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Gators gymnastics finishes third at NCAA Championships

The meet was essentially over before Florida walked out of its bye and took to the uneven bars for its final event of the night.

It was over before junior Alex McMurtry closed out the Gators’ season with a perfect 10 on the bars, her fourth taste of perfection this season.

It was over before the third-ranked Gators put up a 197.700 score at the NCAA Super Six Championship, which tied for their fourth highest score of the season. 

Top-seeded Oklahoma ran away with the NCAA women’s gymnastics with a Super Six-record 198.3875 on Saturday night inside the Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, Missouri, to claim its second straight national title. Florida finished third behind Oklahoma and second-place LSU, with UCLA, Utah and Alabama rounding out the six-team field.

Florida held its own throughout the meet, with scores of 49.3 on the balance beam, 49.5 on floor, 49.3625 and a 49.5375 to close it out on the uneven bars. And even with a few missteps -- UF had a fall on both the balance beam and bars as well as a missed landing on vault -- Florida did not have to count a score below 9.8, which is the minimum score in the 10.0 system that most gymnasts and coaches consider a good routine.

But while Florida was good, Oklahoma was nothing short of great. The Sooners scored at least a 9.9 on 15 of their 24 routines. Freshman Maggie Nichols earned a perfect 10 on the balance beam.

“It’s a magical night,” Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler said in an interview on the ESPNU telecast. “What can I say? They’re just on.”

LSU, which struggled in the first half of the meet on the floor and vault, jumped Florida in the final rotation by scoring a Super Six record 49.725 on the beam to finish as the runners-up for the second-straight season.

And while Florida won't be hoisting the title, the Gators went through a transformation throughout their second season under head coach Jenny Rowland.

There was the emergence of McMurtry, the junior whose back injury limited her early on in her collegiate career. Her accolades this year are for the record books: All-America honors on all four apparatuses, perfect scores on three apparatuses (bars twice, floor and vault once each), all-around titles in three of four postseason meets, SEC Gymnast and SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year. McMurtry scored at least a 9.9 on all eight routines in the two-day NCAA Championships. Her 39.8 all-around score on Saturday was the Gators' highest individual all-around score at the Super Six and just off her 39.8125 that she posted in the semifinals a night earlier.

“She really is a true leader for this team,” Rowland said in a mid-meet interview on the ESPNU telecast. “… She carries the weight of this team on her shoulders.

“She’s a gem.”

There was the emergence of the newcomers, the four freshmen and junior transfer Rachel Slocum who stepped in immediately and filled a void Florida was unsure it could have filled. Slocum, an Eastern Michigan transfer, became a mainstay on vault and floor and earned a near perfect 9.975 twice on the vault. Amelia Hundley competed in the all-around in all but one meet and only had one routine scored below a 9.8. Rachel Gowey earned SEC All-Freshman honors, and Maegan Chant (bars) and Sierra Alexander (vault) each found their place in lineups as well.

And there was the emergence of Rowland, who showed off an increased sense of confidence in her second season as Florida’s head coach. Rowland, a former assistant at Auburn before taking over for the three-time national champion Gators after Rhonda Faehn resigned to become the vice president at Team USA Gymnastics, began to show more of her personality and looked more relaxed on the sidelines this year. Her energy radiated to the team and her mothering nature helped gymnasts rebound after bad routines and soar to new heights after great ones.

“We’re a team. We’re a family,” Rowland said. “… [I] couldn’t be more proud of this team.”


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