NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships: Preview, schedule, and how to watch

A look ahead at the Fort Worth, Texas event that will feature Olympic champions Sunisa Lee and Jade Carey.

By Scott Bregman
Picture by Auburn Athletics

After three months of intense competition, the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships have arrived in Fort Worth, Texas. Eight teams will battle it out for the 2022 crown with defending champions the University of Michigan looking to repeat against a stacked field. Competition is scheduled for 14 and 16 April.

Michigan’s biggest rivals will be from the top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners and the No.2 University of Florida Gators. Both have a history of delivering under pressure at the NCAAs, but once competition begins anything can happen.

The level of competition has never been higher with four of the six women who represented Team USA at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games set to participate in the event. Auburn University freshman Sunisa Lee is the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the all-around and then compete in the NCAA. She’s joined by floor exercise Olympic champion Jade Carey (Oregon State University), and team silver medallists Jordan Chiles (UCLA) and Grace McCallum (University of Utah).

Here's what to expect ahead of the competition.

National semi-final I: Oklahoma, Utah, Alabama, Minnesota

The top-ranked University of Oklahoma Sooners have won three of the last five NCAA team titles and will be among the favourites to take the title in Texas. Their spectacular season has come with big-hitting routines from 2016 Olympic alternate Ragan Smith, freshman Jordan Bowers and uneven bars and balance beam specialist Audrey Davis.

They enter the NCAAs riding a streak of three scores better than 198 or better.

The battle for the second spot and a place in the NCAA finals will likely be between two perennial powers: the Utah Utes and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. Both teams have won titles before and both have had strong seasons.

Utah has 2020 Olympian McCallum highlighting their roster but they’ll need strong performances from others as well, such as Maile O’Keefe, and Kara Eaker, a 2020 Olympic alternate. Meanwhile, Bama will have to shake off an injury to its best all-around performer at the SEC Championships, Louisa Blanco. At the regionals, Blanco was limited to bars only. Can she contribute on more events in Fort Worth?

Minnesota and their star, Lexy Ramler, complete the semi-final roster and could play spoiler if any team slips up.

Sunisa Lee celebrates earning a 10.0 mark during the 2022 NCAA season.
Picture by Matthew Shannon/Auburn University Athletics

National semi-final II: Florida, Michigan, Auburn, Missouri

Michigan enters the NCAAs as the defending champions after winning its first-ever title a year ago.

Their first task: survive and advance from Thursday’s second national semi-final where they’ll face the powerhouse University of Florida, Lee’s Auburn Tigers and a surging challenge from the University of Missouri.

Ranked No. 1 for much of the season, the Wolverines got the 2022 season off to a red-hot start, including a vault rotation against Rutgers that included three vaults that scored 10.0. After a slip-up against Nebraska, where they recorded their lowest score of the season, Michigan has looked solid if not spectacular, winning the Big Ten title and the regional final. They’ll need to regain their early season fire to contend for the title in the finals, another solid day to advance there.

On the other hand, Florida comes to Fort Worth on a roll. They earned the highest score of the season, a 198.775, in their regional final. Their star, Trinity Thomas, earned four 10.0 marks across eight routines at regionals. Can she do it again and put Florida in a position for its first NCAA title since 2015? She'll also get plenty of help from 2021 world all-around silver medallist Leanne Wong and fifth-year senior standout Megan Skaggs.

Auburn has also had a historic season with Lee helping the squad to record scores. She’ll need to do more of the same if they are going push into the session’s top two and advance. Auburn will want strong performances from Derrian Gobourne, Cassie Stevens and Sophia Groth, as well as Lee, to erase the memory of a season cut short a year ago by COVID-19.

The University of Missouri is a surprise entrant in the field, qualifying out of the Raleigh regional by narrowly defeating UCLA. It’s just their second NCAA finals appearance and first since 2010.

Olympic stars set to shine bright in Ft. Worth

The 2022 season has been memorable as the level of competition rises.

U.S. Olympians Lee, Carey, McCallum and Chiles will be reunited at the NCAAs. Their historic freshman class also includes Brooklyn Moors, who competed at Tokyo for Canada, Morgan Hurd, the 2017 world all-around champion, Wong, the 2021 world all-around runner-up, Eaker, two-time world team champion, and Ana Padurariu, the 2018 world balance beam silver medallist.

Their presence in collegiate gymnastics is one marker of the popularity and level of the sport in the NCAA. Through the regional championships, there have been 69 scores of 10.0 and five of the top 10 highest team scores in NCAA history have come in the 2022 season, according to The Balance Beam Situation blog.

While Lee and McCallum will compete with their teams, Carey (all-around) and Chiles (uneven bars, floor exercise) qualified as individuals.

Lee and Carey are likely to battle for the all-around crown, which is decided on the opening day of competition. The pair of Olympic gold medallists, fittingly, finished the regular season ranked first (Carey, 39.760 national qualifying score) and second (Lee, 39.750).

But with the rising profile of the sport comes great pressure. Lee has spoken about it often throughout the season.

After competition at the regional championships, Auburn head coach put what Lee was feeling like this, according to reporters at the event: “It’s hard to get you guys to understand, to get anybody to understand, the pressure she’s under.”

2022 Women’s NCAA Gymnastics Championships: Schedule, how to watch

All times local to the event (CDT)

Thursday, 14 April
12:00 – National semi-final I: Oklahoma, Alabama, Minnesota, Utah
17:00 – National semi-final II: Florida, Missouri, Auburn, Michigan

Saturday, 16 April
12:00 – National finals

Fans in the United States can watch Thursday’s competitions on ESPN2, while the finals will air live on ABC.

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