no less than one viral flooring routine. And we did not even have to attend for the season to truly start this 12 months. As talked about earlier than, UCLA’s Nya Reed took the web by storm following the staff’s “Meet the Bruins” evening in December together with her tribute to her Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
In an interview with ESPN, Reed mentioned she hoped to encourage the subsequent era of Black gymnasts together with her routine.
“I would like individuals to have the ability to watch me, undoubtedly little Black women and different gymnasts and I would like them to be like, ‘OK, I see her, I see what she stands for, I see the quantity of labor she places into it, and I really feel like I can try this and much more,'” Reed mentioned.
Nya Reed has arrived 🤩 pic.twitter.com/6AuUogFYjm
— Pac-12 Community (@Pac12Network) December 16, 2023
Who else goes to go viral this 12 months? Listed below are a few of our greatest guesses primarily based on what we have seen from intrasquad footage. (Observe: some faculties didn’t submit any movies.)
Chae Campbell (UCLA): Yup, one other UCLA gymnast. Until you have been dwelling in a Wi-Fi-less cave, you recognize the Bruins are the viral queens, thanks partly to the dynamic choreography of BJ Das and the excessive efficiency high quality of its gymnasts. Campbell, who’s nearly as good a dancer as she is a glass, undoubtedly shows that high quality in a “Black Panther”-inspired routine. It is laborious to assume this would possibly not go viral as soon as the season will get underway.
Impressed by the film Black Panther, Chae Campbell’s senior 12 months flooring routine is just Marvel-ous. @chae_jada
— UCLA Gymnastics (@uclagymnastics) December 16, 2023
Amari Celestine (Missouri): Jam-packed with your whole home social gathering playlist favorites, this routine is full of all the pieces you could possibly need from a school flooring routine — together with flawlessly-executed choreography, showmanship for days and an exclamation level of a dive roll within the center. Anticipate to see lots of this one because the season goes on.
Amari Celestine flooring. Glad to see she saved the dive roll! Jer routine I might one other one which genuinely engages me. I want the music had much less cuts although pic.twitter.com/h7tAOnCr2z
— owen (@theegymmdiaryy) December 10, 2023
Abby Paulson (Utah): One other Taylor Swift routine? One other Taylor Swift routine. Whereas we have but to see this full routine, it is clear this has all of the makings of an internet favourite — particularly if sufficient individuals find yourself sharing it with Swift herself.
— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) December 16, 2023
Leah Smith (Arkansas): If Smith can replicate even a fraction of the enjoyment and infectious power she confirmed with this routine on the Razorbacks’ intrasquad, it’s going to absolutely be a weekly crowd favourite and will most actually get the eye of these on the interwebs.
— Arkansas Gymnastics 🐗 (@RazorbackGym) December 17, 2023
Katherine LeVasseur (Oklahoma): The Sooners senior has by no means competed within the official flooring lineup all through her time with this system, so it is unclear how a lot we’ll see of this routine. Nevertheless it’s simply too enjoyable, and so completely Oklahoma, to not embody on this checklist.
— Oklahoma Girls’s Health club (@OU_WGymnastics) December 9, 2023
Sierra Brooks (Michigan): Whereas viral routines usually characteristic extra well-known music (we do not make the foundations), if anybody can break by means of with out up to date hits, it is Brooks. The Large Ten’s 2022 and 2023 Gymnast of the Yr has scored an ideal 10.0 on the occasion beforehand, and her precision and seemingly easy tumbling make this routine one to look at.
Sierra together with her second 9.950 of the day.
— Michigan Girls’s Gymnastics (@UMichWGym) December 3, 2023