Unlike the NCAA gymnastics code of points, my report card now implements a stricter grading system during the offseason after too many high marks were awarded last year. While it feels rewarding to be generally complimentary all the time, when the goal is to analyze championship contenders and separate them from the pack, not everyone gets a 4.0. And with no clear or consensus top team two weeks into the NCAA gymnastics season, now is the perfect time to get critical.
In 2023, the NCAA Report Card will measure which teams look like championship teams right now, meaning grades will not be cumulative. Rather, they’ll reflect averages over the most recent two weeks of competition—because what matters most in the postseason is always who’s hot at the right time. With the average NCAA champions’ score from the last five years now totaling 198.250, the standards for grades are rising, too. An event total of 49.600 or better is now required for an A+, 49.550 or better for an A, 49.500 for an A-, and the pattern continuing in five-hundredths of a point decreases per plus/minus.
The biggest upside to this new system is that it will indicate which teams have picked up momentum in a way that traditional rankings can’t. Grades will appear harsher at first because of this change—especially early in the season—but with a clean slate every two weeks, schools have the opportunity to rebound easily.
Top of the Class
|Vault: B||Bars: B||Beam: B||Floor: B+|
First Impressions: The defending national champions have been the most balanced team to open the season, averaging a 49.425 on three events, as the Sooners are the only school to currently rank in the top five across the board. Beam was the event to watch coming into the season with an important routine to replace. With two freshmen and Jordan Bowers fresh into the lineup, Oklahoma ranks second in the country on the event to dispel any worries. Breaking into that lineup has also solidified Bowers’ status as an all-arounder, giving the Sooners a reliable one-two punch with her and Audrey Davis capable of quality scores on all four. Now all the Sooners need to do is show they have explosive scoring potential, with their highest event total of the season so far capped at 49.525.
|Vault: C||Bars: A||Beam: B+||Floor: A-|
First Impressions: The Gators have lived up to their preseason poll expectations, with two complete outings more than good enough to rank second through two weeks. Leanne Wong has established herself as the next Trinity Thomas by out 10-ing Thomas in their all-around debuts as their dominance has been crucial in offsetting the dwindling numbers on vault. Rachel Baumann was pulled from lineups against Auburn after a fall in warmups, meaning the status of another 10.0 start value is now questionable after losing Savannah Schoenherr’s before the season and not seeing Sloane Blakley’s or Victoria Nguyen’s through the first two weeks. There’s still plenty of promise there, and getting Morgan Hurd into lineups should pay dividends in the long run, so all is going well for Florida thus far.
|Vault: A-||Bars: A||Beam: D||Floor: A|
First Impressions: After the season opener didn’t go quite according to plan (see beam), the Wolverines bounced back Week 2, winning the country’s race to 198 while resting Natalie Wojcik on floor—meaning that nation-leading score could be built-upon pretty easily. Abby Heiskell, Sierra Brooks and Gabby Wilson all went 39.600 in that masterclass of an early season performance while Michigan is also, finally, using more of its depth. Beam was Michigan’s problem child last season, was its lowest scoring event in the 198 showing, and went sub-49 in Week 1, so it’s an event to keep an eye on. But, there’s no reason to hit the panic button just yet.
|Vault: C+||Bars: A-||Beam: C||Floor: A-|
First Impressions: The Bruins from exactly a year ago would be in danger of failing out in this new system, with their 2022 Week 2 debut good enough for an F, F, F, and D under the 2023 rubric. It’s been a completely different story for UCLA in 2023, with two strong outings ranking it fourth—six spots ahead of its preseason ranking—and owning the third-highest score in the country. Freshman Selena Harris replicating Jordan Chiles’ dominant scores immediately has been a huge factor in the Bruins’ surge, but their massive improvements on new head coach Janelle McDonald’s pet event, bars, seem to be the stabilizing factor. There are still kinks to work out, like who a third, fourth or fifth 10.0 vault is going to come from, but UCLA has already done enough to springboard back to national relevance.
|Vault: B-||Bars: C||Beam: A||Floor: C+|
First Impressions: There are a few new faces, but overall the blueprint of the 2023 Utes mirrors the Utes of the last several years—solid all around and stellar on beam. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it’s taken Utah to repeat third-place finishes in the nation, but without a second standout event, it may continue to fall just a few tenths short of ultimate glory. Vault appears to be a possible candidate at this point, with Abby Brenner and Makenna Smith’s consistent 10.0 start values giving the lineup a stronger backbone than in seasons past, and Jaedyn Rucker’s newfound confidence from her NCAA vault title providing Utah with a Yurchenko one and a half to showcase. Finding a replacement for Sydney Soloski may not even be possible, but the Utes are struggling with the task as floor scores have been generally stuck in the 9.8s thanks to iffy landings have been the main thing holding them back through two weeks.
