Primed for first championship
Florida leads 12 teams into championships at Pauley Pavilion
LOS ANGELES -- The routines that Florida employs in competition have been characterized as risky, but so far it has paid off for the Gators.
Florida enters the NCAA Women’s Gymnastic Championships as the top seed of the 12-team field after an impressive performance in the regionals where it posted a score of 198.40, the nation’s second-highest score.
The Gators, along with Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, LSU, UCLA, Michigan, Minnesota, Stanford, Utah, Arkansas and Illinois, will compete for the title beginning Friday at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
Rhonda Faehn, Florida’s head coach, believes her team is ready to claim its first NCAA championship.
“We really feel like we're getting to the point of peaking and doing the plan that we were hoping for, and we take it one day at a time and are really trying to enjoy the ride,” Faehn said. “The field is just so incredibly strong and tough and it's going to be an incredible championship atmosphere."
Florida knows that being the No. 1 seed is no guarantee of taking home the title. The Gators were the top seed last year and finished second behind Alabama.
The Crimson Tide is trying to become only the third team in women's gymnastics to win three consecutive titles. Georgia won five in a row from 2005 to 2009. Utah did the same from 1982 to 1986.
“The goal for our team each and every year is to have the opportunity to be on the floor at the national championship with a chance to win a championship,” Alabama head coach Sarah Patterson said. “We know that of the 12 teams, we've seen almost all of them and certainly four of the six in our session. So, we just feel like the competition in the last few years has become amazing, and I just feel like on any given night, any one of these teams can advance to the Super Six, and on any given night, any team can win the national championship.”
Just becoming one of the 12 teams in the championship can provide enough pressure, especially at Utah, where the team hasn’t missed a championship in 38 years.
“It is a burden that our athletes carry that streak, but we were really proud of them to get through regionals, always pressure-packed for all the teams,” Utah head coach Megan Marsden said. “The young team that we have assembled this year really had to step up when they lost their team captain, Corrie Lothrop, early in the season, and this team has really improved beyond our wildest dreams.”
The parity with the 12 teams is evident in the rankings, where less than a point separates teams two through 10.
“I think because of the tremendous amount of parity throughout the country and the win-losses against teams and the up and downs, the wins up and down, the rankings has made for a really exciting season and create a lot of excitement in our home arena and in our away trips,” LSU head coach DD Breaux said. “I think that the culmination of the season at UCLA is going to be very exciting for everyone.”
The host school, UCLA, is seeded sixth, but the Bruins have been besieged by injuries most of the year. Peng-Peng Lee and Sam Peszek were lost due to knee injuries and Mattie Larson dislocated her knee in March.
UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos-Field is hoping her team can create some upsets.
“When you lose three of your top athletes for the season, it becomes even more stressful,” Kondos-Field said. “When you have won championships before, you are expected to do that every single year. But I honestly can say this has been one of, if not the most, enjoyable year for me.”
For the latest updates and tweets from the women’s gymnastics championships, please search on Twitter with #ncaawgym.