Welcome to championship season! With high scores flying across the country to end the regular season, teams were doing their best to tidy up their report cards before the pre-postseason check-in. While grades are up overall, the SEC is starting to slump as a few early championship contenders are trending in the wrong direction with stakes only amping up from here.
Just as regular-season scores, standings, wins, and losses don’t matter in the postseason, regular-season grades don’t either. This week, only the current grades are shown for each team—accompanied by a postseason outlook—to get a true sense of what direction they’re headed.
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 anyways is 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
Championship Outlook: Having already locked up the No. 1 seed for the postseason, the Big 12 championship will be about keeping momentum for the Sooners. Denver’s recent 198 and its upset of the Sooners a few years back means the conference meet won’t be a cakewalk, but it will be a first good test in a postseason where Oklahoma is the heavy favorite to defend its title. With postseason specialist Olivia Trautman already defrosted and inserted into three lineups—and notching 10s—the Sooners will have plenty of options to work with this championship season.
Championship Outlook: With back-to-back program-record 198s just past weekend, the Golden Bears are performing at their peak right now. There’s no telling how those two quad meets would’ve gone on the road, but even deducting a few tenths for an away-meet adjustment, those are two outings that would easily advance a team from regionals to nationals—or from semifinals to a trophy. California still has to replicate that type of performance against top teams—which it has the chance to at Pac-12s—but it has found a way to bolster average vault totals with excellent scores elsewhere.
Championship Outlook: The Gators enter championship season looking a bit more vulnerable than in years past as breakout years from other programs have closed the traditional gap between them and the Sooners, and they decided to use depth lineups in the dual against Oklahoma instead of trying to win. Florida finally has something to prove at SECs with a 198 needed to guarantee a one-seed at regionals, a mark it has been around this season rather than surpassing consistently. The talent is there, but the Gators need to dominate to distance themselves from their M.O. of coming up short in the postseason—particularly at NCAAs.
Championship Outlook: A No. 6 ranking and two-seed for SECs is roughly what was predicted of LSU at the beginning of the season, but getting here without the Johnson duo and their impactful scores has been a surprise. This team has shown plenty of fight, a valuable weapon in the postseason, and has a poor 2022 conference championship meet to rebound from. Bars and beam still raise some consistency questions, but Haleigh Bryant and Aleah Finnegan have the Tigers in the hunt yet again.
Championship Outlook: The Wolverines haven’t had as gaudy of scores as the rest of the top 10 the last two weeks, but pulled off the biggest win of the season in knocking off Oklahoma—handing the Sooners their first loss of the year. The proximity of the upset to the postseason is critical, as it should fuel Michigan’s journey through conference championships and regionals, where it was already a favorite to have a rematch against the Sooners at NCAAs. Vault is an area to watch too, as the Wolverines have been inconsistent on landings and are down to just five 10.0 start values; they can’t afford to lose tenths on their signature event in a competitive postseason.
Championship Outlook: In position to nab a one-seed to end a two-year streak of missing nationals, the Bruins are all positives at the moment. First-year head coach and bars guru Janelle McDonald has turned this program around after it was trending away from blueblood status, as she’s maximizing the talent of this roster the way it wasn’t the last two seasons. UCLA still has the glaring difficulty hole on vault, putting it in a must-stick situation, but the prowess elsewhere and the Jordan Chiles-Selena Harris duo have made up for it. The Bruins start the postseason having scored 197.900 or better four-straight times, a streak that can take them far should they choose to extend it.
Championship Outlook: Short vaults continue to plague the Utes as they’ve lost ground in the NCAA and Pac-12 standings, but they’ve still adjusted better than expected to the loss of Grace McCallum and will be in the hunt all postseason. After an easy victory over the Bruins in the regular season, Utah will be extra motivated and its rival UCLA, who jumped it in the standings, will have their moment as they’re not only slated to square off at the conference championship but are also projected to be in the same regional if the rankings hold. The Utes still own the nation’s second-highest score, making them contenders for every title available.
