The Florida Gators look to win a fourth straight NCAA gymnastics team championship this weekend in Fort Worth, Texas, though the defending champs enter the competition ranked No. 2 and will compete in a semifinal full of the big names of collegiate gymnastics.
Florida will compete in an SEC-heavy semifinal against No. 3 LSU, No. 6 Auburn, and No. 10 Georgia, in addition to Minnesota and Stanford.
— FloGymnastics (@FloGymnastics_) April 15, 2016
The No. 1 team entering the competition, Oklahoma, is in the other semifinal with No. 4 Alabama, No. 5 Utah, No. 8 UCLA, No. 8 Cal, and Nebraska. Florida edged Utah to win last year's national title, and is trying to become the third program to win four consecutive NCAA gymnastics championships, joining fellow semifinalists Georgia and Utah.
— Gator Gymnastics (@GatorsGym) April 14, 2016
Florida is led by senior Bridget Sloan, competing in her final college competition. Sloan came through with a crucial 9.95 score on the bars in last year's championship final, and is the only woman to ever win a U.S., world, and NCAA championship in the all-around. She was also a member of the silver medal U.S. team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when she was 15. Sloan is ranked No. 1 in the individual all-around, and has set school records at Florida in event titles with 90 and perfect 10s, which she's done eight times. She's the only UF gymnast to score a perfect 10 on each of the four apparatuses.
The Gators are also counting on Alex McMurtry to come up big again as well, just as she did in last year's finals when as a freshman she hit just what the Gators needed, matching teammate Sloan with her own 9.95 on the bars to give Florida the win.
McMurtry is one of UF's four designated all-around competitors this season, after a remarkable comeback from a back injury – three cracked vertebrae – suffered in high school that kept her out of the sport for months.
— Florida Gators (@FloridaGators) April 14, 2016
And while Sloan and McMurtry return to the finals looking to repeat, first year Florida head coach Jenny Rowland will be seeking to continue what former coach Rhonda Faehn started. Faehn left after last year's title to take a job with USA Gymnastics.
Oklahoma is the Gators' biggest obstacle to a four-peat. The Sooners tied with the Gators for the championship in 2014, and finished second in 2013 and 2015. Seniors Keeley Kmieciak and Haley Scaman will finish their collegiate careers this weekend, hoping to capture their first solo team national championship. Scaman is a four-time All-American, and two-time Big-12 Gymnast of the Year, and has competed in every meet at Oklahoma since starting her career there as a freshman.
While Oklahoma is thought to be the top obstacle to Florida winning a fourth straight crown, Alabama is also a strong team, seeking its seventh title. The Crimson Tide won two straight in 2011 and 2012.
Another top team is No. 3 LSU, which beat Oklahoma earlier this year and is led by All-American Ashleigh Gnat, who leads the nation this year in individual vault and floor exercise scoring. Also hoping to help get the Tigers to their first ever national title is McKenna Kelley, whose lineage, at least, should put her in good stead for big-time competitions. Kelley is the daughter of one of America's best known and most successful gymnasts, Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton.
LSU's McKenna Kelley. From LSU Video
Stanford's Elizabeth Price is the only gymnast competing this year who is trying to defend an individual title from last year's championship, when she won the vault. The Pac-12 gymnast of the year is also a top contender for the All-Around individual title.
Competition begins Friday at the Fort Worth Convention Center. The top three teams from Friday's semifinal rounds advance to Saturday's Super Six, where the national champion will be crowned.