Florida fights back after rough start to earn school's first gymnastics title with a 'lights out' performance
LOS ANGELES — The Florida Gators earned their first national gymnastics title Saturday, putting on a performance that proves the ability to keep fighting can make you a champion.
Florida started Saturday’s Super Six Finals on beam, the apparatus that seemed to be the nemesis of even the country’s best gymnasts, and the Gators endured two falls that left them in a massive statistical hole.
“I would say it was not an ideal opening to the competition,” said Florida coach Rhonda Faehn after the Gators earned a 197.575 to beat the rest of the field. “What I loved was this team rallied and didn’t let that affect them.” In fact, a teary-eyed Faehn said she called her gymnasts together after they finished beam and told them their only option was to give the rest of the competition everything they had.
“I said, ‘We’re that good. Don’t worry. Just compete to your hearts' content,'” she said. “We came back on floor and, really, it was lights out. And that continued the rest of the meet. I think this speaks volumes for their desire, their passion and their never-give-up attitude.”
That attitude was epitomized in a couple of performances.
First, Kytra Hunter, who fell on beam, earning a 9.325, scored a 9.975 on floor in what looked like a flawless routine.
“When I fell, I was like, ‘Holy cow! What just happened?’” she recalled. “I had to get myself back together, and sticking my landing after that was big for me.”
After the two falls on beam, senior Marissa King, who was celebrating her 22nd birthday Saturday, had to perform the team’s final beam routine. As Faehn tried to prepare her, King brushed her coach's kind words away and simply said, “I got this.”
“I felt like I had a duty, and I was not coming off that beam,” she said. “I’m going to go as big as I can, do as well as I can because everything counts. It really was just lights out, no doubt. I was going to hit that routine no matter what.”
Florida wasn’t the only team to struggle on beam, as defending national champion Alabama would've earned its third-straight title were it not for a wobbly routine followed by a fall. Oklahoma ended up earning second with a score of 197.375, while Alabama’s struggles on beam meant a third-place finish with a score of 197.350. UCLA was fourth with a 197.100, finishing with a troublesome performance on vault. LSU was fifth with 197.050, scoring the lowest on beam, and Georgia was sixth with a 196.675.
Faehn said they were not aware that the national title was being determined by their bar set and Alabama’s beam performance. While Florida earned a respectable 49.475 on bars, including a 9.95 by Alaina Johnson, who just returned from multiple stress fractures in her back, Alabama was recovering from its beam struggles with near-perfect routines.
“After we finished, I pulled the team into a huddle, and said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on’,” she said. “I definitely was not aware of what was going on, and that was kind of a hard time for all of us. When the results did come out and we saw that we won, it was very emotional for all of us. It’s been years in the making.”
Florida becomes just the fifth program to earn a national title in the 32-year history of NCAA championships. The top-seeded and top-ranked Gators would seem to be the favorite on paper. But coach after coach reiterated from regionals to Saturday’s post-competition interviews that college gymnastics has never been more competitive.
The parity has made it difficult for the Gators to break through and that caused some to wonder if they could handle the highest-pressure situations.
- BYU basketball: Bottom seed LMU knocks off...
- High school boys basketball: Lone Peak...
- Catching up: Old friends Andre Miller, Alex...
- BYU football: Practice fights elicit smiles...
- Tournament central: 5A boys semifinals live...
- Tournament central: 4A boys basketball live...
- Duke's Jabari Parker faces tough stay-or-go...
- 5A boys basketball semifinals: Lone Peak vs....
- Utah basketball: Utes clip Cal in... 83
- BYU football: Practice fights elicit... 56
- High school boys basketball: 5A/4A/1A... 54
- UteLinks: A look at Utah's RPI breakdown 52
- BYU baseball: BYU beats Utah, 20-3 46
- Doug Robinson: Time to move on for... 42
- CougarLinks: BYU picked to win WCC... 28
- BYU basketball: Bottom seed LMU knocks... 24