Plenty of Potential
Championship Outlook: What makes this Denver team different from the past few years is that it not only has a healthy Lynnzee Brown but an equally as strong all-arounder in Jessica Hutchinson. That combo is a massive asset, as the Pioneers will automatically be the most threatening three- or four-seed at regionals by virtue of being a host. Denver has pulled off some upsets and close calls against the Sooners at Big 12s in years past, and the Pioneers’ recent 198 makes this year’s championship all the more intriguing. Vault has been very hit or miss lately, with no margin for error left after this weekend.
Championship Outlook: The perennial nationals bubble team is currently positioned inside the top eight as the Wildcats could earn themselves the title of “favorite” with a good showing at the SEC championships. Much of the hard work is done as Kentucky has done a great job at slowly improving all season to peak at the right time, and locking up a two-seed would be an excellent reward. The Wildcats are a level team with standout gymnasts rather than events, so it’s all about setting up Raena Worley and Isabella Magnelli for the difference-making scores.
Championship Outlook: It took an impressive postseason run in 2022 for the Spartans to finish ninth, and this year they enter conference championships ranked in the top 10 with the potential to climb even higher. Michigan State is riding the wave of two generous home scores and has yet to show the same splendor on the road this season. It has also, nonetheless, looked like one of the best teams over the last two weekends—particularly on bars. The Spartans bested the Wolverines, their top foe at Big Tens, head to head already this year, and a repeat feat to clinch a title would bode well for regionals.
Championship Outlook: Powered by Jade Carey, the nation’s leading all-arounder, the Beavers are looking as good as they ever have heading into the postseason. Oregon State carried momentum from its program record 198 to end February and used it to upset Utah to share the Pac-12 title. That same momentum makes it dangerous moving forward. The recent uptick on bars is huge too, as anything mid-49 helps offset the vault lineup that refuses to score above 49.300, with beam and floor already able to compete with the best of them. As the lowest seed in the evening session of Pac-12s, beating even one of the top 10 trio will feel great heading into regionals.
Room for Improvement
Championship Outlook: The Razorbacks’ uber-consistent season has seen them sneak into the final seeded spot for regionals ahead of the final weekend of competition. The level approach and balance Arkansas has exhibited is a worthy trait in an always hectic postseason, but its inability to score anything 197.500 or better significantly limits its reach if other teams are performing well. The early retirement of Bailey Lovett and the resulting speculation and drama surrounding the team culture—however unfounded—is also the wrong type of attention heading into championships.
Championship Outlook: Just when it seemed like the Tigers had found their groove, they lost it as their totals have been trending down the last two weeks. Dropping out of the top 16 makes repeating their upset run through the postseason even harder, so posting a notable total at SECs is paramount for both momentum and seeding purposes. Vault and beam have the most promise but have been the two events Missouri has struggled the most on this year, making sticking landings and eliminating wobbles the top priorities for the underdog.
Championship Outlook: March has been drastically different for the Crimson Tide than February, as it followed up a month of scores in the 197.500 to 198.000 range with two totals under 197.200 the last two weeks. Alabama is deep but is also having difficulty getting consistent 9.9s from anyone aside from Luisa Blanco, who has also been prone to her fair share of 9.8s lately as well. The Crimson Tide is a title threat when it’s hitting, and it will have it’s chance to pick up some momentum with an upset or two at SECs.
Championship Outlook: The past month has not been kind to Auburn. In that span, the Tigers have posted two 196s on the road, lost Sunisa Lee indefinitely to a mystery non-gymnastics situation, and dropped out of the top 10—trending in the wrong direction heading into the postseason. Unfortunately, that’s quite indicative of how much Auburn’s success hinges on Lee’s, and with her return uncertain, a repeat team final appearance in her final year on the Plains seems unlikely. Further complicating the Tigers’ path is competing in the afternoon session of SECs, as it provides less of an opportunity for a momentum-building performance.
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Article by Brandis Heffner
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