(Editor's note: This article was first published on College Gym News.)
With six titles in the past nine years, KJ Kindler has Oklahoma rolling as NCAA gymnastics’ modern dynasty. The championship culture she’s fostering is unmatched, as she’s been ultra-proficient at recruiting the top athletes in every class who fit the Sooners’ style and helping most of them reach their maximum potential. With another top class on the way to replace the few routines lost from this season’s title-defending team, Oklahoma will be the favorite to three-peat in 2024 and is the No. 1 team in the way-too-early rankings for next season.
Much of the top 10 looks similar to what we saw to end the 2023 season, as the leading programs are keen at reloading with classes oozing with potential. There are a few surprises — like a surging Pac-12 as five-star recruits flock to the West Coast — but the transfer portal and COVID year announcements will certainly shake things up throughout the summer.
Taking into consideration the 2023 season, departing routines, newcomers, the coaching carousel, and everything else the offseason has to offer, here’s a way-too-early look at the top 20 teams for the 2024 season. Any eligible athletes who hadn’t declared a COVID season before publishing were considered losses.
No. 1 Oklahoma
The Sooners’ dynasty isn’t stopping anytime soon, as Oklahoma graduates only a few routines and reloads with a top-10 recruiting class. Losing Olivia Trautman stings, but with her injuries, the Sooners have already successfully navigated life without her before. Now, they have even more routines to play with. The No. 4 overall recruit Hannah Schieble and U.S. international elite Addison Fatta are more than capable of filling the vacated lineup spots, while incomer Keira Wells’ Yurchenko one and a half is so stellar, it may be an upgrade from the departing NCAA vault champions’. Yes, it’s that good. Oklahoma will be the favorite to three-peat in 2024.
No. 2 Florida
There’s no way to replace Trinity Thomas — new record-holder for most perfect 10s in a career — but luckily for the Gators, they have some practice managing her absence as they navigated her injuries much of her last two years. Florida gets a big lift next year with the reclassification of five-star recruit Danielle Ferris to the 2023 recruiting class, as she’s a college-ready all arounder who can make an immediate impact. Four-star recruit Anya Pilgrim holds plenty of potential, particularly on the leg events, while fellow four-star Alyssa-Carolina Arana is Pilgrim’s perfect compliment as someone who could make late lineups on bars and beam. But all eyes will be on Leanne Wong, who has plans to make a run for the Paris Olympics. Will she depart from college to train like Sunisa Lee and Jordan Chiles or try to top an NCAA and Olympic podium in the same year?
No. 3 Utah
Between Abby Brenner, Jillian Hoffman, and Cristal Isa, the Utes are losing their fair share of routines. But Utah is bringing in a trio of five-star recruits who can maintain its status as a title contender. Former top recruit Elizabeth Gantner projects as a significant contributor during her career, while Camille Winger and Ella Zirbes boost the Red Rocks’ bars and floor. Utah also benefits from a trio of crucial bonus year announcements, as Jaedyn Rucker, Abby Paulson, and NCAA all around champion Maile O’Keefe give the Utes valuable leadership and scores.
No. 4 California
After tying the program record best finish this season, California’s expectation will be to surpass that in 2024 with two five-star recruits en route to Berkley. If Nevaeh DeSouza opts not to use her COVID year, California will have four critical routines to replace, but between Kyen Mayhew — the No. 6 overall recruit — and five-star Annalise Newman-Achee, that shouldn’t be an issue. Mayhew vaults a stellar Yurchenko one and a half and tumbles a double E pass routine on floor, while Newman-Achee will fit right in with the Golden Bears’ reputation as a bars team.
No. 5 LSU
It was an improbable run to Four on the Floor after a season plagued by injuries, but a run nonetheless, and the Tigers are fortunate to retain all but a few routines heading into 2024. The dynamic duo of Haleigh Bryant and Aleah Finnegan remain and may be the strongest all around pair in the country, while LSU also brings in a healthy recruiting class of three, four, and five-star gymnasts. U.S. elites Amari Drayton and Zoe Miller may defer to try and qualify for Paris, but with the core of the roster returning, the Tigers have the pieces to fight for a program-first NCAA title.
