Big Ten Women’s Gymnastics Week 1 Recap: Favorites stumble, underdogs shine

By Caroline Price | January 7, 2024
Minnesota's Mya Hooten reacts after dismounting bars at the 2024 Mean Girls Super 16 in Las Vegas.
© Filippo Tomasi/Gymnastics Now

Week one of the 2024 Big Ten women’s gymnastics season blew the preseason poll into bits.

Fans watched in shock as defending Big Ten champion Michigan recorded just a 195.875 in a season-opening loss to Michigan State, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. Conversely, underdog Minnesota rocketed to the top of the Big Ten leaderboard, notching the week’s highest total for a Big Ten team and tied for the sixth highest nationally. Ohio State and Nebraska also impressed, with the Buckeyes matching their best season-opening score ever and the Huskers earning their best debut score in a decade.

This weekend saw it all, from absolute perfection to total disaster, from stick central to splatfest. All in all, Week 1 proved that preseason polls are just that – predictions and nothing more.

The No. 23 Iowa Hawkeyes and No. 25 Maryland Terrapins were off this week and will open their seasons in home meets on January 12.

Read on for more highs and lows from Week 1.

#18 Minnesota @ Mean Girls Super 16

Final Score:

Minnesota: 196.850, Oregon State: 196.525, Southern Utah: 196.025, BYU: 195.900

The Gophers opened their season with a big win over ranked opponents in Las Vegas, upsetting No. 13 Oregon State and defeating No. 24 Southern Utah and BYU. Minnesota’s total puts them at the top of the Big Ten after one meet – an impressive feat after ranking 18th in the preseason poll.

Senior Gianna Gerdes took the all around title (39.425) and shared the floor title (9.875) with teammate Mya Hooten. Mya also claimed a share of the vault title (9.875) and sophomore Brooklyn Rowray took home a win on beam with a spectacular 9.975.

The Gophers started off strong on bars, tallying a solid 49.275, highlighted by a 9.9 from Gerdes and 9.875s from Hooten and Ella Sirjord. Moving to beam, the Gophers’ Achilles heel in 2023, Minnesota looked to build on their steady start on bars, and they succeeded. The squad set their highest event total of the day with an impressive 49.350.

Rowray blew her personal best out of the water, earning a near-perfect 9.975 for a stunning routine decked out with oversplits and a stuck gainer front full. Also notable was Emily Koch’s uniquely elegant front pike into arabesque.

Onto floor, Koch was once again incredibly clean, giving the judges little to take away with three twisting passes for a 9.85. Gerdes followed suit with a stick on her double pike (9.875), compounded by another strong 9.875 from Hooten. The Gophers’ total of 49.175 on the event was a strong score in front of a particularly strict floor judging panel.

Heading to vault, Minnesota found themselves in a tight race with Oregon State, needing to execute cleanly to close out the meet on top. The Gophers hit their vaults with notable landing errors, but Hooten saved the rotation. With her flighty and well-controlled Yurchenko 1.5, Hooten wrapped up Minnesota’s season-opener with a formidable 196.850.

According to head coach Jenny Hansen, the team’s performance was a “fantastic start” to the 2024 season. Minnesota will look to use this win’s momentum as they take on Eastern Michigan in their home opener on January 13.

#14 Ohio State @ #3 LSU

Final Score:

LSU: 196.975 – Ohio State: 196.775

Ohio State opened its season with a nail-biting loss to No. 3 LSU in an intimidating environment in Baton Rouge. While the Buckeyes ultimately fell by two-tenths, a close loss to a stacked and highly ranked Tigers team is more encouraging than discouraging. The team’s 196.775 tied Ohio State’s record season-opening score, matching the record set in 2023.

In a buzzing Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the Buckeye bars squad went eye-for-eye with the Tigers for their inaugural rotation. Payton Harris led the way with a 9.875, followed by strong 9.85 performances from Tory Vetter and Nicole Riccardi.

Heading into vault, the Buckeyes trailed the Tigers and began the rotation with some nervy Yurchenko fulls. However, after a drilled full from junior Sidney Washington, the vault squad started rolling. Washington, Riccardi, and Harris all came up big with 9.875s to produce a competitive event total of 49.300 and keep the Buckeyes in the hunt.

With two solid rotations in the books, the floor lineup took Ohio State’s impressive showing to another level. Ella Hodges was a highlight, showcasing unparalleled toe point and dance coupled with powerful tumbling. Hodges’ career high 9.95 earned her the floor title, beating out a star-studded LSU floor squad.

Going into beam, OSU led by nearly three-tenths. However, a fluke fall put the Buckeyes in a must-hit position. The team responded with clean, gutsy routines for a respectable 49.050 event total despite adversity. While the Buckeyes fell short of the win, they proved themselves to be a true NCAA threat.

Next week, Ohio State hosts its home opener against Ball State and Towson on January 14.

#6 Michigan & #11 Michigan State @ Mean Girls Super 16

Final Score:

Oklahoma: 197.850, Kentucky: 196.775, MSU: 196.300, Michigan: 195.875

Michigan

The defending Big Ten Champions started their 2024 campaign with a disappointing fourth place finish and losses to No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 9 Kentucky, and No. 11 Michigan State. Despite consistent performances from Gabby Wilson, the Wolverines seemed to struggle to find their groove in Vegas.

