FORT WORTH, Texas -- Alex McMurtry is the youngest member of the Florida gymnastics team. Maybe the 18-year-old isn't old enough to feel pressure. Maybe she didn’t know she should.
On the final rotation Saturday night -- the uneven bars -- Florida needed a 9.95 or better to win its third consecutive NCAA gymnastics title. All McMurtry did was execute her best routine of the season, earning a career-best 9.95 to propel the Gators a final score of 197.850 and the national championship.
“I didn’t necessarily know what score I had to get,” McMurtey said. “I think that would have made it even harder for me so I knew I had a job to do and I knew my teammates had my back. Going last is sometimes a good position, sometimes a bad position, and we had five girls hit routines so I knew my teammates had my back and I just had to do my job. It all worked out for me and that was one of the best routines of my career.”“It’s amazing that she came out under this heavy pressure situation as a freshman and performed as well as she did everywhere,” Florida head coach Rhonda Faehn said.“To anchor that bar lineup, to have that fight for every little thing, it’s not only amazing, it speaks volumes for what she will continue to bring to this team in the future, which is exciting.”
Faehn had her back to the scoreboard and paid no attention to the other teams competing. Florida, Utah, Oklahoma and Alabama, all separated by just half a point going into the final rotation, were fighting for the ultimate prize.
“I was not doing the math. No, and I never am,” Faehn said. "Bridget and Alex were kind of the exclamation points to that [bars] lineup. They went for everything.”
Bridget Sloan preceded McMurtry on bars and scored a 9.95 of her own. One judge even gave her a perfect 10.00. But it was her floor routine that started Florida’s momentum. After stepping out of bounds in the preliminaries, Sloan nailed the same tumbling pass in the Super Six and earned a 9.95. That score -- along with Kytra Hunter, who scored a 9.975 -- led Florida to a team floor score of 49.65, tying the third-highest floor score in NCAA history.
“That floor set was reminiscent, it was right on par with the 2013 floor set we did,” Faehn said. “I’m so proud of the way they carried that momentum through to vault and finishing so strong on bars.”
For Sloan to even be in that position is a miracle in and of itself. In the opening meet of the season, she went down with a severely sprained right ankle. She was in a boot and thought her season was done.
“Sitting here today, honestly if you had asked me in January are you excited and looking forward to the season, I honestly would have been like, ‘No, I will not be continuing,' ” Sloan said.
"This championship obviously means a lot because it’s our third one in a row but it means the most to me just because I didn’t think I was going to be a part of it. I didn’t think I was going to be competing here today.”
Florida joins a very elite group, just Utah and Georgia, as the only schools to win three consecutive titles. Faehn didn’t want to talk about a three-peat before the competition began, but after the confetti fell from the ceiling of the Fort Worth Convention Center, she smiled and exhaled.
“When it was over it was like, ‘Wow, we really did it,’ ” Faehn said. “It was not easy this year. By far it was the hardest championship won from the three. By far the hardest, but the most meaningful.”
As the three gymnasts walked out of the post-meet press conference, McMurtry left her national championship t-shirt in the chair on the podium. Hunter yelled out to her.
“Sweetheart, we’re national champions and you forgot your shirt,” Hunter said.
“I’m so sorry,” McMurtry yelled back.
That may be the only thing she has to be sorry about.