Saturday afternoon in West Valley City, four of the presumed best women’s college gymnastics teams will compete head-to-head.
Officially called the Sprouts Farmers Market Collegiate Quad, Saturday’s meet at the Maverik Center will pit No. 1 Oklahoma, the defending national champion, against No. 2 Utah, No. 5 LSU and No. 12 UCLA.
The Sooners, Red Rocks and Tigers all competed in the four-team national championship final in April (Florida was the other participant), while the Bruins made it to the national semifinals.
That said, through a week of competition in the 2024 season, it is hard to nail down much when it comes to which teams will be contending for a national championship this season.
Outside of Oklahoma, that is.
The Sooners competed in Las Vegas last weekend in the Mean Girls Super 16 championship — another early season quad meet — and looked the part of title favorite, which makes sense as they were picked by every preseason poll or power ranking to win their third consecutive national championship this season.
After OU, though, there are a lot of question marks.
Utah is No. 2 after the first week thanks to a strong performance at home against Boise State, but vault was a real weak point (stop me if you’ve heard that before).
Beyond that, the Red Rocks were highly reliant on upperclassmen such as Maile O’Keefe, Abby Paulson, Jaedyn Rucker and Grace McCallum for big scores.
That in itself isn’t unexpected or unusual, but four freshmen and three sophomores make up half of Utah’s roster. The team is young, and outside of Makenna Smith and Ashley Glynn, none of those young gymnasts made a sizable impact Week 1.
The Red Rocks will need that to change if they are to contend this year. It is likely to happen given three of the freshmen — Ella Zirbes, Elizabeth Gantner and Camie Winger — were five-star recruits, but it is something to watch.
It is after the Utes that things get really interesting, though.
Ranked No. 3 after the first weekend are the Missouri Tigers, a good SEC program that has had real success recently, making it to the national semifinals in 2022.
The Tigers were impressive in their season opener, a four-team meet that included Lindenwood, Northern Illinois and Southeast Missouri, and most of it felt sustainable.
Between Jocelyn Moore, Amari Celestine and Sienna Schreiber, Missouri has real star power, and Week 1 the Tigers proved to have some solid contributors behind them like Grace Anne Davis and Hannah Horton.
Given the traditional powers that exist in the SEC — think Florida, LSU and Alabama — plus other strong programs like Kentucky and Auburn, Missouri isn’t often thought about in the vein of being a national title contender, but this year that might be the case.
It is the case for the No. 4-ranked team, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The Tide have been hit-or-miss for the last decade or so when it comes to genuine national title contention, missing out on the national semifinals last season, but things appear to be changing this season.
With a new head coach in Ashley Priess Johnston and a roster littered with talent young and old, from Luisa Blanco to Gabby Gladieux to Shania Adams to Chloe LaCoursiere to Jamison Sears, Alabama proved better than UCLA, Cal and Auburn Week 1 in another Mean Girls Super 16 meet, and each of those teams have made it to the national semifinals or better in the last two seasons.
Was Alabama perfect? Far from it, but the Crimson Tide teased the potential that had many believing before the season that Alabama will break back into the elite tier this year and make it to the national championship meet.
Continue to go down the rankings and it quickly becomes apparent that any of 15 or so teams could make it to the final meet of the season.
LSU sits at No. 5, and the Tigers have the roster, both talent wise and sheer numbers, to hang with anyone in the NCAA, even Oklahoma.
Tied at No. 6 are a trio of teams in Cal, Denver and Minnesota. Denver was especially impressive, though Cal is replete with talent and Minnesota went on the road to Las Vegas and held of a good Oregon State team.
Tied at No. 9 are Kentucky and Ohio State, both of whom put real scares into elite teams — the Wildcats finishing second behind Oklahoma while defeating Michigan and Michigan State, the Buckeyes going toe-to-toe with LSU in Baton Rouge.
Go as far as No. 14 in the rankings — Michigan State — and any of the above teams could realistically make noise come the postseason. And that is without including a team like Michigan that struggled mightily Week 1 but has the history and expectation to contend.
Utah, LSU and UCLA each have a real opportunity in the Sprouts Farmers Market Collegiate Quad to set themselves apart from the pack. It is a pack, though, that looks to be more even than many in recent years. At least right now.
Maybe, just maybe, parity of a sort has come to college gymnastics.