Jordan Bowers competes for Oklahoma.

Previewing the 2023 National Championship Team Contenders

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 are the teams. Friday’s first semifinal is between Florida, LSU, California, and Denver, while the evening session will include Oklahoma, Utah, UCLA, and Kentucky. Two teams from each Friday competition will advance to the national final on Saturday. Some individuals will compete on Thursday with individual titles and All-America honors on the line, but we’ll get to that in a separate preview.

For a more in-depth explanation of the postseason format, check out our NCAA postseason guide.

Semifinal One

Date: Thursday, April 13, 3 p.m. ET

How to Watch: ESPN

Team NQS Average High Score Starting Event
No. 3 Florida 395.910 197.950 198.425 Bars
No. 4 California 395.900 197.608 198.275 Floor
No. 6 LSU 395.590 197.500 198.100 Beam
No. 8 Denver 395.320 197.320 198.150 Vault

Background: The first semifinal features two upset teams out of the Denver regional. The host Pioneers stormed to the top of the leaderboard, while LSU won a tie-break with Michigan to advance. Florida and California, coming out of the Pittsburgh regional, were both expected to advance. Trinity Thomas injured her lower leg on floor during the Gators’ semifinal and is day-to-day per Florida. She did not compete in the regional final, where the Golden Bears upset the Gators.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: While Florida is the favorite to advance, Thomas’ health could prove critical. Vault is a liability without her. All three of the other teams in the session produced an upset to get here: They can capitalize on mistakes from leaders and have proven capabilities. Denver sits behind the pack, but its 198.150 high mark is competitive with the field. There is no clear favorite to advance with Florida, and it’s not a given that the Gators will finish in the top two.

Pivotal Routines to Keep an Eye on: Any routines Thomas can contribute will be critical. She is two routines short of setting a new record for most all-time perfect scores and needs just one to tie. If she is out, the final two vault positions for the Gators could be make-or-break. Some combination of Chloi Clark, Bri Edwards, and Victoria Nguyen will likely fill those spots. California is at its best when freshman all-arounder eMjae Frazier is in top form; she’s capable of huge numbers on all four. Likewise, LSU and Aleah Finnegan, who had an excellent regional final after a rocky outing in round two. Denver was without its vault and bars leader Rylie Mundell at regionals. The Pioneers would love to have the all-arounder back. Cecilia Cooley made her collegiate debut on bars for Mundell and scored a 9.900. That could prove to be a critical routine. Floor is Denver’s weakness, so keep an eye on it in the final rotation. California, meanwhile, ends on one of its best pieces in beam, the same event where it punched its ticket to Fort Worth.

Semifinal Two

Date: Thursday, April 13, 9 p.m. ET

How to Watch: ESPN

Team NQS Average High Score Starting Event
No. 1 Oklahoma 396.405 198.150 198.575 Bars
No. 2 Utah 395.960 197.789 198.550 Floor
No. 5 UCLA 395.875 197.702 198.275 Beam
No. 7 Kentucky 395.560 197.373 197.875 Vault

Background: The Sooners came back with a vengeance at their home regional to claim the top seed alongside historically expected advancing teams in Utah and UCLA. Kentucky on paper may seem a surprise, unless you’ve been watching the Wildcats this season. They’ve found success developing their core lineups, keeping essentially the same start lists week to week — but between Regionals and Nationals have lost Bridget Bourque and her vault consistency to an Achilles tear. 

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance: While Kentucky comes into this session as the underdog, gymnastics fans are no strangers to “the best team on the day” discussions. It’s a team that found its rhythm and depth and is more than capable of putting pressure on any team it’s with—just ask Oklahoma, who found itself in jeopardy at the Norman semifinal against the Wildcats. The storied rivalry between Utah and UCLA will continue with their fourth meeting this season. Though the Red Rocks comes in with a higher rank, the Bruins boast the highest team score from regionals. UCLA has also picked up healthy routine options, while Utah has lost some of their own. The long and short of it? It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. 

Pivotal Routines to Keep an Eye on: It’s almost easier to point out entire lineups until arriving at the overall beam strength between all four teams on the event. They span between ranking first and 13th nationally on beam, making the event even more make or break than it already is at nationals. We can’t overlook Utah’s trio of gymnasts with perfect tens on the event: Maile O’Keefe, Kara Eaker and Cristal Isa are big names to watch on beam. Oklahoma’s bars present a similar batch of names, with Audrey Davis and Danielle Sievers looking to match the likes of UCLA’s No. 1 ranked Jordan Chiles. The Bruins have rekindled their historic floor dominance, spearheaded by fifth year Margzetta Frazier’s quest for perfection. Vault can often present itself as anyone’s game, but not when Utah’s Jaedyn Rucker and Oklahoma’s Kat LeVasseur are feeling sticky. Makenzie Wilson has eked close to them, with her own 9.975 for the Wildcats this year. Finally, be on the lookout for a tight batch of all-around competitors: UCLA’s one-two punch of Jordan Chiles and Selena Harris, Oklahoma’s Jordan Bowers, and Kentucky’s Raena Worley all enter this semi-final in the top dozen of the nation’s all-arounders. 

National Finals

Date: Saturday, April 15 4 p.m. ET

How to Watch: ABC

Event Team
Vault Team NQS 1
Bars Team NQS 4
Beam Team NQS 2
Floor Team NQS 3

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Article by Peri Goodman and Emily Minehart

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