Previewing the 2024 NCGA National Championships

Welcome to (your preview of) the big show! NCGA nationals has the storylines that Hollywood only wishes it could create. The top two teams, Brockport and Oshkosh, come into nationals with an understandable amount of swagger. Those programs have been cruising through the season, posting bigger and bigger scores as the weeks went on. Separating the two in SAS by only a quarter of a tenth, it’s Whitewater with the top score of the season, besting Brockport’s high of 194.325 by just over a tenth. 

In this West-heavy nationals due to a new qualifying procedure this season, Brockport and Cortland will attempt to take home some titles for the East. Still, against strong and at times indomitable WIAC programs, the titles, both team and individual, will come down to the very last stick. 


Saturday, March 23 at 2 p.m. ET | Free event live streams: Vault | Bars | Beam | Floor

Prediction: 37.4% Brockport, 34.23% Oshkosh, 25.09% La Crosse, 3.05% Whitewater, 0.21% Stout, 0.02% Cortland

The Contenders


Why it’ll win: As close as the top two are, Brockport is ranked No. 1. The Golden Eagles aren’t just gold in name only. The team owns the season high as a team on bars and beam and is the top-ranked floor team based on SAS. 

Why it won’t win: Beam has not been the kindest to Brockport when it matters, notably at nationals last year and at regionals this year. The Golden Eagles did draw an Olympic order rotation, so beam will be waiting. 

Why it would be cool if it won: The West has taken home the team title seven times since 2014, with Brockport winning in 2019. It would be a victory not just for Brockport but for the entire East to upset the mighty, mighty West. 


Why it’ll win: The Titans enter as repeat NCGA champions, and the team has been getting consistently better since 2023. Bigger skills, more amplitude, better landings—these are the ingredients needed for a three-peat. 

Why it won’t win: That staggering 194.025 hit at the right time in mid-February. However, just a few weeks later, the team notched a 192.875 at the West regional. And although that garnered the team a win there, it isn’t quite the desired score for this nationals meet. 

Why it would be cool if it won: Winning three national championships in a row would etch UW-Oshkosh in the history books as a dynasty of DIII gymnastics. 

UW-La Crosse

Why it’ll win: La Crosse has the perfect mix of upperclassmen leaders and talented freshmen to get the job done. The Eagles are soaring this season, building momentum each meet. 

Why it won’t win: Beam has been a bit hit or miss throughout the season. While this event has the potential to be great for UWL, a miss here will cost it the chance for a title. 

Why it would be cool if it won: La Crosse hasn’t come away with the NCGA title since 2016. With a two-tenth, narrow miss in 2023, it just might be UWL’s time to shine.

Dark Horses


Why it’ll upset: Whitewater holds the all-time DIII scoring record after competing at the Tennessee Collegiate Classic earlier this season. It’s also coming off a momentum-building West regional performance, one where it was the only top contender to hit six-for-six on beam. This should build confidence heading onto the biggest stage. 

What’s holding it back: While it hit that massive 194 in Tennessee, the majority of the rest of its scores have been in the 190 to 192 range. When other teams hit, that sort of number likely won’t be enough for the Warhawks to finish on top.

Why it would be cool if it won: Last season, the Warhawks didn’t even qualify for the national championships in an upset at regionals. To see them go from not competing as a team to champions would be a huge accomplishment.



Why it’ll upset: Stout has stepped up the difficulty this year, particularly on vault and bars, exponentially increasing its chances of putting pressure on the top teams. 

What’s holding it back: Consistency on bars has been a limiting factor for the Blue Devils this year. While the team has added in necessary single-bar releases, it’ll take five hits on the event to stay in the mix.

Why it would be cool if it won: Stout finished third at nationals in 2023 after upsetting Whitewater to qualify to the meet. With upgrades and experience under their belts, the Blue Devils are primed for more surprises in 2024. 


Why it’s an underdog: This is a team that finished fifth in 2023 and has hustled into second place in the East. Cortland brings consistency to the table, something a handful fo the teams on the floor this weekend have been hunting for. Not to mention the Red Dragons have proven they can hit when it matters. 

