By Ashlee Buhler for Inside Gymnastics
And then there were eight.
Despite all the uncertainty at the start of the 2021 season, strict new safety protocols, unusual pre-seasons, meet cancellations and the constant threat of COVID-19 looming, we made it to the final phase —the NCAA Championships! Months of sacrifices, and hard work in the gym come down to a moment these athletes will remember for the rest of their lives. Two days of competition. One champion.
New history will be made. New stories will be written. Who will be crowned the new queens of NCAA Women’s Gymnastics?
Here are the top storylines we’re following and everything you need to know for the NCAA Championships this weekend!
When: April 16, 2021 at 1 p.m. ET
Teams: California, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota
Storylines: The Michigan Wolverines come into the NCAA Championships as the No. 2 team in the nation and hope to put a bow on what has been a record-breaking season. In March, Michigan broke its program record in back-to-back meets and matched its program record (198.100) once again in the regional final to advance to NCAA’s. If the meet comes down to the last rotation, watch out because Michigan starts the competition on its weaker two events (beam and floor) and finishes on its strongest two events (vault and bars), where they rank first and third in the nation. The biggest question mark for Michigan might be floor, where they have struggled the most with consistency this season. To lock themselves into the finals for the first time since 2011, a hit performance is a must. If all goes well, Michigan can shift the focus to winning its first NCAA national title!
The Florida Gators come in right behind Michigan at No. 3 in the rankings. Opposite to Michigan, the Gators best events are beam and floor where they rank No. 1 in the nation on both. The Gators are capable of putting up a number in the high 197 to low 198 range, which would easily qualify them to the finals, but could use Trinity Thomas back in the All-Around, especially with Sydney Johnson-Scharpf and Halley Taylor going down with injuries at regionals. Out of all the teams competing in semifinal one, it is worth noting that the Gators have the highest team NQS as well as the highest team average. Just doing what they normally do should be enough to move the Gators to the next round and put them in contention for the national title. The Gators have been chosen by many to finish first. Will they withstand the pressure and take it straight to the top?
The California Golden Bears have been lights out this season and will put up a good fight, especially if they do everything they are capable of. The Bears have been consistent and steady all season, which could really work in their favor when the pressure is on. Don’t forget—Cal broke a program record earlier this season (198.050) and is the No. 1 team in the nation on bars. The Bears punched a ticket to NCAA’s after posting the second highest score in program history at regionals (197.750), so anything is possible for this team. In fact, Cal just may be the biggest surprise of the afternoon!
The final team in semifinal one is the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers come into NCAA’s as the lowest ranked team in the semifinal, but do not let that fool you. Minnesota pulled off an upset against Michigan at the Big 10 Championships (with a season high 197.750) which has to make them think that anything is possible, especially with Michigan being the No. 1 ranked team in the semifinal. Nonetheless, it will be a thrilling re-match between the only two Big 10 schools with a team at NCAA’s. It is worth noting that three of Minnesota’s highest scores of the season have come in the last three meets so they may be peaking at just the right time.
When: April 16, 2021 at ET at 6 p.m. ET
Teams: Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Utah
Storylines: With no NCAA Championship held in 2020, the Oklahoma Sooners come to Fort Worth as the reigning NCAA Champions. They are also the No. 1 team in the nation after regionals. If everything goes according to plan, the Sooners should advance to the finals and be a strong contender for the national title. However, we have seen things not go according to plan for the Sooners this season, including at the Big 12 Championships where Denver snapped its eight-year winning streak. The Sooners bounced back strong looking all but unstoppable at regionals despite Karrie Thomas going down with an injury, and were the only team in the entire NCAA to post 198 scores on both days of competition.
There has been a lot of debate about the LSU Tigers advancing to the NCAA Championships after some mistakes on beam and a few generous scores at regionals. Nonetheless, the Tigers will be ready to put up a fight and prove they belong in Fort Worth. On a good day, LSU can put up a score in the high 197 range and could contend for the national title. LSU will start the meet on its strongest two events, floor and vault, where they rank second in the nation. The deciding factor just may be beam (again) where the Tigers will finish the competition. It has not been their strongest event this season, but when they hit, they can go big.
The Utah Utes come to Fort Worth as the No. 5 team in the nation after putting up a season high at regionals (197.725). The Utes have done just about everything they were expected to do this season and could cap off the season with a trip to the NCAA finals if they keep the momentum going. The biggest challenge for Utah may be ending the competition on bars, which has been the lowest scoring event for the team this season and the most likely place we could see some mistakes from the Utes. Starting on their strongest events like beam and floor may be just what the Utes need to get the meet moving in the right direction and build the confidence they need to hit bars and finish in the top two.
The Alabama Crimson Tide are coming in hot after winning the SEC Championships and having a consistent performance at regionals with back-to-back mid 197 performances. The Tide had a slower start to their season but as of late have been putting up scores that would put them in contention for a national title. Across the board on all four events The Tide has been consistent, which is exactly what they will need to be to finish in the top two of this stacked semifinal.
Finals (Four on the Floor)
Teams: Top two teams from each semifinal
When: April 17, 2021 at 3:30 p.m. ET
How to watch: ABC
Note: All sessions will have specific event streams and a four-event view on ESPN3 or the WatchESPN app.
Photo credits: Lloyd Smith for Inside Gymnastics
Our May/June 2021 Issue will feature the photos and storylines you love from the 2021 NCAA Championships! Subscribe to Inside Gymnastics magazine now to receive the issue! Click Here!