Jade Carey, Jordan Chiles shine at Pac-12 Championships as thoughts turn to Paris 2024

UCLA’s Jordan Chiles, left, and Oregon State’s Jade Carey share the floor event title during the Pac-12 Women's Gymnastics Championship at Maverik Center.
USA Today Sports

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The 2023 NCAA gymnastics season has been a special one for U.S. Olympians Jordan Chiles, Jade Carey and Grace McCallum, who wrapped their second full season of college competition Saturday at the Pac-12 Women’s Gymnastics Championships.

Carey, a sophomore at Oregon State, earned all-around honors, scoring 39.750, while also tying for event wins in floor (with Chiles at 9.975) and balance beam (with Cal’s Mya Lauzon at 9.975). Utah captured its third straight Pac-12 Championships title, scoring 197.925, with UCLA finishing second at 197.850 and Cal finishing third at 197.825.

“Starting on beam is little bit challenging sometimes, but it was one of my best routines this year,” the 22-year-old Carey told On Her Turf after collecting her second straight all-around title at the Pac-12 Championships. “So that was really exciting. Same with floor … I think I just tried to do my normal gymnastics and that’s always the best for me. And bars weren’t my best but still good. I’m proud of those, but I know where I can go back in the gym and make improvements.”

Chiles, a sophomore at UCLA, also expressed appreciation for her own performance, which earned her her first Pac-12 Championships event title: “As a whole, there’s some bits and pieces that we can work on as a team, but you know, at the end of the day, we can’t control what the judges see, we can only control what we do ourselves. So I’m very proud of my team — we put in everything to go from being at the bottom (of the standings) after our first rotation to finish the second. We definitely brought our game up.

“Individually, I’m very happy. Yes, being a Pac-12 champion on bars is an amazing thing. I’ve been working in and outside the gym, just mentally and physically making sure I will be okay to compete every weekend. It was really cool just to be part of this.”

But with less the 500 days until the start of the 2024 Summer Olympics, making the U.S. squad for Paris means a transition away from collegiate gymnastics after the NCAA championships wrap in April. The current iteration of USA’s national team – which officially qualified for Paris last November by winning gold in the team final of the 2022 World Championships in Liverpool, England — consists of Carey, who won the gold in the floor exercise at the Tokyo Olympics; Chiles, a silver medalist (team event) in Tokyo; Florida’s Leanne Wong, the 2021 world all-around silver medalist; fellow Gator Shilese Jones and Gator-to-be Skye Blakely, who officially signed with Florida in November with the intention of deferring enrollment until after the 2024 Games.

On Her Turf caught up with Carey and Chiles to get their take on their collegiate experience and plans to transition back to elite gymnastics.

Jade Carey secures ‘gym slam’ during standout sophomore season

Carey’s second season at Oregon State was punctuated with an entry in the history books earlier in March when she became one of just 13 women gymnasts to complete a “gym slam” in their college careers. A gym slam is when an athlete earns a perfect 10 on every event at least once during a career. Carey notched the 10th perfect score of her college career – and her first on beam – during a meet at Arizona State to join Florida’s Trinity Thomas as the only active gymnasts to have accomplished the feat.

But for Carey, her two years as a Beaver has been as much about being part of the team as her accomplishments as an athlete.

“It’s meant the world to me,” she said of the last two years. “I’ve always wanted to be part of a college team and to be a part of OSU is incredible. It’s such a loving family environment, and I’m just really lucky to have all of them by my side throughout this.”

With nationals around the corner, Carey says she’s focused on finishing strong and recently told a local news outlet she’s undecided as to whether or not she will be competing with the Beavers next season.

“Next year is definitely a big year and right now, we’re just kind of focused on finishing out this college season and then we’re going to evaluate and take it day by day on what my exact plan is going to be,” said Carey. “I am pretty confident that I’m, at least, going to be around here, but what that looks like will probably be a little different than the past two years, but again we’re probably just going to take it day by day and see what happens.”

As for what life will look like after nationals, Carey told OHT that she’ll head back to Corvallis, where her father – Brian Carey, who serves as her coach — will join her for training periodically.

“After nationals, it will just be getting ready for elite, getting those routines back together,” she said. “I’ve kept up with all the skills and parts, so I’ll just be pushing to get those routines and be really focused on that.”

