Women's gymnastics: What to watch for at the national championships
The 2017 National Collegiate Women’s Gymnastics Championships kick off on Friday in Missouri.
Below is what you need to know and who to watch for ahead of the big event.
When: Friday and Saturday, April 14-15
Where: Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis, Missouri
TV: Friday Semifinal #1 at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN2; Friday Semifinal #2 at 8 p.m. on ESPNU and ESPN; Saturday Super Six Finals, 9 p.m. on ESPNU.
2016 champion: Oklahoma.
2016 runner-up: LSU
Three teams to watch in Semifinals #1:
The Sooners are the defending national champions. They finished first in the West Regional and are the No. 1 seed. This is their 17th appearance in the national championship and they have reached the Super Six six times. Oklahoma finished the regular season 15-0 and returns eight NCAA All-Americans.
Key performers: Senior Chayse Capps and sophomore Brenna Dowell.
Coach: K.J. Kindler
Norman St. Louis pic.twitter.com/CXRanU8JUs— Oklahoma Women's Gym (@OU_WGymnastics) April 12, 2017
Quote: “In a word, this team is purposeful,” Kindler said. “They have shown persistence at every turn. They have retained focus in all parts of our training. They have been decisive about what they want and determined to earn it. Our team has prepared with purpose.
“Each year is different, filled with unique challenges, new people and exceptional situations that keep you on your toes."
Finished first in the South Central Regional and is seeded fourth. The Utes have made 19 Super Six appearances. Utah has won the national title nine times, the last coming in 1995. Utah has made all 36 NCAA championships. Utah was the Pac-12 champion this year and finished 22-2. The Utes have five All-Americans on its roster.
Key performers: Freshman MyKayla Skinner and senior Baely Rowe
Coach: Megan Marsden and Tom Farden
Quote: “We’re excited to make the national championship,” Marsden said. “It is something we never take for granted and it gets harder to achieve every year. We have been so proud of this young team and the tenacity it has shown in tough situations.
“Rather than let injuries derail us, others have stepped right in and shown how deep this team is in terms of talent and performance quality.”
The Bruins finished first in the Central Regional and are seeded fifth. The Bruins have reached the Super Six 19 times and have won six national championships, the last coming in 2010. Last year UCLA placed fifth in the national championships. This is the 33rd time UCLA has advanced to the NCAA championships.
Key performers: Senior Christine Peng-Peng Lee and freshman Kayla Ross
Coach: Valorie Kondos Field
Quote: “Once again, our team brings a lot of excitement to our gymnastics,” Field said. “We are artistic gymnastics. That’s what our sport is titled, and I think we do that as well as anybody. This year is no exception. We’ve got not just big, beautiful gymnastics, but it is exciting. Peng-Peng Lee’s bars, I think, is one of the all-time greatest routines in collegiate history, and I feel the same way about her beam. Kayla Ross is a study in what it means to be textbook perfect all the time. That’s what she strives for.”
About to start warmups at today's practice. We'll be showing beam (rotation 3) on Instagram Live & floor (rotation 4) on Facebook Live! pic.twitter.com/tIN4855AE5— UCLA Gymnastics (@uclagymnastics) April 13, 2017
Three teams to watch in Semifinals #2
The Tide finished second in the Northeast Regional and is seeded sixth. Alabama has won six national championships and reached the Super Six 22 times. Its last national championship came when they repeated in 2012.
Key performers: Junior Nickie Guerrero and junior Kiana Winston
Coach: Dana Duckworth
Quote: “First of all, we are so excited to be going to St. Louis and the national championships,” Duckworth said. “Even after earning our way to the NCAA Championships for 35 years in a row, it’s always a thrill and you never, ever take it for granted. The ladies are still looking for our best meet of the season and we’re confident we can put it together at the national championships. We are very talented and we are capable of amazing routines when we stay in the moment.”
The Tigers were first in the North Central Regional and is seeded second. LSU has made the NCAA championships 27 times and reached the Super Six five times. Last year LSU had its best finish, taking second behind Oklahoma.
Key performers: Senior Ashleigh Gnat and sophomore Lexie Priessman
Coach: D-D Breaux
Quote: “We had a great SEC championship and our run through the SEC season was fantastic,’ Breaux said. “You never want adversity but when your team can deal with it, it’s a sign of a very mature team with great leadership. The semifinal is not our end point, and you’re only as good as your next meet.
“There are six great teams we are going to be fighting for a chance to compete in the Super Six with. You have to bring your ‘A’ game. It is going to be a great meet, and it will be a great night.”
Michigan placed first in the Northeast Regional and is seeded seventh. It was the program's 12th regional title. The Wolverines have made the NCAA championships 22 times and reached the Super Six nine times. Michigan’s best finish was second in 1995 and 1999. Michigan won its 23rd Big 10 championship this year.
Key performers: Junior Paige Zaziski and senior Nicole Artz
Coach: Bev Plocki
Quote: “This season has been different for us because we started out with lower scores and have been climbing throughout the year,” Plocki said. “We are very excited to qualify for nationals. This experience never gets old as a coach. We have been to the NCAA Championship many, many times, but it is fresh and it’s new for this team. I love to see the excitement and enjoyment on these athlete’s faces when they see the arena for the first time. We want to go in and allow our performance to speak for us, enjoy every moment and do our best.”
Five Individuals to watch
Chayse Capps, senior, Oklahoma: Capps earned All-American honors in all four years of her collegiate career at OU. She was national runner-up in the all-around last year.
MyKayla Skinner, freshman, Utah: Skinner, who was USA Olympic alternate in last year’s Games, won 40 individual titles this season competing on the collegiate level. Her titles include all-around, floor and vault at the Pac-12 Championships and the South Central Regional.
Kiana Winston, junior, Alabama: Winston was one of three gymnasts in the nation to earn three All-American honors, getting first team recognition in the all-around, balance beam and floor.
Christine Peng-Peng Lee, senior, UCLA: Won the West Region Gymnast of the year. She became UCLA’s first-ever Pac-12 Specialist of the Year. Lee competes in the bars and beam.
Alex McMurtry, junior, Florida: Earned regular season, first team All-American honors in the vault and uneven bars and second team in the balance beam. She was Southeast Region gymnast of the year. McMurtry also became the first Gator student-athlete in any sport to be a NCAA Elite 90 Award winner, which recognizes achievements in academics and athletics.