Florida gymnastics ties Oklahoma to repeat as national champion

Florida head coach Rhonda Faehn congratulates Bridget Sloan after she competed on the vault during the NCAA Gymnastics Championships on Saturday in Birmingham, Ala. (Photo by Robert Sutton/Halifax Media Service)

Published: Saturday, April 19, 2014 at 9:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 20, 2014 at 12:36 a.m.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The top-ranked Florida Gators defended their national gymnastics championship Saturday, and shared the title stage.

In an historic finish, Florida and Oklahoma tied for the title with identical scores of 198.175 at the Super Six finals of the NCAA Gymnastics Championships at Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex.

A year earlier, Florida captured its first national gymnastics title, becoming the first school to break through and join the big four programs — Utah, UCLA, Georgia and Alabama — that had captured every national championship since the NCAA began staging a title event in the sport in 1982.

Now UF has welcomed Oklahoma to the club in the first title tie in the event's history. The Gators were happy to win it again, and happy to share the glory.

"Not only did we get this incredible score, but there's no reason to break a tie when both teams did phenomenal," UF's Bridget Sloan said. "Being up here with Oklahoma, it's incredible. All of us at Florida, we wouldn't have wanted to tie with any other team.

"Not only are we repeating, but we're making history again. When has there ever been a tie?"

UF trailed both Alabama and Oklahoma going into the final rotation and needed big scores on floor exercise and some help from the Crimson Tide to get into the hunt.

Alabama had falls on its first and last balance beam rotations, opening the door for UF and Oklahoma. The Sooners scored 49.55 on vault in their final turn, but Florida closed even stronger.

Florida got the big scores to pull it off, with Kytra Hunter and Bridgette Caquatto closing out a 49.625 rotation with 9.95 routines.

The Gators had no major problems on their opening rotation, scoring 49.45 on vault. Hunter and Sloan both scored 9.95 to lead the charge, but UF would need better to stay in contention.

Florida sat out a bye rotation after that start and came back strong on the uneven parallel bars, counting no score lower than 9.9 and getting 9.95 routines from both Bridgette and Mackenzie Caquatto on the way to a 49.6.

At the meet's midpoint, Florida was in second in a tight race with a team score of 99.05, behind Alabama's 99.15 and just ahead of Oklahoma at 99.025.

Florida was rock-solid on the balance beam, scoring 49.5 behind Sloan's 9.95 and a pair of 9.9 performances from Hunter and Alaina Johnson.

In addition to winning the title, UF defeated Alabama for the first time in four tries this season (including a tie in Friday's semifinals) and beat the Crimson Tide in the state of Alabama for the first time in 29 years.

“They just competed with so much passion and energy,” Florida coach Rhonda Faehn said. “Just all-in for everybody on the team. That’s what we ask of them. It was an incredible experience for this team to be able to repeat the national championship. It was just so surreal last year to win and then to be able to repeat this year, I’m still kind of in a fog about it.”

The Gators had defeated the Sooners in January in the O’Connell Center, winning 197.875-197.225.

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