‘Diamond-Studded, Teflon-Coated Beasts’ stole the show at nationals — Other gym news — Maryland Gymnastics made the social post of the week, which will make you cry

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, Apr. 1, 2023

Tonight, we will know which team gets their championship ring.

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The NCAA Women’s Gymnastics National Championship airs live on ABC at 4 p.m. today.

In the meantime, I can only give you this video:

And I can also tell you about my thoughts from watching the semifinals, which may or may not be relevant after tonight. However, that will not stop me.

The story of the day, IMHO, was the magnificent return of three gymnasts whose seasons were threatened by injury. Trinity Thomas came back from a lower-leg injury in the regional semifinal to compete bars and vault successfully for the Gators (and got called a “diamond-studded, Teflon-coated beast” by Kathy Johnson Clarke, who was commentating along with Bart Conner and Sam Peszek on ESPN2).

LSU’s KJ Johnson, who has been out of commission with a broken foot since mid-February, reappeared on floor. She reinjured her foot in the process and spent the rest of the meet on crutches, but I had missed her energy and I think her team had, too. And finally, in the second semi, Grace McCallum was back on bars and beam for Utah after hyperextending her knee mid-season. She hit both routines and was clearly thrilled to be back on the floor. All three women gave their teams a big boost, both in terms of scores and morale.

The first semifinal, with Florida, LSU, Cal, and Denver, was a fall fest. Not the fun kind with pumpkins and hay bales, but the kind with peels off bars and wobbles right off the beam. Heading into this one, I really thought Cal or Denver might pull off an upset, and for two rotations, it looked like I might be right. 

The KJ Johnson re-injury did not stall LSU’s momentum much, though, as they, along with Florida, advanced to the final. Cal and Denver had fairytale seasons that just did not hold up here, as both teams counted falls on their best events, bars and beam, respectively. And so, we saw sixth-year competitor Lynnzee Brown’s final floor routine for Denver, all sass and class.

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Watching LSU this season has been like a game of Wack-a-Mole. One gymnast goes down with a season-ending injury, and another comes off the roster and saves their bacon. Over and over and over.

But while we never saw LSU go lights out, they earned their advancement. They definitely have some steam left to expend at Four on the Floor. Florida, on the other hand, nearly lost to Cal – one fewer bars error for Cal and it would have been a different meet. I’m cautiously optimistic to see Thomas back, and we saw some moments of greatness (Leanne Wong and Kayla DiCello on floor, Victoria Nguyen’s vault) but overall, Florida will want to regroup before Saturday if they want to win a natty. 

The second semifinal, whew. UCLA will now be frantically reworking vault – I hope – until next January, because that (much like Cal’s messy bar rotation in the first session) is what kept them out of Four on the Floor. Too many steppy landings, and not enough 10.0 start values. It was thrilling to see this team rise from the ashes this season, repair its bond under new head coach Janelle McDonald, and make it this far. Jordan Chiles got a 10 on bars and briefly secured the AA title before Utah’s Maile O’Keefe whisked it away with the same score on beam (which she also won, natch). Chiles will take both the bars and floor titles, and I hope she takes that momentum with her all the way to Paris. She will be missed in these lineups next year.

UCLA’s floor was, as always, a bright spot, and it was really obvious what a different league they are in on that event once they were followed by OU, whose choreography in comparison feels so much less fluid.

Speaking of a different category, we also saw Auburn’s Derrian Gobourne in the final floor routine of her career, and like Brown in the first semi, she went out with a bang, crown cemented to her head.

Utah beat Oklahoma to advance, which was not a surprise if you kept an eye on the final rotation, with OU on vault and Utah on its masterful beam. OU gave away many a vault landing while every Utah beam was peak Utah, culminating in O’Keefe’s 10 and the return of McCallum in the anchor spot.

OU did OU things and got the thing done. But they showed vulnerability, especially on vault (the story of this semifinal) despite Olivia Trautman’s heroic 9.95 and ultimate title on the event. Will they be able to close the gap Saturday?

I can’t not mention Kentucky, who probably rued their luck ending up in the second session, but gave it all they had. They’ll be very proud of their work and I hope to see them back at nationals next year. 

Utah and Oklahoma will have a duel for the ages in the final today, I think. If Florida wants to be a contender, they need to find some gas. LSU has the gas, but I am not sure they have the engine (KJ Johnson will surely let me know if I failed on that car metaphor). 

I’ll be back next week either to pat myself on the back or laugh at my hubris.

Other gym news

Jade Carey, competing as an individual on beam, wore her Oregon State pride leotard to podium training in Fort Worth. Let’s goooooo.

And Penn State’s Cassidy Rushlow and Ava Piedrahita, competing as individuals on bars and vault, respectively, wore pride t-shirts to podium training.

Marz Frazier and Norah Flatley are off to Hawaii together after season, per Gymnastics News on Twitter:

Barbie sent BYU’s Rebekah Bean Ripley – she of the viral “Barbie Girl” floor routine – a package, and she unboxes it for us. It’s adorable and I love that this routine got seen by corporate honchos. 


A little self-promotion: I wrote a story about Trinity Thomas for Just Women’s Sports that ran Thursday. 

Across the pond, Euros are taking place. Team Great Britain won the WAG title there, with Italy in silver position and the Netherlands taking bronze. Read all about it on British Gymnastics’ website

Left to right, Jessica Gadirova, Georgia-May Fenton, Ondine Achampong, Alice Kinsella, and Becky Downie won team gold for Great Britain at Euros. Photo credit: British Gymnastics.

ESPN Events is hosting its first gymnastics event next year to kick off the 2024 NCAA season. 

Social post of the week

Maryland Gymnastics made this beautiful video to honor sophomore Tasha Brozowski’s father Patrick, who passed away just hours after his daughter competed in the Pitt semifinal. Tasha Brozowski dedicated her routine to her dad, and the video perfectly captures all of the emotions that went into it. A really beautiful tribute and a testament both to Tasha’s strength and the Maryland team’s support system. 

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By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
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Saturdays: Gymnastics
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Written by Lela Moore