Women's gymnastics: Florida advances to Super Six for fifth straight year
FORT WORTH, Texas — On the post-game podium, Bridget Sloan talked about one of the Florida assistant coaches challenging the Gators to attack the NCAA Championships.
"Like a pack of wolves," she said. "Do we want to be the sheep or the wolf today?"
To Sloan's right sat UF coach Jenny Rowland. She was asked about the so-called "elephant in the room," and the pressure that goes with trying to lead the Gators their fourth straight national title in her first season as a head coach.
The Gators topped their respective field of six, out-pointing runner-up LSU 197.4750 to 197.3375, by recording the top team scores on three of the four events, with Sloan topping the field's all-arounders with a score of 39.7000, including high score of 9.95 on both bars and beam.
As such, Florida (along with LSU and Georgia) advanced to Saturday night's Super Six round where the Gators will try to become just the third program in the 34-year history of NCAA women's gymnastics to win four straight national crowns.
"That's our time to shine," sophomore Alex McMurtry said.
"Every team at Super Six is good. Every team wants to win," Sloan said. "[Saturday] will be incredible."
The run-up wasn't too bad for UF, but no one wearing orange and blue left Fort Worth Convention Center Arena thinking the Gators couldn't up their overall game in the finals.
"It was a team-oriented competition, as it always is," said Rowland, the former Auburn assistant who may be a rookie head coach, but has the program back in the Super Six for the fifth straight year. "We had some mistakes. We didn't have a perfect meet. I don't think anyone can say they did. But it was a very good meet. It was a confidence booster."
Florida started the meet in the locker room, with a bye.
"We were relaxed," sophomore Kennedy Baker said. "Just sort of chillin' "
Florida's first event was floor, which hasn't been its best this season. The Gators, though, were solid enough that their tally of 49.300 was second only to LSU's 49.375 over the course of the meet.
After that, the Gators pushed to first. UF spun a mostly clean vault rotation, then went to another bye knowing its two best events, bars and beam, were on the meet's back end.
Florida posted six of the 13 best scores on bars — and one of those had to be tossed out. Before Sloan's 9.95, Baker led off with 9.8875, much to delight of the 30-something fans from her hometown of Dallas about 30 miles east on Interstate-30. In the fourth spot, senior Bridgette Caquatto answered with a 9.9, which tied for the third-best score of the event.
Sloan went next and crushed her routine.
"Waking up this morning, I was like, 'OK, here we go!' Kind of my last go-around," said Sloan, whose overall performance netted her five All-American honors, giving her a school-record 16 for her career, one better than previous record-holder and former teammate Kytra Hunter. "The whole meet, the team was so energetic."
By the time UF got to the beam, it had a comfy cushion; even a margin for error. Auburn and Minnesota would have to count falls on their final scores, while Stanford had a tough turn on the floor. The Gators just had to be good to lock up a spot in the top three.
"Even if you're getting a 10 on everything you're probably saying, 'I can do better,' " Sloan said. "I really couldn't have asked for a better performance. At the same time, there are things I can work on. That's how prelims go. I don't want to say prelims are survival, but you want to go 4-for-4. You want to hit all your routines."
And as for that elephant in the corner.
"Everyone asks, 'Are you going to win a fourth one?' I've never won one before," Rowland said. "This is an opportunity for me to help this team win another championship and it would be the first time I've had a championship of my own."