It was not the most impressive season opener of the last few years, but energy and fun were much felt along the United States for the first week of NCAA gymnastics of 2018. LSU has posted the highest team score of week 1 for the second consecutive year with a 197.150. Utah was the only other team to score a 197 or better, a 197.000 flat. Third was, surprisingly, Central Michigan with a 196.375. It was a disappointing start for Florida and Alabama, which had to count some falls and scored in the 195s. Some big competitors were still missing. National champion Oklahoma will begin its season only in week 3, on 15 January, at Georgia, while Georgia will begin its competition next Friday against Alabama. Next week other potential protagonists of this season will debut, including Stanford, Cal and Washington.
LSU impressed with a 197.150 to defeat Arkansas (195.350). The Tigers scored over 49 on all apparatuses, and posted a huge 49.600 on bars, their best ever season opener on that apparatus. Junior Sarah Finnegan won the all around with a career-high 39.650, and also won the beam title with a 9.925 and shared the bars title with sophomore Kennedi Edney with a 9.950. Kennedi competed only on bars, as she is nursing a sore ankle. Junior Lexie Priessman won vault with a 9.900 with a fantastic FTY, while Myia Hambrick won floor with a 9.950. It was a great start for the freshmen. Christina Desiderio posted a 9.825 on beam, Sami Durante a 9.875 on bars, Sarah Edwards two 9.825s on vault and floor, and Reagan Campbell a 9.725 on beam. For Arkansas, freshman Sophia Carter impressed with a 9.900 on beam, while sophomore Jessica Yamzon had a very good day, with an overall score of 38.950 in the all around.
Utah also had an impressive start, scoring a 197.000, the only third in school history in a season opener, to beat BYU (194.275). MaKenna Merrell-Giles and MyKayla Skinner shared the all around title with a 39.475. MyKayla Skinner also won bars and beam with two 9.900s and MaKenna Merrell-Giles won floor with a 9.925. Kim Tessen, who was returning to competition after tearing her Achilles last year, and Tiffani Lewis won vault with two 9.900s. Kim competed an almost stuck Yurchenko one-and-a-half, while Tiffani stuck cold her FTY. Missy Reinstadtler and Tiffani Lewis also impressed on floor with two 9.900s. Freshman Sydney Soloski debuted on floor with an excellent 9.850. MyKayla Skinner competed a fantastic floor routine, which included her usual double double mount, but was penalised for stepping out of bounds on her ful-twisting double tuck (9.800). BYU has several scores in the 9.8s. Mackenzie Douglas scored a 9.800 on vault. Shannon Hortman scored a 9.800 on bars. Jill Van Mierlo scored a 9.800 on beam. And on floor, Kyleigh Greenlief scored a 9.825 and Shannon Hortman a 9.800.
It was a fantastic season opener for Central Michigan, which defeated Illinois State 196.375 to 191.600. Central Michigan, which had no gymnast competing in the all around, put together an incredible team effort, winning all events and scoring two apparatuses over 49, including a huge 49.400 on floor. Macey Hilliker won floor with a huge 9.925; Denelle Pedrick won vault with a 9.875; Bryttany Kaplan won bars with a 9.850; and Katy Clements won beam with a 9.875. Illinois State’s Gabrielle Cooke won the all around with a 38.675.
It was a fairly good start for UCLA, which won over Ohio State 196.250 to 193.200. The Bruins started off badly on vault, having to count Pua Hall‘s 9.250, but recovered nicely to score over 49 on the other three apparatuses. Olympic and NCAA champion and 2017 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Kyla Ross had a fantastic competition, winning the all around with a 39.500, which included three 9.900s on bars, beam and also floor, which was her nemesis event last year. Freshman Nia Dennis was second in the all around with a 39.050, a good start in her college debut. Freshman Pauline Tratz also had her debut, and won vault with a 9.850. Sophomore Grace Glenn also competed for the first time, scoring a 9.725 on beam. Sophomore Gracie Kramer competed for the first time on floor, scoring a huge 9.900, and winning the event together with Kyla Ross and Ohio State’s Alexis Mattern. Senior Peng-Peng Lee, in her sixth year at UCLA, won both bars and beam, with a 9.975 and a 9.925 respectively.
It was a disappointing start for Alabama, that scored a low 195.675 and lost the meet to Michigan (196.200). Michigan’s Olivia Karas won the all around with a 39.350, and also scored a huge 9.925 on floor. Emma McLean also scored a big 9.900 on floor, while Brianna Brown scored a 9.900 on bars, a 9.850 on beam and a 9.800 on floor. For Alabama, senior Kiana Winston won both bars (9.925) and beam (9.900), while the other senior Nickie Guerrero won vault with a 9.900. Nickie had an uncharacteristic wobble on her triple series on beam and had to grab the beam, it was the first ever time I saw her wobble that combination. On bars, also impressive was freshman and Olympian Kylie Dickson, who scored a 9.900. Freshman Lexi Graber, who had a fantastic Level 10 career, also made a good debut, scoring a 9.775 on vault and a 9.875 on beam. The Crimson Tide, however, struggled on floor, where the best score was Kiana Winston’s and Abby Armbrecht’s 9.775. It was also a disappointing start for former elite star Bailie Key, who scored only an 8.4750 on beam.
