NCAA gymnastics 2023: Who has surprised this season? Who will win nationals?

It’s been a wild NCAA gymnastics season so far. Oklahoma and Florida immediately set the tone, with two of the highest opening meet scores ever (197.925 and 197.75, respectively) — and the level of gymnastics — and scores — have only gotten higher.

As we enter the last half of the season, we checked in with our experts: Who has been the most impressive? Who are they picking to win it all at NCAA championships? And, with Trinity Thomas in hot pursuit of the 10 record — and nearly 50 perfect scores recorded this season so far — what do they think of the judging? Here’s what they had to say.

Perfect 10s: Have there been too many, too few or the right amount so far this year?

Kennedy Baker: I am team 10. Look at the material: We have so many Olympians and world champions competing, and the quality of gymnastics is high. However, I do think we could have stricter scoring, especially around the 9.9 and 9.95 routines.

Kathy Johnson Clarke: The issue of an excessive number of 10’s or not is less of a burning question for me as the number of 9.9+ scores for routines with notable flaws or mistakes. As happy as I am for the gymnasts in the moment, it minimizes the “specialness” of perfect and near-perfect performances and scores.

Ashley Miles Greig: I have to be honest with this question and say definitely too many 10s have been given. Most of the time the judges get it right, but when they don’t it takes away from the excitement.

Sam Peszek: I think there have been the right amount of 10s, but some 10s were given and not deserved and other routines should have gotten a 10, but didn’t. I think naturally there are going to be more 10s because the level of gymnastics has improved significantly without that big of a code change. The main issue is the accuracy of the 10s, which seems to be an overall frustration for us as broadcasters, for the coaches and for the athletes.

John Roethlisberger: Probably too many. But aren’t they fun? I do think judges need to be a little more critical, especially when it comes to taking .05 deductions. They can’t be afraid to take them. If it’s there, it’s there. In their defense, these gymnasts are really good. In large part they have outgrown the code of points. It seems we have more elite-level gymnasts (and Olympians and world team members) still competing in their prime. We have gymnasts getting an extra “COVID” year which means more great routines are sticking around longer.

U.S. women’s gymnastics is the best in the world, and that is showing itself more and more in the collegiate level as well. There is a delicate balance within collegiate rules to push the athletes but also not sacrifice the quality (and safety) of the gymnastics being performed. It’s not always simple, and I’m glad I don’t have to be the one to make those decisions.

Bridget Sloan: I think there have been some gifts thrown in there, but most of the 10s I have seen do seem deserving.

If you had to pick the top routine of the season so far, what would you choose?

Johnson Clarke: If only because I have to pick, it would be Suni Lee on bars.

Roethlisberger: Lee’s bar routine. One could argue it’s the greatest bar routine ever competed in collegiate gymnastics (other than my sister, of course). It has it all. Great releases, perfect swing, big dismount.

Others: Haleigh Bryant’s vault, like Lee’s bars, is one of the best vaults ever done in collegiate gymnastics (I know I’ve said that twice now). If she sticks, it’s a 10.

Derrian Gobourne on floor is so much fun. Trinity Thomas, on floor as well, is about as good as it gets. Soraya Hawthorne’s floor routine is one of the most fun to watch, and doesn’t get enough attention, in my opinion. Maile O’Keefe on beam is hard to leave off this list. There are a lot that are hard to leave off this list.

Miles Greig: Jocelyn Moore finally getting that perfect 10 on vault!

Baker: The first 10 for not only Moore, but the Missouri program as well, is pretty iconic. She has my vote.

Peszek: Thomas on everything, Gobourne on floor, Audrey Davis on bars and Sophia Groth on beam. This is a tough question — I have so many, actually!

Sloan: Helen Hu on bars and beam, Aleah Finnegan on everything and Lee on bars.

Which team has impressed you the most so far this season?

Johnson Clarke: It’s impossible to not be impressed by Oklahoma’s strong start and ongoing prowess in competition.

Miles Greig: Oklahoma. The consistency week after week is almost too good. It will be interesting to see if it can stay the course, continue to dominate and capture yet another title. Both Alabama and LSU have also proven that you can never count them out. LSU has been impressive despite injury challenges, and Alabama is showing signs of peaking at the right time.

