For several former members of U.S. national women’s gymnastics team, this weekend’s NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships should feel awfully familiar.
The NCAA championships take place in St. Louis’ Chaifetz Arena, the site of the U.S. championships in 2012 and 2016. Both times, that event served as the final event before the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, and for two athletes, that event was a precursor to making the Olympic team.
Many gymnasts who competed in those U.S. championships on the elite level are now back to compete this weekend for NCAA titles.
UCLA freshmen Kyla Ross (2012) and Madison Kocian (2016) both come to St. Louis as Olympic gold medalists. Meanwhile, 2016 Olympic alternate MyKayla Skinner leads Utah and Maggie Nichols, who was a favorite to go to Rio before a knee injury, is now with Oklahoma and a favorite for a national all-around title.
Here is a brief look at several former elite national team members who will be competing this weekend:
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Madison Kocian, UCLA
The 2016 Olympic gold (team) and silver (uneven bars) medalist has the distinction of being the only U.S. gymnast this weekend who competed in Rio, but she’s also earned plenty of accolades since last August. Kocian was the champion on uneven bars and co-champion on floor exercise at the NCAA Regionals, is a first-team regular-season All-American in the all-around and second-team on floor, and she earned four All-Pac-12 honors, including first team in the all-around and floor. She also won six all-around titles this season.
Kyla Ross, UCLA
Ross, an Olympic gold medalist as a member of the “Fierce Five” in 2012, became the eighth Bruin and first since 2011 to be named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year after an outstanding season with UCLA. She led the team in individual victories (15), scores of 9.95 or higher (10) and perfect 10s (4), and ranks first in the nation in uneven bars, fourth on beam and No. 19 on vault. She also won the Pac-12 title on beam, scoring the first-ever perfect 10 on the apparatus at the championship meet.
MyKayla Skinner, Utah
Skinner, an alternate on the 2016 Olympic team and gold medalist in team and bronze medalist on vault at the 2014 world championships, is yet another outstanding freshman. She’s ranked second in the nation in the all-around and first on the floor, was named Pac-12 gymnast of the week seven times and won the all-around title at the Pac-12 Championship, where she scored a perfect 10 on her floor routine. She’ll be trying to become Utah’s first all-around champion since 1999.
Maggie Nichols, Oklahoma
Of all the talented freshmen this year, few have had a better season than Nichols, a member of the 2015 world championship team whose knee injury derailed her 2016 Olympic campaign. She scored a perfect 10 on all four apparatus events over the course of the season and is the top-ranked all-around gymnast in the country. In a highly competitive field, Nichols is favored to not only win the all-around but also lead undefeated Oklahoma to a second consecutive and third overall national title.
Rachel Gowey, Florida
Gowey was a member of the national team from 2014 to 2016, which included a team gold at the 2015 Pan American Games, and although multiple injuries hurt her during the final years of her elite gymnastics career she has had a successful freshman year at Florida. Gowey was named to the SEC All-Freshman team and highlights of her season included her first collegiate all-around win against West Virginia, her first event win on the balance beam against Auburn and a balance beam performance at the SEC Championships that left her tied for fifth.
Amelia Hundley, Florida
Hundley, whose elite career included appearances at the 2015 Pan American Games and the 2012 Pacific Rim Championships, is a freshman at Florida who received first-team All-America honors for the regular season in uneven bars and second team in all-around. She was also named All-SEC team and All-Freshman team. She competed in the all-around in 11 out of 12 meets this season, winning twice.
Sabrina Vega, Georgia
A five-year national team member who won gold with Team USA at the 2011 world championships and competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials, Vega began her college career in 2016 after ending her elite career in 2015. Her vault and floor routines — the latter earning Georgia’s highest score on the apparatus in the NCAA Regional meet — helped the Bulldogs advance to this weekend’s championships.
Elizabeth Price, Stanford
Price, who won the vault in 2015, is one of just two returning champions. A junior and 2012 Olympic team alternate, she qualified this year in the uneven bars after winning the NCAA Seattle Regional title in the apparatus. Price has been ranked in the top five in bars all season and enters the meet with a No. 4 national ranking.
Brenna Dowell, Oklahoma
As a freshman in 2015, Dowell was the NCAA runner-up for floor exercise and finished 10th on uneven bars. She was also a first-team All-American on both bars and floor and the 2015 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. Then taking a break to pursue her Olympic dream, Dowell won a world title in 2015 as part of Team USA and competed through the Olympic Trials. She's since returned to Oklahoma for the 2016-17 season, where she's helped lead the top-ranked Sooners in pursuit of their third national title in program history.
Madison Desch, Alabama
Desch, who won gold with the U.S. team at the 2014 world championships, retired from elite gymnastics last spring after learning she re-fractured her back. Now a freshman at Alabama, Desch earned All-SEC and SEC All-Freshman honors. She competes regularly in everything except bars, scored a career-best 9.950 on vault at the SEC championships last month and won the floor exercise against Boise State in February.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.