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Kristy Rivero | | April 19, 2015

Going out on top

DI Women's Gymnastics Individual Championship Finals

FORTH WORTH, Texas -- The 2015 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships wrapped up on Sunday with the Individual Event Finals. For three seniors, it was more than just the end of a season. UCLA’s Samantha Peszek, Florida’s Kytra Hunter and Utah’s Georgia Dabritz each concluded incredibly successful college careers with more hardware.

Peszek was coming off a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics when she began her Bruins career in 2011. Five years later, she adds a beam title and a share of the all-around crown to her impressive résumé that includes a beam championship from 2011. 

On Sunday, she was the 10th of 12 competitors on the beam, and just moments into her routine, she sealed the event. Peszek fell quite a bit during warmups while trying to execute a back flip with a full twist and debated performing a different routine. Instead, she nailed it and let out a big smile. At that moment, she changed the rest of her routine and finished with a 9.95.

“I don’t think that I could have planned this any better if I tried,” Peszek said. “Coming into the meet, it was all about the team for me. So the fact that I was able to do well individually, to be able to leave gymnastics and leave the sport that I’ve done for 21 years in peace and knowing that I’ve done everything that I could possibly do and be able to have the opportunity to do collegiate gymnastics and also the elite world I think checked all the boxes. I feel good and excited to start the rest of my life.”

Hunter became the first Gator gymnast to capture a floor title since Mara Anz in 1984. She takes a lot of hardware back to Gainesville, sharing the all-around title with Peszek and Florida's team championship from Saturday night. The floor title book-ended all-around and vault titles from her freshman season.

“It’s always definitely bittersweet and it’s just definitely an exclamation point on my ending of my collegiate career,” Hunter said. “I couldn’t be any prouder of myself, just because I’ve worked so hard just to keep my team together. I’ve tried to step out of my boundaries and just show a different leadership role.”


-- Every competitor at Sunday’s Individual Event Finals had not only their team cheering them on, but a large section fans as well. But only one athlete had the entire crowd roaring during her floor routine.

Denver’s Nina McGee qualified for the all-around competition on Friday and rotated with the Oklahoma because Denver did not qualify for the NCAA championships as a team. She finished 11th in the all-around, but her score of a 9.95 on floor was good enough to make the event finals, where she tied for second place.

Opening with Ariana Grande’s “Problems” (“I wanted something that was dramatic that would catch people’s eye,” McGee said), she then transitions to “Turn Down for What” by Lil John and DJ Snake. She finishes with Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”. Her floor routine is part tumbling show and part dance-fest and it brought the partisan crowd to its feet.

“That so fun. To know that people from different schools were supporting me. The love and support coming from every team -- that’s exciting.”

It’s hard to believe anything would be easy for McGee, who had two metal rods placed in her shins to correct bone fractures in 2011, forcing her to miss her freshman season.

“I don’t even feel it anymore. I’ve gotten so used to it, the pain’s gone because I have them in there. It’s supporting my shin bones now so the rods are actually the biggest help at this point.”

“From Day 1 of practice day through the competition day and now through [event] finals she’s been composed and calm and confident and I’m just so proud of the season she’s had,” Denver head coach Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart said. “She did a great job and actually our team at their own expense down, a majority of them came down and watched her and was here in the stands supporting her so I know she felt the love from her team as well but you know she just has perseverance and persistence and just a great work ethic. She’s a great personality to be around.”

-- Kristy Rivero,
It’s been an emotional year for Dabritz, whose Utah squad finished second in the team competition by 0.05. After becoming the first gymnast to hit a perfect 10 on bars in both the semifinals and finals of the team competition, Dabritz received a 10.0 from two of the six judges in the event finals to win with a 9.9625.

"It’s great to end that way. Definitely couldn’t have thought of a better way to end my career,” said Dabritz, who claimed her first career event title after finishing second the bars in 2013. “It just shows you that all four years you go through this ride and senior year you reach the top and you’re at the pinnacle of your competition and it’s an amazing way to go out and I think all the seniors and I would agree they wouldn’t want to end their year any differently.”

Rounding out the event champions was a freshman from Stanford, Elizabeth Price. Price scored a 9.9333 to win her first NCAA title.

It’s easy to forget that it’s an emotional time for the coaches of seniors. They have watched their athletes grow and mature throughout their collegiate careers and the end is hard for them as well. UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field stood in the corner of the arena during the awards presentation holding back tears. Afterward, she reflected on Peszek’s career.

“Student-athletes from the ages of 18 to 22, 23 years old, they grow up like 10 years within those four years and so you go through so much with them," Kondos Field said. "So, not just to have a four-year student-athlete but a fifth-year student-athlete and someone who came back not for gymnastics.

"She loves gymnastics but I said, ‘You don’t have to do one more competition to leave a legacy in this sport, internationally and at UCLA. The reason for you to come back is to learn how to really be a leader of people and not just show them and have them follow you, but walk with them.’ She’s always been a great example, but she’s had to learn how to walk with people and when you see someone, a young person, it’s such an honor to be their coach during these formative years to see them transform like that. We have the greatest jobs in the world.”



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