It’s HERE! NCAA season is finally back tonight and the week kicks off with a bang as last year’s national champs and this year’s coaches’ poll favorite Oklahoma takes on Alabama, which polled at #3, in Norman tonight.
Because Oklahoma is the one program in the country that’s like “what are major networks,” almost no one will be able to watch this, as it’s airing on a local Fox Sports syndicate, as always. People have been kind in the past to upload the OU meets on YouTube so keep your eyes peeled for links and in the meantime, we can watch the live stats like peasants.
OU lost some tremendous seniors last year, competitors who had been major contributors since their freshman years, but now Brenna Dowell is back alongside 2015 worlds teammate Maggie Nichols, who got a 10 on bars in a preview meet last month. Nichols is already looking like an all-around standout, and Dowell consistently scored in the high 9s on her three events as a freshman (and was OU’s first true freshman in history to get a perfect 10 on any event), so elite fans will love seeing the former U.S. national teammates continuing to kick butt.
Chayse Capps is looking to kill it in her senior year, and we’re hoping we finally get to see McKenzie Wofford finally get the perfect 10 she’s been chasing on bars for the past three seasons. This team has too many other favorites we’re thrilled to see back in the mix, but we’re most excited for AJ Jackson with her insane power on vault and floor and Natalie Brown with her gorgeous presentation on beam and floor.
As for Alabama, they have an incredible senior class, and the junior class right behind is just as solid, making them a team full of leaders. Although this program came in third behind LSU in the preseason poll, I think they’re going to be OU’s biggest challengers for the national title this year. In looking for gymnasts to highlight as standouts, I came up with literally eight, but I’m most excited for Aja Sims to kill it…she has to be one of the most underrated competitors in the country. For the freshman, Maddie Desch is one of my favorites coming in this year, so I hope she’s able to stay healthy enough to slay.
Also on Friday is #2 LSU hosting #9 Georgia. Ashleigh Gnat is now a senior so be prepared for her to absolutely blow up this year (she got a 39.5 at the team’s showcase in December), and I think for the first time in the past century, Lexie Priessman is actually healthy and could contribute on all four events to the Tigers. Freshmen Kennedi Edney and 2012 Olympian Ruby Harrold will be the big news tonight, with Edney full of power while Harrold is set to become a household name for the squad on bars.
We all remember Georgia’s struggles on beam last year, and while the team overall had a lot of work to do based on last month’s sneak peak, most actually managed to stay on beam, so that’s all we can hope for right now, especially with last year’s mix of seniors out of the mix (though all three, Mary Beth Box, Brandie Jay, and Brittany Rogers, are still working with the team as coaches and assistants!). With this team, I’m most excited to see 2011 world gold medalist Sabrina Vega back in regular action, and I’m also jazzed to see Sydney Snead step things up, but as a long-time Georgia fan, at this point I’m mostly just crossing my fingers hoping everyone makes it through with no major bang-ups.
At 8 pm, #8 Auburn will take on #13 Oregon State, with the Tigers eager to continue their meteoric rise with MJ Rott, Kullen Hlawek, and Kelsey Kopec now in the senior ranks. OSU comes in with an army-sized freshman class, but the upperclassmen are where it’s at, with Maddie Gardiner leading the show alongside big contributors Silvia Colussi-Pelaez, Erika Aufiero, Megan Jimenez, Kaytianna McMillan, and Taylor Ricci.
Other Friday meets include #18 Arizona hosting #30 Utah State and #53 Texas Woman’s, #19 Missouri hosting #24 Illinois and #52 Ball State,#21 Kentucky at #34 Eastern Michigan (super excited to see last year’s Kentucky freshmen step into bigger leadership roles this year!), #28 Michigan State hosting #45 UIC, and #39 Iowa State hosting #40 Arizona State.
Saturday belongs to the PAC 12, and get ready to multitask #4 UCLA vs #17 Arkansas and #6 Utah vs #7 Michigan, both at 7 pm ET. The Utah meet is the next-best meet after OU and Bama, with the Utes always super fun to watch at home. They have sophomore Kari Lee back after an Achilles injury last season, but MyKayla Skinner is the big deal for them right now, coming into the NCAA season with the most difficulty pretty much EVER at the collegiate level. She killed it on her strong events at last month’s preview, so love or hate the Utes (and Skinner), this is gonna be entertaining as hell.
