2023 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships: Utah, Oklahoma, LSU, and Florida advance to Four on the Floor; O’Keefe headlines individual title winners

By Patricia Duffy | April 13, 2023
Utah's Maile O'Keefe competes on beam during the 2023 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships semifinals.
Utah's Maile O'Keefe competes on beam during the 2023 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships semifinals. (© Matthew Smith)

FORT WORTH, Texas – The Four on the Floor is set: Utah, Oklahoma, LSU, and Florida will face-off on Saturday to decide the 2023 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships title winner.

Keep reading for recaps from both semifinals, individual national champions, and press conferences with the four advancing teams.

Utah builds to resounding win over defending champion Oklahoma in semifinal 2

The Utah Utes have done what only one other team has been able to accomplish this season: beat the Oklahoma Sooners

Like Michigan’s win over the defending champion during the regular season, the Utes’ win was close – 198.225 to 198.1625 – but it’s another chink in the Sooners’ armor.

The ones to beat are beatable, but Thursday’s result only serves as a means to an end – in this case, qualifying to Saturday’s Four on the Floor final. But even though scores reset, this looks like a two-horse race.

For Utah, a national title wouldn’t just be the culmination of a season long grind – it would signal the Utes have final pushed past those last few steps to the peak of the college gymnastics world. It’s been nearly 30 years since the program’s last national title, and they’ve been part of the past two Four on the Floor finals.

If the Utes can reproduce their Thursday performance, they have a good shot at making history. Even then, with lights out rotations on bars (49.675) and beam (49.6875), there’s room for improvement after the team started slow on floor and vault.

“I really thought it was a tale of two halves,” Utah Head Coach Tom Farden said. “The first two events were good, solid, but then, we really felt as a staff the second two events were brilliant.”

Another bonus? Olympic silver medalist Grace McCallum was back in the bars (9.95) and beam (9.925) lineups on Thursday, having returned to training the apparatuses a couple weeks ago. She went down midseason with a hyperextended right knee.

“I kind of said, you know what, if you want to compete at nationals, you’re going to do everything you can, so I went in the gym extra days, I did extra workouts, and did everything I could to get back here,” McCallum said.

Oklahoma is also making its third-straight Four on the Floor appearance. A win would mark the school’s first back-to-back title in women’s gymnastics.

While both teams have been consistent this season, Oklahoma seems to have been performing at a national championship level since week 1, and that unmatched consistency gives the Sooners a slight leg up.

OU Head Coach KJ Kindler wants to see her team find their landings on Saturday – a small but crucial detail if they want to repeat.

“I felt like the team had incredible energy, but we definitely left a lot of tenths on the floor,” Kindler said. “There’s no doubt about it. We can probably come up with at least six more [tenths] just in landings alone on bars and beam [and] vault.

“You can never hope to stick all your vaults, because that’s not realistic, especially doing our forward landing vaults that we do, but if we can capture two or three really good ones, then that’s gonna help tremendously.”

UCLA and Kentucky had valiant performances to finish third (197.9125) and fourth (197.125), respectively.

The Bruins team score was third overall across the two semifinals, making their elimination all the more dissatisfying. The team led through the first two rotations after exceptional showings on beam (49.5125) and floor (49.7125), but vault was the deciding factor – too many tenths were given away on landings to challenge the surging Utes.

LSU, Florida prevail in semifinal 1

It wasn’t a perfect meet for anyone, but the prize went to the two teams that were able to minimize deductions.

LSU's KJ Johnson in her ending pose on floor during the first semifinal of the 2023 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships.
LSU’s KJ Johnson in her ending pose on floor during the first semifinal of the 2023 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships. (© Matthew Smith)

“The prize” of course being two spots in the Four on the Floor – the final of the 2023 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships – and the two teams being LSU and Florida, who went 1-2 in Thursday’s first semifinal.

LSU won the session with a 197.475. Florida followed with a 197.400 – a difference of 0.075. California and Denver rounded out the team standings with scores of 196.915 and 196.500, respectively. 

Ultimately, the difference maker was California and Denver having to count falls. 

For Denver, the fatal mistakes came on beam, where both Bella Mabanta and Momoko Iwai came off the apparatus. Iwai’s counting score of 9.0 put the team at a 48.55 – their lowest beam score of the year and only sub-49 mark.