Jordan Chiles embraces opportunity to showcase her fun side

“Honestly, I think it just brings a different perspective of who I am as a person and also as an athlete,” Chiles told On Her Turf regarding what she loves about her last two years as a Bruin.  “You know, how I can do both the elite world and collegiate world but at the same time, I just like to have fun. So being able to do both lets me put a statement out there kind of saying that, you know, I am who I am for a reason, and I can do both and show the world who I am.”

After nationals, Chiles says she’ll return to UCLA to finish out the quarter, which ends in June, and then will head to Texas for training.

“I’ll be training in Texas all of 2024 for the Olympics,” she said recently. “I’ll just be training. I’ll be deferring (UCLA studies) another year and then I’ll finish schooling afterwards. I haven’t fully decided, but as of right now, I am coming back (to UCLA after Paris), but we’ll see how everything turns out.”

Chiles came into the Pac-12s ranked second in the country in the all-around with a 39.810 NQS and also arrived in Salt Lake City off a record 39.900 score in an all-around competition in UCLA’s final regular season meet vs. Iowa State. The sophomore broke her own record for top all-around score in the country this season, beating a 39.875 from the week prior vs. Stanford. Chiles is the only gymnast to score a 39.900 since Florida’s Thomas accomplished the same score last year.

Post-season on pause for Utah’s Grace McCallum

The 20-year-old McCallum, who hails from Minnesota and also won team silver in Tokyo, has been an integral part of Utah’s lineup the past two seasons, but she’s been out since mid-February after suffering a “hyper extension of the right knee” while competing at the Metroplex Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas.

The sophomore reportedly was attempting to land a Yurchenko 1.5, a 10.0-valued vault that she debuted earlier this season, when she was injured at the four-team meet against Georgia, Illinois and Illinois State, a competition that Utah easily won.

Last month, McCallum didn’t completely rule out competing at the 2024 Olympics while talking with Inside Gymnastics, saying: “Right now I’m just kind of enjoying college, but I have thought about going back to elite,” McCallum said. “I really love watching them (Chiles, Carey and Wong) and they are doing amazing. Kudos to them for doing both (NCAA gymnastics and elite).

“For me personally, right now, I just want to make sure I make the right decision. I don’t want to go back for the wrong reasons. I don’t want to go back just because I feel like I have to. I want to go back because I truly want to, and I want to see what I can achieve there. So it is not out of the question, that’s for sure. And I’d love to go back, but we’ll see.”

Utah did not provide a timeline for McCallum’s return to competition (she was with the team during the competition Saturday), but it’s possible that she could return in time for Utah’s run at the national title. McCallum won eight individual events this season prior to her injury.

Next up: The road to the NCAA Championships

Post-season action continues Monday, March 20, when the field of 36 teams, 12 all-around competitors and 64 individual event specialists who’ll be competing in regional meets will be announced during the Selection Show, set for noon ET and streaming on NCAA.com.

Regional competition runs March 29 through April 2 at campus sites, with eight teams, four all-around competitors and 16 event specialists advancing to the 2023 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships, April 13-15 at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

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2023 LPGA Drive On Championship: How to watch, who’s playing in season’s first full-field event

Jin-young Ko of South Korea and Nelly Korda on the 17th tee during the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship.
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The LPGA Tour makes its return to the Arizona desert this week at the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club. The season’s first full-field event features eight of the world’s top 10 players plus a slew of fresh faces as this year’s rookie class gets its first taste of competition as tour members.

This week’s event features 144 players (plus two Monday qualifiers) competing for the $1.75 million prize purse in a 72-hole tournament that will implement the LPGA’s new cutline policy for the first time. Beginning this week, the 36-hole cut will change from the top 70 players and ties to the top 65 and ties advancing to weekend action. The LPGA says it hopes to “establish a faster pace of play” with the change.”

Arizona last hosted the LPGA for the 2019 Bank of Hope Founders Cup at Wildfire Golf Club, where Jin Young Ko earned her first of four LPGA titles that season. The tour last played at Superstition Mountain in the Safeway International from 2004 to 2008, where Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam (2004, 2005) and Lorena Ochoa (2007, 2008) each won twice, and Juli Inkster won in 2006.

The tournament marks the first of four events over the next five weeks (taking off the week of the Masters, April 7-10) and kicks off the crescendo that’s building to the LPGA’s first major of the season, The Chevron Championship, April 20-23 in its new location at The Woodlands, Texas. The 72-hole LPGA Drive On Championship features 144 players, in addition to two Monday qualifiers, who will compete for a $1.75 million purse.

