After four months of high-energy meets and intense competition throughout the postseason, the final meet of the NCAA Gymnastics season is here, the 2019 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships in Fort Worth, Texas.

With the blood and sweat of the preseason, a long regular season behind, and nerve-wracking conference championship competitions and three rounds of NCAA Regional action completed, the national championships are finally here to determine which of the eight teams will hoist the trophy in the first Final Four Team Final inside the Fort Worth Convention Center.

Number two UCLA comes into Texas as the defending national champions and will look to send out legendary head coach Valorie Kondos Field out in style while top-ranked Oklahoma will be seeking a fourth national championship title to add to their trophy case in nearby Norman. Number three LSU will have lots of home-crowd support as well and will be fierce contenders for their first national championship trophy, and five other highly-talented teams will look to cause an upset in this often unpredictable championship and in a new postseason format.

(1) Oklahoma

The number one Oklahoma Sooners head into nationals with the goal of winning their fourth national title. The Sooners were just narrowly edged out by UCLA for the title last year, and after an undefeated season including a win against the Bruins, they are looking to bring the title back to Norman.

Head Coach KJ Kindler calls this 2019 team “one of the most emotionally connected and toughest teams” she has ever coached, adding that the team has faced “every level of adversity” throughout the season. The Sooners are led by reigning national all-around champion Maggie Nichols, Big 12 gymnast of the year Brenna Dowell, and super-regional all-around champion Anastasia Webb.

Oklahoma is ahead of the rest of the nation on vault because they have a lineup made up of solely 10.0 start values, with the entire lineup having scored a 9.950 or higher in this season. Oklahoma will look to get a lead on the rest of the field on vault, and it is where the greatest advantage against UCLA will likely come from.

The Sooners are ranked number two in the country on the uneven bars, and have a lineup that consistently scores 49.5 or better. The Sooners are known for sticking landings on bars, and all of the athletes in the lineup typically have great form. Nichols, who anchors the lineup, is coming off a Perfect 10.0 on the event in the super-regional round at the NCAA Athens Regional last week.

Maggie Nichols performs on the balance beam for the Oklahoma Sooners at the NCAA Athens Regional in Athens, Georgia/Sooner Sports

Oklahoma is the top-ranked team in the country on the balance beam, and are coming off an incredible 49.7 performance in the super regional round in Athens. With five out of the six athletes in the lineup ranked in the top 18 in the nation, with Nichols at number one, Webb at number eight, Carly Woodard at 11, Nicole Lehrmann at 15, and Dowell at 18, beam is another event where Oklahoma has the capability, particularly with the strong middle of the lineup, to garner a huge number.

The event which has given Oklahoma the most trouble this season is floor, and it will likely be the key in the Sooners’ title hopes. Nichols has been out of the lineup for the majority of the season with injuries, but may be able to re-enter for nationals, which would have the potential to be a huge help to Oklahoma’s consistency on floor. Oklahoma had two great floor performances in a row at regionals, and if they can keep pace with the likes of UCLA on floor, it will be very hard for anyone to beat them. Freshman anchor Olivia Trautman has already scored a Perfect 10.0 this season and is coming off of two 9.975s at regionals, so look to her to be a difference maker at the end of the lineup.

Oklahoma will be competing in the second semifinal against Denver, Georgia, and Oregon State, and will be the clear favorite to win the semifinal and should advance barring any major mistakes. The Sooners will hope to have a solid performance to set them up for a chance to qualify to the Final Four and fight to win the national title they just missed out on in 2018.

(2) UCLA

The UCLA Bruins have had a fantastic season, scoring multiple tens and ending the regular season ranked second in the nation. The Bruins have at least one gymnast ranked in the top 10 on every event and the top all-arounder in the nation, Kyla Ross. With a stacked roster and consistent performances all season under their belts, UCLA is expected to advance to national finals fairly easily. However, this does not mean they can relax, as this will be a tough semifinal to advance out of.

Though the Bruins don’t have the most difficult vaults in this semifinal, their execution and power should help them get out to an early lead. With strong leadoff vaults from Nia Dennis and Felicia Hanoand great anchor vaults from Ross and Pauline Tratz, UCLA will show that they are no longer reliant on high bars and beam scores to be a top team, but that they can deliver on all four events.

