A Look at the NCAA Nationals Team Title Contenders

After a long two-year wait, it’s finally time for the NCAA national championships once again! We know our eight teams, our four all arounders and our 16 individual event specialists, and over the next two days we’ll be breaking down all the title contenders.

First up is the teams. Friday’s first semifinal features California, Florida, Michigan and Minnesota while the evening session will include Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma and Utah. Two teams from each of these Friday competitions will advance to the national final on Saturday. There are also individuals that will compete on Friday with individual titles and All-America honors on the line, but we’ll get to that tomorrow.

For a more in-depth explanation on the new postseason format, check out our NCAA postseason guide. Finally, don’t forget to follow your progress in the 2021 bracket challenge here.

Semifinal One

Date: Friday, April 16 at 1 p.m. ET

How to Watch: ESPN2

Team NQS Average High Score Starting Event
No. 2 Michigan 395.900 197.197 198.100 Beam
No. 3 Florida 395.644 197.594 198.275 Bars
No. 6 California 395.363 197.081 198.050 Floor
No. 8 Minnesota 394.856 196.905 197.750 Vault

Background

Michigan managed to eclipse Florida in the official rankings on the heels of a season high-tying (and program record-tying) regional final performance. It was the second-highest regional number of the weekend behind Oklahoma. Granted, we can’t really compare apples to oranges across regional sites, but the Wolverines will be feeling bolstered by the big number and flashy ranking. Still, the Gators had a more consistent regionals showing across the two days. Michigan’s habit of having one shaky event could come back to haunt it, especially given its long history of weak postseason performances. Florida on the other hand is a historically strong postseason team. While Florida and Michigan are the mathematical favorites to advance, California sits just behind. Both of its regional numbers were higher than Michigan’s round two total, and its season high is right in the mix. The Gophers sit a half pace behind the rest of the field but are by no means out of it. They’ve been a high-197 team consistently since the beginning of March and will be poised to pounce on any errors at the top.

Our seniors have set a standard since their arrival and with their leadership, our program has made strides each and every year getting us closer to these championships,” Minnesota head coach Jenny Hansen said.For them to finish their careers at the national championships is a testament to their commitment not only to themselves but in guiding and inspiring their teammates in reaching their potential.”  

The starting events are fascinating here: Michigan must start on the event that gave it trouble in regionals round two, and then survive floor, which has thrice been a problem in rotation two. Florida begins on its least consistent event in bars. Meanwhile, Minnesota gets to start on vault, one of its most reliable pieces, and California gets rolling on floor, which has been giving bars a run for its money as the Bears’ top event. 

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance

To stay competitive, California and Minnesota need to be right in the hunt after one. The Bears’ top scores come in meets with stellar bars and floor rotations. Minnesota can make up ground on California with its best vault and beam numbers. That said, Michigan is the top vault squad coming in, and Florida dominates beam. If all four teams hit, Minnesota needs to stick its five best vaults in the first rotation to give itself a chance. For California, it’ll be about putting its best bars/floor meet together with its best vault/beam meet. If it can do that, it’ll be lurking right with the top two.

Pivotal Routines to Keep an Eye on

Michigan’s late season 198 revolution has come on the heels of breakout performances for Abby Heiskell, who made her all around debut at regionals. Reyna Guggino’s new Yurchenko 1.5 has also been a game changer. If those two hit, Michigan will be feeling secure. Florida’s big question mark comes on floor, where the Sydney Johnson-Scharpf Achilles injury and sore calf for Halley Taylor leave a question mark in that lineup. Payton Richards rejoined the floor squad in the regional final, but she’s been shaky over the past few meets. She could be a make-or-break gymnast for the Gators. Minnesota’s question mark routines are early in the beam and bars lineups. Lexi Montgomery often steps in, but we’ve seen Halle Remlinger on bars, and Ali Sonier has popped in and out of the beam lineup. Whoever ultimately lands those spots could have a significant influence over the Gophers’ finish. California, meanwhile, has played with the vault lineup over the past few weeks, substituting Natalie Sadighi in for Maya Bordas. Whoever of the two vaults, it’ll be an important score to watch.

Semifinal Two

Date: Friday, April 16 at 6 p.m. ET

How to Watch: ESPN2

Team NQS Average High Score Starting Event
No. 1 Oklahoma 396.119 197.288 198.225 Bars
No. 4 LSU 395.563 197.378 198.050 Floor
No. 5 Utah 395.481 197.263 197.925 Beam
No. 7 Alabama 395.113 197.053 197.875 Vault

Background

After being tied with Florida atop the final regular season rankings, Oklahoma posted back-to-back 198s at regionals to take the top seed at nationals and cemented itself as the mathematical favorite to advance from this session. However, each team in this semifinal has outperformed expectations at some point this season, and we should not be surprised to see any combination of teams advance to the final. Alabama advanced out of its home regional alongside Oklahoma after two consistent performances to back up its surprise SEC title a few weeks prior. LSU nabbed the four seed after a strong regular season that saw the team go toe-to-toe with top ranked teams and pull in numerous perfect scores from several underclassmen, but it was actually defeated by Pac-12 champion Utah at regionals after the Utes posted a season high score in the final. The Utes seems to be peaking at just the right time to make a run at nationals. “It is time for us to rest up and hit the reset button before next week,” LSU head coach Jay Clark said. “If the regional weekend is any indication, this will be the closest and most exciting NCAA championship this sport has ever seen.”

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance

As mentioned, all four teams in this semifinal have a legitimate shot at placing top two and advancing to the national final. Alabama starts on its weakest event but does have the ability to put up plenty of 10.0 start value vaults to give itself an edge. The Crimson Tide’s hopes may just come down to vault landings. LSU and Utah also are starting on strong events for their respective squads, and they will need to be stellar to keep pace with Oklahoma, who will likely be strong and consistent across the board.

Pivotal Routines to Keep an Eye on

Either vault or beam is the critical event to watch for each of these four teams. Alabama and Utah have both had highs and lows on vault while LSU has been iffy of late on beam and Oklahoma will likely have to shift its beam lineup from regionals due to injury. Sooner Karrie Thomas injured herself on her beam dismount at regionals, and with her status for nationals unlikely at least on beam, Jenna Dunn or Evy Schoepfer are going to need to step into her place and deliver a critical hit routine. After near disasters on beam in both days of regionals, LSU may also shift around its lineup yet again, and it will not be able to afford more misses from Kiya Johnson or Haleigh Bryant, who both factored into those off performances. Alabama and Utah both suffer from consistency issues on vault, but if Cammy Hall for the Utes and Shania Adams for the Crimson Tide can control their landings, both teams could see welcome jumps in their scores. The potential for Alabama also increases significantly if Lexi Graber and Mati Waligora are healthy enough to compete for Alabama, so make sure to keep an eye out for any routines they are able to contribute.

National Finals

Date: Friday, April 17 at 3:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: ABC

Event Team
Vault Semifinal Two, Team One
Bars Semifinal Two, TeamTwo
Beam Semifinal One, Team Two
Floor Semifinal One, Team One

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Article by Emily Minehart and Brandis Heffner

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