How to watch the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship

You can watch the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship on Golf Channel, Peacock, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Check out the complete TV and streaming schedule:

  • Thursday, March 23: 9-11 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, March 24: 9-11 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, March 25: 6-10 p.m. ET, live stream; 7-9 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, March 26: 6-10 p.m. ET, live stream; 7-9 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship

Sitting out this week are world No. 1 Lydia Ko and No. 5 Minjee Lee, but No. 2 Nelly Korda and No. 3 Jin Young Ko are back in action following Ko’s return to the winner’s circle two weeks ago in Singapore, where she held off Korda by two strokes. Also in the field this week are:

  • No. 4 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 7 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 8 In Gee Chun
  • No. 9 Hyo-Joo Kim
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka
  • 2022 major winners Ashleigh Buhai, Jennifer Kupcho, Chun, Henderson

Rookies and Epson Tour graduates making their first starts as LPGA members include 20-year-old Lucy Li, a two-time Epson Tour winner who might be best known for playing the 2014 U.S.  Women’s Open as an 11-year-old; South Korea’s Hae Ran Ryu, who took medalist honors at LPGA Q-Series; and 18-year-old Alexa Pano, who finished tied for 21st at Q School to earn her card but might be best known from her role in the 2013 Netflix documentary, “The Short Game.”

Past winners, history of the Drive On Championship

The Drive On Championship was initially created as a series of LPGA events that marked the tour’s back-to-competition efforts following the pandemic. Each tournament used the “Drive On” slogan in support of the tour’s resilience, beginning with the first series event in July 2020 at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, where Danielle Kang won by one stroke over Celine Boutier. The second event, held in October 2020, replaced the three stops originally scheduled in Asia, and was held at Reynolds Lake Oconee Great Waters Course in Greensboro, Georgia. Ally McDonald captured her career first LPGA title by one stroke over Kang.

The last two “Drive On” events were staged in Florida, at Golden Ocala Golf Club (Ocala) in March 2021 and at Crown Colony Golf Club (Fort Myers) in February 2022. Austin Ernst cruised to her third career title at the 2021 edition, beating Jennifer Kupcho by five shots. The 2022 tournament marked a fresh start for the event (no longer including results or records from the 2020 and 2021 events), where Leona Maguire became the first Irish winner on tour with her victory in 2022.

Last year at the Drive On Championship

Ireland’s Leona Maguire gifted her mom and early birthday present with her first career win at the 2022 LPGA Drive On Championship. A 27-year-old Maguire, a standout at Duke and former No. 1 amateur, carded a final-round 67 to finish at 18-under 198 and won the 54-hole event by three strokes over Lexi Thompson. She became the first woman from Ireland to win on tour, and her 198 tied her career-best 54-hole score.

More about Superstition Mountain

Superstition Mountain’s Prospector Golf Course opened in 1998 and was a combined design effort by Jack Nicklaus and his son Gary. The course plays as a par-72 and stretches to 7,225 yards in length, with the women playing it at 6,526 yards. The course was home of the LPGA Safeway International from 2004-08, and was recently selected by Golfweek as one of the “Top 100 Residential Courses.”

Of note, Superstition Mountain is a female-owned facility, originally purchased in 2009 by Susan Hladky and her husband James, who died in 2011. Hladky has made a point of opening her courses to women and college players, twice hosting U.S. Women’s Open qualifying and the site of a 2025 NCAA women’s regional tournament. She’s also given membership to eight LPGA players, who play out of the club: Carlota Ciganda, Mina Harigae, Dana Finkelstein, Jaclyn Lee, Charlotte Thomas, Caroline Inglis, Jennifer Kupcho and Brianna Do.

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: 2023 March Madness — Utah Utes engineer dramatic turnaround for third-ever Sweet 16 appearance

2023 March Madness: Utah Utes engineer dramatic turnaround for third-ever Sweet 16 appearance

Members of the Utah Utes celebrate their win over the Princeton Tigers in the second round of the NCAA Womens Basketball Tournament.
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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The No. 2-seeded Utah (27-4) women’s basketball team held off a pesky 10th-seeded Princeton squad on Sunday, winning 63-56 to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championships for the first time since 2005-06 and just the third time in the program’s history.

