With the first day of the 2023 NCAA gymnastics season just around the corner, fans’ attention is pulled in a million directions at once. To help you orient yourself as gymnastics prepares to fill your Friday evenings and your mid-week daydreams, we’re leading you through the top teams, individuals and narratives to watch this season. From title contenders to rising stars to teams hoping to leave challenging 2022 seasons firmly in the past, you won’t want to miss a thing.
Note: Preseason rankings are supplied from the Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association (WCGA), which conducted a coaches’ poll, and from College Gym News, which conducted a media poll with its editors.
The Top 4 title contenders
2022 Ranking: No. 1 | WCGA Preseason Poll: No. 1 | CGN Preseason Poll: No. 1.
The Sooners graduate just two routines from their 2022 championship team. With no major preseason injuries and a strong freshman class, Oklahoma is now a deeper and stronger squad than it was last April. That’s why this team is the consensus title favorite in 2023.
2022 Ranking: No. 2 | WCGA Preseason Poll: No. 2 | CGN Preseason Poll: No. 2
Florida, always a popular destination for high-profile elites, has outdone itself in recent recruiting classes: The Gators’ roster is almost infinitely deep. Talent is not an issue for this team, and fan frustration is a guarantee as some of the country’s best routines will sit on the bench. What has held the once-dominant Gators back since their last national title in 2015 is keeping focus in the postseason. At its best this team is arguably stronger than Oklahoma, but keeping minor errors at bay in high-stakes meets has been an issue for years.
2022 Ranking: No. 3 | WCGA Preseason Poll: No. 3 | CGN Preseason Poll: No. 3
Tidy and reliable, the Utes enter 2023 much the same team they’ve always been. With Olympic alternate Kara Eaker hopefully recovered after an injury-marred 2022 and former five-star freshman Makenna Smith threatening for an all-around spot, there’s a lot to love in Salt Lake City. To really challenge the top two teams, though, the Utes are going to need to find a new level, particularly on vault and bars.
2022 Ranking: No. 8 | WCGA Preseason Poll: No. 4 | CGN Preseason Poll: No. 4
The last two years have been a rollercoaster for the Wolverines. After winning their first-ever championship in 2021, they entered 2022 on fire, boasting one of the best vault lineups in NCAA history and setting numerous team and individual program records. A small roster with less depth than other top teams limited rest for the major players, though, and fatigue became a factor by postseason. The meltdown that Michigan suffered in the national semifinal was devastating but somewhat predictable. To avoid a similar fate in 2023, Michigan needs to figure out how to rest its star upperclassmen—but with only one freshman routine showed at its recent intrasquad, that might be a challenge.
PREDICTION: Who will be the 2023 all-around champion?
The individual stars to follow
All eyes will be on Sunisa Lee this year, after the Olympic champion and Auburn sophomore announced it will be her last year competing on the Plains. How many more records can she lead the Tigers to before she returns to elite to prepare for the 2024 Olympics?
Meanwhile, fellow Olympic champion Jade Carey prepares to put the Oregon State Beavers on her back once again after a summer of elite competition where she won her second team gold at this year’s world championships alongside UCLA’s Jordan Chiles and Florida’s Leanne Wong. All three are among the best in the country—both in elite and in the NCAA—but watch how their teams manage fatigue: Elite gymnastics is incredibly physically taxing, and all of these athletes’ teams will need them to contribute a lot of routines less than two months after returning to the U.S. from worlds.
The Fifth Years
Several of 2022’s top all-arounders are senior gymnasts who elected to use their extra “COVID year” of eligibility to return in 2023. They include reigning all-around national champion Trinity Thomas from Florida and 2021 team champions Natalie Wojcik and Abby Heiskell from Michigan. Lynnzee Brown of Denver, who was national champion on floor in 2019, took her COVID year in 2022 but unfortunately tore her Achilles tendon early in the season and is now returning for an impressive sixth year after a medical redshirt. All four of these athletes are already individual legends, but after competing heavy routine loads and high difficulty throughout their careers, how much will they have left in the tank in 2023?
A deep and exciting freshman class enters NCAA gymnastics this year, with former five-star recruits landing at teams ranging from defending champion Oklahoma to brand-new Fisk. Two stand out among the crowd, though. UCLA’s Selena Harris, the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2022, took the gymnastics world’s breath away with a sparkling and mature all-around performance at UCLA’s Meet the Bruins intrasquad. Her primary competition is likely to be Oklahoma newcomer Faith Torrez, who has tidy form as well as immense potential difficulty—her trademark skill, a standing full on beam, has only been done in NCAA a handful of times. We’ll be watching these two all year to see how they match up and if they can claim a place among the upper echelon of the NCAA’s all-around gymnasts.
The coaching changes to know
2022 Ranking: No. 7 | WCGA Preseason Poll: No. 7 | CGN Preseason Poll: No. 5
After the abrupt departure of veteran head coach Dana Duckworth in May, Alabama selected a Crimson Tide legend in Ashley Priess Johnston to lead its gymnastics team. She’s no slouch in her coaching career, either: As associate head coach for Auburn in 2022, she helped her team upset Alabama in gymnastics’ Iron Bowl and led a beam lineup that included individual national champion Sunisa Lee. Alabama is in capable hands and boasts its deepest roster in years, which means optimism for the Tide’s 2023 season is warranted.
