Florida gymnasts can't overcome Trinity Thomas' injury, Oklahoma's excellence at NCAAs

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun
Apr 15, 2023; Fort Worth, TX, USA; University of Florida Gators gymnast Trinity Thomas celebrates after earning a perfect score on vault during the NCAA Women's National Gymnastics Tournament Championship at Dickies Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Florida needed a storybook ending to win the NCAA gymnastics championship. The Gators came up 15/100ths of a point short.

Storybook would have been senior Trinity Thomas coming back from an injury to score two perfect 10s. The final one would have propelled UF to its first national title in eight years and capped one of the greatest individual careers in NCAA history.

It was half a storybook.

Thomas got a 10.0 in the vault, tying the NCAA record of 28 perfect scores in a career. The crowd at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth erupted at witnessing gymnastics history, but it wasn’t enough to deter Oklahoma.

The Sooners held on to win 198.3877 to Florida’s 198.2375. It was their sixth national title in the past nine years, and an agonizing déjà vu for the Gators.

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Last year, they finished .112 behind Oklahoma. The Gators’ score on Saturday would have won last year’s meet.

“We left it all out there on the floor,” Thomas told ABC after the meet, “and I couldn’t be more proud of us.”

Florida fans would undoubtedly say the same about Thomas, who injured her lower left leg in the NCAA regional meet two weeks earlier. She wasn’t able to practice and her availability for Fort Worth was in doubt.

Thomas entered the vault and uneven bars in Thursday’s semifinals and on Saturday, but the injury kept her out of floor and beam events. Given her regular-season scores, that probably cost the Gators some precious fractions of a point.

UF showed it was far more than a one-woman team, however. Ellie Lazzari fell off the beam in the first event, but the Gators avoided the potentially disastrous start and began separating from the other finalists, Utah and LSU.

Apr 15, 2023; Fort Worth, TX, USA; A view of the judges holding a ten score up for University of Florida Gators gymnast Trinity Thomas on vault during the NCAA Women's National Gymnastics Tournament Championship at Dickies Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It became apparent the meet would come down to Oklahoma and UF, which was going for its first NCAA title since winning three in a row from 2013-2015.

Kayla DiCello and LeAnne Wong each had a 9.975 in the bars, the best score of the day. Riley McCusker, Victoria Nguyen and Sloane Blakely all had solid performances.

Thomas nails landing on vault and ties national record

The show-stopping moment came in the third rotation, when Thomas nailed the landing on her vault. All eyes went to the judges table, where Thomas got the score everybody was waiting for.

“I was not focused on that at all,” she said. “I was just focused on being out there one last time with my team.”

Florida’s last event was the bars, while Oklahoma’s was the floor. Thomas’s routine was almost flawless, but she leaned slightly over on the landing and had to wave her arms to maintain her balance.

She got a 9.9125. DiCello and Wong threw in their 9.975s as UF had its best score in the event in program history  for an NCAA Finals. The Gators also had all-time marks in the beam and vault.

As good as that was, it wasn’t quite good enough.

“They kept fighting and fighting,” coach Jenny Rowland said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more from them.”