Breaking Down the Favorites for the NCAA Gymnastics National Championship
For those who aren't too keen on the world of gymnastics, history is currently being made. The Alabama Crimson Tide is on the road to not only a three-peat, but the chance to win their seventh National Championship. However, there are other teams looking to dethrone the Tide, and they certainly have every opportunity to do so.
As we approach the second half of the season, the competition is beginning to heat up. The Top 5 teams prepare to face each other. Not only that, but those ranked lower are showing to be a bit more of a challenge than expected.
Let's break down the top contenders for the coveted National title.
The Alabama Crimson Tide
As the defending National Champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide seems to be the front runner for the title. Winning back-to-back National Championships, there is talk of a three-peat. If the Tide were to win, that would be their seventh NCAA National Championship.
Just 0.081 behind No. 4 UCLA, Alabama is currently ranked at No. 5, looking to climb each passing week.
Junior Kim Jacob, who competes in all of the events, has already won two consecutive all-around's. Her strong scores on each event, floor especially, have lifted Alabama to many of their wins this season.
Sophomore Diandra Milliner's vault has been especially strong, scoring a 9.925 in the team's home opener against the No. 8 Louisiana State Tigers.
Alabama head coach Sarah Patterson has quite the team on her hands.
Alabama has a tough schedule ahead, as they will face the Florida Gators, currently No. 1, on the road. After a tough loss to the No. 6 Georgia Bulldogs, a win here will be redeeming. Also, they will meet the Tigers again in their stadium, and end the season with the No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners.
Getting back to the National Championship won't be easy, but it certainly can be done with this team.
The Florida Gators
The Florida Gators have certainly had quite a season, as they are No. 1 in the rankings. After losing the National title to Alabama last season, where the difference in points was 0.075, Florida is looking to get back to the championship and take it all.
With solid performances this season, it's quite possible that Alabama and Florida may meet again.
Since freshman Bridget Sloan's return, after an elbow injury kept her from an Olympic bid to London, the Gators have regained one of their biggest assets. Current SEC Gymnast of the Week, Sloan has proven to be an effective member of the team. Perhaps this is what Florida needs to not only return to the National Championship, but also to win it.
Florida shows no sign of stopping as they have won three consecutive weeks boasting an SEC Gymnast of the Week, . Tackling No. 5 Alabama will be their biggest hurdle this season; however, home advantage against the Tide will be a perk for this team.
If they can beat Alabama, and then the No. 6 Georgia Bulldogs in Athens the next week, the Gators may be well on their way to a National title.
The UCLA Bruins
Seven perfect 10.0's and senior Vanessa Zamarripa continues to make her mark at UCLA. The UCLA Bruins, with the help of Zamarripa, recently defeated the No. 10 Stanford Cardinal. Currently ranked No. 4 in the nation, UCLA stands out amongst the SEC in the Top 10.
The Bruins have successfully moved through the season without a hitch. Currently undefeated, UCLA will face some stiff competition as the season progresses.
First, UCLA will face the No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners on the road, who have had quite an impressive season thus far. Nearly one point ahead, Zamarripa's all-around talent will be crucial in order to upset the Sooners.
And it doesn't stop there. UCLA will face No. 5 Alabama on the road. Junior Kim Jacob, who has been the driving force for Alabama, will be face-to-face with UCLA's Zamarripa, who has had an outstanding season. Zamarripa's vault will be tested when she faces sophomore Diandra Milliner, who has put up the best scores for Alabama on vault.
Furthermore, UCLA will return home to Pauley Pavilion to face the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines.
Needless to say, UCLA has a tough schedule ahead, but if they can best these teams, UCLA will find themselves competing for the National title.
The Oklahoma Sooners
While the Oklahoma Sooners still have plenty of meets left, they too have essentially put themselves in a position to be National Championship contenders. No. 2 in the nation, the Sooners have become favorites for the Big-12 as they are undefeated in their conference.
After besting conference foe West Virginia, the Sooners are well on their way to becoming Big-12 Champions this season. And from there, it is possible that they will have a spot in the National Championship meet.
As the No. 1 team on beam, Oklahoma will hit you where it hurts. While beam continues to be a struggle for many gymnasts, this team embraces it. Not only that, but the Sooners have their gymnasts posting high numbers every week. After a season high 49.450 on floor, Oklahoma is riding their momentum all the way to the top.
Tough teams still remain in their schedule, and the momentum the Sooners have will be important for the upcoming meets. Taking on the No. 4 UCLA Bruins in the upcoming weeks, and No. 5 Alabama on the road to end the season, Oklahoma will have to finish just as strong as they started.
The Michigan Wolverines
After being shut out of the National Championship last season, the Michigan Wolverines are looking to make a comeback. At No. 3, the Wolverines have reached the halfway mark in their season, and prepare to face some fierce competitors looking for an upset.
After a preseason ranking of No. 10, Michigan has been ranked in the top three for the first four weeks of the season. They are ranked nationally, in the top five, in three of the five events. This team can compete with the best of them all-around.
Michigan's freshmen have been stepping up, setting career-high records. Briley Casanova and Austin Sheppard have both posted records on vault. The sheer fact that the freshmen have become a fundamental part of the team is telling of Michigan's ability to make it to the National Championship.
They will take on the No. 20 Ohio State Buckeyes on Friday in what has been a fierce rivalry between the two teams. On the road, the Wolverines will square off in a meet that can go either way. With the nature of the judging, Michigan will have to use their all-around skill to best the Buckeyes.
The Wolverines also have the No. 4 UCLA Bruins towards the end of their schedule, which will also be an away meet for the team. The Wolverines will have some tough meets to overcome to get the chance to compete for a National title.