NCAA women’s gymnastics Week 8 recap: Records fall as teams gear up for postseason

By Hannah Johnson | March 1, 2023
Utah's Jaedyn Rucker reacts after earning her first-career perfect 10 on vault.
Utah's Jaedyn Rucker reacts after earning her first-career perfect 10 on vault. (© Utah Athletics)

Week 8 of NCAA women’s gymnastics was nothing short of entertaining. The regular season is winding down, and some teams made major moves toward top spots at regionals. Below is a recap of this week’s action and key storylines nationwide.

SEC showdown

#8 LSU @ #9 Alabama

One word: wow. This meet was uber close and came down to the last routine for each team. In the end, a shorthanded LSU team stole a win from the home team, 197.975-197.925.

LSU continues to find a way to win in the absence of key contributors. Alyona Shchennikova was able to compete for the Tigers after all, but she was limited to vault and bars. KJ Johnson, as reported last week, was unavailable with a broken foot.

The Tigers ended up having to replace five routines from their normal lineups: Bryce Wilson filled in on vault (season debut), Elena Arenas on floor, Olivia Dunne on uneven bars (season debut), and Alexis Jeffrey on beam and floor (season debut on both events).

Junior Haleigh Bryant was instrumental to her team’s success, earning a huge career-high 39.8 in the all-around, including a 10 on vault – the seventh of her career. After an uncharacteristic fall on bars in the first rotation, Aleah Finnegan was lights out and earned a 9.9 on vault, 10 on floor, and 9.975 on beam. Her beam set sealed the deal to give the Tigers the win on the road.

Despite how good LSU was, Alabama matched them routine for routine. The Crimson Tide’s all-around superstars, Luisa Blanco and Lilly Hudson, both had a couple uncharacteristically low scores on vault and bars. While these two cannot be expected to carry the team, if they hit 9.9 on those events like they are capable of, Alabama definitely would have won the meet – by a considerable margin.

After a couple mistakes in the first two rotations, however, both Blanco and Hudson received 10s on beam, followed by a 9.975 and 9.95 on floor, respectively. They did as much as possible to keep their team in it, but it simply wasn’t enough this time out. This felt like a meet that could have gone to either team from the start, and LSU was the one who walked away victorious.

Importantly for Alabama, their beam rotation was much improved from Week 7, counting no score below a 9.875. This should give them the confidence they need to thrive on the event as conference championships and postseason approach.

Pac-12 faceoff

#6 California @ #4 Utah

This was a particularly impressive meet for the Red Rocks. They ended up getting the win over California, 198.550-197.550. Utah’s team score was the second-highest in the nation this year. 

Utah was excellent across all four events, with no event score below a 49.525. The 49.525 came on vault, where the Utes had gone sub-49 the previous two weeks. It was important for Utah to return to form on the event. The Utes matched their season-high on the apparatus, led by reigning NCAA vault champion Jaedyn Rucker’s first-ever perfect 10.

The Utes earned season-high scores on bars (49.6) and floor (49.675). Utah was spectacular on beam, as usual, with a 49.75, just shy of their 49.775 from a few weeks ago that holds as the highest beam score in the nation this year. Senior Maile O’Keefe received a perfect 10 on beam, making her the school record holder for most tens on beam (7). 

After having a slight lead after the first rotation, the meet started to slip away from California. Vault and floor exercise kept the Golden Bears from a 198. Those events have both been pretty hit or miss for California this year. This time, after receiving only a 49.15 on vault, the Golden Bears found themselves in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.

California made a few lineup changes this time out. Sophomore Golden Bear Mya Lauzon tweaked her elbow, so her classmate Ella Cesario (who was coming back from a sprained ankle herself) returned to the bar lineup. Junior Gabby Perea had an awkward fall on floor last week, so sophomore Jordan Kane went in her spot on the event – her first-ever competitive routine for California.

Overall, Utah really ran away with this one starting in the second rotation. California needs to be more balanced across all four events. Bars and beam alone cannot carry them to wins against top teams.

