NCAA women’s gymnastics Week 8: Key conference matchups and Big 5s on slate for packed weekend

By Hannah Johnson | February 23, 2023
© Amy Sanderson

The NCAA women’s gymnastics season is flying by, and we are already in Week 8. Teams are putting the final touches on their routines before conference championships begin. Read on for a preview of this week’s meets.

SEC showdown

#8 LSU @ #9 Alabama

LSU will travel to Alabama as the Tigers look to get a road win and a usable National Qualifying Score (NQS). The Tigers are going to have to do a bit of lineup adjusting, however, as Scott Rabalais reported Wednesday that KJ Johnson is out with a broken foot. Making matters worse, all-around contributor Alyona Shchennikova is questionable for the meet.

If both Johnson and Shchennikova are out, the Tigers will need to replace seven routines. Freshman Bryce Wilson seems to be the most likely gymnast to slot into some of these spots. Wilson suffered a concussion on January 13, but reports from a team source indicate she has recovered. It is likely we will see her on at least vault and beam. Classmate Ashley Cowan could take Shchennikova’s spot on bars, and Chase Brock may take Johnson’s floor spot. 

Regardless of who fills in for who, this is going to be a meet where LSU will really need to test its depth. Coming away with a road victory while missing this many top routines will not be easy, but the Tigers have shown they have a lot of grit and fight when backed into a corner.

The Alabama Crimson Tide have all their key routines ready to go in an attempt to pull the upset. Lilly Hudson and Luisa Blanco are ranked in the top 20 nationally for their all-around performances. If they are on, they can lead their team to a home victory.

Look to see how Alabama performs on beam this time out. In Week 7, the Crimson Tide were a bit wobbly and were forced to count two scores in the 9.7s. If they are able to return to form and have six strong routines, Alabama should find themselves in a good position to earn a high 197 and secure the win at home.

Pac-12 faceoff

#6 California @ #4 Utah

The California Golden Bears hit the road after a season-high 197.975 last week at home. California did a great job of putting together a balanced meet across all four events in the team’s tie meet against UCLA. They were able to elevate their vault score to more closely mirror their scores on the other events. 

While the Golden Bears are hitting the road, and are technically the underdog by ranking alone, California has a great shot at taking this meet from Utah. If the Golden Bears are able to post solid vault and floor scores to supplement their outstanding bars and beam rotations, they could come away victorious. 

It is important to note that the Golden Bears rely heavily on their all-around gymnasts, using five last week and one three-event gymnast. It may not be extremely likely to rest a bunch of them at an away meet at Utah, but at some point it would make sense to rest some of them in an effort to preserve them for a postseason run. If sophomore Ella Cesario is good to go, she could fill in on a couple events.

It is no secret that Utah has not been the same team since Olympic silver medalist Grace McCallum went down with an injury two weeks ago. Particularly, the Utes have not been able to break 49 on vault since her injury. The Utes have the difficulty on the event, but they are not getting the big scores. 

Watch to see if the Utes are able to put together a 49+ vault rotation this week to remain competitive with the Golden Bears. Utah’s best event is beam, but it will not matter much if they are unable to bring up their vault scores.

With all this said, the Utes are certainly going to give it their all to ensure they do not drop another Pac-12 matchup. This is sure to be a closely-matched meet and will be key to see what Utah is able to accomplish in the absence of their star all-arounder McCallum.

Big 5s

Afternoon session: #13 Ohio State, #18 Minnesota, #19 Michigan State, Nebraska, Rutgers

Ohio State, Minnesota, and Michigan State all have a chance to finish on top in this session. The Buckeyes are having an outstanding season. If they hit bars like they are capable of, they can push their team score into the 197s. 

Minnesota’s focus has to be on hitting six clean routines on balance beam. If the Gophers want a chance at the top spot of the session, they absolutely cannot afford to post a sub-49 beam score. Pay attention to who stays in the lineup and if any new faces come in. 

Michigan State is coming into this meet after earning a very uncharacteristic sub-196 at Iowa, where they had trouble adjusting to the floor. Look for the Spartans to rebound in a big way here. Because they are including that low score in their NQS, they come into this meet ranked lower than their current potential.

Nebraska will play host after a season-high 196.325 at Penn State in their previous meet. The Cornhuskers will be looking for another 196+ performance to remain in contention for NCAA Regionals. 

The only Big Ten team currently sitting outside of the regionals cutoff, Rutgers will be looking for a 196+ score to count toward their NQS. The Scarlet Knights certainly have the talent to make regionals, but they will be looking to put it all together in the same meet to earn a score to help them make it there. 

Evening session: #3 Michigan, #20 Iowa, #21 Maryland, #23 Illinois, Penn State

This is truly Michigan’s meet to lose. After an unexpected bye last week, the Wolverines have had extra time to hone in on the little details to handily take this session and, likely, the overall meet. Look to see if Wolverine junior Naomi Morrison is back on the leg events after resting on them the past two meets. It will be very interesting to see how the Wolverines will be scored on beam at an away meet, because their home scoring has been generous.

The battle for what will likely be second place will be quite interesting with the remaining four teams all ranked so closely together. It will really be a matter of who is on across all four events.

Iowa comes into the meet after a 196+ performance at home in Week 7. However, the team only garnered a 48.675 on uneven bars in that meet. Watch to see how they will rebound this week. Senior JerQuavia Henderson can compete bars and would be a solid option if the team needs a hit, even though she has not been on the event yet this season.

It would be great if Maryland could produce another high-196. The team is definitely capable of a big number if they can find the landings on vault and hit their typical routines on bars. Neither of these things happened last time out, so watch to see if the Terrapins can reset here.

Illinois has been able to earn mid-to-high-196s this season, and this meet should be no different. Beam was a tad shaky their last time out, so look for them to clean that up a bit. Being on a bye last week should put the Fighting Illini in a great position to perform well here.

Penn State has been an interesting story this year. After promising preseason training videos, the Nittany Lions have really struggled to show their full potential in one meet. They’ve had glimpses of greatness from individuals throughout the season, but have yet to really put together a show-stopping performance. This could be the week for just that. If they are able to show what they are capable of, they can challenge for the second spot.