2022 Ranking: No. 12 | WCGA Preseason Poll: No. 10 | CGN Preseason Poll: No. 9
UCLA is one of this season’s biggest mysteries. Its 2022 was rocked by dissatisfaction in the handling of racism from a former teammate by its former head coach, who has since resigned. Moral and emotional challenges for the Bruins were matched by technical issues and extensive injuries. Legendary bars coach Janelle McDonald seems poised to right the ship and re-establish trust among the Bruins. However, moments of true brilliance at UCLA’s Meet the Bruins intrasquad were tempered by numerous high-profile absences. The future is bright for the Bruins, but will they settle into the 2023 season quickly or will they have some growing pains during the transition?
2 teams ready to bounce back
2022 Ranking: No. 18 | WCGA Preseason Poll: No. 6 | CGN Preseason Poll: No. 7
LSU’s 2022 season came to a painful end at the Raleigh regional semifinal, but the trouble hardly began there: The Tigers put together just a handful of quality team performances all year. Rather than major inconsistency, the Tigers had a more insidious problem. Far too many of its core routines were scoring more 9.800s than 9.900s. To contend for the title it desperately wants, LSU needs to tighten up on details. A secondary narrative? In both 2021 and 2022, a previously steady beam lineup struggled badly in the postseason. Twice could be a coincidence, but a repeat in 2023 would be bad news.
2022 Ranking: No. 30 | WCGA Preseason Poll: No. 20 | CGN Preseason Poll: No. 19
For Georgia, arguably the greatest team in NCAA gymnastics history, a period of decline became an outright free-fall when legendary gymnast Courtney Kupets Carter took the reins as head coach in 2017. After the team produced its lowest final ranking in program history in 2022 at No. 30, Georgia shuffled its assistant coaches as well as recruited aggressively for transfers and commitment flips. Will this talented new-look roster turn things around for the Gymdogs, or will the injury woes and inconsistency of recent seasons return to cause yet more disappointment?
PRESEASON RANKINGS: College Gym News editors compile their top 36 teams
3 teams on the rise
2022 Ranking: No. 4 | WCGA Preseason Poll: No. 5 | CGN Preseason Poll: No. 6
Before 2022, Auburn was known as a flashy and exciting team that fans loved to watch but that could rarely put the pieces together to make a serious postseason run. How did the charmingly chaotic Tigers become such a force so quickly in 2022? Sunisa Lee isn’t the whole story, but she’s a big part of it. There’s no doubt that Auburn will be a top team again in 2023. To make a repeat appearance in the national final is a tough ask—but it’s far from impossible.
2022 Ranking: No. 9 | WCGA Preseason Poll: No. 12 | CGN Preseason Poll: No. 12
For a team that had only qualified to regionals four times in the last decade, falling just short of qualification to the national championships is beyond impressive. It was a long time coming, though: The Spartans have been recruiting ambitiously for years, and a COVID-marred 2021 season disguised just how much the team was improving. Last season was a revelation, and with another five-star recruit in Nikki Smith poised to make her debut in East Lansing, is the golden age of Michigan State gymnastics just beginning?
2022 Ranking: No. 5 | WCGA Preseason Poll: No. 9 | CGN Preseason Poll: No. 8
A staple of the lower half of the SEC for decades but recently ascendent, Missouri made a splash in February 2022 when it produced a program record that came close to upsetting Florida. From that point, the Tigers delivered a record-breaking season that culminated in a razor-thin victory over UCLA at regionals to advance to the national championships where they ultimately scored the highest non-advancing mark of the semifinals to finish the season at No. 5. These stratospheric heights may be unfamiliar for the Tigers, but this ambitious team is up for the challenge of proving it belongs among the very best in the sport.
The teams poised to excel
2022 Ranking: No. 14 | WCGA Preseason Poll: No. 17 | CGN Preseason Poll: No. 16
Stanford was one of the biggest overperformers of the 2022 postseason: The Cardinal entered regionals ranked just No. 29 and produced by far its two best meets of the season at the right time to finish in the upper teens. An extraordinary freshman class leaves gymnastics fans with little doubt that Stanford means to prove that 2022’s result was no fluke.
2022 Ranking: No. 20 | WCGA Preseason Poll: No. 19 | CGN Preseason Poll: No. 18
For the Buckeyes, the math is simple: Solid groundwork plus big dreams plus former five-star freshman equals breakout season…hopefully. We've seen glimpses of a team that could truly contend in the Big Ten more and more frequently in the last two years, and 2023 could be the year that potential turns into cold, hard results.
The past few years have been a renaissance for women’s gymnastics: Since 2020, six new colleges have added NCAA gymnastics programs. Three of them prepare to compete for the first time this January. Simpson College and Greenville University will expand the presence of Division III gymnastics in the Midwest, but the team that has attracted the most attention, is Nashville’s Fisk University. Fisk prepares to become the first HBCU team in the history of NCAA gymnastics, and with a former five-star recruit in its inaugural recruiting class, all eyes will be on the Bulldogs. The opportunity to bring HBCU sports fans into the NCAA gymnastics family, as well as to add visibility and opportunities for Black gymnasts, is thrilling.