No. 6 UCLA
Not only do the Bruins have big routines to replace from Jordan Chiles and Margzetta Frazier, they’ve got star power and leadership to replace, too. As Chiles departs to make a run for a second Olympic team, UCLA counteracts with a pair of elites in Sydney Barros and Katelyn Rosen. Both bring an extensive arsenal of skills to the table, as Barros will fit in well with the bars and floor lineups, and Rosen adds a much-needed Yurchenko one and a half to the vault lineup. Between recruits and a few expected injury returnees, the Bruins should remain, at least, a nationals favorite in 2024.
No. 7 Michigan
The most significant task this offseason for Michigan will be elevating its current routines, as they’re losing two stalwart all arounders — Natalie Wojcik and Abby Heiskell — and their recruiting class is currently comprised of just one three-star athlete. The duo’s dominance alongside Gabby Wilson and Sierra Brooks, who’ve announced pivotal returns, has inhibited the use of much depth the past few seasons, creating uncertainty about the future scoring potential. Expect to see more of Kaylen Morgan and Paige Thaxton, both five-star recruits from the class of 2022, but don’t expect too much drop-off from a squad just a few years removed from an NCAA championship.
No. 8 Alabama
Despite a stacked roster, it was a slow start to the Ashley Johnston era at her alma mater as the Crimson Tide were eliminated pre-nationals as the loser of a tough eight vs. nine-seed regionals bout. Without any COVID announcements yet, Alabama is set to graduate a lot of significant routines. But, in typical Alabama fashion, it’s reloading with a top-five recruiting class. No. 1 overall recruit Jamison Sears provides plenty of power to the SEC, while fellow five-star Chloe LaCoursiere has the technique on bars to warrant perfect 10s from the get-go. It may take time to adjust to new faces at the end of lineups, but the Crimson Tide will always be a threat.
No. 9 Michigan State
The Spartans were in the hunt for a trip to nationals all season long and should be yet again with all but one routine returning from their postseason lineups. Michigan State also can revamp its lowest-ranked event — beam — with its two four-star recruits who stand out on that apparatus. Nikki Smith should blossom after an impressive freshman campaign as Mike Rowe has established the Spartans as the top contender to unseat intrastate rival Michigan from the top of the Big Ten.
No. 10 Kentucky
Powered by superstar Raena Worley, it was thrilling to see Kentucky capitalize on one of its best rosters to earn a trip to championships and secure a program-best finish. Now, with double-digit routines likely departing, the Wildcats will have to rebuild and reload as they fight to stay in the nationals picture. Five-star recruit Delaynee Rodriguez highlights a large recruiting class that also features four-star Cadence Gormley, a pair that can not only fill in lineup holes but boost bars and beam totals. But you can never count Kentucky out, as it always stays relevant exactly when you think it may have a down year.
No. 11 Auburn
Sunisa Lee’s unfortunate early end to her final NCAA season showed just how difficult it will be for Auburn to move forward without the Olympic all around champion, as its 24th-place finish is not indicative of what she helped the program accomplish during her time there. Furthermore, the Tigers are also losing Derrian Gobourne — a fixture and face of the team for more than double Lee’s time, bringing plenty of positive attention to the team. Head coach Jeff Graba’s most arduous task moving forward will be maintaining the hype surrounding the program with those two absent. Still, five-star recruit Julianne Huff and four-star recruit Lyden Saltness should help keep Auburn relevant with their legit talent.
No. 12 Oregon State
The total loss for the Beavers is still unknown, as Olympic champ Jade Carey has yet to reveal where she intends to train for next summer’s games. Oregon State’s forecast clouds dramatically if she forego the 2024 NCAA season as she and Madi Dagen are a formidable duo to replace. But, if Carey competes collegiately, she can carry this team to the successes we’ve seen from the Beavers before. They also add two four-star recruits and three-star Taylor DeVries, whose bars prowess is another vital add for Oregon State’s problematic event. This ranking assumes Carey stays.
