Riley McCusker performs a Shaposh variation on bars while Owen Field stands by for safety

Each Top 8 Team’s Biggest Problem

The season is less than a month away! We’ve seen intrasquad and training footage, tracked injuries and scoured social media to get a sense of where teams are heading into next year. With just weeks to go to Week 1, we took a look at the biggest problem each team in nationals-qualifying position from our preseason poll is facing, plus a few teams outside the top eight that have big years coming.

No. 1 Oklahoma: Olivia Trautman’s Health

Olivia Trautman’s injury status is always a question mark heading into season. The Sooners don’t, strictly speaking, need the fifth-year to compete among the best, but at her best she certainly raises the score ceiling. Her slow build every year always throws wrinkles into K.J. Kindler’s lineup strategies and means the Oklahoma lineups shift throughout the year. It’s definitely not the biggest problem on the list, but it does also affect the Sooners’ season.

No. 2 Florida: An Embarrassment of Riches

Try to pick the Florida lineups. It’s impossible. Former National Team members will be on the proverbial bench. Of course, this could be a good problem to have, but it could also mean that it’s very challenging for Jenny Rowland to find her highest-potential top six. 

No. 3 Utah: Getting Over The Finish Line 

The Utes look good this preseason, just like in every recent preseason. The problem continues to be peaking at nationals. Will Abby Brenner’s championship-winning experience help get Utah over the last, biggest hump?

No. 4 Michigan: The Comeback

Speaking of Michigan, hopes were high last year until the Wolverines faltered when it counted most. With nearly the entire roster returning, a strong incoming class and Carly Bauman and Nicoletta Koulos back from injuries, this squad will have its sights set on putting 2022 in the rearview and adding another trophy to the case.

No. 5 Alabama: The Weight of Legacy

Ashley Johnston won two national team titles with the Crimson Tide under Sarah Patterson. Justin Spring has four individual titles, a Nissan Emery award and led the Illini men to the 2012 national title as head coach. Alabama is one of the winningest programs in NCAA gymnastics history. That’s a lot of weight on a brand new head coach and her program. Can Alabama focus on the moment and not get lost in the big picture?

No. 6 Auburn: Substance Over Style

Auburn had a breakout 2022, due in large part but not solely to Sunisa Lee’s presence on the team. It was a flashy year, headlined by the Gymnasties, sellouts and perfect 10s. The gymnastics was there, but for Auburn to take the next step, gymnastics has to be the focus and the noise needs to be secondary.    

No. 7 LSU: Connective Tissue

Connective tissue in the most literal sense. Between Kiya Johnson and Haleigh Bryant’s ankles and Olivia Dunne’s two (!) torn labrums, LSU has some deep injury concerns. Jay Clark has shown he can successfully manage injuries, but lineup math could get dicey. Cammy Hall’s transfer could have been a saving grace…but per Jay Clark’s pre-Gym 101 press conference, she’s out for the season.

No. 8 Missouri: The Marshall Boot

All things were coming up Missouri after a great 2022, the return of Alisa Sheremeta and Hannah McCrary, and with a big incoming class headlined by Addison Lawrence. And then, at Black and Gold, we spied Amaya Marshall in a boot and on a scooter. Losing Marshall for the year wouldn’t necessarily be a breaking point, but it would put added stress on the newcomers to show up from day one.

Bonus: No. 9 UCLA: Focusing on the Flips

It is not the athletes’ fault, nor is it inherently negative, that UCLA’s 2022 was consumed with things outside of gymnastics. But with a new coaching staff and—hopefully—racism concerns adequately addressed, the Bruins can turn their attention back to gymnastics in 2023. That might be a tall task, but if any roster is up to it, it’s UCLA.  

Bonus: No. 17 Minnesota: A Leadership Vacuum

There is a Lexy Ramler- and Ona Loper-sized hole in Minneapolis. They led the Gophers both gymnastically and with their poise and friendship. Who will step up to the plate?  

Bonus: No. 19 Georgia: A Whole New Look

It’s anyone’s guess how the Gymdogs will look in January. After so many departures from the roster (and the staff) and transfers into the program, the squad will have a completely different look. Will Georgia be able to put together a cohesive, successful year?


Article by Emily Minehart and Rebecca Scally

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