Big Ten Women’s Gymnastics Week 3 Preview: The title race starts now

By Caroline Price | January 19, 2024
Ohio State's Payton Harris mounts beam at the 2023 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships.
© Matthew Smith/Gymnastics Now

With five massive conference matchups coming your way, Week 3 of Big Ten women’s gymnastics is sure to be a rollercoaster. Whether you’re tuning in for a rivalry meet or are on upset watch, just remember to buckle up.

Among the featured matchups is the highly anticipated rivalry meet between No. 14 Michigan and No. 9 Ohio State and the evenly-matched meeting of No. 18 Iowa and No. 15 Minnesota.

While each team’s ultimate goal is to earn a usable number toward their National Qualifying Score (NQS), there’s no doubt that the the Big Ten regular season title is on the line from the get-go this year.

Read below to learn more about what’s to come in Week 3.

#14 Michigan @ #9 Ohio State

Week 3 Matchup: Sunday, January 21 @ 2 p.m. ET | Michigan @ Ohio StateLive Stats | Video (Big+)

#9 Ohio State | Previous #9

Routine to watch: Courtney McCann on beam

The Buckeyes currently sit at the top of the Big Ten and ninth in the nation. Fresh off a big 197.150 win over Ball State and Towson, the team will need an even bigger meet to defeat Michigan.

Although the Buckeyes’ highest total this season is approximately six-tenths lower than Michigan’s, they have room to grow. Meredith Paulicivic’s squad is currently ranked in the top ten on all events but bars, with the lineup struggling to crack the 9.9 mark. For the team to challenge Michigan, they will likely need a mid-49 on the event.

Payton Harris and Tory Vetter will be essential, with the juniors going 1-2 in the all around in Week 2. Also starring for the Buckeyes are Courtney McCann (beam) and Ella Hodges (floor), both having come within .05 of perfection on their respective events.

Routines to watch:

  • Courtney McCann on beam: The freshman wowed the nation with a 9.975 in her debut collegiate routine. Look out for her incredible roundoff to two-footed layout – a rarity in NCAA competition.
  • Ella Hodges on floor: They call her “Elegant Ella” for a reason. With two straight 9.95s, Hodges has unreal elegance in her dance combined with flawless tumbling. There’s no question as to why she anchors the Buckeye floor lineup.

#14 Michigan | Previous #20

Routine to watch: Sierra Brooks on vault

The Wolverines come into their rivalry meet having notched a hefty 197.725 in their home opener. However, given Ohio State’s upward trend, Michigan cannot afford any mishaps.

Sierra Brooks enters the meet as the current Big Ten Gymnast of the Week after her career high all-around win vs. Stanford. While the Wolverines will be relying on Brooks’ consistency in Columbus, they will need a team effort to bring the W back to Ann Arbor.

Look for Gabby Wilson to come up big for the Blue, and for regular contributors to build on last week’s improvements. Jenna Mulligan and Carly Bauman both tied or set careers highs last week and will need to bring strong scores.

In a meet that could help decide the regular season Big Ten title, Bev Plocki’s squad will look to continue last week’s upward momentum to come away with the win.

Routines to watch:

  • Sierra Brooks on vault: Brooks is exceptional on all four events but is looking especially strong on vault. She was one tiny hop away from a potential 10.0 for her Yurchenko 1.5, earning a 9.975 in Week 2 versus Stanford.
  • Gabby Wilson on beam: While Wilson is often known for her power events, she is spectacular on beam. Her floaty acrobatic series and massive double back dismount are textbook.

#18 Iowa @ #15 Minnesota

Week 3 Matchup: Monday, January 22 @ 8 p.m. ET | Iowa @ MinnesotaLive Stats | Video (BTN)

Note: This matchup will count toward the Week 4 officialy rankings on Road to Nationals.

#15 Minnesota | Previous #6

Routine to watch: Gianna Gerdes on vault

Minnesota enters Week 3 undefeated after topping Eastern Michigan with a 196.300, highlighted by Mya Hooten’s perfect 10 on floor.

This Iowa meet, however, will be an important regular season matchup that both teams will want to win.

After weathering a last-minute injury and lineup change in Week 2, the Gophers will look to put forward a consistently strong effort to defeat the Hawkeyes.

Unfortunately, the Gophers will be without the No. 1 beamer in the nation, Brooklyn Rowray, as she was spotted sporting crutches last week after a mid-meet injury. While the loss of Rowray is significant, coach Jenny Hansen felt that the team handled the adversity with grace, boding well for their mindset as the 2024 season progresses.

Expect Gianna Gerdes to lead the team in the all-around and Mya Hooten to bring the power on vault and floor. Bolstered by strong scores from Gerdes and Hooten, Minnesota hopes to claim their second consecutive win in Maturi Pavilion.

