Championship field as strong as ever
All No. 1, No. 2 regional seeds set to compete at national meet
Cinderella did not find her way to the ball for the 2012 NCAA championships.
Unquestionably, the best teams in all of college gymnastics made it to Duluth. Ga. They survived fierce competition in the conference meets and even more at regionals, but did not falter. They may even be peaking which will present spectators with a competition unlike they’ve seen before.
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“I feel that this NCAA Championships will be the most competitive NCAA Championships in years -- possibly ever.” Alabama head coach Sarah Patterson said.
Patterson the type to engage in hyperbole. Her team won its fifth championship in 2011, edging out UCLA in what was an amazing competition then. And this year’s could even better with the strongest field in recent memory.
Florida comes in as the top seed. The Gators are followed by UCLA, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, Nebraska, Utah, Arkansas, Oregon State, Stanford, LSU and Ohio State.
The competing schools in the first session are UCLA, LSU, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Stanford and Utah. Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, Ohio State, Alabama and Oregon State round out the second session.
“The competition is unbelievable this year,” Nebraska head coach Dan Kendig said, whose Nebraska squad took the Big 10 title in its first year in conference, and was fourth at last year’s NCAA Championships. “I thought it was interesting all the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds from the regional championships qualified, so there were no upsets. So we truly do have the top-12 teams in the country at this meet.
“It doesn’t matter which session you’re in, at the end of the day it’s about your team and what you’re doing and trying to hit routines. You can try to analyze or over analyze who’s got the toughest session, at the end of the day you’ve got 12 great teams out there and only six can be in there the next day. You take nothing for granted and you go in and give it your best shot and hope you can be the one who hit 24 for 24 that day.”
Florida and UCLA are considered this year’s favorites. If Florida does win the title it will be the only team outside of Georgia (10), Utah (9), UCLA (6) and Alabama (5) to win it in its 30 years of championships.
The Gators are considered the team to beat this year is because they aren’t all beaten up. A pattern of super seasons punctuated by super flops caused Florida coach Rhonda Faehn to reassess how everything. A less demanding schedule has her team healthier than it has ever been coming into the championships.
“I think that this is going to be an absolutely spectacular championship,” Faehn said. “Everyone out there in both sessions, they have very talented athletes, and a lot of competitive experience throughout the year. It’s going to be top-notch and exciting for everyone in the stands, and all the fans and support systems out there. Just a great two sessions on the first day, and an unbelievable Super Six competition.”
For the Bruins, the objective is to not leave anything in the tank. They know they were close to a title last year. With many of this veteran team’s competitors closing out their careers, they will be on task and ready.
“We have made a commitment as a team, and staff to leave it all on the floor,” UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos, said. “Just have a great time enjoying doing big-time gymnastics. And if we come out of that with another national championship, great. And if we don’t, then we’ll have no regrets.
“We don’t have focus problems. If anything we have athletes that take it a little too seriously and focus a little too much and play tight. And what this team has come to learn is that when they’re having fun and dancing around and they’re for each other, then realize, ‘Oh, I’m up next.’ They go do their routine and they do much better. That’s really been the pattern the whole season.”
UCLA has done well against teams in this completion. Cumulatively it has a 7-1-1 record going 1-0 against Oklahoma, 2-0 against Utah, 1-0-1 against Oregon State, 1-0 against Arkansas, 0-1 against Georgia and 2-0 against Stanford.
Oklahoma, led by Megan Ferguson, the South Central Region Gymnast of the Year, will be one to watch as well. And why not, the Sooners have persevered through severe injury issues all season.
“Sometimes I am astounded by where we’ve been,” Oklahoma head coach K.J. Kindler, said. “They’ve been very proactive in preparing themselves in each meet. Our primary lineup is alternates and alternates to the alternates. The challenges we’ve faced in regards to injuries this season I couldn’t be prouder. The athletes and our staff, we haven’t altered our vision or our goals. We’ve faced a lot of adversity and they’ve reacted like champions.”