What’s the brightside: Even if the Red Dragons don’t bring home the team title, Delaney Brown carries a season-high 9.850 on floor and could challenge for the individual title, as could Samantha Meadows on beam or Kathryn McSweeney on bars after notching a 9.800 at regionals. 

Why it would be cool if it won: Cortland’s best finish at nationals is a very respectable second, last done in 2014, so the first title for this mighty program would be spectacular.


The Contenders

Lienna Kay (Brockprot)

Why she’ll win: The only green this freshman has is on her leotard. She’s competed the all-around nearly every meet for Brockport this season, and she’s no stranger to going over a 38.000. Kay has paced incredibly well over the season, and it looks like she could peak at just the right time. 

Why she won’t win: As much experience as she has competing all-around this season, nothing compares to the pressure of the first nationals. The Brockport beam curse could keep her from a title. 

Why it would be cool if she won: Kay winning her first all-around title in her freshman season would certainly create even more buzz around this phenomenal gymnast for the rest of her college career. The last time a Brockport gymnast won the all-around title was Candis Kowalik in 2019, the same year the team took home its last national title. 

Emily Buffington (Oshkosh)

Why she’ll win: Buffington is a mighty, mighty force to be reckoned with. She took the regional title home this year with a 38.400 (a 9.600 average) but she’s capable of going 38.875, which she did this season setting a program record for Oshkosh in the process. 

Why she won’t win: Despite a strong showing, last year, Buffington was bested by Harriet Toth on the day when all those sticks, tenths, and form counted the most. In a competitive field, Buffington needs to leave nothing on the table. 

Why it would be cool if she won: In her five all-around appearances this season, she’s taken the top score in four of them, including regionals. Closing out the season with a record like that? That’d be noteworthy. 

Olivia Keyes (Rhode Island)

Why she’ll win: It’s a little-known fact that Keyes’ middle name is “consistency.” After competing all-around for almost the entire season, she had a maximum of two errors. And over here we call those flukes. 

Why she won’t win: The thing about flukes? They often like to rear their monstrous heads at the most inopportune times. Going below a 9.400 on vault or 9.500 on bars could hurt her chances at the title.

Why it would be cool if she won: Keyes, the 2024 NCGA East Region Gymnast of the Year, didn’t compete in the all-around at nationals last year, but she tied for first at regionals last year and won outright this year and in 2022.


The Contenders

Alexis Castellaneta (Utica)

Why she’ll win: Out of the five Yurchenko layout fulls on this list, Castellaneta’s is by far the most dynamic with a huge block and flare out to land. Nobody gets height the way Castellaneta does at the Division III level. She is also tied with Lucero for the highest vault score all season at a 9.850.

Why she won’t win: Castellaneta doesn’t quite nail her landings the way some others on this list can, and the stick bonus is huge, especially at a meet as big as nationals. It is very possible for a lower-quality stuck Yurchenko full to beat a higher-quality one with a step. 

Why it would be cool if she won: After all she has done for NCGA gymnastics during her time at Brockport, Castellaneta does not have a national title after getting hurt the day of nationals in 2022 leaving her unable to compete her best two events. This competition will be all about redemption with her contending for three national titles. 

Maren Eramo (Brockport)

Why she’ll win: Eramo is currently ranked No. 1 on the event and knows how to get her chest up on her landings. She maintains a beautiful straight position throughout this vault and often nails the landing with a stick or just a step.

Why she won’t win: She does sometimes hit the table a little high and doesn’t get that pop you see from others on the list. This depends on whether the judges take this deduction because she always gets tremendous rotation even without her regular block.

Why it would be cool if she won: After undergoing a major surgery during her sophomore year of college, Earmo only started contributing last season. To go out with a national title in her second year of competition would be just the send-off she needs.

Mia Lucero (Oshkosh)

Why she’ll win: Lucero is tied with Castellanta for the season-high score at a 9.850 and has been able to dial in her landings all season long. If anybody is likely to stick their vault cold, it’s her.

Why she won’t win: Lucero doesn’t quite get the same amplitude as some of the other fulls on this list and sometimes pikes a bit down. With the competition so fierce this year, anything less than a wow factor could keep her from getting that title. 