It was a slow start also for Florida, which scored a low 195.900 to beat West Virginia (194.425). The Gators were off to a difficult start on bars, after Kennedy Baker was unable to finish her bars routine due to leg cramps (2.000), and had to count a fall on floor, Rachel Gowey’s 9.125 after Amanda Cheney’s 9.100. Florida, however, counted some big scores in the 9.9s. On vault, Alex McMurtry scored a 9.900 for a huge FTY. On bars, Alicia Boren scored a 9.900 and Alex McMurtry a 9.925. On beam, Rachel Gowey, Alicia Boren and star freshman Alyssa Baumann scored three 9.900s. Finally, on floor Alicia Boren scored a 9.925. Alicia also won the all around with a 39.575. Freshman Jazmyn Foberg had a steady debut, competing in the all around and scoring a 39.125. Freshman Megan Skaggs also made her debut on vault, where she posted a slightly underscored 9.750. West Virginia had two scores in the 9.8s on floor, a 9.850 for Jordan Gillette and a 9.800 for Kirah Koshinski, who also scored a 9.850 on vault.
Denver won over Arizona in a tight battle 195.775 to 195.425. Denver impressed, scoring over 49 on three apparatuses, but had to count a low 48 on bars. Sophomore star Maddie Karr won the all around with an impressive 39.500, followed by freshman Lynzee Brown with a 39.425. Lynzee also won floor with a 9.900, while Maddie Karr won vault (9.925) and beam (9.900). The best score on bars was instead posted by Arizona’s Christina Berg (9.875).
Host Kentucky won a quad meet, scoring a good 196.075 ahead of Ball State (194.475), George Washington (193.775) and Southeastern Missouri (189.675). Kentucky’s star and 2017 SEC Freshman of the Year Mollie Korth scored two 9.850s on vault and floor and a 9.800 on beam. Alex Hyland scored an impressive 9.850 on beam and a 9.875 on floor, while Sydney Dukes won floor with a huge 9.900. For Ball State, Tia Kiaku scored a very good 9.850 on floor and Maddie MacDonald a 9.850 on bars. George Washington’s Camille Drouin-Allaire won the all around with a 39.100, which included a 9.850 on floor and a 9.825 on vault. GW scored other two 9.850s on floor with Madeline Seibold and Jillian Winstanley. S.E. Missouri’s best gymnast was Alexis Brawner, who scored two 9.800s on vault and floor.
In another quad meet, Iowa State won with a 195.125, ahead of host Arizona State (194.675), Auburn, off to a bad start (193.950) and Iowa (193.000). Iowa State’s star senior Haylee Young won the all around with a 39.200, while teammate Kelsey Paz won beam with a 9.875. Iowa’s Clair Kaji won floor with a 9.850, while Auburn won bars with Samantha Cerio (9.900). Vault was shared between Auburn’s Drew Watson and Iowa State’s Meaghan Sievers (9.875).
At the Little Boston Invitational, Temple won with a 194.875 over New Hampshire (194.175), Maryland (194.100) and Towson (193.800). Interestingly enough, however, Temple failed to win any individual title. Towson’s Tyra McKellar won the all around with a good 39.075, just ahead of Maryland’s Audrey Barber (39.050). Towson’s Cortni Baker won vault with a 9.850, Maryland’s Audrey Barber won bars with a 9.875, Maryland’s Karrie Thomas won floor with a 9.850 and New Hampshire’s Casey Lauter won beam with an impressive 9.925.
Bowling Green defeated Michigan State 194.000 to 193.350. Michigan State impressed on floor, where Lexi Augustine and Jovannah East scored two 9.800s and Randi Morris scored a 9.825. Michigan State scored two excellent 48.900s on bars and floor, but suffered a bit on beam. On bars, Anne Maxim, Lea Mitchell, Roya Shirley and Hailee Westeny all scored in the 9.8-range, while on floor Lea Mitchell and Roya Shirley scored two 9.850s. Roya Shirley also won the all around with a 39.075.
Penn State won over Eastern Michigan 194.275 to 192.900. Penn State’s Briannah Tsang and Lauren Bridgens shared the all around title with a good 39.050. Briannah Tsang also won vault and beam with two 9.825. Eastern Michigan took bars and floor, with Lacey Rubin (9.850) and Emili Dubronics (9.800) respectively.