Routines to watch:

  • Gianna Gerdes on vault: While Gerdes is known for her all-around prowess, she brings a gorgeous Yurchenko 1.5 to the table, with legs and toes glued together throughout the twists. Moving forward, all Gerdes needs for a bigger score is a cleaner landing.
  • Mya Hooten on floor: Needing no explanation, Mya Hooten earned the second 10 of the NCAA season on floor last weekend, bringing her iconic combination of technically perfect tumbling and engaging dance.

#18 Iowa

Routine to watch: Alyse Karenbauer on floor

The Hawkeyes come into their Minnesota dual meet with a score (196.400) that would have narrowly defeated the Gophers in last week’s meet, indicating a battle to come. Larissa Libby’s squad looked solid in their opener, especially considering the seemingly last-minute retirement of team leader JerQuavia Henderson.

With Iowa heading to Minneapolis, look for Adeline Kenlin to continue to add to her already-illustrious resume. While the senior is known for her beam, she has shown immense promise on floor as well, winning the event with a 9.925 vs. Washington.

Iowa is impressive in the back end of their meets, with top 20 rankings on beam and floor, but will need to start strong on the first two events. The Hawkeyes are only ranked 39th on vault after a rough 48.850 in their opener.

With zero 10.0 start value vaults to Minnesota’s two, Larissa Libby’s vault squad will need to nail their landings to keep themselves in the hunt after the first rotation.

Routines to watch:

  • Adeline Kenlin on beam: Kenlin has been knocking on perfection’s door throughout her career and started her 2024 campaign with a 9.95. With beautiful pace and elegant lines, Kenlin floats through her routines and is a standout in every meet she competes.
  • Alyse Karenbauer on floor: This freshman is flying under the radar but is worthy of the spotlight. Karenbauer shows shades of Hawkeye great Lauren Guerin on floor. The rookie tumbles through her full-twisting double back and punch through to double back with ease and dynamism similar to that of her lauded predecessor.

#16 Michigan State @ Penn State

Week 3 Matchup: Friday, January 19 @ 6 p.m. ET | Michigan State @ Penn State – Live Stats | Video (B1G+)

#16 Michigan State | Previous #14

Routine to watch: Sage Kellerman on vault

Although the Spartans earned widespread acclaim last year thanks to their abilities on the power events, the team comes into Penn State as the sixth-best bars team in the nation after struggles on the other events.

Sophomore Nikki Smith has led the way on bars, tying for first on the event with a 9.925 at the Sprouts Farmers Market Collegiate Quad.

However, with a vault lineup comprised entirely of 10.0 start values and a floor team rich with E passes, Michigan State can easily bring in top scores. Look for Sage Kellerman to do just for the Spartans on vault after her perfect 10 in Week 1. Heading to Penn State, the Spartans will need to clean up their vault landings and get through beam cleanly to leave Happy Valley with a win.

Routines to watch:

  • Sage Kellerman on vault: To no one’s surprise, vaulter Kellerman is an athlete to watch, having earned the first 10.0 on vault this season. The sophomore has one of the best handspring pike halves in the business.
  • Delanie Harkness on bars: Harkness has been a longtime Spartan bars staple for good reason. The senior has a unique and flighty Gienger in addition to one of the best-controlled bail to handstands you’ll see in the NCAA.

Penn State

Routine to watch: Bella Salcedo on floor

With one of the biggest improvements from Week 1 to 2, Penn State looks to remain undefeated after posting a strong 196.625 against Iowa State. Although the Nittany Lions haven’t cracked the top 25, last week’s total stands as the 17th best score in the nation. Therefore, it’s important to not write-off Sarah Brown’s squad, even against this highly anticipated Michigan State team.

Penn State is especially impressive and interesting on vault, where their lineup includes three non-Yurchenko entry vaults. However, like many other teams early in the season, the squad has struggled with going 6/6 on each event and will look to get as close to 24/24 as possible to defeat Michigan State. Ava Piedrahita and Bella Salcedo continue to be the killer 1-2 punch for the Nittany Lions, and fans can expect the same as they take on the Spartans.

Routines to watch:

  • Ava Piedrahita on vault: It’s hard to pick a Piedrahita routine to isolate as her best, but she is a star on vault. Her Omelianchik vault is arguably the best in the NCAA, with excellent form through the air and a technically perfect entry onto the table.
  • Bella Salcedo on floor: Salcedo brings unique tumbling (punch double front) and elegant dance for a breath of fresh air on floor. With unique skills across all the events, Salcedo is always one to watch.

#22 Illinois @ Nebraska

Week 3 Matchup: Saturday, January 20 @ 7:30 p.m. ET | Illinois @ Nebraska – Live Stats | Video (Big 10+)

#22 Illinois | Previous #21

Routine to watch: Arielle Ward on vault

The Illini head to Lincoln ready to fight, fresh off of a 196.500 quad meet win in Urbana-Champaign. 2024 has been good for the Orange and Blue so far, with beam holding a slight edge as their strongest event.

