Just when you think elite gymnastics is over, the NCAA season slaps you in the face with its first week of meets before we can even understand what’s happening in the new year, and 2019 is no different.
Kicking off the season is a slow but fabulous week, where several of last year’s top teams – including 2018 national champions UCLA and the team they fought so hard to beat, Oklahoma, which will be on the warpath this season to take back their number one spot.
The Bruins make their first appearance tonight at home against Nebraska, which was a surprise team into the Super Six last year, where they finished sixth. UCLA will see the much-awaited debuts of freshmen Norah Flatley and Margzetta Frazier tonight, as well as the return of superstars like Katelyn Ohashi, Kyla Ross, and Madison Kocian, and though they’re without the legendary Peng Peng Lee (the first time the Bruins haven’t had her on their roster since 2013!) they absolutely have the talent and depth to fill the holes left by Lee on bars and beam.
As for Nebraska, I’m always excited to see what they’ll come up with as the slow-but-steady team. As the biggest silent threat last year, the Huskers maintained a solid ranking throughout the season, usually hovering somewhere in the neighborhood of 11th-15th in the country, but an explosive prelims performance at nationals saw them upset Alabama to reach the Super Six for the first time since 2014. Though they lost head coach Dan Kendig in the fall, interim head coach Heather Brink is more than ready for the task of keeping this team in the mix, and while the meet against the Bruins will be a tough one, I’m excited to see what they do.
Oklahoma will compete Saturday night in Arkansas, where junior Maggie Nichols is expected to lead the team to a decisive victory, backed up by seniors Nicole Lehrmann and Brenna Dowell, both of whom are individual as well as team national champions. The Sooners don’t have a star-studded freshman class in the way UCLA does, but look out for former U.S. national team member and Nichols’ former club teammate Olivia Trautman to become a super productive member of this team.
Fourth at nationals last year, LSU is still on the hunt for the team title after coming close but winding up short every year since 2012. The Tigers lost two key lineup standouts with Myia Hambrick and Erin Macadaeg graduating, and they have only one scholarship freshman with Bailey Ferrer coming in, but they also have McKenna Kelley back from her Achilles injury while Sarah Finnegan and Lexie Priessman step into leadership roles as seniors, so while there are some concerns about depth, I don’t think you need to worry, which they should make pretty clear as they take on Cal at home tonight.
Utah, fifth place in the Super Six in 2018, will see MyKayla Skinner step up as an upperclassmen, though she’s been leading this team since day one, going 110 consecutive routines without a single fall since debuting in 2017. Like most teams, the Utes lost a couple of their crucial lineup strongholds in the departure of Tiffani Lewis and Maddy Stover, but they’re still running with the majority of their core squad from last year and with the addition of several strong freshmen, they’ll have one of the easiest adjustment periods among the top teams, and will kick off 2019 with a low-key meet against Penn State on Saturday.
I think I’m most excited about Georgia in this opening weekend. In former UGA legend Courtney Kupets-Carter’s first season as head coach, she not only ended the team’s crisis on beam, but she magically helped the team get to nationals despite coming into the postseason ranked 18th. With an upset of Michigan at regionals, the Gymdogs did the impossible with a team that was stretched so thin they couldn’t even field a full six-person lineup on vault, and though they graduated a few seniors last year, they have a killer freshman class that should solve some depth problems, with Rachael Lukacs, Mikayla Magee, Rachel Baumann, Alexa Al-Hameed, and Canada’s 2016 Olympic alternate Megan Roberts all capable of catapulting this team to new heights. It’s still a rebuilding year for the squad, but it’s another important step in bringing the Gymdogs back to life, and I’m so here for it as they debut against Ohio State on Saturday afternoon.
Also competing this weekend? Alabama will host a quad against Northern Illinois, S.E. Missouri, and Temple, Cal will welcome back Toni-Ann Williams in her senior season while also bringing on a couple of fantastic freshmen, my favorite up-and-comer Arkansas will host Oklahoma, Kentucky will compete at Division II Texas Woman’s, Michigan will appear at the Cancun Classic, and Auburn will play host to Iowa.
The full schedule for week one 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 add the results. Enjoy!
|FRIDAY JANUARY 4|
|7:00 pm||Michigan 196.050, Iowa State 194.275, West Virginia 194.150, Rutgers 189.800||Results|
|8:00 pm||Missouri 195.450, Arizona State 195.000, Minnesota 194.150, UIC 193.925||Results|
|Auburn 194.825, Iowa 193.225||Results|
|LSU 196.775, Cal 195.650||Results|
|8:30 pm||Alabama 194.750, Northern Illinois 193.325, Temple 191.925, S.E. Missouri 187.800||Results|
|9:00 pm||UCLA 197.250, Nebraska 195.700||Results|
|11:00 pm||Illinois State 192.975, Alaska 188.725||Results|
|SATURDAY JANUARY 5|
|2:00 pm||NC State 193.750, Michigan State 191.700||Results|
|4:00 pm||Georgia 196.600, Ohio State 194.900||Results|
|6:00 pm||Utah 197.175, Penn State 194.450||Results|
|7:00 pm||Oklahoma 198.050, Arkansas 195.575||Results|
|Kentucky 195.975, Texas Woman’s 192.600||Results|
|SUNDAY JANUARY 6|
|1:00 pm||Central Michigan 194.875, Arizona 194.750, Illinois 192.850, Bridgeport 192.575||Results|
|4:00 pm||Hamline 183.525, Oshkosh 181.925||Results|
|5:00 pm||Stanford 195.175, UC Davis 194.950, San Jose State 193.300, Sacramento State 190.000||Results|
|6:00 pm||Alaska 192.350, Illinois State 189.275||Results|