No. 13 Stanford
Expectations continue to rise on the Farm as Stanford welcomes another highly-touted recruiting class after its 2023 freshmen were an integral part of its top 20 finish. The Cardinal’s No. 2 ranked class consists of five athletes, including five-stars Ui Soma and Sydney Razeghi, and two four-star recruits. Senior Chloe Widner opting for another year after her NCAA championships appearance — including a top-four finish on beam — gives Stanford leadership, only a few routines to replace, and tremendous depth to make a push for the nationals bubble.
No. 14 Denver
An upset run to NCAA Championships was an appropriate sendoff for sixth-year Lynnzee Brown, the latest star in a list of standouts who’ve helped establish Denver as a top 15 mainstay. Five-star and No. 9 overall recruit Madison Ulrich may be the heir to the throne, as she could be an impactful all arounder immediately after dominating the level 10 season this year. Ulrich, alongside key returners Jessica Hutchinson and Rylie Mundell, should have the Pioneers on the nationals bubble yet again.
No. 15 Missouri
The Tigers failed to capitalize on the momentum from its fifth-place finish in 2022, as they spent the 2023 season once again battling for relevancy in the ever-deep SEC and finishing ranked in the teens. Helen Hu and Alisa Sheremeta graduate routines the program has been relying on for years, and much of the burden of replacing them will fall on four-star recruits Kaia Tanskanen and Rayna Light. Tanskanen adds international experience competing for Finland, while big-hitters Sienna Schrieber, Amari Celestine, and Jocelyn Moore are all back to grab the difference-making scores at the end of lineups. If the freshmen can adjust to college quickly, the Tigers shouldn’t see much dropoff from their 2023 status.
No. 16 Arizona State
While the roster didn’t quite match its ninth-place finish from 2021, it did move back into the teens after finishing 2022 ranked outside the top 20. With Hannah Scharf’s fifth-year announcement, the most vital pieces of this team remain intact, but there is only one incoming gymnast and a handful of routines to replace. Three-star Halle Gregoie brings a college-ready vault, but the Sun Devils must promote from within to stay a top 15 program.
No. 17 Ohio State
The Buckeyes’ bars and beam lineups will get a lift next season with the addition of Courtney McCann and Samara Buchanan, a pair of four-star recruits, but vault and floor have some lineup question marks after Elexis Edwards and a few other critical routines depart. Would-be all-freshman team selection Payton Harris finished off her year competing as an all arounder at the NCAA Championships and will be the face of this program moving forward, but she needs an equal to elevate Ohio State to nationals-contender status.
No. 18 Georgia
The Bulldogs are currently set to lose more than a dozen routines — never an ideal situation — but will have plenty of options as Georgia adds the top-ranked 2023 recruiting class, featuring six gymnasts. Leading the way is the No. 3 overall recruit, Lily Smith, who just earned a perfect score on floor at her level 10 state meet and also has scored a 10 on bars in her career. Smith could be an immediate all arounder alongside fellow top-10 recruit Holly Snyder. There’s a lot to replace, but the Bulldogs should have the options to do so effectively and make a push for another top 20 final ranking.
No. 19 Iowa
Thanks to a fifth-year announcement from JerQuavia Henderson, the Hawkeyes are in position to climb back into the top 20 with just two routines to replace from their 2023 lineups. She and Adeline Kenlin will be a force in the Big Ten yet again, and Iowa may finally have its missing piece in Karina Muñoz — primed for a breakout sophomore season. Plus, the Hawkeyes add five-star recruit Eva Volpe, who can slide right into the vault and floor holes needing filled.
No. 20 Washington
While the Huskies are losing about a dozen routines, the program’s future is arriving as they’ve got a top 10 recruiting class on the way — highlighted by five-star Kristin Lin. Washington’s four-star recruits are set to revamp the vault lineup, as McKenna Carnesi recently scored a perfect 10 on her Yurchenko full in level 10, and Kira Bolden brings in an anchor-worthy one and a half. Skylar Killough-Wilhelm is now a senior with loads of experience to lead the Huskies to a top-20 finish just a few years into the Jen Llewellyn head coaching era.
Next In Contention: Arkansas, Minnesota, Western Michigan, Arizona, Penn State