Endurance was a factor for the Wolverine floor squad. Short passes and deep landings added up, with only Wilson breaking the 9.9 mark. Thankfully, AAI Award winner Sierra Brooks was not far behind with a solid 9.85 for her signature stellar tumbling.

Vault also proved a challenge for one of the best teams in the country. Much of the lineup struggled with their landings, coming up short of rotation and incurring deductions. However, senior Reyna Guggino came in clutch with a dynamic Yurchenko 1.5 for the team’s highest vault score (9.85).

The Wolverines saw their most successful rotation of the day on bars. A trio of 9.9s from Wilson, Brooks, and Carly Bauman led the team to a 49.350 – their best event total of the meet. For a team accustomed that won a national title just three years ago, this meet was a rare departure from their norm – bars was the only event in which Michigan did not count 9.7 or lower.

Entering the final rotation, the Wolverines headed to beam looking to end on a high note. Wilson delivered once again for the Blue, earning her third 9.9 of the day for her flighty series and massive stuck double back dismount. Unfortunately, the remainder of the lineup struggled with wobbles, leading to an event total of 48.600.

Michigan will look to rebound next week as they head home to Ann Arbor, hosting the Stanford Cardinal on January 12.

Michigan State

Michigan State’s experience in Las Vegas is a tale of bright spots mixed with early season jitters. The Spartans did not hold back, bringing a plethora of big tumbling and 10.0 start values, but their execution fell short. The team recorded losses to No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 9 Kentucky but collected a key win over Big Ten rival, No. 6 Michigan, at the Mean Girls Super 16 meet.

The Spartans opened their season with struggles on beam, earning a combined 48.800. Junior Skyla Schulte showed signs of greatness with a team-leading 9.875. On floor, the Big Green struggled to harness their power, again tallying a 48.800. Michigan State’s highest floor score was a 9.80, with all other scores inhibited by landing errors and tight judging.

However, the subsequent event gave the team a much needed jolt of energy. As one of the few teams with a full lineup of 10.0 start values, the Spartans have the potential to be one of the highest scoring vault squads in the country. Sophomore Sage Kellerman answered the call and simultaneously etched her name in the MSU record book. Kellerman nailed her front pike half for a perfect 10, her first and the fifth perfect score in Michigan State history.

Following the history-making rotation for Kellerman, the Spartans finished their Super 16 bid on a high note, recording their highest event total of the day on bars (49.450). The team finally hit their groove on the event, recording five scores of 9.85 or higher. Veteran Delanie Harkness was a highlight, earning a second place finish for her 9.95 routine, complete with a Gienger and full-twisting double back.

All in all, Michigan State looked like a first-meet team in their season opener: unrefined but stacked with promising talent. The Spartans will participate in another quad meet next week, facing No. 6 California, No. 19 BYU, and NC State at the Sprouts Farmers Market Collegiate Quad on January 13.

Nebraska @ Iowa State

Final Score:

Nebraska: 196.125 – Iowa State: 195.825

The Nebraska Cornhuskers opened their 2024 campaign with a close win over Ashley Miles Greig’s renewed Iowa State squad. The Huskers edged the Cyclones for their first 196+ season opening score since 2014 – an encouraging start to their season. En route to their win, the Huskers hit 24 for 24, a testament to their preparedness on all four events.

The team started on bars where they showcased eons of potential. While the first two athletes struggled to find their landings, freshman Whitney Jencks got the squad on track with a great Ray to immediate bail (9.775). Hit routines from Clara Colombo (9.775), Emma Spence (9.875), and Kinsey Davis (9.875) helped bolster the strong rotation. Transfer Lucy Stanhope nailed her double layout in the exhibition spot, perhaps carving her name into next week’s lineup.

On vault, the Huskers’ score was cushioned by powerful Yurchenko fulls from Stanhope and Ayzhia Hall (9.825). Although both Martina Comin and Csenge Bácksay suffered landing issues on their 1.5s, look for their vaults to score highly with more repetition.

The Huskers truly took flight on floor. The team looked conditioned and powerful on all of their passes, earning their best event total of the day (49.350). Jencks was once again a strong leadoff, hitting a confident routine for a 9.80. Spence recorded the team’s first 9.90 of the season for her spunky performance, followed by Halle Rourke and Comin with 9.875s.

The Huskers went into beam with a more than five-tenth lead over the Cyclones, simply needing to hit to secure the win. While the Big Red weren’t faultless, they notched solid numbers while Iowa State rocked the house on floor. Spence came up big in the anchor spot (9.825), nearly sticking her dismount to secure the win.

Next up, the Huskers head to Utah to face North Carolina, Arizona, and Boise State at the Sprouts Farmers Market Collegiate Quad on January 12.