Utah has a big advantage over Michigan right now, looking cleaner and more put together than the Wolverines did at their own preview last month. After the team missed championships last year, Nicole Artz and Talia Chiarelli want to lead this team back to the national stage. Arkansas transfer Paige Zaziski could help them do that, as can sophomore Olivia Karas, juniors Brianna Brown and Lauren Marinez, and freshman Polina Shchennikova, who showed lovely work on beam last month.
After a few seasons of rebuilding and injuries, UCLA is finally back on track with one of my favorite teams this year. Olympic gold medalists Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian are headliner freshmen, no big deal, the senior class is at 100%, Katelyn Ohashi is looking fabulous, Felicia Hano is going to rock vault and floor, seriously, there are about a million names I’m looking at and there’s so much to say about all of them, it’s going to be super exciting to see them all in action. The one bummer for the Bruins is the loss of the Glenn twins, Anna and Grace, both of whom have labrum injuries and won’t be competing. While it’s hard to live up to the Olympic gold medalist status of some of their teammates, they came in as two of the top level 10s in the country and were expected to be just as strong as the big elite names, so this is a loss for the team, but that’s why they have about 700 other gymnasts waiting in the wings as reserves.
As for Arkansas, senior Amanda Wellick is looking to be their star this year, and I also love what sophomore Sydney McGlone brings to the table on her three events. Also keep an eye out for Braie Speed, Heather Elswick, and Samantha Nelson.
Saturday’s other meets include #14 Denver at #16 Minnesota; #23 Penn State hosting #36 BYU, #38 Bowling Green, and Temple; #25 George Washington and #59 Yale at the Little Boston Invitational; #27 Ohio State at #42 Pittsburgh; #47 Rutgers hosting #35 New Hampshrie, #50 Bridgeport, and William & Mary; #56 Towson hosting SCSU, #60 Air Force hosting Winona State, and Oshkosh hosting Gustavus.
A slow day in comparison, #5 Florida makes an appearance in an easy start to their year as they travel to #33 NC State. Always coming in the #1 or #2 program in the past five years, going down to #5 was a significant drop. Losing Bridget Sloan, Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto (I think that’s the last time I’ll ever have to type her name, HALLELUJAH!), and Bridgey Caquatto was a big blow to the program, though they’ll have Kennedy Baker and Alex McMurtry continuing to kill it, and they have one of the strongest freshman classes in the country with U.S. Olympic Trials competitors Amelia Hundley and Rachel Gowey on hand alongside Canadian worlds team member Maegan Chant (fun fact – all three of these gymnasts competed at the 2015 Pan Am Games!). While they won’t be quite the powerhouse they’ve been in recent years, I think they’ll still be one of the SEC’s most competitive programs, though expect them to start off a little slow this weekend and build to that later on.
Also on Sunday: #22 Iowa at #51 Northern Illinois along with #46 Western Michigan and #55 Lindenwood, #29 West Virginia at #37 Maryland, #31 Central Michigan hosting Eau Claire and Hamline.
The other big west coast meet is Monday’s #10 Cal’s Nor Cal Classic, featuring #11 Stanford, #43 UC Davis, #44 Sacramento State, and #49 San Jose State. Seeing Cal surpass Stanford in the poll is huge for the team, which has had an insane rise over the past couple of years. Junior Toni-Ann Williams is back from representing Jamaica at the Olympic Games, and will once again be a key member of this team, but also expect big things from Emily Richardson, Arianna Robinson, Desiree Palomares, Charlie Owens, Jessica Howe, and Zoe Draghi. I think we’ll also see Dana Ho back in action after tearing her ACL last year, so this is a fantastic group of veterans, and I’m also thrilled about freshman Cassidy Keelen coming into the mix.
