Come Friday, April 16, Utah’s gymnastics team will take to the floor inside Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, as one of the eight teams that qualified to compete for the 2021 national championship.
The Red Rocks will be where they belong. Utah has qualified for 45 consecutive national championships, including 39 berths at the NCAA championships, a run of excellence that no other program in the country can come close to equaling.
And yet, Utah has not made it a habit of late to truly contend for a national title. Despite boasting 10 national championships, Utah hasn’t won one since 1995. In the last decade, the closest the Red Rocks have gotten was in 2015, when they finished second overall. Since then, Utah has finished ninth, fifth, fifth and seventh.
Will 2021 be the year the Red Rocks finally break through again?
These are the seven teams that stand between Utah and an 11th national championship (10th NCAA title).
- Overall rankings are based off the most recent Road to Nationals standings, which include scores at regionals.
- Event rankings and seed were all determined after conference championship weekend, and do not take regional performances into consideration.
- A gymnast earns All-America honors if they finish in the top 16 of the final NQS individual event rankings. First-team gymnasts ranked 1 through 8, while second-team gymnasts ranked 9 through 16.
Postseason NQS: 396.119
Regional high score: 198.175
- Balance beam — 2
- Floor exercise — 6
- Uneven bars — 4
- Vault — 3
- Anastasia Webb — First-team All-American in the all-around and on beam and vault; second-team on floor.
- Evy Schoepfer — First-team All-American on vault.
- Audrey Davis — First-team All-American on bars.
- Karrie Thomas — Second-team All-American on beam.
- Katherine LeVasseur — Second-team All-American on bars.
The Sooners were the best team in the country during regionals. Oklahoma won the Tuscaloosa regional handily, beating Alabama, Arkansas and Missouri in the final. The Sooners haven’t scored below a 197 since Jan. 31, and have scored a 198 or better three times this year. Outside of their shocking loss to Denver at the Big 12 championships, the Sooners have defeated every opponent they’ve faced this season.
Utah and Oklahoma have met 39 times, the most recent meeting coming earlier this season in Norman. The Sooners won that meet, which doubled as the worst meet of Utah’s season. Oklahoma has beaten Utah six consecutive times, and 10 of the last 12 times.
Oklahoma has been the best team in the country for most of the last decade. Utah will face off against Oklahoma in their national semifinal — LSU and Alabama are the other two teams in the evening semifinal — and while a victory over the Sooners would be a major confidence boost, it will be the Red Rock’s tallest task this postseason, excluding winning the national title itself.
Postseason NQS: 395.900
Regional high score: 198.100
- Balance beam — 4
- Floor exercise — 12
- Uneven bars — 3
- Vault — 1
- Natalie Wojcik — First-team All-American in the all-around and on bars and beam; second-team on vault.
- Sierra Brooks — First-team All-American on vault; second-team in the all-around.
- Abby Heiskell — First-team All-American on vault.
- Naomi Morrison — Second-team All-American on vault.
Michigan won what many considered to be the most difficult regional in the country: the Morgantown Regional. The Wolverines finished ahead of Cal, UCLA and Ohio State, thanks to their third score over 198 this year, as well as a program-record 49.725 on bars. Michigan has only lost twice this season: to Minnesota at the Big Ten Championships, and to Iowa, at the Big 5 meet.
Michigan and Utah have met 44 times, a series the Red Rocks lead 29-15. Utah has won six of the last 10 meetings between the programs, but the Wolverines got the better of the Red Rocks in the most recent matchup, in a national semifinal in 2019.
When on, Michigan has been arguably the best team in the country this season. The Wolverines are not always at their best, however, and when they aren’t, they’ve proven vulnerable. Utah shouldn’t have any fear of Michigan (there is too much history between the teams) and won’t face the Wolverines until the national championship itself.
Postseason NQS: 395.644
Regional high score: 197.700
- Balance beam — 1
- Floor exercise — 1
- Uneven bars — 5
- Vault — 4
- Trinity Thomas — First-team All-American in the all-around and on bars, floor and vault; Second-team on beam.
- Leah Clapper — First-team All-American on beam.
- Ellie Lazzari — First-team All-American on beam.
- Alyssa Baumann — Second-team All-American on beam and floor.
- Megan Skaggs — Second-team All-American in the all-around and on bars.
- Nya Reed — Second-team All-American on floor.
- Savannah Schoenherr — Second-team All-American on vault.
For most of the season, Florida has been the favorite to win the national title. The Gators did what was needed at the Athens Regional, defeating Minnesota, Denver and NC State. Florida’s only losses this season came in the same competition: the SEC championships. The Gators finished behind both Alabama and LSU. Otherwise, Florida has dominated the competition, scoring above a 198 twice.
Utah leads the all-time series with Florida 39-19-1, but the majority of those victories came in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Since 1995, Florida has beaten Utah 19 times, while the Red Rocks have defeated the Gators 15 times. Utah hasn’t beaten Florida since 2013, and the teams haven’t met since 2018.
When healthy, the Gators have been unbeatable this season. Injuries played a key role in Florida’s third-place finish at the SEC championships. Utah won’t face Florida until the national championship meet itself, but the Gators stand has one of the most significant obstacles Utah must overcome to win a title.
