By Elizabeth Grimsley, Christina Marmet and Caroline Medley
It’s time for another round of NCAA Gym News Power Rankings. This week we’ll be coming up with our top 12 teams and assigning them each an elite gymnast we think best fits its season up to this point. But we don’t expect you to agree with our opinions 100 percent. Let us know your thoughts and who you have in your top 10 in the comments or on social media.
If you’re a traditionalist or numbers freak, you can look at the Road to Nationals official rankings here.
Tier 1: Oklahoma – Simone Biles
This one’s pretty obvious but we’ll explain it for you anyway. Simone is the queen of gymnastics. She’s dominate and basically the best gymnast to walk the planet. While Oklahoma still has a ways to go before being the best NCAA team ever, it is the queen right now. The Sooners are dominant, not only beating every team they come across but also hitting over 198 more times this season than all other teams combined. But like some people didn’t consider Simone really having made it until the Olympics, Oklahoma still has to prove itself at nationals when all the other teams are on the same playing field.
Tier 2: LSU – Aliya Mustafina
Aliya is always around. She’s pregnant right now, but we wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we saw her at worlds this year. She’s been in the last two Olympics and brought home a plethora of medals each time. However, she’s never been at the top of the top and won the women’s Olympic all around title despite being right there each time. LSU is in a similar boat. The Tigers are always up there with the top dogs, placing second at nationals last year and winning the SEC Championship this season, as well as finishing atop the SEC each of the last three seasons. However, the team has yet to claim the ultimate prize and hoist that national championship trophy.
Tier 3: Florida – Ellie Downie
Ellie Downie has risen through the ranks over the last few years, all the while positioning herself and Great-Britain as the top contender to shake up the world order. Indeed, Downie did just that. She became the first female gymnast ever to win an all-around medal for Great Britain at the 2015 European Championships, and later on was part of the Great Britain’s team that won her country’s first ever world team medal, finally upsetting and breaking through the “Big 4” (USA, China, Russia and Romania). Similarly, Florida accomplished just that in 2013 as it became only the fifth team to ever win a national championship. Now and just like Downie, Florida is always expected to be right up there at the top of the rankings and to be a contender for a championship. Moreover, the Gators have difficult and impressive skills that always get the crowd excited. The program’s expectations have drastically increased over the years, even after the departure of Rhonda Faehn. Anyways, Florida is very much capable of challenging for the top spot, but will it be able to handle the pressure against the likes of LSU or Oklahoma? We would never count the Gators out, just like we can never count Downie and GB out now.
Tier 4: Michigan – Natalia Kapitonova
Michigan keeps missing out on things, but it seems like they finally might be on the up and up again. Natalia Kapitonova of Russia seems to be doing the same sort of thing right now. Up until this year, Kapi was always the alternate, never seeming to put everything together at one time (or make it onto Valentina’s favorites list) to make any big international-stage team. However, this year, both she and Michigan are performing far more to their potential, as Kapi won the all around at Russian nationals earlier this year and Michigan has made it back to nationals and has a decent shot at making Super Six for the first time since 2011. The question there is their staying power. Can Kapitonova continue upgrading and polishing to keep dominating the Russian field? And can Michigan keep it together to at least make Super Six, if not better? The only way to answer those questions positively is consistency, and lots of it.
Tier 5: Utah, Denver – Viktoria Komova
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. This statement has recently defined both Utah and Denver, but it’s been true quite frequently for Viktoria Komova on the international stage as well. Utah’s had its share of success this season, but when it comes to closing the deal, the Utes have had some trouble in recent years. Denver has been on the rise, but has never been able to put it together before to make Nationals. They’ve finally made it, but can they seal the deal? If you think about it, Vika always comes out as one of the top contenders coming into big international competitions, but both years she was considered the favorite, she came up just shy. In 2011, it was Wieber, in 2012 Douglas, and though she fought hard, she fell short of even making the team in 2016 due to injury. Utah and Denver have had their fair share of injuries as well, and in many cases, both of them have come up short. We can definitely count on them to be right up there in the mix, but can they make it happen?
Tier 6: UCLA, Alabama, Georgia – Larisa Iordache
Larisa Iordache has had to carry the weight of her country’s legacy for the last quad, and has had to deal with sometimes unrealistic expectations from people still dreaming of a return of Romania’s golden era while other nations have just taken over, like the U.S., China or Russia. UCLA, Alabama and Georgia are undoubtedly three of the most incredible NCAA gymnastics program with a history of success through decades. The gymnasts and coaching staff on these teams have had to deal with carrying on these legacies, which have become harder to live up to as parity across the nation increases and new teams have become dominant (like OU, LSU or UF). Furthermore, if you’re rooting for Iordache and Romania, you’re in for a big rollercoaster of emotions, disappointments or happiness, but you never really know what to expect performance-wise. It could be fantastic, or it could be a let down. Our three teams essentially give us all the same feels. On paper, they should be killing it with consistency, great performances and winning championships. In reality however, it’s hard to guess what to expect from them and it becomes nerve-wracking to watch them on some events. Fortunately, these three teams haven’t had such a fallout like Romania has, and it doesn’t appear that they are heading that way in the near future.
Tier 7: Washington – Eythora Thorsdottir
Eythora has been around for some time, but was often overshadowed by other gymnasts on the international scene. She always had clean albeit easy gymnastics, and unique skills. After a few years dealing with setbacks, it all finally clicked and the world of gymnastics finally realized her limitless potential and the artistry she was bringing to the sport. Eythora (and the entire Dutch team) were the fairytale story of 2015 Worlds, qualifying as a team to the Olympics against all odds thanks to their sharp, gorgeous and expressive gymnastics. Thorsdottir ended up leading the Dutch into team finals and placing ninth in the all around. Anyways, what is there not to like about Eythora? Similarly, how can one not like Washington? Just like Eythora and the Dutch team, Washington has been our own fairytale story of this season, and has won the hearts of most gym fans. The Huskies qualified to nationals for the first time since 1998, accomplishing a feat many did not see coming when the season started. While their difficulty may not rival with some of the top teams, the Huskies take full advantage of the code of points and give us clean and sharp gymnastics that is obviously working out for them so far this year. Just like the Netherlands made it to team finals in Rio, will we see our fairytale continue and see Washington qualify to the Super Six? It’s definitely within grasp.
Tier 8: Nebraska, Oregon State – Ragan Smith
Since her addition to the U.S. national team, Ragan Smith has always been a bubble gymnast, always overshadowed by her more dominant teammates. As a junior, it was Laurie Hernandez, Jordan Chiles, and even Norah Flatley who had the success and the fan backing over her. As a senior, she had to compete against the likes of the Simones and the Alys and the Gabbys of the world. Still, she managed to make alternate for Rio, and she stands to be the USA program’s star in 2017. Nebraska and Oregon State have often been overshadowed by other teams, falling into the gap left behind conference-mates like Michigan, UCLA or Utah. This year, making nationals is an accomplishment. But like Ragan this season, they may be able to put it together for their best performance thus far.
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