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College Gym News | September 9, 2022

Way-too-early women's college gymnastics predictions for 2023

Trinity Thomas scores another Perfect 10 on floor at 2022 NCAA gymnastics finals

Editor's note: The following article originally appeared on College Gym News.

We do predictions for the upcoming season each year to discuss everything from national champions to the top freshman and more. But we wanted to widen the lens a bit more and take our predictions to a new level, making educated guesses about big things that may happen over the course of many years — things like when a historically great team will get back to its former glory or when a longtime coach may hang up the high heels for good.

Utah hasn't won an NCAA title since 1995 but has come close in recent years. When will it finally win its 10th?

Elizabeth Grimsley: I’m going to try not to state the obvious that this is so hard to predict because that’s the point of this whole roundtable. Instead I’ll go with 2025. That’s actually sooner than I might have said previously, but it’s the likes of Grace McCallum’s and Kara Eaker’s senior year, and the Utes are bound to pull in some stellar freshmen that year from the star-studded class of 2024.

Savanna Whitten: I’m going to go one year earlier than Elizabeth and say 2024. There is potential for a few major names to take a COVID year, Maile O’Keefe and vault national champion Jaedyn Rucker among them. Should they return, I think the Utes will be able to take advantage of that senior leadership and make a serious run for a national title in 2024.

Tara Graeve: Utah’s been on the cusp for the past few years but hasn’t been able to summit the mountain yet. If the cards fall right, I think 2024 is realistic given the team and the fact that they were able to pull in five-star recruit Camille Winger a year early.

Emily Minehart: Utah’s problem recently has been peaking. The big dance comes around, and there just isn’t more for the Utes to give. That said, the incoming classes are fantastic, and any roster in the coming years could be a championship group. I’m intrigued by the 2024 freshmen (with one roster spot still TBD 👀), but it takes some time to settle in. I’m going with 2026.

Tavia Smith: I’m one of those people who hope for it to be Utah’s year every year, but I’m thinking it’ll be at least until 2025 or 2026 for the Utes to bring home another title. 

Brandis Heffner: Like some fellow editors have said, 2024 is looking very promising for the Utes. They’ve been knocking on the championship door for a while, and with a trio of five-star recruits coming in for that season, their roster will be overloaded with talent. That’s even without the potential bonus-years from some of their current stars that would take their title prospects to the next level.

Alyssa Van Auker: I am like Tavia where I have been saying it’s Utah’s year for the last two years. That being said, I am not going to say the 2023 season (but if it happens, I will celebrate) and instead say 2024 (if O’Keefe takes a fifth year) or 2026 once the 2024 freshmen have had time to acclimate.

RANKINGS: Way-too-early power rankings for 2023 gymnastics season

Georgia is one of the historically dominant programs in the country but has since taken a dip in performance, finishing 30th in 2022. In what year will Georgia make it back to the national championships?

Elizabeth: Honestly, Georgia has had the recruiting recently to have gotten back to previous glory already, so I’m not optimistic anything will be different now. Because of that, I’ll guess a random year long down the line: 2034, 25 years since its previous national title.

Savanna: I want to be optimistic because of the serious overhaul that has happened this offseason, but part of me knows that it’s still Georgia gymnastics. I’ll say Georgia makes it back to the national championships in 2026. It’ll be the senior year of their 2022 class, so by then, there should be plenty of opportunities for those gymnasts to make a sizable impact for the Gymdogs.

Tara: The Gymdogs have so much going for them, including great recruiting, but they keep coming up short, can’t seem to shake the injury plague and have regressed a lot. I’d like to think it would be sooner — and all of the normal signs would point to that — but I just don’t trust Georgia to make the most of the talent coming in yet. I’m going to say 2029 and give it some time to maybe, just maybe, figure it out and return to nationals. 

Emily M: Georgia believes Courtney Kupets-Carter is the coach who is going to do it; why else would it have extended her contract this offseason? I tend to disagree, but her first move after the extension was to hire Ryan Roberts, a slam dunk decision, steal some top recruits and pick up three transfers. The times, they are a changin’, at least a little. Time will tell if these moves will make a difference performance-wise. If we assume the Gymdogs will be a pace better and the 2023 season kicks off a building campaign, I’ll guess 2027 for a return to nationals. I think it’ll take a full four-year recruiting cycle to really turn the tides.

Tavia: Considering Georgia’s issues have never been personnel-related, this is a bit hard to predict. It seems like there has been an effort of a culture change within the program heading into 2023. I still think it’ll take another few years for the Gymdogs to undo the damage of the last few seasons, so I’ll say that Georgia will be back on the national stage in 2028.