Postseason NQS: 395.563
Regional high score: 197.750
- Balance beam — 7
- Floor exercise — 2
- Uneven bars — 6
- Vault — 2
- Haleigh Bryant — First-team All-American on vault and floor; Second-team in the all-around.
- Sami Durante — Second-team All-American on bars.
- Kiya Johnson — First-team All-American on floor; second-team on vault.
- Alyona Shchennikova — Second-team All-American on vault.
The Tigers finished second at the Salt Lake City Regional, behind Utah, but ahead of Arizona State and Kentucky. LSU actually finished in second place in both of its regional meets, losing to Kentucky in a regional semifinal as well. The Tigers have been hit and miss at times this season. When on, they’ve taken Florida to the brink and handled almost everyone the SEC had to offer. When off, they’ve fallen to Kentucky multiple times.
Utah holds a commanding 33-7 edge in the series with LSU, but the Tigers had been the better team since 2017, winning all five matchups between the programs, that is until regionals this year. Utah’s victory was its first over LSU since 2012.
Having already faced LSU and won, Utah knows exactly what the Tigers have to offer. When at their best, LSU can be a problem for any team. The Tigers have their weaknesses, though, and are beatable, as Utah has already shown.
Postseason NQS: 395.363
Regional high score: 197.750
- Balance beam — 9
- Floor exercise — 6
- Uneven bars — 1
- Vault — 9
- Nevaeh DeSouza — Second-team All-American in the all-around.
- Nina Schank — Second-team All-American on bars.
- Andi Li — Second-team All-American on bars.
- Kyana George — Second-team All-American on the floor.
California finished second at the Morgantown Regional, behind Michigan, and ahead of UCLA and Ohio State. The Bears have been one of the hottest teams at the end of the season with their only setbacks coming at the Pac-12 championships to Utah and to Michigan at regionals. Otherwise, Cal has defeated any and all comers, setting new program records in the process.
Cal and Utah have met 30 times in a series dominated by the Red Rocks. Utah has won 28 of those matchups, including two this year, at home in Salt Lake City and at the Pac-12 championships. The Bears last beat Utah in 2018.
Utah knows how to beat Cal. That has been proven this season, even as the Bears have made themselves the second-best team in the Pac-12. Cal has the best bars lineup in the country, a rotation that has been instrumental in their success, but should the teams face in the final, the Red Rocks will be the favorite.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Postseason NQS: 395.113
Regional high score: 197.575
- Balance beam — 6
- Floor exercise — 13
- Uneven bars — 8
- Vault — 5
- Luisa Blanco — First-team All-American in the all-around and on beam and bars; second-team on vault.
- Lexi Graber — First-team All-American on floor.
- Makarri Doggette — Second-team All-American on bars.
Alabama finished second behind Oklahoma at the Tuscaloosa Regional, having survived arguably the most difficult regional semifinal in the country, which pit the Crimson Tide against Iowa, Iowa State and Arkansas. Entering the postseason, there may not have been a team on a higher high than Alabama. The Crimson Tide won the SEC championships, defeating LSU and Florida.
The history between Alabama and Utah is long and largely contained to the postseason. Utah trails in the all-time series 20-30, and has only defeated the Crimson Tide in four of the last 15 matchups. That being said, the team’s haven’t faced off since 2017, a meet Utah won.
Alabama has talent. Blanco and Doggette both scored perfect 10s at the Tuscaloosa Regional, and there is a reason the Crimson Tide pulled off upsets of Florida and LSU. Of course, Alabama has also shown that is is vulnerable, with a loss at Georgia. Utah and Alabama will meet in the national semifinal. Throw in LSU and only one of the three teams can advance to the national title meet, barring a collapse by Oklahoma.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Postseason NQS: 394.856
Regional high score: 197.425
- Balance beam — 5
- Floor exercise — 10
- Uneven bars — 7
- Vault — 6
- Lexy Ramler — First-team All-American in the all-around and on bars, beam and vault.
- Ona Loper — First-team All-American on vault; second-team in the all-around and on floor.
- Mya Hooten — First-team All-American on floor.
- Mary Korlin-Downs — Second-team All-American on beam.
- Maddie Quarles — Second-team All-American on vault.
Minnesota is in the midst of one of the program’s best seasons in recent memory, if not all-time. The Golden Gophers upset Michigan to win the Big Ten championships and followed that up with a second place finish behind Florida at the Athens Regional. Minnesota has been nothing if not consistent this season and has scored a 197.400 or better in four of its last seven meets.
Utah has handled Minnesota over the years, winning 31 out of 32 meets. The team’s last met in the 2019, at the Baton Rouge Regional, where the Red Rocks twice took care of business against the Golden Gophers. The teams were supposed to meet during this season, but COVID-19 canceled that matchup. Minnesota’s one win over Utah came back in 2000.
While Minnesota hasn’t shown itself capable of hitting the same highs of many of the teams that qualified for nationals, the Golden Gophers nonetheless boast some of the country’s best gymnasts, like Ramler, and have proven adept at capitalizing on opponents mistakes. Utah and Minnesota won’t meet until the national title meet and the Golden Gophers will have had to pull off a significant upset to get there.