Big 5s

Combined final standings:

1. Michigan State – 197.675

2. Michigan – 197.1

3T. Iowa – 196.925

3T. Nebraska 196.925

5. Illinois – 196.825

6. Ohio State – 196.75

7. Penn State – 196.1

8. Minnesota – 195.8

9. Rutgers – 195.225

10. Maryland – 194.475

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

This session was really close heading into the final rotation, but it was the Michigan State Spartans who used a program record 49.525 on vault to take the meet. The Spartans’ team score of 197.675 was also a program record. The Spartans also excelled on floor, receiving a 49.6, the highest event score of any team in the session. If they can find some 9.9 routines on bars, this team could go far in the postseason.

In a bit of a surprise, host Nebraska had the meet of their season, placing second in this session. The Cornhuskers earned new season-highs on vault (49.375) and floor (49.35). Nebraska went 49+ on all four events for just the second time this year. Sophomore Emma Spence had an outstanding meet with a 39.55 in the all-around. 

Ohio State was third despite a sub-49 on bars for the second-consecutive week. The mojo that the team had on that event seems to have gotten a bit lost. Vault and beam were great and were the events that kept the Buckeyes in the meet. 

Minnesota ended up placing fourth after unraveling on beam in the final rotation. The Golden Gophers were forced to count two falls and a 9.675 and earned only a 47.9 on the event. The highlight of the meet for Minnesota was fifth-year Maddie Quarels’ stuck Yurchenko 1.5, which earned a perfect 10. It was the first perfect 10 of her career. 

Rutgers had some hiccups along the way to a fifth place finish in the afternoon session. The only event in which the Scarlet Knights were able to score above a 49 was on beam. While they didn’t have many falls on the other events, they had other mistakes that led to counting scores in the 9.6-9.7 range.

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

The Michigan Wolverines ended up taking this session, but it was much closer than expected. Michigan was unable to break 49 on vault, an event that is typically very strong for them. However, in that rotation, freshman Kaylen Morgan finally made her highly-anticipated college debut with a 9.9 for her Yurchenko full. Junior Naomi Morrison was back on vault and floor but seemed to have a bit of trouble readjusting to them after resting for multiple weeks.

Iowa was so close to knocking off the third-ranked team in the country but finished in a very respectable second place. The Hawkeyes set a new season-high on beam with a 49.325. Iowa counted three scores in the 9.7s on bars which, in the end, realistically kept them from pulling off the upset. Freshman Karina Muñoz continued to impress with a career-high 39.4 in the all-around.

Illinois put together a great meet and earned a season-high 196.825. The Fighting Illini were the only team in this session to score a 49+ on all four events, proving they are a balanced team. Illinois junior Abby Mueller was the team’s lone all-around gymnast, earning a 39.2 for her efforts.

Penn State finished fourth in the absence of freshman Amani Herring, who was seen riding on a scooter at the meet. The Nittany Lions put up four all-around gymnasts, all scoring above a 39. While vault was especially good and uneven bars was solid, Penn State got stuck in the 9.7 range on both beam and floor. 

Maryland put together a nice meet on vault, bars, and floor, but beam was what led to the fifth place finish. The team was forced to count three scores of 9.625 or less, which resulted in a team score of only 47.3 on the event. Maryland has been doing well on beam as of late, so it’s safe to assume this was a fluke and should be worked out by their next meet.

Around the country

  • The Florida Gators earned a program record 49.8 on uneven bars en route to their fifth-consecutive SEC regular season title.
  • Oklahoma set a new program record with a 198.575, the fifth-best team score in NCAA history.
  • Western Michigan makes history: Payton Murphy broke her own all-around record with a 39.525 while her team set a program record on bars with a 49.325.
  • Denver earned a program record 49.6 on vault and currently holds its highest-ever NQS ranking on vault at No. 4.
  • Missouri set two new program records as a team, including a 197.85 combined total and 49.45 on bars.
  • Oregon State earned its first score over 198 and now boasts a program record of 198.075.
  • Michigan and Michigan State shared the Big Ten regular season title, each with a record of 8-1.
  • Brown won the Ivy Classic with a 195.2, its second-highest team score in program history.