Gators Three Peat as National Champions in gymnastics

Special to GC

FORT WORTH, Texas – Make room for another trophy – the University of Florida gymnastics team won its third consecutive NCAA Championship Saturday evening in the Fort Worth Convention Center Arena.

Florida’s seniors (from left – Kiersten Wang, Kytra Hunter, Rachel Spicer, Jamie Shisler and manager Brittany Arlington) finish their Gator careers as three-time NCAA Champions.

Florida won the meet at 197.85, just edging Utah (197.80), who was looking for their 10th overall NCAA title and first since 1995.

Other team Super Six results included Oklahoma in third (197.525), followed by Alabama (197.275), Stanford (197.25) and Auburn (195.625).

To win the program’s third-straight NCAA title, Florida opened the meet on balance beam with a solid performance (49.30). Then the Gators were lights-out on floor exercise, posting a 49.625 – equaling the third-highest in NCAA Super Six history. The Gators turned in a strong 49.45 on vault and finished the meet on uneven bars.

Bars is the one event that Florida shared the top spot in the national rankings entering this weekend’s NCAA competition.

But Utah was finishing on vault and also topped the national rankings for that event. The Gators led the Utes by 0.15 heading into the final rotation and needed a strong performance to stay on top.

Vault traditionally is the quickest of the four events to complete and the Utes completed their lineup by putting up the meet-high total for the event at 49.55, giving them at final team total of 197.80.

Two competitors remained for the Gators after Utah finished. Florida needed big scores from both to pass the Utes final total.

And both came through.

First, junior Bridget Sloan scored a 9.95. And then, the focus was on freshman Alex McMurtry.

She hit her routine, stuck the dismount and then McMurtry held her landing pose for just an extra bit – showing she controlled her routine from start to finish. That performance was rewarded with a collegiate-best 9.95.

And better yet, that score gave McMurtry and her Gator teammates their third-consecutive NCAA title.

· This is the University of Florida’s 34th National Title (32 NCAA and 2 AIAW).
· Gymnastics joins men’s indoor track & field (2010, 2011, 2012) as the only Gator teams to win three consecutive NCAA titles.
· Florida is the first team to win its first three NCAA Championships in consecutive years since Utah claimed the first five NCAA titles (1982-86). Six teams have claimed national gymnastics team titles – Alabama, UCLA, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Utah. That is the fewest number of different teams to claim the national crown among the 13 sports challenging for national titles since the NCAA began fielding women’s championships in the 1981-82 season.
· Florida topped the GymInfo preseason poll in 2014 and 2015. The last team to win the NCAA title after starting No. 1 on the preseason poll was Georgia in 2009.

Florida’s final competitor for each of its NCAA Championship teams scored a 9.95 to help push the Gators to the win.

In 2013 and 2014, Florida trailed heading into the final rotation. It was then-junior Alaina Johnson who finished Florida’s bars set with a 9.95 to give the Gators their first title in 2013. Last year, then-sophomore Bridgette Caquatto turned in a crucial 9.95 floor exercise routine which moved Florida into a tie with Oklahoma for the 2014 title.

Tonight, it was freshman Alex McMurtry closing the Gators’ bars rotation with a 9.95 to keep Florida in the top spot.

Alex McMurtry
On realizing they won:
“I think we were all a little hesitant to celebrate. You never want to go out there too early and throw up your ones. We were so excited, and when we found out that we actually did win the national championship, for me, being my first time and only a freshman, it was so exciting. I looked at my best friends and the freshman class and said ‘We did it!’ And we did it as a team, and I’m more than happy to be a part of it. Competing as a freshman, especially being able to anchor on bars, which I never thought was possible for me. It’s been more than an amazing experience.”

Kytra Hunter
On what this championship means:
“For me, I would have to say this is the best feeling that I’ve had compared to the other two because of so much adversity, and like Bridget (Sloan) said. When she went down that first meet, I got shaken up because I knew she was a core to our team and I didn’t know what we were going to do without her. And ‘she needs to hurry up and get better because I don’t know what we’re going to do!’ I honestly was just; my heart was just sunk to my feet. I didn’t know what to think. We still had another rotation to go, and I was just so worried about what happened to Bridget. I think I probably annoyed her because I was always like, ‘Are you okay? What happened? When are you coming back?’ I knew from then, I had to be her best friend because I wanted her back there on the floor, and I needed to do anything I could because we needed her. The team, we got together and realized that anyone can put up Bridget’s score, because that’s what we came to the University of Florida for. That’s what the coaches recruited us for, and that’s what we all believe in and in each other. Tonight definitely showed that we have so much heart and so much drive and determination. “

Bridget Sloan
On her focus going into bars:
“We have been focusing really hard on being confident on all of the apparatuses. Going into bars, personally, I knew that bars were one of our best events. Rhonda has done an incredible job of keeping us focused on what the job is. When we got to bars, it wasn’t a matter of ‘Oh my gosh, we have to do this, we have to do this ‘ it was a matter of ‘All right, let’s just go out there and do what we have been doing the last three months’.