As the number one bars team in the country, the Bruins can expect to earn a huge rotation total on this event. However, they will need to be sticking landings and making sure handstands are hit, as even minor mistakes can threaten a position in the finals at this stage. This is also true on beam, where UCLA has the potential to score above a 49.500, but where they have also shown some inconsistency. They cannot afford to count a fall and will need to have an above average day to be sure of advancing.

Kyla Ross performs on the floor exercise for the UCLA Bruins at the 2018 Pac 12 Gymnastics Championship in Tucson, Arizona/UCLA Athletics

Floor is where the Bruins have seen the most improvement this season, and should be a great event for them to end on. They have both the showmanship and the high start values to go out with a bang in this rotation. They are the number one floor team in the nation and have scored as high as a 49.825 this season on floor. This should not be a trouble spot for them, but anything can happen in postseason. With the way this team has looked, however, expect them to perform well in semifinals and kick it up a notch in the finals, hoping to defend their team title from 2018.

“We’re extremely excited to be returning to the NCAA Championships. Our team is dialed in and ready to go out there and compete with no regrets,” said head coach Valorie Kondos Field.

“This season has been such a joy not just for me and our team but for the sport as a whole. To see college gymnastics blossom and thrive as much as it has this year has been so rewarding and so fulfilling. I could not have asked for a better final year as head coach of this program.”

(3) LSU

The fierce and high-flying Tigers of LSU are back at another national championships, peaking at the right time, and are looking to finally claim that elusive first national championship team title for long-time head coach DD Breaux.

“I’m so proud of the fight of our team to get back to NCAA Championships. They have continued to improve all year and over the last six week put together consistent performances,” Breaux commented.

“We are excited to get back to Fort Worth and compete in this new format.”

Led by two senior stars in all-around giant Sarah Finnegan and uneven bars genius Lexie Priessman, the Tigers come into Fort Worth-where they will expect a big-home crowd hoping to cheer them on to one better than their runner-up finish the last time nationals were held in Texas in 2016- with some injury concerns, particularly to Priessman, who is suffering a return of an old injury in her bicep, which she tore earlier this year.

Sarah Finnegan performs on the balance beam for the LSU Tigers at the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional super regional in Baton Rouge, Louisiana/LSU Sports

LSU will look to separate themselves from other teams on the floor exercise, their best event, where the sky-high tumbling and energy of Kennedi Edney and McKenna Kelley with Finnegan has helped them to huge rotation totals all year. The beam has also been a great event for the Tigers, with Edney, Reagan Campbell, and Finnegan providing big scores at the end of the lineup consistently this season.

Vault could be the make-or-break event for the Tigers’ title hopes this year, with the powerful vaulting and controlled landings in the first rotation of the SEC Gymnastics Championships last month the x-factor in edging out rivals Florida for the conference championship title in front of another heavy home crowd in New Orleans.

Finally, the bars work of Edney, Priessman, and Finnegan will hope to provide big scores to make up for some inconsistency in spots early in the lineup, with leadoff Sami Durante a key in setting LSU up for success on this event.

(4) Denver

Fourth-ranked Denver advanced from the NCAA Corvallis Regional and will look to build on their momentum from upsetting the three-time national champion Florida Gators last week at regionals.  

Denver will look to capitalize on both bars and beam, however, they are strong on all four events. Sophomore all-arounder Lynzee Brown posts consistently high scores for the Pioneers on every event, but she truly shines on bars and floor. It can be expected that Brown will make a big contribution for the Pioneers in Fort Worth along with junior Maddie Karr. Karr, another all-arounder, stands out on all four events and will undoubtedly post a big score at nationals.  

Maddie Karr celebrates after performing on the floor exercise for the Denver Pioneers in Denver, Colorado/Denver Athletics

“We’re excited for NCAA Nationals. We’ll take a lot of confidence into nationals with us from regionals,” explained Denver head coach Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart.

“For us, it’s about the team doing gymnastics they are proud of and transferring what they do in training to competition. This is what we’ve trained for the entire year.”

(5) Utah

The nine-time national champion Utah Utes return to Fort Worth with a clear goal of returning to the Final Four, a night that has eluded the Red Rocks on a few occasions in previous years.

“It was a tremendous challenge to advance out of the new and electric regional format and earn one of the coveted eight spots at nationals. We are honored to represent Utah gymnastics at a record 44th consecutive national championship,” said Utah co-head coach Tom Farden.

“We feel that our athletes are peaking at the right time and our sights are set on making the finals.”

