Oklahoma races to third national championship to defend their title with highest team score in NCAA history

By: Thomas Cluck

04/16/2017

It was a historic night for the number one ranked Oklahoma Sooners in St. Louis at the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships Super Six Team Finals as the defending national champions notched the highest team score in NCAA Gymnastics history to claim their third national title. The Sooners, lead by head coach KJ Kindler, put on a masterclass in sticking landings, sticking 93 percent of their landings on the biggest stage at Super Six in front of an electric Chaifetz Arena.

After a disappointing semifinals for Oklahoma and a record breaking performance for LSU, it was a role reversal on Saturday night at Super Six as the Sooners came out red hot not putting a foot wrong, while the Tigers were slightly subpar, leaving a few tenths on the floor here and there throughout the competition. Oklahoma finished with a historic team score of 198.3875 whereas LSU finished six tenths behind with a solid, but not exceptional 197.7375 for the Tigers.

Finishing a close third was three-time national champions Florida with a strong 197.7000 for the Gators and in fourth was six-time national champions UCLA with a very respectable 197.2625. In fifth with a slightly underwhelming performance was the ten-time national champions Red Rocks of Utah with a 196.5875 and in sixth was six-time national champions Alabama with a low 196.0000.

For Oklahoma, the Sooners begun the Super Six in the locker room with a bye before heading to one of their best events, the uneven bars. On the bars, the Sooners came out red hot, counting no score below 9.8875 including huge 9.9250s from Brenna Dowell and Nicole Lehrman and a massive 9.950 from anchor and uneven bars co-national champion Maggie Nichols for a very impressive 49.5875 to begin their competition.

On the balance beam, an event KJ Kindler’s squad ranks number one on in the country, Oklahoma was even more impressive, once again counting no score below 9.8875 and receiving huge marks from Natalie Brown and senior Chayse Capps with big 9.950s and a perfect 10.0 from freshman phenom Maggie Nichols to total a huge 49.7000 for the Sooners on the beam.

Heading to floor exercise, Oklahoma left off right where they begun competition with more near flawless gymnastics, counting no score below 9.900 including a 9.9125 from Capps and two 9.950s from the final two gymnasts in their lineup, Maggie Nichols and AJ Jackson helping the Sooners amass a very impressive 49.6125 on the floor exercise.

Heading into the sixth and final rotation with a national championship on the line, the Sooners cooled down a little, only posting two scores of 9.9000 or higher, with big marks of 9.9500 from AJ Jackson and a huge 9.9625 from Maggie Nichols to clinch a third national championship for Oklahoma, a thoroughly dominant performance all season long from the Oklahoma Sooners.

“We had just amazing performance after amazing performance," said Oklahoma head coach KJ Kindler. "It felt crazy, really. I almost felt like I wasn’t here—it was that amazing. To have that kind of a performance from a coaching standpoint, wow. As an athlete, to be in that state of mind and to get your body to do what they got their bodies to do tonight over and over and over, performance after performance—I don’t think you see that very often, and I don’t know if we’ve done it at the national championship before the way we did tonight. It’s just a really special night,” concluded an overjoyed coach Kindler after winning her third national championship.Oklahoma 2017 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships Super Six Team Finals.JPG

For LSU, it was a tough, emotional night for the Tigers, coming up short on their quest for a program first national title. After a near perfect semifinal performance, breaking NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships records, the Tigers were short of their performance from the previous night. LSU begun on the floor exercise, one of their best events, but early lineup jitters proved detrimental for the Tigers despite three scores of 9.9000 or higher from Sarah Finnegan, McKenna Kelley, and Ashleigh Gnat to round out the rotation for a 49.3250.

LSU moved to the vault, another of their best events where the Tigers ranked number one in the country, but a difficult vault rotation filled with hops on landings cost DD Breaux’s squad mightily, with no scores above 9.9000 on their best event leading to a low 49.3000 from the Tigers. On the uneven bars, LSU’s weakest event, the SEC champions stepped up, showing incredible fight to score three 9.900s from Kennedi Edney, Sarah Finnegan, and Lexie Priessman for a strong 49.3875 on the apparatus.

On their final event of the night, the Tigers once again showed tremendous heart, sticking to their motto for the 2017 season “All Heart”, LSU counted no scores below 9.900 on the balance beam, with a 9.9125 from leadoff Erin Macadaeg, a 9.9375 from freshman Kennedi Edney, two 9.950s from Myia Hambrick and senior Ashleigh Gnat, and a massive 9.975 from Sarah Finnegan to total a huge 49.7250 for the Tigers on the balance beam, the highest beam score for any team the entire weekend, an incredible way to end a historic season for the Tigers culminating in a second consecutive national runners up finish for LSU.