Stanford has struggled with depth in the recent past, but Elizabeth Price is now a junior and will be instrumental in bringing them back on track. The bigger upperclassmen contributors include Rachel Daum, the McNair twins Danielle and Nicolette, and Haley Spector, but the future of this team lies in its freshman and sophomore classes, with Dare Maxwell back to do big things on bars and last year’s biggest surprise Taryn Fitzgerald contributing in the all-around. The team has some big freshman names, including Canadian worlds team member Aleeza Yu as well as Kaylee Cole, a top level 10 from Texas Dreams who also represented Bolivia internationally in 2015. The team is still in a bit of a transition period, but this is one of my favorite Stanford squads in a while, and I’m looking forward to seeing them rise to the occasion this year.
Finally, on Tuesday, D3 East programs and SUNY rivals Cortland and Brockport will face off in Cortland.
The full schedule is below. All times listed are ET, the first team listed is the host team, and we’ll update any links as they are updated on each program’s schedule. Once the meet is finished, we’ll replace the links with results. Enjoy!
|FRIDAY JANUARY 6|
|7:00 pm||Eastern Michigan vs Kentucky||Results (Kentucky 195.075, Eastern Michigan 192.050)|
|LSU vs Georgia||Results (LSU 197.825, Georgia 193.600)|
|Michigan State vs UIC||Results (Michigan State 194.175, UIC 191.475)|
|7:30 pm||Iowa State vs Arizona State||Results (Iowa State 193.850, Arizona State 191.800)|
|8:00 pm||Auburn vs Oregon State||Results (Oregon State 195.575, Auburn 195.275)|
|Missouri vs Ball State, Illinois||Results (Missouri 196.225, Illinois 194.200, Ball State 193.625)|
|Oklahoma vs Alabama||Results (Oklahoma 197.750, Alabama 196.700)|
|9:00 pm||Arizona vs Texas Woman’s, Utah State||Results (Arizona 194.025, Utah State 191.600, Texas Woman’s 189.500)|
|SATURDAY JANUARY 7|
|1:00 pm||Rutgers vs Bridgeport, New Hampshire, William & Mary||Results (New Hampshire 193.425, Rutgers 192.875, Bridgeport 191.225, William & Mary 188.300)|
|Towson vs SCSU||Results (Towson 193.900, SCSU 187.600)|
|3:00 pm||Oshkosh vs Gustavus||Results (Gustavus 175.550, Oshkosh 174.725)|
|4:00 pm||Penn State vs Bowling Green, BYU, Temple||Results (Penn State 194.625, BYU 194.525, Temple 191.925, Bowling Green 190.725)|
|6:30 pm||Pittsburgh vs Ohio State||Results (Ohio State 194.375, Pittsburgh 192.800)|
|7:00 pm||UCLA vs Arkansas||Results (UCLA 195.700, Arkansas 195.350)|
|Utah vs Michigan||Results (Utah 196.625, Michigan 195.525)|
|7:30 pm||Little Boston Invitational (George Washinton, Yale)||Results (George Washington 195.550, Yale 191.425)|
|Minnesota vs Denver||Results (Denver 195.875, Minnesota 194.725)|
|8:00 pm||Air Force vs Winona State||Results (Air Force 190.875, Winona State 184.750)|
|SUNDAY JANUARY 8|
|1:00 pm||Central Michigan vs Eau Claire, Hamline||Results (Central Michigan 192.075, Eau Claire 188.700, Hamline 183.875)|
|Maryland vs West Virginia||Results (West Virginia 194.400, Maryland 193.950)|
|2:00 pm||NC State vs Florida||Results (Florida 197.100, NC State 194.925)|
|Northern Illinois vs Iowa, Lindenwood, Western Michigan||Results (Northern Illinois 194.825, Iowa 194.200, Western Michigan 193.250, Lindenwood 192.075)|
|MONDAY JANUARY 9|
|10:00 pm||Cal vs Sacramento State, San Jose State, Stanford, UC Davis||Results (Cal 195.325, Sacramento State 194.475, UC Davis 193.875, Stanford 193.250, San Jose State 192.600)|
|TUESDAY JANUARY 10|
|4:00 pm||Cortland vs Brockport||Results (Brockport 185.300, Cortland 183.750)|