Following up its 14th NCAA Regional Championship win, the No. 3 Michigan women’s gymnastics team is headed to Fort Worth, Texas to defend its National Championship in its 26th National Semifinal appearance.
There, the Wolverines will see two familiar foes — No. 11 Missouri and No. 7 Auburn — along with No. 2 Florida, who won the SEC title this year in a conference that makes up half of the remaining field.
Eyeing its second-straight — and second ever — national title, Michigan (26-2 overall, 9-0 Big Ten) will have to perform some of its best gymnastics of the season Thursday night to advance to the National Final as one of the top two teams in its Semifinal meet.
Breaking Down the Opponents
Coming off of an NCAA Regional Final where they outscored Missouri (13-5, 3-4 SEC) 197.800-197.450, the Wolverines cannot underestimate the Tigers.
Missouri outscored Michigan on the balance beam, 49.350 to 49.250, at the Regional Final. The Wolverines’ weakest event all season — as weak as an 11th-ranked routine can be — has been beam, while the Tigers’ 13th-ranked beam is their second-best event.
Missouri set all sorts of postseason program records at the Raleigh Regional with a 197.425 overall and a 49.375 on bars. The Tigers have come to compete this postseason, and as the only team remaining not ranked in the top 8 nationally, they have a lot to prove and nothing to lose.
Florida (26-0-1, 6-0-1 SEC) is currently a title favorite, having posted a 198.775 at the Auburn Regional Final, the third-best NCAA score of all time. The Gators enter the Semifinal after a dominant and undefeated season, their only tie occurring on Mar. 4 against Auburn, 198.575-198.575.
Florida is historically one of the nation’s best programs and has won or shared three NCAA titles while appearing in 38 out of the 40 total National Championship meets. Thursday night’s meet is a rematch of the 2021 National Semifinal, where Michigan bested the Gators, 197.8625-197.4375, to advance to the National Final. Florida will look for redemption after last year, where they placed fourth — and last — in the Final.
The Gators started the season the same way they are ending it: ranked No. 2 nationally. They have been consistent all year, averaging a team score of 197.841 with a NQS score of 198.135. Their first-ranked recruiting class has followed through on its high expectations placed on them before the season began.
Throughout the season, Florida has relied on a combination of its young talent and veteran leadership, as freshman Leanne Wong — an Olympic Alternate for Team USA — and senior Trinity Thomas have combined for 12 perfect 10s throughout the season, including 3 at the Auburn Regional Final. There have only been six all-around scores in the NCAA of at least 39.850, and five are from Thomas and Wong.
Florida is the favorite to finish first Thursday night, and if it builds on its record-breaking momentum generated at their Regional Final, it would be difficult for any team to top the Gators.
The Tigers are the only team the Gators have faced and failed to beat. Freshmen stood out for the Tigers in that matchup, as Suni Lee hit a perfect 10 on beam and Sophia Groth hit a 10 on floor. However, Auburn has been inconsistent throughout the season. It averages a 197.44, typically scoring in the 197.3 range with a few outlier scores. The Tigers had a 196.050 team score in their first meet of the season, a far cry from their top performance against Florida.
More recently, Auburn has found its groove, posting a 197.500 in the Auburn Regional Second Round and a 197.775 in the Auburn Regional Final. Still, those numbers don’t compare to those that Michigan and Florida regularly post. Unless Auburn hits multiple 10s and has an unexpected hero, expect Thursday to be a Wolverines-Gators showdown for the first-place slot.
Stars to Watch
The athlete to watch for Missouri is freshman Jocelyn Moore, who tied Michigan senior Natalie Wojcik for the Raleigh Regional Final floor title with a 9.950. Moore has been a rock for Missouri all season, becoming the ninth Tiger in program history to be named a WCGA All-American and only the fourth in program history to earn the regular-season All-American honor. She ranks seventh on vault and has had 9.950s in each of her last three competitions on the event. Moore is a threat to do the same on the vault in the Semifinal, and should be an event title contender.
Florida is a very well-rounded team with talent on every event, but senior Trinity Thomas stands out. She leads the nation with ten perfect 10.0s on the season, her most recent being 10s on both floor and vault to kick off the Regional Final. She is one of six gymnasts in NCAA history to have at least 10 perfect 10s in a season, and her 18 career 10s place her eighth all-time in NCAA history. She has scored a 10 on each event, becoming a member of the “Gym Slam” club and making her a threat to win any event title during the meet.