Led by all-around star MyKayla Skinner, Utah packs a big punch with her and senior Makenna Merrell-Giles, anchoring several of the Red Rocks’ lineups. Kari Lee has also been a crucial all-around gymnast for the Utes this season, helping her team break the 198 mark on a couple occasions.

MyKayla Skinner performs on the floor exercise for the Utah Utes/Utah Athletics

In an incredibly difficult and competitive semifinal one with UCLA, LSU, and Michigan, Utah will look to establish an edge on their two best events, vault and floor. Utah’s dynamic vaults from Skinner, Merrell-Giles, and Lee are performed beautifully and have lots of power and the Utes’ bars work can be exquisite when they hit their handstands consistently.

Balance beam has been the make-or-break event for Utah so far this season, with freshman Adrienne Randall providing a key routine in the middle of the lineup that has brought big scores before. When the Red Rocks have challenged the Bruins this year, including at the Pac 12 Gymnastics Championships, it was beam where they began to make a move and that will be key in their hopes of advancing in the top two to Saturday’s Final Four.

(6) Michigan

Michigan will be going into the first semifinal as the underdog. After missing out on nationals last year, the Wolverines will be hoping to prove that they are here to stay and to fight for a spot in the finals. To beat both LSU and Utah, they will need to have a stellar performance, improving upon what they did at regionals. They are by no means out of contention, but will have to pay attention to detail, being a little cleaner and tighter than they have been.

As a well-balanced team, Michigan’s advantage is that it doesn’t have a particularly weak or strong event. However, this also means that there isn’t an event where the Wolverines can close the gap between them and the other teams. They have been steady performers on beam and floor, scoring close to a 49.500 on both events multiple times this season. This team can give tenths away in landings and leg separations, which could be the difference between second and third place this weekend. They will need to control their nerves and repeat what they did at regionals.

Emma McLean performs on the floor exercise for the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor, Michigan/Michigan Athletics

The Wolverines have been a bit inconsistent on bars, but can also be fantastic when everyone hits to the best of their ability. Their bars lineup has lots of potential, but an average performance won’t get them to the final.  Attention to detail will be important for Michigan to keep up with the other teams in this semifinal and have a chance to advance. Vault is a similar story, as Michigan doesn’t have the number of 10.0 start value vaults that the other teams do. To score a great rotation total on vault, the Wolverines will need to be sticking landings and performing with big amplitude and power. 

As the four teams in this semifinal are separated by just four ranking spots, all four teams realistically have a chance to make the final. This will depend on which teams look cleaner on the day of competition. It may be easy to write Michigan off, as they are the lowest seed, but their regional scores were higher than Utah’s regional scores and were just .125 points behind LSU’s regional score. Minor mistakes from LSU or Utah would give Michigan an opportunity, which they could capitalize on by giving a repeat performance of their regional competition.

(7) Georgia

The number seven Georgia Gymdogs are heading into nationals with a ton of momentum, coming off of a season-high in the super regional round to advance. Georgia has improved week by week all season long, and seems to be peaking at just the right time. With their sights set on a spot in the “Four on the Floor Team Final competition, the Gymdogs will likely need to have one of their best competitions of the season in the semifinal to advance.

“We are thrilled to advance to the national championship this year. And what a way to do it! We had the highest score for our team in a decade and were able to punch our ticket to Fort Worth in front of our home crowd,” commented Georgia head coach Courtney Kupets-Carter.

“Now it’s time to refocus and push through to nationals. We’re not done yet and the Gymdogs are still proving they have whatever it takes.”

Led by lone Georgia senior Sydney Snead, vault has been the Bulldogs’ highest ranking event all season, currently sitting at number four in the nation. Despite not having quite the number of 10.0 start values as other top teams, Georgia’s final three of Snead, junior Rachel Dickson, and freshman Rachael Lukacs have all gone 9.950 or better this season and have the ability to post huge numbers to close the rotation.

Georgia has had an up and down season on the uneven bars, but seem to have finally solidified a solid lineup heading into nationals. The anchor, sophomore Marissa Oakley, is coming off a Perfect 10.0 at the super-regional competition, and will likely be confident and ready to post another huge score at nationals. The bar rotation is likely to be critical for Georgia, as it is one of Denver’s best events, with Denver being the team Georgia will likely have to beat to advance to the final round of nationals.

Sydney Snead performs on the balance beam for the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens, Georgia/Red and Black

Balance beam has been a struggle for Georgia on the road this season, but with Snead being a consistent leadoff and junior Sabrina Vega posting near-perfect scores almost every outing the last few meets, Georgia should feel confident in the lineup’s ability to keep pace with any other team in the nation.

