Can Oklahoma pull off a second consecutive national title? Or will an underdog team like California or LSU swoop in? And what about Florida — and defending national all-around champion Trinity Thomas’ injury?
Beginning on Thursday, eight teams will battle it out at NCAA gymnastics championships in Fort Worth, Texas. And if regionals was any indication, it’s going to be a wild competition. Two weeks ago, superstar Thomas was forced to withdraw midway through her floor routine during the first day of regionals, and her status is still unknown. Meanwhile, 2021 national champ Michigan lost a tiebreak to LSU and didn’t qualify, Cal surprised everyone but itself by earning the top score at regionals and Oklahoma had two uncharacteristic falls on beam.
Fast-forward to Thursday, and … who will win? Our experts attempt to make predictions.
Who do you think will win the NCAA team title?
Kathy Johnson Clarke: First, I have to take a moment to praise the great eight teams that made it through the regional rounds, which is like flipping, dancing and swinging through rings of fire. Their fight and resilience all season to get to this moment is remarkable in and of itself. Before we can even get to the final four on the floor these teams have to be stressed and battle-tested one more time under the wild, weird kind of pressure that is unlike what they will feel in the final, and that complicates any prediction.
Three of the teams (Oklahoma, Utah and UCLA) that I would confidently put in the mix are in the same semifinal, so even if they all have “perfect” meets only two advance, and Kentucky is ready to pounce on any opportunity given to them! Florida, one of the favorites to win all season, may have to compete again without Thomas, and also has to contend with three Cinderella teams in their semifinal. All these dynamics up the ante!
So, I think Oklahoma is still the favorite based on season statistics, stacked lineups and their ability to compete to win come hell or high water. But I think it will be an epic trophy dash!
Ashley Miles Greig: I have to go with Oklahoma. They’ve been so strong this entire season and the only other team that defeated them in the regular season (Michigan) failed to qualify for the NCAA championship. Additionally, Oklahoma’s resolve was tested in the regional final, where they had to fight tooth and nail after counting a fall in the second rotation. They showed that they are that good and are in the driver’s seat to defend the title this year.
Sam Peszek: I couldn’t agree with Ashley more. If Oklahoma didn’t have the mistakes they did at regionals, I’m not sure they would have been tested enough. However, to show they can handle the pressure and perform their best when their best was needed gives me the confidence that they can adjust if mistakes come. Also, their ability to absorb landings and sink into their dismounts has been a strength of this team. Lastly, Olivia Trautman is back and one of the best athletes in the country. You can bet that since she had a mistake at regionals, she is gonna be on fire for NCAAs.
John Roethlisberger: Oklahoma has shown some signs of vulnerability, however even with mistakes it has been a 198 team (or very close). If everyone is on, I have to go with the team that has shown the most this season. Every team seems to have that potential 10 with its last three gymnasts on each event, but the difference-maker for OU is that it seems to have the advantage with its first three athletes on each event. It’s not a huge difference, but in a race as tight as this, a few .05s go a long way. Since everyone is picking Oklahoma, it will probably be another team!
Kennedy Baker: While Oklahoma has been stunning all season, and I can see them winning the title, I think it’s up for grabs with Florida and UCLA as well. Both of these teams have had lights out performances throughout the season and shown that they are strong contenders. I would also like to include Cal in the conversation. They have proven that they can handle the postseason pressure with an incredible regional performance, and I can see them carrying that momentum to the finals.
D’Arcy Maine: At the end of the regular season, it felt like Oklahoma and Florida were the clear front-runners for the team title, but things feel more chaotic now. Both of those teams certainly have what it takes to win it all, but neither is a lock heading into Thursday. So, it feels as if this is the perfect opportunity for Utah to reclaim its top spot in college gymnastics and snap a 28-year title drought. Led by Maile O’Keefe and Jaedyn Rucker, and with the expected return of Olympic silver medalist Grace McCallum from knee injury, Utah was the only school to record over a 198 score during both days of regional competition and seems to be peaking at the right time.
Alyssa Roenigk: Had I submitted my thoughts before 5 p.m. PT on Friday, March 31, my answer to this question would have been an unwavering, “Florida!” With Thomas at even 80 percent and with a roster so deep world all-around champ Morgan Hurd has barely seen a lineup, I still say Florida. But without Thomas: Oklahoma repeats. They’re healthy, deep and have been as consistent as Mikaela Shiffrin on a slalom course.
