BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — While Florida competed under the weight of championship expectations, Oklahoma fought to be recognized as a legitimate contender.
Saturday night, the two gymnastics teams made history together by tying for the NCAA’s national gymnastics championship.
“In gymnastics, when someone ties, it’s like ‘How did that happen?’ ” said Oklahoma’s Taylor Spears after both teams earned 198.175 and were declared the first-ever co-champions in the 33 years that the NCAA has governed gymnastics. “Because there are so many numbers involved in gymnastics, it almost seems impossible. But it happened, and I’m really happy that it did.”
Her opinion was echoed by athletes and coaches from both programs.
In fact, most felt the tie actually enhanced the accomplishment.
“It was just so surreal last year to win,” said Florida head coach Rhonda Faehn of the school’s first gymnastics title. “And then to be able to repeat this year, I’m still kind of in a fog about it. But I’m super happy for Florida, the school and the team. And more than that, I’m beyond thrilled for Oklahoma because I have so much respect for K.J. (Kindler, Oklahoma’s head coach) and what she’s done. I wouldn’t want to share the title with anyone else.”
The meet was decided on the final event as Oklahoma finished on vault and Florida finished on floor. Alabama finished on beam but struggled with two falls, which dropped it from contention.
Interestingly, Florida and Oklahoma were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, heading into this weekend’s national championship meet. LSU was ranked third and Alabama was ranked fourth, which is how they finished. LSU scored 197.600, while Alabama scored a 197.550.
Utah was ranked fifth but didn’t make the Super Six. Georgia, ranked sixth, finished fifth with 197.050, while Nebraska, ranked ninth, ended up in sixth place with a score of 196.500.
Kindler said she was told by many people that she’d never win a national title at Oklahoma. She fought back tears several times as she talked about her team accomplishing something so profound in its fourth Super Six appearance.
“First of all, our team was just in a magical place from the second we got here tonight,” Kindler said as her gymnasts wiped away tears. “We worked through practice and we worked through yesterday’s meet. But today, we didn’t work at all. It was like gymnasts were dropping from the sky, all butterflies and wonderful things. There was very little error from our team; that’s the best we can do it. And obviously that’s what it took to tie Florida.”
She said the team believed, even when others doubted them, and they did it without any superstars.
“We don’t have a single all-arounder,” Kindler said. “Not a single one. This was a team effort on every single event.” While Oklahoma didn’t have an all-around gymnast, Florida had no depth.
Faehn said they had to “manage everyone’s health” throughout the season as they were only six gymnasts deep on most events.
“If we had to go to the seventh gymnast, we would have been in trouble,” she said.
The gymnasts from both teams stood together, holding hands, tears for some and smiles for others. They waited together until someone came to tell them there would be no tie-breaker.
Haley Scaman, who was one of two Oklahoma gymnasts to earn a 9.950 on vault, the team’s final event, said she knew the team had the potential from the opening meet.
“Just this whole season,” Scaman said. “There was a different feeling for the last year. And coming into this meet, I think everyone just trusted their training.”
Some of the gymnasts will compete one more time as the top four finishers from each event (including ties) will compete for individual titles. Utah has three gymnasts competing — Georgia Dabritz on vault and Nansy Damianova and Becky Tutka on floor.
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