<
>

From Beyoncé to Michael Jackson, 5 must-watch floor routines you'll see at NCAA championships

At this weekend's NCAA championships, No. 1-ranked Oklahoma will be on a mission for a three-peat, while LSU and UCLA will hope to play spoiler. If LSU pulls off the upset, it will be the first time the program has won. For UCLA, it would be the first national title in eight years. In the meantime, many familiar faces -- former U.S. national team members Maggie Nichols, MyKayla Skinner, Elizabeth Price and Kyla Ross -- will battle it out for the all-around title.

But before the action gets underway on Friday in St. Louis, we wanted to highlight five floor routines that you won't want to miss. Each has a story behind how it was created -- and any one of them could go viral after this weekend.


Stanford senior Elizabeth Price

Regular-season floor ranking: 3 (tie)*

Best score: 10.0

Elizabeth Price, a 2012 U.S. Olympic team alternate and superstar all-arounder at Stanford, had one request for her floor routine entering her senior season: Beyoncé.

A huge fan of the superstar singer, Price spent the summer putting together a mix of Beyoncé songs that she thought she could use. She was hopeful but wasn't sure what to expect from new head coach Tabitha Yim and didn't know if Yim would be on board.

But when the two met for the first time, Price was amazed. Yim had put together some music for Price as well, and the very first song was Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)," the same song she wanted to use to open her routine.

"It was great, and such a relief," Price said. "Sometimes your coach will say, 'I want you to do a ballerina routine,' and you're thinking, 'Well, this is going to look terrible,' so it was really nice to be on the same page from the get-go about what kind of music I wanted."

Yim did the choreography, but Price played an integral part in developing the routine with her new coach, and she constantly added her input and suggestions. Price loved the final product and learned the routine in about six hours.

"I try to channel my inner-Beyoncé out there," she said with a laugh. "Because I have her as part of my routine, I feel like I can be more expressive and dance to the music and enjoy it and not have to try to perform. It's just natural."

Price is finishing her degree in biomechanical engineering with her eyes set on graduate school and a job in the medical device field. This weekend will mark her final meet as a gymnast, something she's equal parts sad and excited about.

"This is my very last competition, so I'm looking forward to putting on a show for everyone and soaking it all in," she said. "At the same time, it's weird because it's my last competition, and this time next week, I'll be done with the sport. I'm excited, but the realization of this being my last competition makes me a little nervous because gymnastics has been such a part of my life for so long -- really my entire life, since I was 3 years old.

"Regardless of how I do or where I finish, I want to enjoy every second of it and end on a good note emotionally."

*Regular season rankings are calculated based on the RQS (Regional Qualifying Score). The gymnast's top six scores are pulled, the highest is discarded, and the remaining five are averaged.


UCLA junior Katelyn Ohashi

Regular-season floor ranking: 1 (tie)

Best score: 10.0

Although notching two perfect scores would likely be the pinnacle of a very successful season for most college gymnasts, for Katelyn Ohashi, it was just part of it.

A since-deleted video of her Michael Jackson-themed routine at Pac-12 championships drew more than 58 million views, and she became a viral superstar.

"I never expected in college gymnastics to get this kind of recognition," Ohashi said. "My masseuse was trying to put it into perspective, and he was like, 'That's 20 percent of the American population!' So it's cool, but it hasn't exactly changed my daily life or anything."

Ohashi grew up listening to Jackson's music -- her mom is a huge fan -- and knew as soon as the 2017 season was over that she wanted to use his music this season. She asked her boyfriend's brother, who is a music producer, to put together some songs for her, and she then proceeded to convince coach Valorie Kondos Field to use it by doing his signature kick around the gym.

"For months, I would just walk around the gym, do the kick and yell, 'Miss Val!'" she said.

Kondos Field was easily persuaded about the music choice but needed a little more convincing about incorporating the kick. Ohashi finally wore her down, and they started working on choreography. Assistant coach Chris Waller taught her some variations on the Moonwalk, and Ohashi used those moves and whatever else came to her during intersquad meets. The coaching staff told her which moves worked and which didn't, and eventually her now-legendary routine was finalized.

"I love doing the kick, I worked so hard for it after all, and my laugh at the end," she said. "This is my favorite routine I've ever done, for sure. I almost forget about all of the others now. I've had some fun, great ones throughout my college career, but I really love this one and can't wait to do it at nationals."


Oklahoma sophomore Maggie Nichols

Regular-season floor ranking: 3 (tie)

Best score: 10.0

During her epic freshman season, Maggie Nichols performed to an instrumental version of The Chainsmokers' mega-hit "Don't Let Me Down," and she loved that the crowd was familiar with the song. When she started brainstorming about what she wanted for her sophomore year, her only request was to use another popular song. Head coach K.J. Kindler immediately got to work finding a new tune.