“Going into bars, personally, I knew we could do it. It was just a matter of if everyone was behind me. Clearly they were. It’s been an incredible journey this year. I definitely had a little bit of a rocky start, but to come in here and perform tonight, it was absolutely incredible and it was exactly how I wanted to end my junior year.”

Rhonda Faehn
Opening comment:
“I couldn’t be, it’s still really surreal of course. They competed tonight with so much heart and so much fight, and the gymnasts touched on so much of what we endured this season. It was an incredibly rocky season with so much adversity, but at the same time I really feel like that’s what helped prepare each and every one of them for a night like tonight. Everyone had to compete with so much fight and so much heart that we gained so much experience through the season leading up to this. Yesterday’s competition we knew was solid but still had room for improvement, so I was really proud of them tonight.

Starting on beam, I just kept telling them that we were going to start on it and knock it out and it’s going to be awesome because then that is done and we’re going to move on and be lights out. And that’s exactly what they did tonight. They came back from the bye after beam and the energy was incredible. That floor set was just right on par with the 2013 floor set that we did. It was just amazing. I was so proud of the way they carried that momentum over to vault and finished so strong on bars.

What I loved to is that they just never got distracted. They weren’t focused on the scores or what was going on around them. It was solely on, I kept telling them, there may be little issues or mistakes here or there, but it’s about the way you’re responding. We really wanted to make sure that if someone didn’t stick a perfect dismount that t was still the perfect routine and the enthusiasm of having the best routine. That’s what helps build up the next athlete that’s ready to go. I really felt like they zeroed in on that tonight and I’m really proud.”

On the floor rotation:
“We’re a really a strong floor team. My staff is just incredible. Adrian [Burde] is the floor coach, so he really just stayed calm and relaxed and was very energetic with all of the athletes. I think that helped build them up. The excitement was just really flowing throughout the whole corral. The key, of course, Claire [Boyce] started us out really strong. For her to go out…and she’s been battling a tear of the hip and groin…just battling through and pushing through…and then Kirsten [Wang] going that 9.9 second was huge for the momentum and the energy. Sloan, of course, correcting the mistake she had the day before. Her going up third and hitting and going 9.95 then it was just lights out because everybody was dialed in.”

◄ More quotes here:

· Florida claims its third consecutive NCAA Gymnastics Championship. The Gators also claimed the final AIAW National Team title in 1982 (transition year between AIAW and NCAA competition for women’s athletics).
· The team starting NCAA Super Six competition on beam has now won the NCAA title three times (Georgia 2005, Florida 2013, 2015) in the 23-year history of the Super Six format.
· This is the fifth time the No. 2 seed won the title in the 34-year history of the NCAA Gymnastics Championships.
· This is the second consecutive year Florida has posted a 49.625 on floor exercise in NCAA Super Six competition. The Gators own three of the four highest floor totals in Super Six competition – No. 1 49.725 (2013), No. T3 49.625 (2014, 2015).
· Senior Kytra Hunter’s 9.975 tonight on floor was the highest mark among the Gators in 2015 NCAA Semifinal or Super Six competition. She is the only Gator to score the nearly-perfect mark in NCAA Championships’ floor competition, as she also turned in that mark in the 2013 Super Six.

NCAA Championships action finishes Sunday with the NCAA Individual Event finals, which begin at 3 p.m. ET. There will be Gator representation in each of the four apparatus finals – vault (Sloan), uneven bars (Sloan), balance beam (McMurtry, Hunter) and floor exercise (Kennedy Baker, Bridgette Caquatto, Hunter).

Sloan is the defending uneven bars champion.

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Andrew Spivey
Andrew always knew he wanted to be involved with sports in some capacity. He began by coaching high school football for six years before deciding to pursue a career in journalism. While coaching, he was a part of two state semifinal teams in the state of Alabama. Given his past coaching experience, he figured covering recruiting would be a perfect fit. He began his career as an intern for, covering University of Florida football recruiting. After interning with Rivals for six months, he joined the Gator Country family as a recruiting analyst. Andrew enjoys spending his free time on the golf course and watching his beloved Atlanta Braves. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewSpiveyGC.