The Oklahoma team huddles up

Previewing the 2024 National Championship Team Contenders

If regional finals are a foreshadowing, we’re in for a fantastic season finale as there are so many dramatic storylines set for a finish. The Sooners are favorites for a three-peat, the Tigers and the Golden Bears are both hungry for their programs’ first titles, and a handful of legacy programs and underdogs are dangerous threats for big upsets. And with another broadcast set for ABC and women’s sports more popular than ever, there’s no doubt these eight teams will rise to the occasion.

First up are the teams. Thursday’s first semifinal is between Arkansas, California, LSU, and Stanford, while the evening session will include Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, and Utah. Two teams from each of these Thursday competitions will advance to the national final on Saturday. There are also individuals who 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.

The Contenders

No. 1 Oklahoma

Semifinal Two: Thursday, April 18 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Starting Event: Vault

Relevant Stats: 396.900 NQS | 198.400 regional final | 198.360 AVG | 198.950 high

Why It’ll Win: This team is historically good, even stacked against the Sooners’ recent dominant history. Top-ever team totals, record-breaking NQSs, and a near-perfect meet from Jordan Bowers at Oklahoma’s final Big 12 conference meet headline the year. The Sooners look unstoppable and make the elusive 199 feel not just possible but inevitable.

Why It Won’t Win: Even on a seemingly phone-it-in day in the regional semifinals, a hoppy and mistake-making Oklahoma scored a 198.050 and easily advanced to the final. It would take at least one counted fall for the Sooners to be vulnerable; it could happen, but it’s exceedingly unlikely.

Why It Would Be Cool If It Won: Capping off a historic season with a three-peat would be a new feather in KJ Kindler’s dynasty cap. Only Florida, Georgia, and Utah have won three in a row.

No. 2 LSU

Semifinal One: Thursday, April 18 at 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Starting Event: Vault

Relevant Stats: 396.465 NQS | 198.250 regional final | 197.908 AVG | 198.475 high

Why It’ll Win: The Tigers mean business this year. They won the SEC title, stormed through the Fayetteville regional, and will march into Fort Worth as a one-seed in their session. Only Oklahoma and California have scored higher all year, and the hunger the Tigers feel is palpable. Haleigh Bryant has been a frontrunner for gymnast of the year all year and is more than capable of lifting this team to a title.

Why It Won’t Win: Going through Oklahoma is no easy feat. The Sooners are nigh unstoppable and will have to leave the door open. Cal is no slouch either, with a similar season trajectory. At times the Tigers have put up vulnerable scores on bars and beam and won’t have any room for error to do so in the final.

Why It Would Be Cool If It Won: LSU would become just the eighth team to ever win the title and the first SEC squad to win since Florida in 2015.

No. 3 California

Semifinal One: Thursday, April 18 at 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Starting Event: Floor

Relevant Stats: 396.455 NQS | 198.275 regional final | 197.833 AVG | 198.550 high

Why It’ll Win: The Golden Bears are having their best season ever and have shown the flash and consistency that it takes to win a title. They cruised through their home regional with an impressive 198 in the final, and with dynamic duo eMjae Frazier and Mya Lauzon at their best, they can get this team to a championship.

Why It Won’t Win: While California excels on bars and beam, putting up a big total on vault relies heavily on its ability to stick landings. The team is also heavily reliant on a quartet of all-arounders, leaving them just an unfortunate rolled ankle away from having to use relatively untested depth on several events.

Why It Would Be Cool If It Won: It would be the first national championship in program history and make it the eighth team ever to lift the first-place trophy. It would be the first (and final) title for the Pac-12 since UCLA in 2018.

The Underdogs

No. 4 Florida

Semifinal Two: Thursday, April 18 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Starting Event: Floor

Relevant Stats: 396.230 NQS | 198.325 regional final | 197.670 AVG | 198.325 high

Why It’ll Win: Florida was on fire at the Gainesville regional. Only Oklahoma scored higher all weekend. The Gators have steadily built all year, and despite a blip at SECs, put it all together at the right time. All four all-arounders scored a 39.600 or 39.650 in the regional final. Firing on all cylinders like that, the Gators can push Oklahoma.

Why It Won’t Win: Of course, the big regionals caveat is that Florida was at home, and still scored lower than the Sooners did in Ann Arbor, albeit with different judges. It’ll take a miss by Oklahoma or a Herculean effort by Florida to get the win, and that’s not accounting for LSU, fresh off the SEC title, and California, which has sailed through the year.