Amy Van Deusen: Oklahoma. While other teams can certainly do it, the Sooners always seem to rise under intense pressure. And not only do they hit, they hit all the details too. Oklahoma also has lineups that don’t rely too heavily on any one gymnast. If someone has an off routine (as regionals showed), they have enough depth that the next gymnast up can earn a score that makes up for it. The Sooners have now won four out of the last six national titles — they have the formula figured out.
Who could surprise?
Baker: I have been surprised by Kentucky countless times this season, and could definitely see them peaking at the championships. Head coach Tim Garrison has done such a great job this year at pacing this team, and they have looked fantastic all season. LSU has fought through adversity and obstacles all season, and yet they are still a top competitor. I can absolutely see them powering through to that final day as well.
Johnson Clarke: Oh my! All of these teams have surprised me with the incredible preparation and fine-tuning they’ve done and/or how some have navigated seemingly season-defining obstacles all season to be primed and ready for this moment. So which team could surprise most here? Hmmm, LSU, Cal, LSU, Cal, LSU, Cal … can’t choose.
Miles Greig: The LSU Tigers have been through so much as a program this year battling countless injuries, yet they’ve shown resilience and remained focused and are still standing. Also, after that dramatic tiebreak in the Denver regional final to secure a spot, you kind of get the feeling the gymnastics universe is looking out for LSU!
Peszek: I’m going with Utah. They’ve dealt with obstacles this season and continued to stay at the top. They’ve been doing well and haven’t even had McCallum in the lineup, which will hopefully add to their team score if she’s able to be back in for NCAAs. I think they are a team that has enough difficulty and a minimal amount of built-in deductions that could contend with any team. They’ve proven to handle the pressure against big teams, and after mistakes early in the lineup, and I think that experience will give them the confidence to make it to Day 2 and contend for the title.
Roethlisberger: I don’t know if any of these teams would be a surprise. With a fully healthy Thomas, I’d flip a coin with Oklahoma and Florida. That said, is it time for Utah to break the 28-year drought? I think it could be.
Roenigk: Cal beat Florida to advance to nationals and earned its highest postseason score in school history and the highest score of any team at regionals. I’d call that a shock, and I don’t think the Bears are finished. A lot would have to go right for Cal to win a national title, but their next surprise will be to make the final four and compete in the team final.
Maine: It’s been a season of records and firsts for Cal — in large part because of freshman standout eMjae Frazier — and the squad seems to get better and more consistent every week. During the regional finals, in which the team found itself in fourth place after the first rotation on vault, the Golden Bears meticulously worked their way back up the leaderboard with every gymnast scoring a 9.9 or better on the final two events on beam and floor. Frazier even broke Cal’s all-around record with a score of 39.750 during the competition. If any team is capable of an upset victory, it’s Cal.
Who is your pick for all-around champion?
Johnson Clarke: If I must choose a single gymnast, I believe the stars and planets could align just right for Jordan Chiles. The combination of her level of difficulty and execution potential across all four events makes her an all-around giant! Add her tremendous heart, sportsmanship and selflessness as a teammate on a potential “team of destiny” could result in her standing atop the podium.
Miles Greig: There are two athletes I would love to see win. Both Chiles and Raena Worley embody the characteristics you must have in the team environment and dynamics for NCAA gymnastics. The most important result is the success of the team and I’d all but bet big money that any all-arounder would trade an individual title for a team title in a heartbeat.
Peszek: Chiles. She has the perfect amount of pizazz and casualness for a meet with this much intensity. You can tell that her love for the sport and her teammates calm her down in meets and her ability to compete freely is unmatched. She has so much experience competing on podium and at bigger international competitions — that will give her confidence.
Roethlisberger: I would never pick against a healthy Trinity (She has joined the ranks of Madonna, Cher and Beyonce — only one name needed), however we don’t know if that will be the case, unfortunately. Then, I think it might be Chiles time! Jordan Chiles! (If you sing that, it sounds good!) She has been amazing this year, and she has a great team with her. I will go as far as saying, if she sticks vault, she wins.
Maine: For much of the season, it felt as if the all-around competition would be a truly star-studded affair pitting former national team members Thomas, Chiles, Suni Lee (Auburn) and Jade Carey (Oregon State) against one another for the top individual prize, but, well, that is certainly not the case now. With Thomas’ status still uncertain, Carey qualifying only on beam and Lee out completely, it is now Chiles’ title to win. Chiles recorded the best score (39.90) in the country this season, and with four perfect 10s on the year and a fire floor routine, she has everything it takes to become the champion.