Why it would be cool if she won: At regionals this year, Lucero took home the silver medal with her vault, and adding a nationals gold medal to that collection as a sophomore would be even more special. 


The Contenders

Emily Buffington (Oshkosh)

Why she’ll win: After changing her routine to replace her pak with an immediate shootover out of her jaeger, Buffington has no built-in deductions coming into this competition. Buffington has also mastered the wow factor with a ginormous arabian double front dismount to end her routine. Buffington is the only one on the list to break 9.9.

Why she won’t win: Buffington is currently ranked third behind two of the Brockport girls due to a tad bit of consistency issues throughout the session. However, she’s shown in the past that she knows how to hit when it counts.

Why it would be cool if she won: Buffington is the only one on the bars list who already holds a national title on bars.

Emma Grace Sargent (Brockport)

Why she’ll win: Sargent knows how to hit handstands and stick dismounts like nobody’s business and has done it all season long. This consistency has earned her the No. 1 spot in the rankings. 

Why she won’t win: As beautiful as this bar set can be, Sargent does struggle with some nitpicky deductions such as closed shoulders in her blind and little leg separations throughout. 

Why it would be cool if she won: Sargent wound up on the podium last year in a tie for third after winning the title at regionals. Taking first this year would be excellent redemption. 

Rachel Swick (Brockport)

Why she’ll win: Swick is ranked right after Sargent on bars for second in the rankings, but she beat Sargent’s Brockport bars record by .25 with a 9.875. This routine is nothing short of dynamic. Her jaeger turns right over with stunning amplitude and connects right into a shootover. She is one of few gymnasts who can finish their blind fulls right on top of the bar into her double tuck.

Why she won’t win: Although this routine can be fantastic, Swick does lack a bit of consistency. Out of nine routines competed this season, four routines have been under 9.350, either missing her jaeger or hitting her feet on the shootover. 

Why it would be cool if she won: Swick is the current record holder at Brockport on bars. Holding that record, one that has been topped over and over during her career at Brockport, would be the cherry on top of her career this year. 

Rachel Chesley (La Crosse)

Why she’ll win: The junior is the current reigning bars champ and will already go down in La Crosse history as one of the program’s best bars workers. Her consistency, carrying over a 9.700 SAS the past two seasons, means she could be a dependable and steady lock for the title this year.     

Why she won’t win: DIII gymnastics has been bringing the heat and pressure on bars in the last few seasons. In previous years, a 9.700 could have guaranteed a podium. But now, if Chesley puts together a routine that’s any less than her best, which is a missed handstand or big step on the landing, then the title won’t be hers to take. 

Why it would be cool if she won: The last time La Crosse had three back-to-back wins on bars was 2004 through 2006, and if Chesley takes the title this year, she could set herself up to be in the same league as Nina Schubert


The Contenders

Emily Kobusky (Ithaca)

Why she’ll win: Kobusky is currently ranked No. 1 on beam and for good reason. She has broken the Ithaca beam record with a 9.875 and has scored over 9.800 five times this season

Why she won’t win: Kobusky is the only one on the list that has yet to break 9.9 and has a few occasional built-in deductions.

Why it would be cool if she won: Due to long-term injury issues, Kobusky only trains beam. In interviews, she said this puts extra pressure on her contribution to the team. Being the best in the country on the only event she competes has to be the confidence builder she needs.

Sarah Knetzke (Whitewater)

Why she’ll win: Knetzke has won this title before and is a seasoned veteran when it comes to this event. She posted the highest event score in Division III gymnastics so far this season with a 9.925.

Why she won’t win: Although Knetzke has tremendous scoring potential, she has not scored as consistently high as someone like Kobusky or Kay. She will need to hit perfect to compete with those who hit with no wobbles week after week.

Why it would be cool if she won: Knetzke is the defending champion on this event and has only gotten better this season breaking her own career-high score. 

Lienna Kay (Brockprot)

Why she’ll win: Kay has now broken the Brockport beam record twice. First with a 9.875 and then with a 9.9. She has been so solid all season and has only gotten better as the season goes on.

