Florida's Johnson surprises with bars title; Sampson wins first on floor for UM
LOS ANGELES -- Three months ago, Florida’s Alaina Johnson wasn’t sure about her gymnastics’ future. In the last 48 hours at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, she was part of the national championship team and a winner of the individual competition in the uneven parallel bars.
Johnson was one of two Gators that won individual events, defeating teammate and No. 1-ranked Bridget Sloan for the bars title. Sloan won the balance beam. Diandra Milliner of Alabama and Rheagan Courville of LSU tied for first in the vault and Joanna Sampson of Michigan won the floor exercise.
Johnson wasn’t even sure if she would be at the NCAA championships. Three meets into the 2012 season, Johnson was diagnosed with a stress reaction and stress fracture of her lower back and was ordered to rest.
“I don’t want to say that I didn’t think I would be able to, but I wasn’t really sure,” Johnson said. “I’m a fighter and I was fighting and I knew that I wanted to come back.”
Last season, Johnson was one of two Florida gymnasts to win the maximum of five All-America honors. She was expecting her junior year to be as promising before the injury.
Florida coach Rhonda Faehn was stunned Johnson came back as strong as she did.
“It is so unusual,” Faehn said. “It takes months to come back from a serious injury and be in competitive form. It’s amazing to me she was able to do it.”
Johnson returned to competition at the April 6th regionals and winning the individual championship was not expected.
“My back is feeling a whole lot better than it has in a long time,” Johnson said. “I am just glad I was able to contribute to the team. They were with me the whole time going through this process. Winning the team was the cherry on top and winning bars was another cherry on top.”
Diandra Milliner of Alabama finished second at last year’s individual vault and this year took home co-champion honors with Rheagan Courville of LSU. The two scored 9.925.
“[Milliner] has become such a performer,” Alabama head coach Sarah Patterson said. “She came in her freshman year and just ignited our team. Now to see her and see her artistry and what she’s done, as a coach you are really proud.”
Courville became the third LSU gymnast to win the individual vault championship since 2008.
“It just says so much for our coach Bob Moore because half our vault lineup was in the finals,” Courville said. “It’s such an honor to join such successful athletes from LSU. It’s all about the tradition and pride in our school.
Michigan gymnast Joanna Sampson was the only non-Southeastern Conference athlete to win an individual title. The Wolverines failed to make the Super Six and Sampson had little time to get over the disappointment and prepare for the floor exercise.
“I think having a day between gave me time to settle down and pull myself back together,” said Sampson, who won with a score of 9.9375. “I just went out there and had so much fun for them. I wanted to do everything I could to represent my school.”
Sampson is just the fourth gymnast in program history to win an individual national championship and first to win on floor exercise.