Peszek: Florida. You can tell it competes calmly and confidently even when there are mistakes. It has had different lineups, different athletes and continued to have a high skill level. I’ve also been proud of LSU, since it seems like it’s had to overcome the most this season with injuries and still seems to put up good lineups!

Oklahoma is obviously dominant right now. It seems robotic, focused and almost unbeatable. Part of me thinks it’s almost been “too perfect” where if there was a mistake, I wonder if it could handle it. It hasn’t had many of those situations this year — which is a good and bad thing, in my opinion.

Roethlisberger: Oklahoma. It’s the best team in college gymnastics. It doesn’t mean it will win NCAA championships, but from the first meet until now, it has been dominant.

Baker: Missouri. After coming off of a record-breaking fifth-place ranking last year, it has used that positive momentum to its advantage this year. I think it’s really exciting to watch, and it’s cool to see it keep pushing the boundaries and breaking more records.

Sloan: Florida has been outstanding. It has so much talent, from freshmen to fifth year seniors and everyone in between. It competes like it practices and makes it look so effortless. Also, Kentucky has always been a team that is close to breaking the barrier between good and great. Tim Garrison and his staff do such an amazing job with the program and they have had a fantastic season so far.

Which team has surprised you the most?

Roethlisberger: I watched California in the opening week of the season and immediately thought this is an NCAA-qualifying team. It’s been close, so this isn’t exactly breaking news, but it has a nice combination of young talent and veterans. It relies on more all-arounders than the average team, which has its pros and cons. It has great coaches that know how to get the most out of their athletes and have them peak at the right time. This could be a team that even surprises some people and makes the finals of the NCAAs.

I think LSU is a surprise, but not the way some might think. After a heartbreaking finish to last season, it lost Kiya Johnson early this season, arguably its best all-arounder and one of the best in the country. When it looked like Tiger nation was about to say, “Here we go again,” the rest of the team seemed to look at one another and say, “Not so fast.” They seem to have a chip on their shoulder and some grit to them that they didn’t have last year despite all the talent they had. I’m not ready to say they’ll win it all, but I’ll guarantee they will not go quietly this year.

Baker: Kentucky. It has stellar athletes and are highly competitive this year. Steadily climbing and building its scores, I think it could be the ones to watch in the postseason fight.

Miles Greig: Kentucky is a sneaky good team. I would not be surprised for it to be in the mix and have an opportunity to have historic success in the postseason.

Peszek: Missouri. It’s really tough mentally to repeat the success it had last season, even though it has all returning routines. So, I’m surprised that even though the beginning of the season was tough and people counted Missouri out, it seems like it’s turned a corner and going to hit the ground running. It’s tough to have so many meets not go your way and still stay the course and believe in the potential of your team, and it seems like it did a great job at that. I think it will continue to surprise people in the second half of the season.

Sloan: Missouri. It had that record-breaking season in 2022 and have surpassed that so far in 2023. I think it surprised itself last year, but this year it has surprised itself by the confidence it has. The team is more dynamic than last year and not finished yet.

Heading into March, who are your picks for the final four at NCAA championships? Who will win the team title?

Baker: Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Michigan. And I think it’ll be a battle between Oklahoma and Florida. I’m going with Florida.

Johnson Clarke: Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan, and oh my gosh, it’s truly up for grabs for whichever teams get hot and stay hot.

Peszek: Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan and UCLA. I think Florida will win the team title.

Roethlisberger: With the right to change my opinion, I’ve got Oklahoma, Florida, Utah and I’m gonna get crazy and pick an underdog, Alabama. It has the athletes, the only question is how clean can it hit. That being said, I think there’s about 10 teams that we should not be surprised to see in the finals. Michigan looking for redemption, LSU overcoming injury to Kiya Johnson, California proving its time has come, UCLA’s new coaching staff with something to prove … it’s going to be fun.

Last year, I took the Sooners at the beginning of the year and never wavered from that take. It’s better this year. The only question is, can it keep this level of “perfection” through the end of the season? Until it gives me a reason to change my opinion, I’m taking Oklahoma to win again.

Sloan: Florida, Oklahoma, California, UCLA. I think it is going to be a toss-up between Oklahoma and Florida for who comes out on top.

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