Thomas was SEC Gymnast of the year and one of six AIA award finalists, setting the nation-best all-around score with her program record-breaking 39.90 in the Auburn Regional Final. That score also tied the No. 5 all-time best score in NCAA history. Thomas has been elite all season and is a threat to score another perfect 10 on any event, adding even more power to a stacked Gators lineup.
Auburn has three gymnasts who have been standouts throughout the season: Groth, senior Derrian Gobourne — an AIA award finalist — and Lee, an Olympic gold medalist. Lee’s Olympian status already draws the crowd’s attention, but her dynamic performances captivate even the most casual fan. Her perfect 10 on beam — her 5th 10 of the season — at the Auburn Regional Final propelled the Tigers from fourth place into the National Semifinal. Lee is a threat to hit a 10 on beam or bars in any meet, and is known to step up for her team in pressure situations.
Michigan is led by Wojcik, whose historic season and record-breaking career earned her the prestigious AIA award. Wojcik has hit 10s on both the vault and the beam in her career, and has threatened to do the same on both floor exercise and bars, where her best scores are 9.975. Wojcik’s senior leadership has returned Michigan to the National stage, and they have a chance to do what no other Michigan team has ever done: repeat National Championships. Expect her to contend for multiple event titles, and spur the Wolverines to Saturday’s National Final.
Michigan will kick off the meet on their nation-best floor exercise, where it averages a 49.635. During the entire Raleigh Regional, the Wolverines rested junior Sierra Brooks in preparation for Nationals; They also rested senior Abby Heiskell during the Raleigh Regional Final. Having both Brooks and Heiskell return to the lineup should boost the Wolverines’ score up from its subpar 49.425. Michigan should dominate this event, and will have to in order to advance to Saturday’s National Final. Junior Gabby Wilson will be a big part of that score, as she has posted two 10s on the season, and is a threat to repeat that any given day.
“(Wilson’s) floor routine is unbelievable. It’s perfection,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “As long as she doesn’t make a big mistake, she should get a 10 almost every time.”
Michigan has been elite on vault all season and is ranked first in the nation on the event. Five different Wolverines have scored 10s on the vault. Sophomore Reyna Guggino, Heiskell and Wojcik all hit 10s at the Rutgers tri-meet. That day, the Wolverines also set their program-record score of 198.525. Brooks hit 10s on Feb. 26 at Nebraska and at the Big Ten Championships. Wilson scored a 10 in the Raleigh Regional Final, following Brooks’ lead in the Big Ten Championships. In high-pressure situations, the Wolverines deliver on the vault. If the Wolverines come to play, they should also win this event. Expect at least one 10 from Michigan on this event.
Michigan has been phenomenal on bars all season, ranking fourth nationally. Three Wolverines have taken home the event title this season, but each athlete is competitive in the event. Michigan’s lineup has been solid, with only a few minor errors over the course of the season that usually do not count in the team score. Senior Abby Brenner and Heiskell typically start off the event on a strong note for the Wolverines, with Heiskell taking home the event title at the Raleigh Regional Final in the leadoff spot in their most-recent competition. If Heiskell, Brenner and Wojcik all post scores of at least 9.925 on the event — which they are all fully capable of doing — Michigan should be in good shape. The Wolverines need to average at least a 9.900 from each athlete on the bars to beat out Florida and Auburn, both of which have had 10s on the event this season.
Michigan’s worst event is the beam, but to say that an eleventh-ranked event is the worst means that the Wolverines are in a strong position. Michigan set a program record on beam at the Raleigh Regional Second Round with a 49.550, and Wojcik is a solid performer on the event. Wojcik has posted 10 scores of 9.900 or better on the beam and has won six beam individual titles this season. She hit a perfect 10 on Feb. 15, 2021, at Nebraska, and is due for another jaw-dropping performance. When she mounts the beam, all eyes will be on her to see if the 10 will finally come again. Michigan just needs to do well enough in their final event Thursday to advance, and barring any falls or extreme errors, they should do just that.
The Wolverines have all the tools to advance to Saturday, it is just a matter of all the pieces coming together at the right time. If they perform above their average scores on each event, second place should be within reach. If they falter and Auburn and Missouri come to compete with their stars shining, Michigan’s National Final chances are in danger.
So, only one question remains: Will Michigan come to play?