Brandis: While I think Georgia made some incorrect decisions as to who stayed and who departed from its coaching staff this offseason, the amount of talent it has inbound to Athens the next few years is quite impressive. I think the Gymdogs will take a big leap up this season with their rebuilt senior class of transfers, which will help their massive freshman class gain invaluable experience. I’m going to bet on 2025 for Georgia’s return to nationals, when their next two giant incoming classes loaded with potential have gained lineup experience.

Alyssa: Georgia has done amazing in the recruiting department as of late, but it has also recently been a team with the talent but that talent hasn’t been healthy and/or consistent enough for the team to finish the season in a position to make nationals. I am going to go with 2027 because that’s two years after Courtney Kupets-Carter’s current contract expires, and after a full recruiting cycle with this current strategy. 

Bev Plocki has led Michigan for nearly 35 years at this point. While we’re sure she has many, many years ahead of her, when do you think she will eventually retire?

Elizabeth: I think her current contract expires in 2027? I think she either retires then after her 37th year or stretches it out to 40 and calls it good at that major milestone.

Savanna: Agree with Elizabeth. I think Plocki goes to 40 to be with the likes of other gymnastics legends, and then Michigan dedicates something significant to her in her honor. Bev Plocki Floor at the Crisler Center?

Tara: Sometimes I think she’s younger than she actually is, and then I’ll remember that she’s probably closer to retirement than I originally thought. If she doesn’t have a plan in place already, I’m guessing she’ll take time around that 2027 expiration year to decide to retire or continue. My gut says she’ll go to at least 40 years, if not a little longer than that. 

Emily M: You know, I thought the championship would do it. She fought so long for that ring. And her husband overcame cancer for the second time in 2020! (Jim Plocki’s story is wild.) I thought it was all over, but she’s clearly hungry for more. My guess is Maile’ana Kanewa-Hermelyn is essentially the head-coach-in-waiting at this point. She has the credentials, she’s dedicated to the program, she’s young yet not green — a recipe for a strong but gentle transfer of power. That said, I don’t see Plocki handing over the reins in the next few years. Both of her kids are out of college, and I think living in North Carolina. Maybe Plocki will go after D-D Breaux’s 42-year crown and then retire there. If she goes for 43, that’d be after the 2033 season. Yowza.    

Tavia: I definitely thought Plocki would retire after Michigan finally won its first national championship, but it seems she’s only turning up the heat. I’ll guess that Bev will be around another eight seasons, retiring after the 2030 season. 

Brandis: I’m pretty on par with everybody else here, with 40 years or the end of her contract seemingly fitting times for Plocki to call it a career. However, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see her retire should she win a second national championship prior to either of those two events.

Alyssa: I am going to echo everyone else here and say that Plocki will likely retire after her current contract is up or once she hits the 40-year mark. 

Only seven teams have won the national title in NCAA women’s gymnastics history. In what year will a new team join the ranks, and as a bonus, which team will it be?

Elizabeth: I think it’s almost easier to predict the team than the year, but I’m going to be bold and say it’ll be Stanford, but it won’t be until sometime in the 2030s… Maybe 2032?

Savanna: I had another answer originally, but I changed my mind and I think it’ll be Missouri. They’ve certainly made some strides by qualifying to the national championships this past year and they have solid recruits coming in that will put them in a position to win a title in the next few years. If I had to pick a year, and I know I have to since Elizabeth said so, I’ll go with 2028.

Tara: With teams, I can see LSU finally conquer its postseason demons eventually, or possibly even California. I’m not sure it’ll be immediately…maybe 2026 or 2027? Predicting the exact year is hard!

Emily M: Wow, Elizabeth is right, thinking by team is easier than thinking by year. There are certainly some contenders, but none of them seem there just yet. I’ll say 2028. 

Tavia: I’m going to remain in the land of wishful thinking on this one and say 2025 will be the year a new team wins a national title. Auburn and Michigan State are my top choices for teams that will soon break the barrier. Auburn has Olympic champion Suni Lee which will only continue to increase the quality of recruits coming to the Plains. Meanwhile Michigan State jumped dramatically in the rankings this season and will only get better and better in the years to come. Part of me hopes for LSU to finally get a national title, but similar to Georgia, it doesn’t seem like a personnel issue that’s holding the Tigers back. It’ll take a little longer for LSU to join the list of top teams. 

Brandis: With so many of the top recruits still primarily going to the championship-winning schools, I think it won’t be until the early 2030s until we see a new program finish on top. LSU is the first school to pop into my head as it has been so good for so long, but I could see Auburn making the leap thanks to the Suni Lee effect or California with its impressive recruiting classes on the way.

