What did a third-place finish at the 2022 NCAA women’s gymnastics championships get Utah?
Increased expectations for next year.
The Red Rocks are ranked No. 2 in College Gym News’ way too early power rankings for the 2023 season.
Utah comes in behind only national champion Oklahoma, and ahead of Florida — the Gators finished ahead of the Utes at nationals this year — LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Michigan, Missouri, Michigan State and Cal.
The rankings, the first of many, take into consideration returning routines and incoming recruiting classes.
All seniors who haven’t announced whether they will return for a fifth season — a COVID-19 year — were excluded from consideration.
Utah returns a wealth of talent from its 2022 team — including seven All-Americans and two individual NCAA national champions — and brings in a pair of gymnasts in Makenna Smith and Sarah Krump who are capable of competing immediately as freshmen.
All of it, on paper, should make the Red Rocks the chief challenger to Oklahoma.
“The only program to qualify to every NCAA championship will like its chances again in 2023, losing only a trio of routines from this season’s third-place squad,” College Gym News’ Brandis Heffner wrote.
“Those three routines shouldn’t be hard to replace with five-star and eighth-ranked recruit Makenna Smith en route to Salt Lake City in addition to an expanded offering from Kara Eaker, who only made beam lineups after her opening-meet injury.
“The Utes also recently announced the addition of walk-on Krump, who stands out on beam and floor. Also in the Utes’ favor is returning the entirety of its nation-leading beam lineup thanks to the extra year from star Cristal Isa.”
Where does the rest of the Pac-12 rank?
Utah is joined in the top 10 by Cal. The Bears finished No. 11 this season, and despite losing many of the gymnasts most responsible for the program’s recent rise, the future remains bright in Berkeley.
“For how impactful the departing class was for California over the last few years, it’s crazy how few routines it’s actually losing from this year’s postseason lineups,” Heffner wrote.
“With the core of lineups returning thanks to Andi Li and Nevaeh DeSouza, California will once again threaten for a nationals bid.”
Also included in the rankings is UCLA. The Bruins slot in at No. 11, despite their ongoing search for a new head coach.
Talent has never been an issue at UCLA, though, nor is that expected to be the case next season.
“Repeat nationals misses is certainly a disappointment for a gymnastics blue blood like the Bruins, but next year’s roster is once again promisingly stacked with nationals-level talent,” Heffner wrote.
“The nation’s top recruit, Selena Harris, highlights a pair of incoming five-stars, which will help bolster UCLA’s depth as gymnasts like Emily Lee and Sara Ulias will also return from injuries.”
Oregon State (No. 12), Arizona State (No. 16) and Stanford (No. 17) all made the cut as well.
What about BYU, Southern Utah or Utah State?
Neither BYU, Southern Utah nor Utah State made it into the rankings, which topped out at 20 teams.
Their respective omissions weren’t egregious — Utah State was the highest ranked of the three Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference programs at the end of the year, at No. 23, followed by BYU at No. 24 and Southern Utah at No. 28 — but the Aggies in particular have a real argument for inclusion.
Utah State won its first ever MRGC title in 2022, recorded the highest regionals score in program history — a 196.825 at the Norman, Oklahoma, regional — and returns many of its most impactful gymnasts, including Rebecca Wells, Brie Clark, Amari Evans, Maia Fishwick and Brianna Brooks, to name a few.
Additionally, Utah State’s 15 wins last year where the program’s most in a single season since 1999.