Boomer Sooner To The Top Again: The NCAA Gymnastics Nationals
The 2023 NCAA gymnastics championships were held from April 13th to April 15th in Fort Worth, Texas, at Dickies Arena. For the second year in a row, Oklahoma edged out Florida to take home the NCAA title. Since winning its first title in 2014, Oklahoma has been dominant, now holding six titles. However, Oklahoma was not unchallenged during this competition. The semifinals and finals all produced close competition with multiple teams in contention.
The eight teams that qualified from the NCAA regionals were divided into two semifinals that took place on April 13. The top two teams in each semifinal advanced into the finals, and the individual NCAA titles were also determined from the semifinal results.
Florida, LSU, California, and Denver competed in the first semifinal. California came in with momentum after upsetting Florida at the Pittsburgh regional final, but unfortunately, they counted a fall on the uneven bars which landed them in third place.
Denver was the lowest-ranked team to qualify for the NCAA championships, but they also had an upset victory over LSU in their regional final. However, Denver counted a fall on the balance beam and finished fourth. The mistakes from California and Denver allowed LSU and Florida to comfortably advance.
LSU ended up beating Florida by 0.075. The highlights for LSU were Aleah Finnegan and Haleigh Bryant’s all-around performances. Finnegan and Bryant have had to step up this year due to several injuries, and they have consistently delivered. Finnegan’s floor score of 9.9625 was tied for second place in that event with Florida’s Leanne Wong, and Bryant finished third in the all-around with a total score of 39.6875.
Florida certainly did not have their best day in the semifinals, but there were still several highlights. The major question mark for Florida was whether or not Trinity Thomas, the 2022 NCAA all-around champion, would compete and what events she could do. Thomas injured her calf during the regional semifinals, and she did not compete in the regional finals. She was able to return to competition at the NCAA championships, but only on vault and uneven bars. She scored 9.950 on the uneven bars and 9.900 on the vault, Florida’s highest score on each event.
Oklahoma, Utah, UCLA, and Kentucky competed in the second semifinal. This semifinal was expected to be extremely competitive given that these four teams were ranked 1, 4, 5, and 9, respectively. Utah managed to upset Oklahoma by 0.0625, but both teams advanced into the final. UCLA’s score of 197.9125 was not able to advance, making this the highest team score in an NCAA semifinal that did not advance into the final.
Kentucky was significantly behind the other three teams in this semifinal, finishing with a total score of 197.1250. However, this score gave them a final overall ranking of 6th, the best finish in program history. This was only the second time Kentucky ever qualified for the NCAA championships, and this is definitely a program that is climbing its way up.
Utah was led by former U.S. national team member Maile O'Keefe who scored a perfect 10 on the balance beam to win that event title and won the all-around title. O’Keefe became Utah’s first NCAA all-around champion since 1999. Another highlight for Utah was Olympic silver medalist Grace McCallum. McCallum hyperextended her knee on February 11 at the Metroplex Challenge, but she returned to competition in the semifinals and scored 9.950 on the uneven bars and 9.925 on the balance beam.
Oklahoma was steady in the semifinals, but they did not have the solid vault landings that they usually do which kept them behind Utah. The expectation was Olivia Trautman, who nearly stuck her vault to score 9.950 and win the NCAA title on that event. Trautman also scored 9.950 on the balance beam, and Jordan Bowers and Faith Torrez both received 9.950s on the floor exercise.
UCLA’s finish here is a massive improvement from finishing 12th overall last season, but they will still be disappointed in being so close to making the NCAA finals. Olympic silver medalist Jordan Chiles finished second in the all-around behind Maile O'Keefe, and she scored a perfect 10 to win the uneven bars title. She was also nearly perfect on the floor exercise with a score of 9.9875 to win that title as well. What ultimately did UCLA in was a relatively weak vault rotation where they counted two scores in the 9.700s, and they had the lowest vault rotation score out of all eight teams.
LSU, Florida, Oklahoma, and Utah all competed in the finals on April 15 to determine the team NCAA champion.
Oklahoma took the lead after their first rotation on vault, led by Olivia Trautman repeating her 9.950 performance from the semifinals. The Sooners never dropped the lead through the whole competition. On their second event, the uneven bars, Trautman scored another 9.950. They were led on the balance beam by Audrey Davis who scored 9.950. They then ended the competition on the floor where there were no routines that scored below 9.900. They ended with a total team score of 198.3875, which tied 2017 Oklahoma for the highest team score at the NCAA Championships.
Florida only finished 0.150 behind Oklahoma, coming in second place to the Sooners for the second year in a row. Trinity Thomas once again only competed on the vault and uneven bars, but she made the most out of her two events. She scored her 28th career perfect 10 on the vault and is now tied for the NCAA perfect 10 record with Jenny Hansen (Kentucky, 1993-1996) and Jamie Dantzscher (UCLA, 2001-2004). The uneven bars were Florida’s best rotation, led by Kayla DiCello and Leanne Wong both scoring 9.975. Florida lost the title on the floor exercise, where they counted three scores in the 9.800s and did not have a single routine score higher than 9.900.
Utah was not able to recreate their semifinal performance and finished in third place. The largest dropoff was on the vault where they struggled with landings and only ended with a rotation score of 49.150, the lowest event score for any team in these finals. The highlight for Utah was Maile O'Keefe once again scoring a perfect 10 on the balance beam. The team’s balance beam total of 49.7375 was the highest event score in the finals.
LSU finished in fourth place with a total team score of 197.525. Their best event of the night was vault where Haleigh Bryant was nearly perfect with a 9.9875. Overall, LSU had a solid performance, but they did not have nearly as many 9.900+ scores to keep up with the other teams. For example, on the uneven bars, Bryant was the only gymnast that went above 9.900, and it was the same on the balance beam where Aleah Finnegan was the only 9.900+ score.
The NCAA Championships brought together many of the top gymnasts in the country and produced an exciting competition and incredible routines. This event also highlighted the increasing parity in NCAA gymnastics where top teams can no longer afford to make mistakes in these major competitions. At the end of the day, consistency and hitting it on the day matters, and Oklahoma had one of their strongest meet of the season when it mattered the most.