In a three-team meet, North Carolina State won with a 194.025 over UIC (193.525) and host Northern Illinois (192.600). North Carolina State’s Chelsea Knight won the all around with a good 39.075, vault with a 9.800 and floor with another 9.800, title shared with Northern Illinois’s Anna Martucci. Ashley Potts of Northern Illinois and Serena Baker of UIC shared the bars title with a 9.825, while UIC’s Kayla Baddeley won beam with a 9.825.
Host Air Force beat UW-Lacrosse 193.425 to 191.350. Air Force’s Mariana Murphy won the all around with a 38.675, as well as beam with a 9.775. Teammates Tyler Davis (9.750) and Jessica Kirkpatrick (9.775) won vault and beam respectively. UW-La Crosse’s Sam Weyker won floor with a 9.800.
Bridgeport beat Southern Connecticut 192.650 to 186.150. Kelsey Campbell won the all around with a 38.775, and impressed on bars with a 9.850.
UW-Eau Claire beat Gustavus Adolphus 181.275 to 175.800. Gustavus Adolphus’s Amanda Malo won the all around with a 36.075.
UW-Oshkosh beat Hamline in a tight competition 183.525 to 183.475. UW-Oshkosh’s Amanda McBrayer won the all around with a 36.950.
LSU has posted the highest season opener score for the second consecutive year. The score is lower than last year, and it reflects the fact that the team is much newer, younger and more inexperienced than last year. It is hard to tell whether this team will be able to score a 198+, but it is certainly full of talent and potential, and it is hungry for more. Sarah Finnegan is blossoming into one of the best NCAA gymnasts of her generation, she is reliable, polished and full of positive energy.
Utah was also off to a great start. Like LSU, the Utes had a clean day, but they also have huge margin of improvement on all apparatuses. MyKayla Skinner is their undisputed star, but such gymnasts as MaKenna Merrell-Giles and Tiffani Lewis took up the challenge and their hard work paid off. It was also very nice to see Kim Tessen back in full form after tearing her Achilles last year.
On the other side of the spectrum, Florida and Alabama shocked for their low opening scores. Overall, Florida’s score does not reflect the immense talent and the generally good competition the Gators had. They can easily score over 197 on an average day. It also shows, however, that in order to receive good scores, everyone needs to hit their routines, regardless of the big names on a team. Things are more uncertain for Alabama. The Crimson Tide, like Florida, have big talents and welcomed a fantastic freshman class, but a lot of routines looked quite unpolished and nerves were rampant. It is very early in the season, however, and time will eventually tell!
UCLA is, like last year, a big mystery. It has a fantastic roster and immense potential, but it all depends on whether it is capable of hitting its routines when it counts and to be on top form in April. The gymnasts look in much better shape on floor than last year, to the point that the Bruins are number 1 in the nation on floor after week 1. If they can land their vaults on their feet and polish some routines on other apparatuses, they can easily score in the mid-197.
The freshman class impressed across the nation. Florida debuted three former U.S. national team members, Jazmyn Foberg, Alyssa Baumann and Maggie Skaggs, whose scores all counted towards the final score. Alabama’s Olympian Kylie Dickson impressed on bars with a 9.900 (and I realised she is 5’8 tall, wow!), while Level 10 star Lexi Graber did fantastic on beam. UCLA brought in big names as usual, with former elites Pauline Tratz of Germany and Nia Dennis impressing in their debut. Also very impressive was Arkansas’s Sophia Carter, who posted a 9.900 on beam in her first ever beam routine. Lynzee Brown was solid in the all around for Denver, while Sydney Soloski showed off her potential on floor for Utah.
I look forward to seeing the rest of the top teams debut in the next couple of weeks.
Best scores of the week
Team: LSU – 197.150
All around: Sarah Finnegan (LSU) – 39.650
Vault: Maddie Karr (Denver) – 9.925
Bars: Peng-Peng Lee (UCLA) – 9.975
Beam: Sarah Finnegan (LSU), Peng-Peng Lee (UCLA), Casey Lauter (New Hampshire) – 9.925
Floor: Myia Hambrick (LSU) – 9.950
Routines of the week
Vault: Kim Tessen (Utah) – What a fantastic comeback after an Achilles tear.
Bars: Peng-Peng Lee (UCLA) – Difficult and gutsy routine, never old.
Beam: Sophia Carter (Arkansas) – What a fantastic debut beam routine for the freshman!
Floor: Sarah Finnegan (LSU) – Beauty, elegance and power, this is how to compete floor.
Cal and Stanford, led by new head coach Tabitha Yim, are beginning their season on Monday, 8 January. Georgia, which is also debuting its new head coach Courtney Kupets-Carter, is starting its season on Friday, 12 January, at Alabama. On Friday there will also take place one of the most heated meets of the season, LSU v. Florida. Another very heated meet is taking place on Sunday, 14 January, when UCLA and Utah are competing against each other in a quad meet with Washington and Stanford.
Article by Talitha Ilacqua