Why It Would Be Cool If It Won: A win would mark the Gators’ first time atop the podium in nearly a decade. The last time they hoisted the trophy, Kytra Hunter, Bridget Sloan, and Bridgette Caquatto were in leotards.

No. 5 Utah

Semifinal Two: Thursday, April 18 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Starting Event: Beam

Relevant Stats: 395.470 NQS | 197.575 regional final | 197.704 AVG | 198.300 high

Why It’ll Win: The Utes are national championship stalwarts making their 48th straight appearance in the meet—which is every single one. Utah has had a gritty postseason, fighting off California and UCLA for the Pac-12 title and rallying to keep their streak alive at regionals after starting the final with a bars fall, and it is battle-tested and primed to prevail. Despite being in the stacked semifinal, the Red Rocks could come out with an early lead as the Maile O’Keefe-led beam team is one of the best in the country.

Why It Won’t Win: The same vault and bars blips that caused Utah some early season issues have reared their heads in the postseason, making winning and qualifying harder tasks than they needed to be. There’s no room for error in the semi or final as it’s unlikely anybody would be able to capitalize on a bad day or fight back from a deficit.

Why It Would Be Cool If It Won: A win would mark the 10th championship for Utah, tying it with Georgia for the most in NCAA history. Carly Dockendorf would also win a title in her first year as head coach, a remarkable feat.

No. 6 Alabama

Semifinal Two: Thursday, April 18 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Starting Event: Bars

Relevant Stats: 395.380 NQS | 197.575 regional final | 197.527 AVG | 198.075 high

Why It’ll Win: Alabama has been steadily and fairly quietly good all season, but something clicked into a higher gear in late February when the team beam totals went from good to excellent. The Tide started stacking up high 197s and a few 198s. It’s a legacy program finding its stride under Ashley Johnston’s staff, and everything is coming together at the right time.

Why It Won’t Win: The field is stacked. Alabama is a dangerous underdog and will be right there if the top teams make mistakes, but the scoring potential is just not quite as high as the teams in the top group.

Why It Would Be Cool If It Won: Johnston was a senior the last time the Tide hoisted the trophy in 2012. The symmetry if she led her team to its next title would be impeccable. 

The Dark Horses

No. 7 Arkansas

Semifinal One: Thursday, April 18 at 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Starting Event: Beam

Relevant Stats: 395.270 NQS | 197.825 regional final | 197.150 AVG | 198.100 high

Why It’ll Win: The Razorbacks are back at nationals for the first time in six years after catching fire the first weekend of March, culminating in a regional final upset over Kentucky. Arkansas hit 198.100 in its regular-season finale in that span, which can contend with the best for a spot in a final where anything can happen.

Why It Won’t Win: Arkansas will need to be near perfect against the field, with an average significantly lower than the top six seeds and floor its only event ranked in the top 10. Home meets, like regionals, were where the Razorbacks performed best this season, and it will be tricky to replicate that same energy in Texas.

Why It Would Be Cool If It Won: The first title for the program would make Arkansas the eighth member of the championship club. It would be quite the accomplishment for head coach Jordyn Wieber in just her fifth year at the helm of the Razorbacks.

No. 8 Stanford

Semifinal One: Thursday, April 18 at 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Starting Event: Bars

Relevant Stats: 394.620 NQS | 197.575 regional final | 196.563 AVG | 197.975 high

Why It’ll Win: The Cardinal is the hottest team heading to nationals, using a double upset at regionals to earn a spot to fight for the championship despite entering the postseason unseeded and ranked No. 19. Fifth-year Chloe Widner has been the driving force, setting an all-around best in the second round of regionals before upping it to 39.725 in the final to extend her career and Stanford’s season.

Why It Won’t Win: The scoring ceiling just isn’t there for Stanford compared to the other three teams in the afternoon semifinal, so it’s reliant upon other teams faltering to advance. Championship-winning scores have ballooned into the 198s in recent years, a total the Cardinal have only been close to and haven’t surpassed this season.

Why It Would Be Cool If It Won: Despite being a powerhouse in the 2000s, Stanford has never finished higher than third in program history. Head coach Tabitha Yim is also only seven years into coaching her alma mater.

READ THIS NEXT: The NCAA Postseason Format, Explained

Article by Brandis Heffner and Emily Minehart


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