Floor has been the standout even for Georgia this entire season, with back to back 9.975s for Vega in the anchor position at regionals proving just how dangerous the end of the Georgia lineup can be. Snead is a potential 9.900+ score in the middle of the lineup, as the senior has a Perfect 10.0 on the event from last season and consistently puts up high numbers, and Lukacs and Dickson both have huge tumbling and have 9.950s from this season showing they are capable of replicating those performances at the big dance in Texas.

With Florida surprisingly upset at regionals, Georgia seems to have a very realistic shot at advancing to the final day at nationals. The Gymdogs will be facing off against Oklahoma, Denver, and Oregon State the first day of competition, and with Oklahoma expected to advance without a major mistake, the battle for the second spot should be very intense, with Georgia and Denver expected to battle it out.

(8) Oregon State

Eighth-ranked Oregon State, advancing from the Corvallis Regional at home, will look to build on their momentum from upsetting the Florida last week at regionals.  

The Beavers, fresh off the emotion of their upset over the Gators at home, must stay focused and confident moving onto nationals in Fort Worth. The team puts up their largest numbers on floor, where they are ranked tenth, and remaining consistent on this event at nationals is crucial for the Beavers.

The team’s only all-arounder, Kaitlyn Yanish, also capitalizes on floor and will look to make her big contribution on this event. However, McKenna Singley, Madi Dagen, Mary Jacobsen, and Isis Lowry also post big scores on the three other events to make the Beavers a dangerous floater in semifinal two set for Saturday night in Fort Worth.

Isis Lowery celebrates after performing on the floor exercise for the Oregon State Beavers at the NCAA Corvallis Regional in Corvallis, Oregon/FloGymnastics

“I am so proud of this team and our staff. They have worked so hard this year. This is only the second time this year they’ve gone 24-for-24. They showed a lot of strength and courage, and just a grit,” explained Oregon State head coach Tanya Chaplin.

“This was the second day of competition, and they just honed in on what they needed to do and it came out that we are heading to Fort Worth. That’s incredibly exciting for us.”

All-Around

In the all around competition seniors Sienna Crouse of Nebraska, Alex Hyland from Kentucky, and Alicia Boren of Florida will be competing as individuals as well as sophomore Lexy Ramler from Minnesota.

“Alex Hyland will bring her career to a close with her fourth trip to the NCAA Championship. She has been instrumental in the rise of our program and it’s fitting that she can finish on the biggest stage as an all-arounder,” said Kentucky head coach Tim Garrison.

Crouse’s season high score was a 39.7. Boren and Ramler both have a season high of 39.725 and Hyland has reached a 39.550. While none of these four athletes are front runners for the all-around title with the likes of Kyla Ross, Maggie Nichols, Sarah Finnegan, and MyKayla Skinner in the running, all of them are expected to do great gymnastics and strive to be atop the podium.

Boren excels of floor with a fun, energetic, and crowd pleasing routine and Ramler is stunning on the uneven bars and balance beam with clean and consistent sets.

Alicia Boren performs on the floor exercise for the Florida Gators against the Penn State Nittany Lions in Gainesville, Florida/Florida Athletics

“We are thrilled that Lexy [Ramler] has once again qualified to the NCAA Championships and is able to represent the University of Minnesota. She has had a tremendous season and was instrumental in our team’s success this year,” said Golden Gophers coach Jenny Hansen.

“Lexy has been great on every event this season and we look forward to seeing her shine on the National stage.”

Vault

Taylor Houchin of Nebraska who averages a 9.811 on her Yurchenko one-and-a-half vault is the first vault individual athlete. Houchin reached a season high of a 9.975 on this vault.

Cal‘s Milan Clausi, Pac 12 Freshman of the Year, will be competing her high flying Yurchenko one-and-a-half as well in her nationals debut She has a season average of 9.848 and is capable of scoring in the 9.950 range.

Derrian Gobourne performs on the floor exercise for the Auburn Tigers against the Georgia Gymdogs in Auburn, Alabama/Auburn Athletics

Auburn’s freshman Derrian Gobourne competes a big Yurchenko one-and-a-half and will aim to repeat her season best and score a 9.900.

Savannah Schoenherr of Florida competes a beautiful Yurchenko one-and-a-half. While she struggled with consistency a bit throughout the season, Schoenherr is getting better with her landings and will hope to score around a 9.900.