Alyssa: I am projecting some wishful thinking and saying it will be in 2025 like Tavia. It’s great for the sport to continue to add new schools to the national title-winning group, and I could see a school like LSU finally getting that crown or programs on the rise like Michigan State or Auburn.

Similarly, Plocki and KJ Kindler are the only active coaches to have won a national title. Which coach will join them next?

Elizabeth: I can’t not say Jenny Rowland. I think it’s inevitable that Florida wins a title before Rowland leaves her position as head coach — either due to firing, retiring or going somewhere new.

Savanna: I too think it’ll be Jenny Rowland, but in a close second, I think Janelle McDonald will put herself in a position to potentially win a national title next.

Tara: Rowland is the obvious answer with the caliber of team Florida’s been able to produce. Savanna also beat me to McDonald — it’s hard to bet on a first-year head coach, but she had success at Cal and UCLA has the championship history and recruiting to make it happen. 

Emily M: Rowland is definitely the clearest answer. I do agree she’ll be first, and I think next in line is Tom Farden. 

Tavia: Tom Farden!!!

Brandis: Since my answers are the same names that have already been thrown out, I’ll do a parlay in the order I think they’ll get there: Rowland, Farden, McDonald.

Alyssa: I don’t think any coaches that have not already been said will be the next new coach to win a title. It will likely come down to Tom Farden or Jenny Rowland.

In 1996, Karin Lichey scored the first and only perfect 40 in NCAA gymnastics history. Will we ever see another one?

Elizabeth: Honestly with how the scores have seen so much inflation recently, yes is probably a good bet. However, I think the answer will be no. We’ve seen how hard it is for some of the all-time greats to even score two 10s in a meet let alone three or the ultimate, four. The odds are just so so slim if the likes of Maggie Nichols, Trinity Thomas and Courtney Kupets haven’t been able to do it.

PERFECT PERFORMANCE: Trinity Thomas scores Perfect 10 on floor at 2022 NCAA gymnastics finals

Peri: There’s a limited window for it to happen — think around senior night when scores go up, but not yet at postseason when judging panels expand. It’s also tricky to predict from whom or what team, because as teams recruit stronger pools, their all-arounders have to fight harder for lineup opportunities.

Savanna: I don’t believe we will. Yes, scoring has gone crazy from time to time, but so many great names have come through NCAA gymnastics since Lichey. To think that another gymnast will come through that has the capability to score a perfect 40 when so many before them haven’t is a little hard to believe. I’d love to see someone take on the challenge though!

Tara: This is so hard! There’s a lot of signs that point toward the possibility, but it’s also very difficult. We’ve seen some gymnasts come close recently but have ultimately come up short. I’m OK with being proven wrong on this one, though, but at this point I think the answer is no.

Emily M: My gut says no, but honestly? My brain says Jade Carey just might do it. 

Tavia: Sentimentally, I want to say Trinity Thomas will do it in her super senior year, but realistically the chances are slim to none. 

Brandis: People are clearly forgetting that Thomas went 39.875 and 39.900 in the all-around at regionals last season. The odds are incredibly slim, but I think Thomas has a legit shot in her fifth and final season.

Alyssa: As much as judges’ scores have gone up, I do not think all judges will agree on a 10 on all four events for the same gymnast at the same meet. If it happens to anyone though, it will be Trinity Thomas this upcoming season.

UCLA has gone through a down period in recent years. How many years will it take to be a title contender again?

Elizabeth: I’m optimistic about Janelle McDonald right now, and the recruiting will always be strong, so I’ll say it’ll only take until 2024 for UCLA to be a contender again, with my definition of contender being making nationals and either also making the final or coming close to it.

Peri: UCLA’s last season making nationals was still before elites committed en masse beyond the core of UCLA, Florida, LSU and Utah. For the Bruins to be title contenders again will take a post-Olympic year-type set of incoming elites, so I’m also going with 2024.

Savanna: With Margzetta Frazier recently announcing her much anticipated fifth year, I really think this year will be the complete opposite of 2022. I think McDonald will have the Bruins in contention for the title during this upcoming season, 2023.

Tara: UCLA has the roster and recruiting to contend sooner rather than later. I’m excited to see what McDonald can do with the program, but I’m going to say that it will take at least a year of transition before we see the Bruins emerge as a title contender again. I’m thinking it’ll be 2024, and if not, then 2025. 