Illinois @ Mean Girls Super 16

Final Score:

Denver: 196.850, Illinois: 195.825, Washington: 195.000, San Jose State: 194.950

With a 195.8250, the Illini fell to a strong No. 10 Denver squad while collecting wins over No. 21 Washington and San Jose State in Vegas. Altogether, the Orange & Blue looked solid and steady across all four events, with no falls or major errors counted in their event totals. Head coach Nadalie Walsh had high praise for her Illini, commending the team’s ability to remain “calm, confident, and composed.”

The Illini started off strong on beam with Mia Takekawa showcasing her trademark steadiness, cruising to a 9.9 for the team’s top score. Right behind her was Ruthuja Nataraj with a 9.8. Nataraj worked beam with notable precision, nailing her opening acrobatic series and leaps. Look out for Ruthuja to bring in strong scores in the coming meets.

Illinois was imperfect yet promising on floor. Kadyn Fitzgibbon and Mia Townes led the squad with a pair of 9.8s, and Alea Byrne impressed with a stunning 2.5 to punch front pike. Abby Mueller performed the only double layout in the rotation that will likely earn a lineup spot in future meets.

On vault, Walsh opted to rest NCAA qualifier Townes, but Arielle Ward brought a promising 1.5 of her own. The event was consistent for the Illini, with all six vaults scoring between 9.75 and 9.825, but bars was where the team really shined.

Ward brought the energy with a hit in the leadoff spot (9.85), and the hits quickly became contagious. Destiny Denning was a highlight with intricate transition work and a stunning double layout for a 9.875. The Illini recorded a 49.175 on the event – their highest event total of the day and an excellent way to wrap up their Super 16 campaign. 

The Illini’s season continues with a second consecutive quad meet, this time hosting West Virginia, Western Michigan, and UW-Oshkosh in Urbana-Champaign on January 13.  

Penn State @ Keystone Classic

Final Score:

Penn State: 194.725, Pittsburg: 193.125, Penn: 192.575, Temple: 192.250

The Nittany Lions claimed the Keystone Classic over Temple, Penn, and Pittsburgh with a score of 194.725. While they started slow on bars, Penn State’s confidence grew with each passing routine, culminating in a 3-0 start to the season and event titles for Bella Salcedo (beam, floor) and Ava Piedrahita (all-around, vault).

Beginning on bars, the team had to count a fall after multiple nervy routines but saw a highlight in leadoff Jessica Johanson’s 9.775.

Moving to beam, Penn State needed to compensate for a disappointing opening rotation. Leadoff Piedrahita looked unfazed, nailing her acrobatic elements and dismounting with a stick for a 9.825. After mid-lineup errors, Amani Herring stopped the bleeding. With a side somi and stuck tucked front full dismount, the sophomore got the Nittany Lions back on track (9.8). Salcedo added fuel to the fire, rocking her routine with stunning toe point and a standing front tuck for a meet-best 9.90. While the early season jitters were unmistakable, this beam team will be one to watch as the season progresses.

Floor saw more successes and small errors for the squad. Elina Vihrova, daughter of Igor, the men’s Olympic floor champion in 2000, notched a 9.75 for her clean front through to double back and double pike. Salcedo was once again key for the Nittany Lions, nailing her double front with flawless leaps for a team-best 9.85.

On vault, Sarah Brown’s team was a privilege to watch. With an excess of power and a variety of entries, this vaulting squad would be competitive on any stage. Salcedo and Piedrahita both tallied strong scores for their Omelianchiks, the latter earning a 9.875 and the vault title.

Penn State will next host the Iowa State Cyclones in Happy Valley on January 12.

Rutgers @ North Carolina quad meet

Final Score:

Ball State: 194.925, North Carolina: 193.725, Rutgers: 193.400, Utah State: 193.175

The Rutgers 2024 gymnastics squad opened their season with losses to Ball State and North Carolina and a win over Utah State. Seniors Avery Balser and Emily Leese both saw individual successes in the quad meet, with Balser sharing the bars title and Leese the beam title, respectively.

The Scarlet Knights tipped off the meet on floor, with team captain Leese leading the way for the squad. Leese notched a 9.8 for her routine, which included a beautifully controlled full-twisting double back and punch front through to sky-high double tuck.

On vault, sophomore Gabrielle Dildy set a career high (9.85) for her floaty Yurchenko full. Dildy showcased excellent technique, landing perfectly square to the table to ensure a definitive stick. Leese once again hit for the Knights, adding a 9.775 for Rutgers’ second-best score and securing their highest single event total of the night (48.850).

Bars proved to be Rutgers’ biggest hurdle in Chapel Hill. The Knights recorded three scores sub-9.4 early in the lineup, but managed to lessen the blow with two hits from Balser and junior Elia Aird to salvage the rotation. Balser’s effort was particularly exceptional. The lineup staple earned a meet-winning 9.875 for her routine, featuring a lofty Pak salto and stuck double layout dismount.

The Knights headed to beam looking for fewer mistakes but unfortunately found themselves counting a fall once again. Nonetheless, the remainder of the beam lineup did its job. Leese starred again, taking home a 9.85 and the beam title for the squad’s best score. 2023 regional beam qualifier Stephanie Zannella also added a 9.8 for her effort on the event.

Up next, the Scarlet Knights will host No. 13 Oregon State, Southern Connecticut, and Utica for their home opener in New Jersey on January 13.