“I’m proud of our team,” said eighth-year head coach Lynne Roberts after the second-round win at Utah’s Hunstman Center. “We set out to do this a year ago. We lost in this game at University of Texas and the goal was to be able to host (this year) so that we could have that home-court advantage and it made a difference.”

Utah’s fourth-year junior Alissa Pili backed up her recent second-team All-American honor with another 20-plus-point performance, scoring 28 on 8-for 13 shooting with 10 rebounds and going 11-for 13 on free throws. Sophomore forward Jenna Johnson added 15 points and six rebounds.

There’s been a lot of talk this weekend about how the Utes’ previous few seasons have ended – beginning with a rough 14-17 season that was cut short in 2020 due to the pandemic, followed by an abysmal 5-16 record in 2020-21. But the tide turned last year, as Utah rebounded with a 21-12 season that ended with a 78-56 loss to Texas in Austin in the second round of the NCAA tournament one year ago.

So, what changed?

“Last year, everyone was new to the NCAA tournament, so I think everyone was just experiencing it for the first time,” mused Johnson. “Losing in the second round last year, we’re definitely a lot hungrier this year, and then obviously hosting in Salt Lake, it’s fun just being in your own environment, to be around your own fans. I think it gives us an elevated level of confidence, both knowing what it’s like to play in this tournament and also getting to be at home.”

“Yeah, freshman year was kind of rough,” added third-year sophomore Kennady McQueen, who chipped in nine points Sunday. “We did experience losing a lot. … Coach Roberts, she said we are not going to have another season like that. We all stood behind her — the people that stayed — and brought in great people like starting last year with Jenna and Gi (Gianna Kneepkens) and people like that who have had a huge impact in helping us to where we are today. …

“When you get together a group of people that have the same goal in mind and will do make anything to make it happen, I think that’s where we have seen our success rate going up. This past offseason, we just kept getting better, and of course, the addition of the Alissa Pili really helped. When you bring a group of girls that have the same dream and same goal at the end of the year and doesn’t care about personal stats more than winning, I think we get the season that we have today, and it prepares us for deep run in March.”

In particular, McQueen believe it was Utah’s improvement in their defense that was crucial to the turnaround. “Everyone knows how good we are on offense, but if we can’t get stops, it doesn’t matter how good you are on offense,” she said. “So that’s just been a key the whole past off-season and all of this season — just getting better on defense.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Alissa Pili revives her love of basketball with record season at Utah

Roberts credits their defensive improvement with a “philosophical mindset change,” explaining, “We worked on [defense] a lot differently, a lot more intentionally. Strategically we made some changes of how we are going to defend, and I won’t bore you with that. But there was a lot, just different things because you have to play to your strengths. You can’t be a run-and-jump pressing team if you don’t have the depth and athletes to do it. You can’t be a zone team if you are not super big. You have to figure out what fits your personnel, and so that’s what we did.”

There’s also the undeniable impact of Pili, a transfer from USC who has found her stride as a Ute, where she recently was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

“She kind of is the straw that stirs the drink for us right now,” Roberts said regarding the 21-year-old Alaska native. “She’s a nightmare to defend because she can shoot the three, and she’s also really athletic and mobile, so it doesn’t matter who we are playing. I think you have to gameplan for her. But then with her three-point shooting, you know, you have to pick your poison.”

But Roberts also gave plenty of kudos to Johnson, whom she describes as “phenomenal.”

“She’s 19 going on 40,” Roberts said of Johnson. “She’s the most mature, even-keeled consistent player we have. What I love about her is she is who she is. She’s confident in who she is. She knows who she is. She also is incredibly busy off the court.

“We were talking as we were getting ready to watch film, just shooting the breeze a bunch of us, we were talking about movies. And she was like, Oh, I don’t watch movies. Why not? I don’t have time. I get bored. What do you mean you don’t have time? Do you watch shows? No, I don’t ever watch TV. It is because she is doing all of these other extracurricular activities.”

As for guiding the Utes to becoming a championship program, Roberts still sees it as an uphill battle – but one that she and her players are ready for.

“I always use the analogy of pushing the boulder up the hill,” she said. “And doing things for the first time, you have to have that mindset. You have to keep pushing. It’s been incredibly fun to see the support, and I think the swell is a perfect word for it. Most importantly, our players feel it.

“This is why you play, right? And it means so much. I know I say it over and over, but this is not going to be a flash-in-the-pan [season]. This isn’t going to be a ‘Oh, remember that year they had such an incredible year?’ We are going to keep doing it.”

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