Plenty of Potential
|Vault: B-||Bars: C+||Beam: C||Floor: C+|
First Impressions: The four opponents Auburn has faced this year are the current first-, second-, third-, and fourth-ranked teams in the country, and the Tigers have held their own in each meet. Sunisa Lee and Derrian Gobourne led the way with superb starts to their final seasons as Auburn has put forth two relatively level performances to start the year. However, with only one win so far, the Tigers will need to figure out how to get 9.9s from more than just the dynamic duo to be able to put the pressure on teams like they did in 2022. Sophia Groth and Cassie Stevens will be the difference makers once they get back to scoring on that level.
|Vault: C+||Bars: B||Beam: C+||Floor: B|
First Impressions: The Golden Bears couldn’t have asked for a much better start after losing nine postseason routines, vaulting up to the No. 3 ranking after Week 1 and putting up two solid mid-197s—a score they didn’t achieve until the second week of February in 2022. As expected, eMjae Frazier has been a huge part of that success, with her 9.950 highs on beam and floor already, but it’s the sophomore class that has upped its game and made the biggest difference so far. After vaulting just twice last year, Mya Lauzon has been hitting a crucial Yurchenko one and a half on vault while Ella Cesario is quietly putting up a 9.900 average on bars to follow up a freshman season in which she did not compete. With Andi Li and Nevaeh DeSouza as the core, California appears to have the pieces to the puzzle for a legit nationals run.
|Vault: C||Bars: C-||Beam: B-||Floor: C-|
First Impressions: Even with Lynnzee Brown limited to just bars and beam right now, the Pioneers have found a way to improve and put themselves solidly in the top 10. With six gymnasts who’ve hit 9.900 already, Denver has shown it has the scoring potential to be a threat this season but has also been playing a dangerous game itself by having to navigate a miss in too many of its rotations. That hasn’t affected the Pioneers too negatively yet, but it could eventually spoil the potential of this squad if the consistency isn’t cleaned up.
Room for Improvement
|Vault: D+||Bars: C||Beam: D+||Floor: D|
First Impressions: Although undefeated against two formidable opponents, the Crimson Tide has underwhelmed so far. It hasn’t fallen below 49 on any event, but it also hasn’t posted anything better than 49.325 when its roster is loaded with athletes who’ve hit 9.9-plus in the past. Alabama’s execution just hasn’t been on point yet, most significantly on vault where its five-10.0 lineup doesn’t even rank in the top 10. Promisingly, freshman Gabby Gladieux has shown flashes of greatness, but big names like Shania Adams and most of the other freshmen have been MIA. With a dual against Florida this weekend, expect to get a better idea of what to actually expect from Alabama this season.
|Vault: C-||Bars: D+||Beam: C||Floor: C-|
First Impressions: A program that’s become synonymous with bouncing in and out of the top 10 all season long finds itself on the inside to start 2023 with a momentum-building home win over LSU giving the Wildcats a positive outlook moving forward. Kentucky’s problem event in 2022 was beam, where it currently ranks the highest at eighth, raising its potential ceiling if the other three events can repeat their top 10 status from a year ago.
|Vault: C||Bars: C+||Beam: D||Floor: C-|
First Impressions: The most notable development for LSU through its first three meets is the loss of Kiya Johnson and her near-guaranteed 9.900 on every event. That’s not easy to replace, but the Tigers responded to her loss with a season-high against Oklahoma, including a surprise Yurchenko one and a half from Chase Brock and a debut bars set from Tori Tatum. Those two routines and the emergence of Aleah Finnegan as a top all-arounder alongside Haleigh Bryant will be crucial for LSU in staying relevant as it has little room for error from here on out.
|Vault: C||Bars: F||Beam: D||Floor: C|
First Impressions: For a team with raised expectations after last year, Michigan State has picked up where it left off—firmly on the nationals bubble. Bars is the main issue holding it back right now, with tentative work bringing down the scores in Week 1 and falls negating 9.9s in Week 2. But if the consistency can be fixed, there’s an easy way for the Spartans to add plenty of tenths to their totals. Plus, Olivia Zsarmani is proving to be a sneaky good addition alongside Nikki Smith in this rookie class.
|Vault: F||Bars: F||Beam: B+||Floor: C+|
First Impressions: Last season’s Cinderella story of the postseason won’t get that same monicker this year as the Tigers sit just outside the top 10 through two meets. They’ve posted notable wins over Illinois and Georgia, who don’t rank far behind, taking care of the teams they should be beating while Amari Celestine and her scoring potential still work their way back. Missouri desperately needs her on vault and bars where nobody has been able to compliment the 9.9s from Jocelyn Moore and Helen Hu, respectively. Those lineups need the backbone Celestine can provide to push into the nationals landscape.
|Vault: F||Bars: C-||Beam: D-||Floor: C|
First Impressions: The Buckeyes have started their expected rise up the rankings this season after retaining every routine from the 2022 postseason and adding former five-star recruit Payton Harris to the roster as the freshman positively impacts scores. Early lineup numbers are getting stuck in the 9.7s—on vault and beam in particular—which are too low to contend for titles, but Ohio State is still carrying positive momentum as an undefeated team that is 2-0 against the SEC.
|Vault: D||Bars: F||Beam: C-||Floor: C|
First Impressions: Silly of us to think that Oregon State wouldn’t start off the season a bit shaky, with its mid-195 roughly what it scored to open 2022 and far better than its debut 191 of 2021 and 194 of 2020. Jade Carey cleaned up her efforts in Week 2 for a casual two 10s, but the rest of the roster is still off to a sluggish start as only two other gymnasts have posted a 9.900—both just once. Most discouraging is bars, which was the Beavers’ primary area of concern last season and should’ve been the No. 1 priority this offseason, but they’ve yet to come close to breaking 49 on the event so far.
Article by Brandis Heffner
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