Emily M: The McDonald hire was a great move, in my opinion. Frazier coming back for a fifth year signals a better team atmosphere already. I do think there will be growing pains, but I expect 2023 to be smoother than 2022 was. There are some big incoming names, a hallmark of course for UCLA, but I’ll be interested to see how McDonald shapes recruiting in the coming years. I expect we’ll see a few more very strong level 10s than we’re used to joining the Bruin ranks, which just might be what UCLA has been missing. I think 2025 will be a breakout.

Tavia: I’m thinking it’ll take a couple years to get UCLA back on track. 2025 seems like a reasonable time for the Bruins to be back in contention. That will allow for a couple years of rebuilding and working on the team culture. 

Brandis: I’m going to echo Savanna here as I expect UCLA to bounce back almost immediately. I don’t necessarily think the Bruins will challenge for a natty this season, but with the talent already on the roster and a very promising coaching change, I think UCLA will be in the hunt for one last Pac-12 title before it transitions to the Big Ten.

Alyssa: UCLA was so close to making it back to nationals this past season, and I don’t think it will take more than another season or two for the Bruins to actually do it. Once
UCLA makes it back, I would consider it in the conversation for the national title as well.

Kindler has already shown she is one of the greatest NCAA gymnastics coaches of all time, with five team titles already. How many will she win in all in her career?

Elizabeth: Kindler is not shy about saying she likes to win. Plus, she’s still relatively young and her teams are still dominating. I think she breaks the team record of 10 (or at least the 10 it’s at now) and goes on to win two to four more, so 12-14 total.

Savanna: Kindler lives and breathes coaching gymnastics and her teams are strong and only getting stronger, so I think she takes it up a notch and gets 15 total national championships. 

Tara: Kindler is a competitor and always seeking ways to improve and come out on top. She’s coached Oklahoma to five national titles in the past nine (eight without the shortened 2020 season) years and continues to build dominant teams. Given that she likely has at least 10 to 15 more years of coaching until retirement, it’s more than possible for her to get to at least 10 to double her current number, though I can easily see her surpassing that and landing around 15 by the time she retires. 

2022 CHAMPIONSHIP: How Oklahoma won the 2022 national title

Emily M: Wow. 10? 15? She can never be counted out. She built OU into a destination. I think she’ll have contending teams right up until the moment she retires — at which point the WCGA damn well better name the coach of the year honor after her.

Tavia: KJ Kindler will win as many national titles as she possibly can before she retires. I’ll say she’ll stop at 14 titles in honor of OU’s first national championship date in 2014. 

Brandis: Thanks to Kindler, Oklahoma has become the gymnastics dynasty of the last decade, and there’s no indication that her and the Sooners’ dominance is going to end any time soon. Since she’s basically winning a championship every other year at this point, there’s no doubt Kindler will finish with double-digit titles. I’m going to bet on 14, like Tavia.

Alyssa: As much as I enjoy seeing a different team win every year, Kindler has proven her ability to come in any time with a team that could win the national title. Depending on how long she stays in role, I can see her winning another 10 to12 titles, which could bring her up to 15 to 17!

We’ve seen a number of former gymnasts go on to be top head coaches. Who do you think will be next?

Elizabeth: We’ve done roundtables in the past about assistants that would make good head coaches, but I’ll go with someone who’s still currently competing/very recently graduated to make it more interesting. I think Clair Kaji has the right balance of care and discipline to make a great coach. Hopefully we’ll see her start on that path in the next couple of years.

Peri: Hopefully Amelia Hundley! She has experience on her resume with Florida and North Carolina, and with ACC gymnastics only a few years away, the weight attached to being an assistant coach at North Carolina will only go up.
Savanna: I personally would love to see Megan Skaggs enter the ranks of collegiate coaching. She’ll get her feet wet under Jenny Rowland this year as the head coach’s assistant, and she’s already known as a positive influence by her teammates. She could really be a good coach one day.

Tara: At one point Maggie Nichols expressed an interest in pursuing college coaching; it could be her if that’s still in the cards. As for 2022 seniors and those still competing, I think Lexy Ramler could be a good college coach, as could Josie Angeny.

Emily M: I’m on board with the Kaji and Hundley points above! Watching gymnasts blossom into coaches is a favorite thing about the NCAA for me. When gymnastics is in your blood, it’s in your blood for life, and it’s so fun to watch amazing folks find a new angle for their passion. I’m really interested in Abby Brenner. She said she transferred to Utah because she wants to coach and wanted to learn how another top program works. That’s such a great perspective for someone so young and really clear motivation. Learning the ropes from Bev Plocki and Tom Farden ain’t too shabby, and she has a slew of academic and sportsmanship accolades to her name. I expect we’ll see her gunning for a top-tier VAC spot in 2024.