“Tonight we couldn’t get any traction or build any momentum,” said a very candid LSU head coach DD Breaux. “I am so proud though of the way we fought back tonight though and closed the night on beam. That was an incredible performance by the entire beam lineup.” LSU 2017 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships Super Six Team Finals.jpg

For three-time national champions Florida, the Gators, led by Jenny Rowland, showed impressive consistency and fight throughout the weekend, scoring strongly at both semifinals and Super Six. The Gators begun on balance beam, where despite a mid-lineup fall from freshman Rachel Gowey, Florida bounced back impressively a 9.9125 from newly crowned NCAA all-around champion Alex McMurtry to secure a solid 49.3000 on the beam.

After a bye before floor exercise, the Gators were very strong on their second event, counting no score below 9.8375 including an impressive 9.9250 from Kennedy Baker and two huge 9.950s from Alex McMurtry and Alicia Boren for a big 49.5000 on the floor exercise. Florida then moved to the vault, their best event, where scores of 9.900 from Kennedy Baker and 9.9375 from Alex McMurtry helped make up for a low score for Alicia Boren on an under rotated Yurchenko one and a half for a solid 49.3625.

The Gators ended on the uneven bars, where an end of lineup surge from Rachel Gowey and Amelia Hundley’s 9.900s and a perfect 10.0 from anchor Alex McMurtry helped to put an exclamation point on a very impressive competition for Florida resulting in a strong third place finish, the Gators’ fifth top four finish at Super Six since 2012.

"This team did a tremendous job of fighting,'' said Florida head coach Jenny Rowland. "We had a few mistakes, but everybody came back to cover each other and really, that's what this team has been about all year long. I'm extremely proud."image_handler (1).jpg

LSU, Florida, Alabama rocket to Super Six with lights out semifinal performances at the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships

By: Thomas Cluck

04/15/2017

It was an exhilarating second semifinal tonight at the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships in St. Louis, with number two LSU, number three Florida, and number six Alabama impressing on their ways to the Super Six Team Finals. Second-ranked LSU, seeking their first national championship, soared through this session, scoring a huge 198.275 to qualify to Super Six, where the Tigers will be joined by Florida scoring an impressive 197.8125, and Alabama with a very strong 197.600.

Finishing below LSU, Florida, and Alabama was Nebraska putting up a very respectable score of 197.2125 for fourth, Michigan in a disappointing fifth with a 196.4625, and Georgia struggling in sixth with a low 195.800.

For LSU, the Tigers begun lights out on the floor exercise, amazingly counting no score lower than 9.900, with three huge 9.950s from Myia Hambrick, Sarah Finnegan, and McKenna Kelley and a massive 9.9625 from AAI Award winner Ashleigh Gnat to garner a whopping 49.7125 on the floor, the second highest floor score in NCAA history. On the vault it was more of the same from DD Breaux’s squad, again posting three 9.900s or above from Sydney Ewing with a huge 9.9625, Hambrick with another big score of 9.9825, and freshman Kennedi Edney posting an extremely high 9.9875 to score an impressive 49.625 on the vault, another one of  LSU’s best events.

Lexie Priessman LSU Semifinals 2017.jpg

After a bye in the locker room, LSU went to uneven bars, their weakest event, showing more controlled handstands and better landings with a 9.925 from Lexie Priessman and a big 9.950 from Sarah Finnegan for the Tigers to score a much improved 49.4125, something that will be critical for DD Breaux’s squad if they want to take home their first national championship on Saturday.

LSU finished on the balance beam with for a second time no score below 9.900 counted, including a 9.9125 from Finnegan and a 9.9375 from Hambrick and Gnat to amass another big score of 49.5875 for the Tigers on balance beam, wrapping up a season best meet for them.

Ashleigh Gnat LSU Semifinals 2017.jpg

“It was an incredible first night of competition and there was so much energy in the building tonight,” said LSU head coach DD Breaux. “I am really excited and proud of what our team did. It’s been a great season and I can’t expect this team to do any more than they’ve done tonight. We’ll regroup and go out there tomorrow night with a lot of energy and the same outlook as tonight,” concluded the 40-year head coach of the Tigers.

For Florida, the third-ranked Gators and three-time national champions begun strongly on the vault, counting no scores below 9.8500 including 9.900s from Alicia Boren and Rachel Slocum and a huge 9.975 from Alex McMurtry on her double-twisting Yurchenko for a very impressive 49.5125 for Jenny Rowland’s squad to begin. The Gators then moved to the uneven bars after a bye where another big score of 9.950 from McMurtry helped lift Florida to a very solid 49.4250.