For Cal, bars was the nail in the coffin, where both Gabby Perea and Ella Cesario made uncharacteristic mistakes. Cesario’s counting score of 9.275 put the team at a 48.715 – their lowest bars score of the year and only sub-49 mark.

LSU and Florida weren’t without mistakes, but when Sloane Blakely led off the Gators with a fall on her Maloney on bars, the rest of the lineup was lights out. When Chase Brock sat one of her floor passes partway through the second rotation, the following three routines went 9.875 (KJ Johnson), 9.9625 (Aleah Finnegan), and 9.95 (Haleigh Bryant).

“Not a flawless meet, by any means, for the Gators, and yet it pays off to stay on the equipment sometimes and continue to fight through – to continue to take those steps forward and just keep fighting,” Florida Head Coach Jenny Rowland said after the meet.

Both teams still have plenty of room for improvement heading into Saturday’s final. LSU will look to clean up the little things overall – those tenths that will make the difference when every team in the final is capable of winning a national title.

Florida had an unusually wobbly beam rotation, scoring a 49.0875 – easily their season low. Leanne Wong and Riley McCusker had uncharacteristic balance checks, and Payton Richards fell in the anchor position (the score was dropped).

The bright spot for Florida was undoubtedly the return of Trinity Thomas

After sustaining an injury to her lower right leg during regionals, Thomas made her return on bars and vault. Both events were game-time decisions. She went 9.95 on bars and 9.9 on vault.

“We were literally taking it day-by-day,” Thomas said. “One day at a time, treatment-wise and physical therapy-wise, and just talking with the doctors and the physical therapists and seeing what was best and then just seeing how I felt. And so, bars [on] practice day was going well, and I did some runs on the vault runway. And then today, during warmup, I walked in and I felt good, and I told them that that’s what I wanted to do.”

The decision was ultimately in Thomas’ hands alone. Her coaches and team had “all the confidence in the world” in her, according to Rowland. Thomas’ vault marked the first time she’s vaulted since regionals.

As they have all season, LSU was once again plagued by injury when Johnson slotted into the floor lineup just to re-aggravate a broken foot from nearly two months ago on her first pass.

“She would’ve vaulted [after floor]. She was going to be on vault, too, but her foot [was hurt] again on floor,” LSU Head Coach Jay Clark said. “The docs had told us going into regionals that she was ok to vault. We literally trained one day, she vaulted at regionals and had no residual issues… KJ was just smoking everything she was doing [on floor], and it just felt like it was the right thing to do. You know, hindsight is 20/20. You never want that to be the case, and [I] talked to her after the meet and she was like, ‘I wouldn’t trade it for the world.’ She goes, ‘I got to go out there and help my team do this.'”

Johnson replaced Alyona Shchennikova, who was struggling on floor in particular heading into the meet. The injury is in the same place as before, the fifth metatarsal, and they do not expect her to need surgery to repair it.

O’Keefe, Chiles snag two titles apiece as Trautman peaks at the perfect moment

In a somewhat redeeming result, the Bruins’ sophomore star and Olympic silver medalist Jordan Chiles won national titles on bars (10.0) and floor (9.9875) to wrap up her college season before she switches her focus back to elite. 

Chiles announced earlier this season that she will be moving back to Texas to train at her elite gym, World Champions Centre, through the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Whether she returns to UCLA for her final two years of eligibility is to be determined.

Chiles’ perfect 10 came just moments before Utah’s Maile O’Keefe snagged her own 10 on beam to win the event title and lock up the all-around title with a 39.7625.

It’s a somewhat unexpected coronation – so unexpected even O’Keefe didn’t think it would ever happen.

“No,” O’Keefe answered when asked if becoming the NCAA all-around champion was on her bucket list. “Honestly, I thought it was gonna be impossible to win with a Yurchenko full. I’m obviously at just a slight disadvantage right from the get go – there’s no way I could get a perfect 40… It was an amazingly unexpected result. So I’m really proud of myself.”

Oklahoma’s super senior Olivia Trautman snagged the vault title with a 9.95 for her nearly flawless Yurchenko 1.5.

In her penultimate meet before retirement, Trautman achieved a feat that she thought might not be possible, physically, just a few months ago.

“When I first started the season, vault wasn’t really in the picture,” Trautman said, alluding to her long record of injuries. “So just having that opportunity to come out tonight was super amazing, and I feel very blessed.”

The 2023 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships conclude Saturday with the Four on the Floor final at 4 p.m. ET.

Post-meet Press Conferences