She ultimately thought J Balvin and Willy William's summer anthem "Mi Gente" would be the perfect choice, and Nichols agreed. Not only does the crowd know -- and sometimes sing along with -- the song, but also Nichols likes that it allows her to show off her personality when performing.

"It's fun, it's sassy, it's dramatic, it lets me show off all those sides of who I am," she said. "There are a lot of distinct beats and dance moves in my routine that the crowd can dance to and get into it. I also have a ton of facial expressions in there, which I think the crowd really likes. The expressions really just came naturally, with the music and the dance."

Kindler choreographed the routine, and Nichols added small, unique touches as they developed it. While Nichols, a former national team standout and the favorite to win the individual all-around title, is known for her impressive tumbling passes and difficult skills, there's one moment that she enjoys most of all.

"There's a part where I do a little shimmy and then a head roll," she said. "That is my favorite part. I usually throw a wink in there too, it's just so much fun. When we were working on it in practice, I did that, and [Kindler] was like, 'Ohhhhh, that was cute! Do that!' So I've done it ever since."


LSU senior Myia Hambrick

Regular-season floor ranking: 1 (tie)

Best score: 10.0

After spending most of the regular season ranked atop the floor national standings, Myia Hambrick has tried to pay as little attention to the hype or expectations as possible and to focus on doing her best week after week.

Needless to say, she has been pretty successful with that strategy. Hambrick has consistently put up huge scores and is tied with UCLA's Katelyn Ohashi at No. 1 heading into nationals.

"I haven't given a lot of thought to the ranking necessarily," she said. "If the routine is done well, I'm helping my team. Regardless of what the score ends up being, if I've done a good routine, [then] I have done my job. My only goal is to take advantage of the opportunity my coaches have given me and just have fun with the routine."

Using a medley of three songs -- "Shake that Brass" by Amber, "Growl" by EXO and "She Wants Me Dead" by CAZZETTE and AronChupa -- the 12-time All-American credits the team's volunteer assistant coach (and former LSU gymnast) Ashleigh Clare-Kearney for best creating a routine that showcases all of her skills. Clare-Kearney is no stranger to dominating on floor -- she won the 2009 individual floor title at nationals and choreographed for 2017 floor co-champion Ashleigh Gnat -- and Hambrick has tried to take full advantage of her experience.

"She does an awesome job of letting us show our personalities in the routines," she said. "She is open to us sharing ideas with her if we have some, but personally, I just let her work her magic with me. I honestly like the whole thing. I think the combination of tumbling and dance works really well, and I hope when people watch it, they just want to dance along too."


Utah sophomore MyKayla Skinner

Regular-season floor ranking: 3 (tie)

Best score: 9.975

An alternate for the 2016 Olympic team, MyKayla Skinner's commitments to the U.S. national team meant that she joined her Utah teammates too close to the beginning of her freshman season to create a new floor routine. As a result, last season, she continued using the routine she competed with at the elite level.

While the situation might have seemed less than ideal, it worked out OK: She was the co-champion on floor at nationals last April.

But Skinner was determined this season to have her dream college routine, filled with difficult skills but also the sass she had watched college gymnasts showcase over the years.

"It's spunky and just so different than anything I've ever done before," she said about her routine, which is set to "Stay" by Zedd and Alessia Cara and "End of Time" by Beyoncé. "It's been fun to just enjoy the dance a little bit and not be so serious. I have difficulty in there that a lot of college athletes don't do, like a tucked-double-double in the first pass, and I think that helps make me stand out a little bit."

As soon as she met incoming volunteer assistant coach Carly Dockendorf, a former Canadian national team member and All-American at Washington, Skinner knew she was in good hands.

"It was kind of hard because we had a coach leave, and Carly came in somewhat last-minute," Skinner said. "But she was helpful right away and put music together that she thought would work best for me. It all came together really quickly, and I didn't even need to spend a lot of time on it, but it ended up working out.

"Sometimes when you start dwelling on it with so much time, doubt comes in: 'Should I change this? Does that work?' It gets stressful, so this was actually great."

Even though she's the defending champion on the event, Skinner says she isn't concerned about repeating her title. Her primary focus is helping lead the Utah squad to Saturday's Super Six team final. "I want to get the job done for the team first, and then whatever comes after that would be awesome," she said.

No matter what happens, she has loved the experience of her first college routine so much that she's already working with Dockendorf on planning her routine for next season.