Roenigk: Chiles. If she sticks, she adds an NCAA all-around title to a résumé that already includes an Olympic silver medal and a gold from world championships. Florida’s Leanne Wong, who has been phenomenal this season and finished third behind Thomas and Lee in the all-around at nationals last year, could also join Chiles on the podium.
Van Deusen: LSU’s Haleigh Bryant and Florida’s Kayla DiCello both compete in the first semifinal, which, at least anecdotally, seems to make it harder to win the title. But either one could still do it. DiCello has had a phenomenal freshman season that has included two perfect 10s on bars and a huge 39.8 all-around score on the first day of regionals. And Bryant is a force in the all-around: She is tied for the second highest score in the country this season (39.875), .025 behind Chiles, and is virtually tied with her in average score. Both gymnasts are exciting to watch on every event, and have a confidence when they compete that few can match. And, if Thomas is healthy and in four lineups, I still think she can win.
Which routine should we be sure not to miss?
Miles Greig: Bryant and her vault is a thing of beauty. I’m floored every time I see it. I can appreciate a good Yurchenko anything like most other gymnastics fans, but her handspring front pike half is world class and stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Roenigk: Don’t miss Auburn’s Derrian Gobourne’s electric floor routine. Auburn didn’t qualify for nationals, but Gobourne qualified as an individual. It’s jam-packed, fast-paced, fun, has dance moments worthy of Broadway and is filled with meaning. Gobourne’s brother, Derric, helped to choreograph the routine, which pays tribute to Black culture and Fisk University’s 2023 gymnastics team, the first at an HBCU school.
Van Deusen: I love a unique release move on bars, so I’ll go with a three-way tie among Audrey Davis (Oklahoma), Natalie Wojcik (Michigan) and Chiles, who gets an extra shoutout for throwing two single-bar releases in one routine. Davis and Wojcik have each earned many 9.975s, but never a 10. Will championships be the first 10 for one of them?
Maine: Picking just one is an impossible task and I have rewritten this answer multiple times because it is truly that hard to decide so here are my can’t-miss routines from each session on Thursday. First up, you will need to stop everything to watch LSU’s Bryant on vault. The 2021 NCAA champion on the event, Bryant has earned four vault perfect scores this season and when you see the height she gets — and just how easy she makes it look — you’ll understand why.
As for the evening session, you might want to get your tissues ready for what will likely be the final routines from several noteworthy seniors, competing as individual qualifiers, including Michigan’s Sierra Brooks (floor) and Wojcik (bars), Arkansas’ Norah Flatley (beam), Alabama’s Luisa Blanco (bars) and Auburn’s Gobourne (floor).
Johnson Clarke: This is way too hard, and I fear I will miss someone, but here goes:
Vault: Bryant, Chiles, Kat LeVasseur, Abby Heiskell (phenomenal technique)
Bars: Chiles, Davis, Wojcik, Luisa Blanco
Beam: Kara Eaker, Maile O’Keefe, Mya Lauzon, Flatley, Jade Carey
Floor: All of UCLA, all of Florida, Gobourne, Aleah Finnegan, eMjae Frazier, Sierra Brooks
Peszek: Vault: Bryant
Bars: All of Florida, Lynzee Brown
Beam: All of Cal
Floor: All of UCLA, Finnegan, Gobourne
Vault: Bryant, Selena Harris, Chiles
Bars: Wojcik, Leanne Wong, Chiles
Beam: O’Keefe, Flatley, Isabella Magnelli
Floor: Brown, Gobourne, eMjae Frazier, Finnegan, all of UCLA
Roethlisberger: My fellow analysts seem to have covered them all, and they’re all correct. Although, not one of them mentioned Thomas. I know she’s hurt, and maybe they know something I don’t, but if she takes the floor, it’s going to be the can’t-miss routine(s) of the championship. If she does go, it will be very likely that she won’t be 100%, and it will also mean Florida is putting all its chips on the table, doing everything it can to win. It will also mean Thomas told her coaches “I got this!”
It will be one of the greatest collegiate gymnasts of all time going for the one thing that has eluded her, and the one thing she has wanted most: a team title. Florida coach Jenny Rowland has told us Thomas has gone through the season with the “no regrets” approach. If you see that athlete take the floor, you can be assured there will be none.