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Florida aiming high at 2022 NCAA Gymnastics Championships

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Trinity Thomas leads a potent roster that may be peaking at the right time. But it’s individual titles that are on the line on Thursday.

Syndication: Tuscaloosa News Gary Cosby Jr. / USA TODAY NETWORK

For almost three full seasons, Florida’s fantastic gymnastics team has been chasing championships that have been just out of reach because of untimely errors — and an even less timely pandemic. But the hour of honor is near: By the end of this Thursday night, individual NCAA women’s gymnastics champions in the all-around, vault, bars, beam, and floor will be crowned, and the final four teams that will compete for the team title in the so-called “Four on the Floor” will be identified.

NCAA Gymnastics Championships action is already underway today, with the first of two sessions beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern in Fort Worth, Texas. That session is Semifinal I, which features Oklahoma, Utah, Alabama, and Minnesota, as well as star individual all-around competitor Jade Carey of Oregon State. Florida will compete in Semifinal II, beginning at 6 p.m. Eastern, and will be in action alongside Michigan, Auburn, and Missouri.

Although they are ranked No. 2 nationally, the Gators come into championship weekend as the favorite for the title on many metrics. Their record-breaking NCAA Regionals performance — where they scored a 198.775, verging on the best score in the sport’s history — positioned them as the team to beat this weekend.

That score also runs counter to a narrative that, under head coach Jenny Rowland, the Gators have struggled in postseason competition and will need to prove that they are able to rise to the moment. If their performances at the SEC Championship and both days of regionals are any indication, these Gators are more than capable.

Semifinal I is set up to be quite the battle on its own between Oklahoma, Utah, and Alabama who all scored between 198.175 and 198.25 in their Regionals, but if Minnesota has a clean meet they are certainly capable of being a spoiler.

Semifinal II looks like an easier pass for No. 2 Florida and No. 3 Michigan, but No. 6 Auburn only scored 0.025 less than Michigan at regionals and could certainly make the upset. Missouri comes in with the lowest regionals score and no appearances in the Super Six or Four on the Floor, but with ample talent to capitalize on any team’s mistakes.

Florida needs to end up in the top two teams in the second semifinal to make the finals; it is the top two teams in each session that advance, not the four highest scores.

More glory on the personal level will also be available on Thursday. The highest individual scorers on Thursday in each event and the all-around will be crowned NCAA champions. And the Gators have a plethora of possibilities for individual championships.

In the all-around, Trinity Thomas is the favorite. Even though she does not have an National Qualifying Score (and thus no national ranking) after only inconsistently competing as an all-arounder throughout the season, she has tallied titanic 39.8+ scores in every meet of the postseason and scored four 10s over two days of competition at regionals. Thomas also completed an ultra-rare in-season Gym Slam (a 10 on every event), and is capable of perfect scores on all four events.

Simply put: If she hits, she’s almost certainly the national champion.

Thomas is not without competition, though, and the stiffest will likely come from Olympic champions Carey of Oregon State and Sunisa Lee of Auburn, who have both scored 39.825 this season. Minnesota super senior Lexy Ramler and Natalie Wojcik of Michigan have also reached this mark. But Thomas’s own teammate, Florida freshman Leanne Wong, matched her with her own unbelievable 39.875 at Regionals, and so she rounds out the top group of competitors for the AA crown.

But if any of that top group falters, a startling number of athletes who have all reached the impressive 39.700 mark this season stands to contend: Grace McCallum (Utah), Raena Worley (Kentucky), Ona Loper (Minnesota), Norah Flatley (UCLA), Sierra Brooks (Michigan), Megan Skaggs (Florida), and Abby Heiskell (Michigan) have all found that plateau, and all have the possibility of winning the championship if the night unfolds perfectly. This is certainly the deepest all-around field in recent NCAA history.

Oklahoma freshman Jordan Bowers leads the field on vault with an NQS of 9.965. Her teammate Olivia Trautman has been out most of the season with an injury, but just scored a 9.975 at regionals. Oklahoma sophomore Katherine Levasseur has been finding her landing this season, but is also capable of sticking and winning a championship.

Nearly Michigan’s entire vault lineup is capable of sticking their Yurchenko 1.5 vaults (Wojcik, Brooks, Heiskell, Naomi Morrison, and Gabby Wilson) and any could win the title.

Carey’s double twisting Yurchenko has also been very consistent this season and will score huge if she sticks. The same goes for LSU’s Kiya Johnson, who is the only LSU athlete competing at the Championships.

Florida seniors Thomas and Nya Reed are also in the mix for podium positions on vault, and have both stuck their vaults this season; so are Minnesota super seniors Ramler and Loper. Missouri freshman Jocelyn Moore has massive height and the capability to stick as well.

It will all come down to who sticks on the day, and that is exciting.

On bars, Olympic individual gold medalist Lee leads the pack. She is closely followed by Tokyo teammates Carey and McCallum, who share the No. 2 ranking with Oklahoma’s Audrey Davis. Gators Thomas and Wong round out the top six by ranking, and complete the lead pack most likely to win the title. Fellow Olympian Jordan Chiles (UCLA) is competing as an individual, but has put up a 10.0 this season and is certainly capable of competing with the best bars workers in the country.

Wojcik, Maile O’Keefe (Utah), and Ramler all have excellent technique and are likely to be on the podium, if not win the title.

Florida super senior Skaggs could also come in as a spoiler here. Although she isn’t ranked as high as the abovementioned athletes, she has scored 9.95 several times of late and has shown great consistency at meeting that number when needed.

On beam, Oklahoma’s Ragan Smith and Lee share the top spot. O’Keefe and teammate Kara Eaker (Utah) are coming off a pair of 10.0s at regionals, and fellow Ute Cristal Isa has scored a 10.0 earlier this season.

Most of the Florida lineup — almost certainly consisting of Skaggs, Sloane Blakely, Alyssa Baumann, Wong, Thomas, and Leah Clapper — is capable of scoring a 9.95 or better on beam and could definitely contend for the championship. At the regional final, their collective lowest score was a 9.925.

Ramler’s form on beam is widely loved by the gymnastics community and the judges, as is Wojcik’s.

That dozen or so of top beamers will be crowded, with every performer needing to be close to perfect to prevail in this crowded field.

The floor field is smaller, but no less competitive. Thomas leads the pack and is coming off of two perfect 10.0s at Regionals. Teammate Reed has been one of the most consistent floor competitors this season, and has not scored below 9.900 once. Minnesota’s Mya Hooten has also been excellent on floor in 2022, and has a good shot at the title.

Olympic floor champion Carey is obviously also at the top of the mix for the title.

Michigan Wolverines Sierra Brooks and Gabby Wilson, Utah super senior Sydney Soloski, and Auburn’s Derrian Gobourne finish out the top of the field for me.

This group is all capable of 10.0s and consistently scores 9.95+; the national champion is probably in its midst. Outside of this group, though, there are many athletes who have scored 9.95 to 10.0 this season, including Gators Blakely, Skaggs, Baumann, and Wong.

I do think that with her ridiculously clean and consistent two-pass routine, the floor title is Thomas’s to lose. But if she isn’t perfect, there are so many great athletes who can end up on top of the podium.

Semifinals day is guaranteed to be an exciting competition and you can watch all the action on ESPN2 or ESPN’s streaming offerings.