Florida wins its first NCAA women’s gymnastics title
It was Pauley Pavilion.
Yet hearing shouts of “Roll Tide Roll,” of seeing a section of fans wearing Florida orange and doing the Gator “chomp,” needing to plug one’s ears to avoid the hollers of “Boomer Sooner,” made it seem as if a series of football games had broken out in the basketball arena.
Oh, yeah, and there was UCLA’s eight-clap, louder than them all, even noisier than the exuberant Louisiana State fans and the intense supporters of the Georgia Bulldogs.
But when the NCAA women’s gymnastics team championship meet ended Saturday, it was the Florida Gators who had chomped away all the competition.
The Gators, led by 2008 Olympian Bridget Sloan, who is a freshman, won their first national title, scoring 197.575 and edging Oklahoma (197.375). Two-time defending champion Alabama finished third and UCLA finished fourth, ahead of LSU and Georgia.
Florida became only the fifth team to win the title, joining UCLA, Utah, Alabama and Georgia.
Bruins Coach Valorie Kondos Field considered this season a triumph just for making what is called the “Super Six,” the team championship finals day.
UCLA had lost 2008 Olympian Samantha Peszek, former U.S. national team member Mattie Larson and Christine Peng-Peng Lee who would have made Canada’s Olympic team last summer, to various injuries.
All three should be ready for UCLA next season.
“I actually feel we were good, if not wonderful,” Kondos Field said. “We’ve been the little team that could all season. We’ve been pushing the envelope and what we’ve accomplished has been remarkable.”
Senior Vanessa Zamarripa, who landed her final vault on her knees and left the floor in tears, recovered later and spoke of her pride in her accomplishments. She was the Pac-12 Conference gymnast of the year the last two seasons and said, “Life isn’t just about one vault. I’m just proud of this team.”
Also proud of her team was Florida Coach Rhonda Faehn, who competed in college for UCLA. When Saturday’s finals began, the Gators had two falls on the balance beam (six routines are performed and five scores count) and a national title seemed unlikely.
“It was not an ideal opening,” Faehn said, “having to count a fall on beam. But I love how this team rallied.”
Florida’s second routine came on floor exercise and Jamie Shisler, who performed first, stepped out of bounds and got a low score of 9.05. But the next five Gators rocked and rolled, tumbled with ease and even had two of the four judges give Kytra Hunter a score of 10.00.
“It feels absolutely awesome,” Sloan said of Florida’s first national championship. “My voice is basically gone. That’s how I wanted to leave here. With no voice. Just leave everything out on the floor.”
Sloan said that no one on the Gators felt anything but optimistic after what seemed to be the two disastrous beam mistakes.
“We just said, ‘We can come back, come back and do this. Let’s get ready to do 10.0 floor routines. Yeah, let’s do it.’ Even with mistakes, we fought until the end,” Sloan said.
Michigan, led by sophomore Sam Mikulak of Corona del Mar and Adrian de los Angeles of Long Beach, won the men’s team title Saturday in State College, Pa. Mikulak won his second NCAA all-around title and de los Angeles finished second.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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