Florida narrowly beats out Oklahoma to claim program's first national crown
LOS ANGELES -- Top-ranked Florida opened the NCAA women's gymnastics finals about as poorly as possible, with two athletes falling off the beam to put the Gators in last place after the first rotation.
Rather than let the dismal start dash their championship hopes, the Gators responded with a big comeback. A strong performance on the floor began the rally, and Florida pulled ahead during the final rotation to win its first title Saturday at Pauley Pavilion.
''It was not an ideal opening to the competition, but what I loved was this team rallied and didn't let that affect them,'' Gators coach Rhona Faehn said as she wiped tears from her eyes. ''I really think it's representative of their desire and passion and their never-give-up attitude. After beam they could've laid down and said we're done, and they did not let that happen."
The Gators got the comeback going by scoring a 49.725 on the floor -- highlighted by four scored at least 9.95 -- and following up with a 49.500 on vault, the highest scores in those events. They scored a 49.475 in the bars in the final rotation to finish with 197.575.
''We wanted to leave everything out on the floor and we did,'' Florida freshman Bridget Sloan said. ''We really just came together as a team. We were like, 'We can do this. We can come back from this.' We fought. This competition just goes to show that even with mistakes, if you fight until the end you will have a great outcome.''
Oklahoma finished second at 197.375, and two-time defending champion Alabama was third at 197.350. Host UCLA was fourth at 197.100, followed by LSU at 197.050 and Georgia at 196.675.
The Crimson Tide entered the final rotation in first place, 0.025 points ahead of Florida, but Sarah DeMeo fell on the beam to give the Gators an opportunity to take the lead.
Florida, second last year, had the top performer in all four events. Sloan had the top performance on both the vault and balance beam with 9.95s, junior Alaina Johnson scored a 9.95 on the bars, and sophomore Kytra Hunter had a 9.975 on floor -- the highest score of the day.
Hunter was one of the athletes who fell off the beam at the start, along with Ashanee Dickerson.
''When I fell, I was like, 'Holy cow!' but I knew I could get myself back together,'' Hunter said. ''What really means the most is the way you finish. I knew I had to get my act together and I did for the rest of the competition.''
Winning the title at UCLA was particularly sweet for Faehn. The 41-year-old coach was an All-America gymnast at UCLA and began her coaching career as a student assistant for the Bruins.
''It's pretty incredible,'' Faehn said. ''Looking up at the stands and seeing my former UCLA teammates and my head coach going crazy and doing the Gator chomp and saying I love you, that was huge. It kind of made it full circle. It was really nice.''