FORT WORTH, Texas — For the second straight year, UCLA gymnasts ended a national championship meet with tear-stained faces. Saturday's weren't the championship-winning kind.
Instead of defending their national title, the Bruins faltered on their best event, scoring a season-low on floor and finishing third at the NCAA championships in Fort Worth, Texas with a team score of 197.5375.
BRUIN NATION ~ Thank You for sharing this last dance with us💙💛💖💫 pic.twitter.com/zZlVK9Vit9— Valorie Kondos Field (@OfficialMissVal) April 21, 2019
As the final scores flashed across the screen, with Oklahoma claiming its third NCAA title in four years and LSU finishing second, Valorie Kondos Field huddled her team up. The former ballet dancer whose 29-year head coaching tenure ended Saturday hugged each of her gymnasts and kissed each one on the cheek. She wiped their tears.
She told them thank you. And then they danced.
"That's what she taught us," junior Kyla Ross said, "to always live each moment with joy and happiness so that's how we finished the meet."
All seven of UCLA's gymnastics national titles came under Kondos Field's watch. After a year in which the Bruins became international news, it seemed that they were poised to add another.
However, Oklahoma's dynasty would not be denied. The Sooners, who had recorded the highest score in the country this year and were the only team to defeat UCLA before Saturday, ran away with the meet with a 198.3375, the second-highest score ever in an NCAA final, trailing their own mark from 2017. Kondos Field was one of the first to congratulate Oklahoma head coach K.J. Kindler after the meet.
Third-ranked LSU finished second with a 197.8250 with first-time finalist Denver finishing fourth with 197.0.
UCLA, the top-ranked floor team in the country, scored a season-low 49.3 on floor, struggled to solidly land tumbling passes. The Bruins lost a combined two-tenths of a point when two gymnasts stepped out of bounds. A 9.95 from Ross and a 9.925 from Katelyn Ohashi on the star senior's final floor routine could not salvage the rotation.
But even after a disappointing team result, Ohashi gladly signed autographs for fans. She was hoisted onto a ledge so she could reach the young fans who extended their autograph books over the railing toward the 4-11 star.
Behind Ohashi's viral fame, the Bruins competed in front of record-setting crowds all year. Saturday was no different. The announced attendance of 8,595 in the Fort Worth Convention Center was a record for an NCAA final.
SEMIFINAL HIGHLIGHTS: Watch the best moments from UCLA's semifinal session
"We can leave tonight with no regrets," Kondos Field said. "I think it's been such a great year because they have had so much thrown at them, with me telling them it's my last year, with Katelyn going viral, with being reigning national champions. The spotlight has been on them every place that we have gone and they have responded with calm, confident, and family."
The Bruins finished the meet with 49.425s on vault and bars. They tied their second-best vault score of the season, but LSU's lead for second place still grew after each rotation.
After her bars routine during UCLA's last event, junior Madison Kocian hugged Kondos Field tightly and told her, "Thank you for everything." Nia Dennis was upset with herself when she landed short on her dismount and Kondos Field comforted the sophomore as Dennis held back tears. Be proud, Kondos Field said, because your intention was in the right place.
On Sunday, Kondos Field will meet individually with each of the gymnasts in one of her final acts as head coach. She will tell them the special qualities she sees in each of them. She built this program, but she will tell them they're ready to take over.
"They're gonna be making history," Kondos Field said. "And they're going to set another layer on the foundation of this program, and it starts with them."
This article is written by Thuc Nhi Nguyen from Los Angeles Daily News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.