Why she won’t win: The beam title is all about who can hit on the day and Lienna has had a few routines in the 9.6 range this season and that will not cut it for a title. Kay will need to channel that 9.9 routine to get this title.

Why it would be cool if she won: Kay is only a freshman and it is rare to see a freshman take the Division III national title on any event.

Effie Ferguson (Stout)

Why she’ll win: Ferguson brings the art in artistic gymnastics to life when she’s working beam. Her beautiful extension in her leaps sets her apart from the field. She’s a beam anchor so she’s accustomed to handling the pressure and bringing it home. 

Why she won’t win: When Ferguson hits, she hits. But she notched a few less-than-ideal scores toward the end of February. While that was nearly a month ago now, her top score of the season came in January and recently at regionals. If she hasn’t recaptured that magic, the door could be open for others to win. 

Why it would be cool if she won: Ferguson has long been on our list of must-watch routines for her calm demeanor and the difficulty she brings to beam. Winning the title would only solidify what so many within the Stout program already know.  


The Contenders

Kelsey Gates (Rhode Island)

Why she’ll win: Gates’ floor routine is a sight to be seen with difficulty rare to see in all of NCAA. She has beautiful long lines that create stunning twisting passes that Gates nails time after time. Gates has scored a 9.9 a whopping three times and has scored over 9.8 six times. Because of this, she is ranked No. 1 on this event. As tight as this race is, Gates has the advantage of multiple 9.9s under her belt.

Why she won’t win: There’s really no downside to Gates’ gymnastics, with her season low still a 9.725. However, with so many good floor specialists in the field, she’ll still have to hit one of her best sets to claim the title.

Why it would be cool if she won: Gates won this title last year and second place in 2022, so she would have two national floor titles and another podium finish if she won this year.

Grace Murray (Ithaca)

Why she’ll win: Murray has scored above a 9.8 an astonishing SEVEN times, with two of them being 9.850s, and knows how to play her audience. Murray milks her landings for all their worth, showing unmatched control on her first pass, throwing her head on her landings, and making sure she gets those jumps fully rotated. Murray knows how to bring the energy in her floor set which sets her apart from those just going through the motions.

Why she won’t win: Murray has yet to hit 9.9, which she will likely have to break to win the floor title when considering the number of gymnasts. The only visible deduction in Murray’s floor set comes on her double pike at the end of her routine. She sometimes struggles with soft knees and a bit of lack of control.

Why it would be cool if she won: After battling a case of mono that cost her a hospital visit in the preseason last year, Murray was able to finish in third in 2023. A healthy Murray is fighting for that first-place finish.

Alexis Castellaneta (Utica)

Why she’ll win: Castellaneta has the big amplitude, beautiful leaps, and performance quality that could easily be seen from a Power Five floor anchor and should be scored accordingly. She has gone 9.9 once so far this season and over 9.8 four times.

Why she won’t win: As high as this floor set can score, Castellanetahas not scored as consistently high as people like Murray and Gates. She will need to dial in on those landings to compete with the nation’s top floor workers.

Why it would be cool if she won: After being the favorite to win the floor title her senior year at Brockport in 2022 and being ranked No. 1 all season long, she was unable to compete floor at nationals due to injury, and this title would be the perfect time to finally get her title.

Laken Sooy (Brockport)

Why she’ll win: Similar to Murray, Sooy is a performer and always has a huge smile on her face and a big celebration after each pass. She opens with a big front double full and has scored up to a 9.900 on this event. Brockport is known for its floor program and Sooy can continue that tradition with a big routine. 

Why she won’t win: With the field as rich and competitive as it is, Sooy is one of nine gymnasts with a 9.800 SAS or better. Tiny adjustments, any less-than-perfect landings, or soft extension in her leaps will keep her from that win. 

Why it would be cool if she won: Brockport has a rich history of crowning national floor champions, starting with Jordan Christiano in 2003, Carrie Santore the following year, then Lauren Gildemeyer in 2008. Kyra Figurelli brought the glory back in 2022; Sooy winning could reestablish that Brockport dynasty. 

READ THIS NEXT: NCGA Updates Nationals Qualifying Procedure for 2024

Article by Mary Collier, Allison Freeman, and Tavia Smith

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