While Mia Takekawa will continue to lead the way for the Illini, multiple athletes have stepped up, with nine gymnasts recording 9.85s or better in the first two competitions.

Junior Ruthuja Nataraj has been a rock for the Illini on vault and beam, in particular, providing steady 9.8+ scores. As the Illini take on Nebraska and potential conference jitters, consistency will be key.

The Illini have yet to score 49+ on all four events in one meet, but after coming close in week 2, coach Nadalie Walsh vowed that her squad will work toward an “even bigger showing” versus the Big Red.

Routines to watch:

  • Arielle Ward on vault: While the sophomore hasn’t yet found the landing on her board-straight Yurchenko 1.5, the technical precision of her vault alone is enough to make judges swoon.
  • Destiny Denning on bars: The freshman has made a splash in the NCAA, recording a 9.875 and a 9.90 in her first two bar routines.

Nebraska | Previous #16

Although Nebraska sits just outside the top 25, the Huskers have shown multiple moments of greatness amid upsetting injuries and early season nerves.

Routine to watch: Sophia McClelland on beam

Heather Brink’s squad has some of the most exciting gymnastics in the Big Ten and currently boasts the 12th-ranked floor team in the nation after scoring a stellar 49.350 in Week 2.

While the Huskers will likely be without Lucy Stanhope after an apparent injury last weekend, the team is primed to fight “for Lucy.”

The Huskers will certainly need to fight in this meet, especially on vault. Csenge Bácskay and Martina Comin’s Yurchenko 1.5s will be key for the Huskers as they look to gain an advantage over an Illini vault lineup with only one 10.0 start value.

While the Huskers come in as the underdogs, the potential for an upset looms as the squad looks to avenge Stanhope.

Routines to watch:

  • Kinsey Davis on vault: While Davis doesn’t have the most difficult vault, the team leader has absolutely drilled her Yurchenko full in the first two meets…stay tuned to see if she goes 3/3.
  • Sophia McClelland on beam: McClelland brings elegance and innovation to the beam, wowing crowds with her double wolf turn to open her routine. The junior opened her 2024 season impressively and will be hungry for more after securing a 9.90 and the event title at the Collegiate Quad.

Rutgers @ #23 Maryland

Week 3 Matchup: Friday, January 19 @ 8 p.m. ET | Rutgers @ Maryland – Live Stats | Video (B1G+)

#23 Maryland

Routine to watch: Natalie Martin on vault

Maryland welcomes Rutgers to College Park after tying its best season-opening score in its first meet (196.150). The Terps will look to replicate last week’s strong showing with a defeat over Rutgers.

In her rookie season, Natalie Martin has already made a name for herself after just one competition. The freshman impressed with a massive Yurchenko 1.5 and full-twisting double back on floor in the team’s win over West Chester.

Martin adds power to an impressive ninth-ranked floor squad. The Terps’ floor ranking is only surpassed by their eighth-ranked beam lineup. Expect Josephine Kogler and Victoria Gatzendorfer to look to repeat last week’s successes on beam en route to Maryland’s first Big Ten win of 2024.

Ultimately, with home field advantage and a multitalented lineup, Maryland is strongly favored over the Scarlet Knights. However, the Terps will need to execute cleanly to fend off a strengthening Rutgers squad.

Routines to watch:

  • Natalie Martin on vault: Despite her rookie status, Martin is Maryland’s vault anchor, and it’s clear why. With great height, distance, and form, Martin’s Yurchenko 1.5 not only looks easy for her, it is an easy path to a reliably strong score for Maryland.
  • Josephine Kogler on beam: Few athletes look quite as comfortable on beam as Josephine Kogler. The junior regularly cruises through her triple series without a wobble and is fresh off a career-high 9.925 in her season opener.

Rutgers

Routine to watch: Emily Leese on floor

Rutgers travels to Maryland after posting a 194.650 to finish second at a home quad meet. While their score pales in comparison to that of Maryland’s opener, it reflects a promising 1.25-point improvement from the previous week.

Although the Scarlet Knights’ highest rankings come on vault and beam, the team’s 49.200 floor effort from Week 2 is nationally competitive. As they look to challenge Maryland, coach Salim-Beasley’s team will hope to reproduce this stellar rotation.

Look for Emily Leese to lead the way for Rutgers on floor and beam, continuing her success after an event-winning 9.925 on floor in Week 2. Avery Balser, another senior, is also key for the squad with her 9.85+ contributions on bars.

If the first two weeks are any indicator, the Scarlet Knights look to be trending upward, and with hits from top athletes, coupled with consistency through the breadth of their lineups, they can put up a fight.

Routines to watch:

  • Emily Leese on floor: The senior is Rutgers’ leading scorer in 2024 on both beam and floor, but is show-stopping on the latter. With difficult tumbling and excellent finesse on her landings, the three event gymnast holds a career-high 9.925 on floor.
  • Avery Balser on bars: Balser owns a career-high 9.95 on bars and looks to challenge that score this season.