This Friday marks the beginning of NCAA Gymnastics Championship weekend, being held at Pauley Pavilion. Tickets are now available for single sessions if you do not want to commit to all three days.
Eleven teams and your UCLA Gymnastics team will compete this Friday in 2 sessions. The top three teams from each session will advance to the Super Six on Saturday. Sunday is individual event finals. Let's preview the teams competing in the first session, who will start at 12pm on Friday. You can watch online on NCAA.com. (Saturday and Sunday will both be on ESPN3.)
The six teams competing in session 1 are: (seedings based on NQS score)
Florida Gators - Final team rankings #1 overall
Florida is good. Disgustingly good. They averaged a ridiculous 197.486 this year. Their RQS was a 197.840. They posted a high score this year of 198.425 against Minnesota, winning by over 1.3 points. If they have a weakness, it might be on vault, where they are ranked third overall in the country. By the way, they are either first or tied for first in the other three elements. Their roster is terrifying, led by freshman Bridget Sloan. Wait, does that name sound familiar to you? Yeah, she's the 2009 World Champion, a 2008 Olympics Silver Medalist (with Sam Peszek)... and was competing at the Elite level as recent as 2012, where she was attempting to qualify for the London Olympics (but had to pull out due to injury.) She's good, and is ranked second in the country behind Vanessa Zamarripa in the all-around by 0.05 points. But it's not all Sloan. There's also reigning NCAA All-Around and vault champion Kytra Hunter, who was absolutely fantastic at last year's NCAAs. There are also the Caquatto sisters, Mackenzie and Bridgette, Mackenzie who has a 2010 World Championships Team Silver medal, and Bridgette who had a strong elite career that kept getting derailed by injuries. Basically, Florida is loaded, and they would need to fall a LOT for other teams to have a chance. But Florida has never won a NCAA title in gymnastics, and that curse just might continue.
Georgia Bulldogs - Final team rankings #4 overall
Georgia has 10 NCAA titles to their name, and they are looking to add number 11. The Gym Dogs, as they are affectionately called, are phenomenal on the bars, ranking #3 in the country. They are fourth overall on the beam, eighth on the vault, and 10th on the floor. Their high score this year is 197.800 against North Carolina State. Head to head against other NCAA teams, they dropped meets to Florida and LSU, and defeated Stanford, Alabama and Arkansas earlier this year. Their gymnasts to watch are Chelsea Davis on the bars and and Shayla Worley on the beam.
LSU Tigers - Final team rankings #7 overall
Oh LSU. Being the forgotten team in the SEC has got to sting. The glamour gymnastics teams in the SEC are Alabama, Georgia and Florida, and LSU is "oh and them too" mentioned in passing. They did defeat UCLA at regionals, posting a 197.275, and that's around where they'll be, scorewise - low 197's to high 196's. Their RQS this year was a 197.180. You can catch my last preview about LSU in my Regionals preview. If you're watching Session 1, watch LSU on the vault.
Minnesota Golden Gophers - Final team rankings #12 overall
Minnesota qualified by coming in second in their regional behind Florida, scoring 197.100. If you want to talk about a "hot" team, Minnesota would be it. Their scores have increased in the last couple weeks of the season, and they are currently exhibiting their best gymnastics. Even their website calls their season "magical." Unfortunately, the magic will probably end in session 1, as I don't see them having the firepower to place in the top 3, or overtaking a consistent Stanford. They are a solid all-around team, with their weakness being the bars. Their gymnast to watch would be freshman Lindsay Mable, who is also a fantastic vaulter.
Stanford Cardinal - Final team rankings #11 Overall
The Cardinal came in second in their Regional, behind Oklahoma and scored 196.800. Last year, I had written Stanford completely off and they wound up making the Super Six. I think it'll be harder for them this year, but you cannot count them out. UCLA has already defeated Stanford earlier this year at their gym. Always watch for Ivana Hong, and Ashley Morgan on the floor.
Illinois Illini - Final team rankings #17 Overall
The Illini are competing in their third ever National Championship, and they are very happy to travel to Pauley. They scored 196.025 and placed second in their regional to Michigan, and just edged out Nebraska who had a terrible Regionals performance after being ranked in the top 10 most of the season. Their top individual gymnast is Alina Weinstein, who took the all-around title at their regional, along with firsts on the floor and the beam. Their best team events are the beam and the floor, where they are both ranked 13th in the country.
Looking at the teams that will come out of Session 1, I am pretty sure Florida and Georgia will be the top two teams, barring major mistakes, and frankly, neither team has made many of those this year. The third spot will be an interesting battle between LSU, Minnesota, and Stanford. You expect LSU to come out of it, but I would not be surprised if Stanford sneaks into the Super Six again like they did last year.
We will preview the UCLA half of the Semi-Finals tomorrow.