Tavia: Josie Angeny has already made it clear that she wants to go into college coaching after graduation. She seems to have the passion for the sport and the work ethic to take her a long way, so she’s the first name that comes to mind. 

Alyssa: Kaji just gives off such potential head coach vibes that I have to echo that sentiment. I am also excited to see how Hundley’s coaching career grows as well.

Which 2020 Olympian (from any country!) will end their NCAA career with the most perfect 10s? What about with the most individual national titles?

Elizabeth: If Sunisa stays for four years, she has a chance, but I don’t think that’s happening. I’m going with Jade Carey because I think she has the most 10-potential on all four events while her Olympic teammates have 10 potential but maybe only on one or two apparatus.

Savanna: I’m seconding Elizabeth and saying Jade Carey. Assuming she tries for Paris and returns to NCAA afterward, she has the difficulty and the execution to earn multiple 10s. As far as national titles, that’s a bit of a toss-up, but since Sunisa Lee already has one from this past season, I’ll say her.

Tara: I’ve always thought Jade Carey would be great in NCAA beyond her specialty events vault and floor, and her freshman season confirmed that. She showed the ability to rack up 10s on multiple events, which is why I’m going with her. Individual national titles is harder… It partially depends on which teams make nationals and which of them can clinch an individual spot (ideally on multiple events or in the all-around since we’re talking about maximizing individual titles) if their team doesn’t make it. I still think Carey has a very good shot at that, but Sunisa Lee could also end with the most individual titles if she sticks around all four years.

Emily M: I agree that Carey is a very likely candidate and that it doesn’t seem like Lee will stick around all four years, but I have some questions. Assuming Carey and Jordan Chiles both have interrupted 2024 seasons after pushing for Paris (Chiles already announced that Paris is the goal), it’ll be interesting to see how they each handle it. Carey already deferred 2020 and enrolled but didn’t compete in 2021. Will she want to still be in college in 2025 at 25 years old after presumably attending a second Olympics? I don’t know, and I’m going to say that question mark leads me to believe Chiles will have the most 10s.  

Tavia: Jade Carey should get the most amount of 10s in her career, but Jordan Chiles will be right behind her. Sunisa Lee will get the most national titles.

Brandis: I’m having a difficult time deciding between Carey and Chiles. In addition to scoring 10s, Carey flaunted her consistency last year and that will be a big help in notching perfect scores, but I think Chiles will have bigger scores around her from her teammates that might aid in the judges throwing more 10s.

Alyssa: With many of them trying for 2024, I can see where there will be a divide on who chooses to return to college after Paris. Part of me thinks that Carey might not come back and will just finish up her degree on her own, but Chiles is just so UCLA that I can’t see her not finishing out all four years. That paves the way for Chiles to potentially have more 10s. National titles are so much harder to predict, but I think that will come down to Chiles and Lee even if Lee doesn’t compete past next season since she already has one and could definitely win more next season.

And finally, will we ever seen an Amanar successfully performed at an NCAA meet?

Elizabeth: I can see someone throwing one at a podium meet just to say they did, but it’s not as popular on at the elite level at least right now, so I’m not sure who would do it. If MyKayla Skinner was still competing, I would guess her just because I think she’s daring enough to try.

Peri: I’m seeing another double-edged sword here like the perfect 40. Increased depth on vault means a harder time making lineups, but also no coach would endorse putting an Amanar in unless the five before were all high-counting scores. With event finals gone and not looking likely to return, I don’t think we’ll be seeing an Amanar in college gym soon — but I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

Savanna: I think if anyone could do it, it would be Jade Carey. She would be the one to throw it on her very last meet as an NCAA gymnast just to say she did it, and I 100% support it solely because of the chaos it would cause. 

Tara: I don’t think we’ll ever see anyone perform one on a consistent basis in NCAA simply due to the nature of the NCAA season compared to elite and the difficulty of the vault plus the blind landing. I wouldn’t write it off entirely for someone to perform it once just because, though.

Emily M: I’m going to say yes, largely because we have so many more gymnasts working NCAA and elite concurrently with NIL rules in place.

Tavia: At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw one performed in the NCAA if only for fun’s sake. It’d be way more likely if we still had the high number of elite athletes during the event finals era. That way, top athletes could throw the big skills without risking a fall counting toward the team score. 

Brandis: Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever see one performed in college. At this point there’s no incentive to do more than a double — it’s a trickier landing, and Amanars are becoming less popular on the elite scene as well.

Alyssa: I think if we see an Amanar performed, it will only be once. I could see Carey going for it at one meet, but that would be a difficult vault to compete every week.

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