Uneven Bars

The individuals on bars include Cairo Leonard-Baker of Arizona State, Trinity Thomas from Florida, Penn State‘s Sabrina Garcia and Cally Nixon of Kentucky.

“Cairo [Leonard-Baker] is tremendous athlete and has pushed herself and our team to higher standards over the last two seasons. She is an amazing competitor that truly embraces the pressure of the ‘big’ moments and that is where she shines the brightest and delivers,” assessed Sun Devil head coach Jay Santos.

“Cairo is at her best when she is having fun and enjoying herself and that energy she brings to competitions really helps drive the team. She is an outstanding student-athlete and has accomplished so much in her first two seasons; I can’t wait to see what the next two years hold for her and Sun Devil Gymnastics.”

Both Baker and Thomas have reached season high scores of 9.975. Baker has a dynamic routine with clean transition releases. Thomas’ form is impeccable with difficult elite skills, and an often stuck double layout dismount to finish off her routine.

Trinity Thomas performs on the floor exercise for the Florida Gators in Gainesville, Florida/Gator Athletics

Nixon has scored a high of 9.900 with a clean routine finished with a high flying double tuck. She will hope to stick the landing and tighten up her legs to score even higher at the championships.

“Cally Nixon was expected to be a standout on vault and floor this season. Since arriving on campus, she has really come into her own on uneven bars and performed at a very high level. I’m excited for her to experience the NCAA Championship as a competitor in her first season,” said Garrison.

Garcia, a senior, has reached a season high of 9.950 and her routine is highlighted by a gorgeous piked jaeger. Thomas has been seen as a favorite on this event most of the season having hit ten routines this year for 9.900 or better, making her a leading contender to possibly win the event title here.

Balance Beam

On beam the individual competitors are Jessie Bastardi of Penn State, Alyssa Baumann from Florida, Hailey Garner of Arkansas, and Brooke Kelly with Missouri.

Alyssa Baumann, the junior will be rotating with Georgia which will allow her to compete side-by-side with her sister, Rachel, a freshman on the Gymdogs. Alyssa has an elegant beam set which has allowed her to reach a season high of 9.975.

Alyssa Baumann celebrates after performing on the balance beam for the Florida Gators against the Penn State Nittany Lions in Gainesville, Florida/Florida Athletics

Jessie Bastardi, a freshman, has scored a season high of a 9.900. Hailey Garner, a junior, has a season high of a 9.875 which she will hope to improve by sticking her side arial back full dismount.

Kelly, a senior, also has a season high of 9.875 which she will hope to match or exceed which is quite possible when she hits her front aerial one arm back handspring acro series.

“We are so excited for Brooke [Kelly] to have another opportunity to compete, undoubtedly on one of her best events. She is a true Tiger and excellent representative of the University of Missouri,” said Missouri head coach Shannon Welker.

“Personally, I’m very proud of her hard work and dedication to getting better each day.”

Floor Exercise

On floor, individual competitors are Florida’s Thomas, Abby Armbrecht of Alabama, Sophia Carter from Arkansas, and Sidney Dukes of Kentucky.

Thomas has scored a 9.975 on this event for a powerful routine featuring a high flying double layout first pass.

“I am proud of Abby [Armbrecht] and happy for her that she earned this opportunity to close her career by once again competing at the national championships. As an Alabama native, the chance to wear Script A on her leotard has been a dream come true and to represent her school one last time has been a true blessing for Abby,” said Crimson Tide head coach Dana Duckworth.

“She has made the most of her Crimson Tide career, pouring her heart, talent and passion into each routine and this sport that she loves so much. Her routine is classic, elegant and beautiful, and I look forward to seeing her step up on the biggest stage and performing with all heart.”

Armbrecht performs an artistic routine with strong tumbling. Her season high is a 9.925 which she will hope to reach again at nationals.

Sophia Carter performs on the floor exercise for the Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville, Arkansas/Arkansas Athletics

Sophia Carter has reached a 9.950 due to her quick moving and consistent floor routine that has anchored Arkansas’ lineup this year. Dukes, a senior, has a season best of 9.925, which she has earned due to a powerful and exciting routine which she smiles the whole way through.

“Sidney Dukes has been a catalyst for success in our program. She has excelled on all four events but is exceptional on floor exercise. It is no surprise that she will finish her outstanding career representing Kentucky at the NCAA Championship,” commented Garrison.

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