On the balance beam, McMurtry once again came up clutch with a huge 9.9375 leading to a strong 49.375 for the Gators. Florida wrapped up their competition on the floor exercise where big scores of 9.9375 from Kennedy Baker and 9.950 helped propell the three-time national champions to a very impressive 49.4875 to wrap up their competition.

Alex McMurtry Semifinals 2017.PNG

"I think it was great. Starting out on vault was amazing momentum from this team. It set the tone for the evening. The girls were loose and they were having fun. I knew after vault it was going to be a good night. They kept that attitude throughout all six rotations even on the byes. It was very great. A very successful day and looking forward to reboot, regroup and do it again tomorrow,” said an enthusiastic Florida head coach Jenny Rowland.

"The SEC is the best in the country,'' said Jenny Rowland. "It says a lot about our conference. I'm really proud to be a part of it and look forward to battling it out again [Saturday]."

Finishing third in the final Super Six spot was Alabama, as the eight-time national champions showed an improved performance throughout. The Crimson Tide began on the floor exercise where a strong 9.9375 from Kiana Winston contributed to a 49.3875 for Dana Duckworth’s squad. As the Crimson Tide moved to vault, it was a consistent performance from Alabama, counting no scores below 9.850 to help amass a 49.3625.

After a bye before the uneven bars, Alabama came out swinging with three scores above 9.900 from Keely McNeer, Kiana Winston, and a massive 9.950 from Katie Bailey helping collect an impressive 49.4875 for the Crimson Tide. Dana Duckworth’s team finished on the balance beam, responding well from adversity to not count a fall, highlighted by Kiana Winston’s big 9.9250 to secure Alabama a spot in tomorrow’s Super Six.

"Our goal, every year, is to be on the floor the last night of the season with a chance to win a national title," Duckworth said. "That's what we've earned. Now comes the best part, going against the best-of-the-best, competing for a championship."

Also crowned today were individual all-around and event titles, with the all-around national champion being Florida’s Alex McMurtry, who won the NCAA Elite 90 Award, scoring a very impressive 39.8125 to take the national championship.

"I want to thank my coaches for setting that goal for me. I didn't think that was really possible or in my future, but we set that goal and worked towards it all season. I'm really happy with my performance putting together all four events. I'm happy with my team's performance, we started on vault and we started on fire.  I think that's how we carried out the whole meet."

On the vault the title went to LSU freshmen Kennedi Edney with her huge 9.9875 for her Yurchenko one and a half, while the uneven bars title was a six-way tie between UCLA’s Kyla Ross, Oklahoma’s Nicole Lehrman and Maggie Nichols, Florida’s Alex McMurtry, Alabama’s Katie Bailey, and LSU’s Sarah Finnegan all scoring a high 9.950.

The balance beam title was won outright by UCLA’s Kyla Ross with a big score of 9.9625 for the freshmen, and the floor exercise title was a two-way tie between LSU senior and AAI Award winner Ashleigh Gnat and MyKayla Skinner each with 9.9625s.

With both semifinals done and dusted here at the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships in St. Louis, tomorrow’s Super Six Finals will feature defending national champions Oklahoma, UCLA, PAC 12  champions Utah, last year’s national runner ups and SEC champions LSU, three-time winners Florida, and Alabama competing for the national championship here at Chaifetz Arena.

Oklahoma, UCLA, and Utah soar to Super Six in session one of the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships

By: Thomas Cluck

04/14/2017

It was a thrilling first semifinal at the 2017 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships in St. Louis as number one Oklahoma, number five UCLA, and number four Utah displayed the clutch gymnastics to advance to the Super Six Team Finals. The top-ranked Sooners of Oklahoma won the first session with a great 197.7250 while the UCLA Bruins put together one of their best meets of the season to finish second with another good score of 197.5000.

Finishing third in this first semifinal was the fourth-ranked Red Rocks of Utah, claiming redemption from last year’s upset semifinal loss to finish third and advance to the Super Six with a solid score of 197.0500. Despite not advancing to Saturday’s Super Six, Washington, Denver, and Oregon State have a lot to be proud of with program-best seasons for each despite finishing in the bottom three here in St. Louis.

For the Sooners, the number one ranked team and defending national champions begun on the floor exercise, with two big 9.9250s at the bottom end of their rotation from former World team member and freshman phenom Maggie Nichols and AJ Jackson propelling Oklahoma to a very solid 49.3500. KJ Kindler’s team then went to the vault, one of their best events, with three huge 9.900s from senior Chayse Capps, AJ Jackson, and Maggie Nichols helping Oklahoma to another good score of 49.3500 on the vault.

After a bye before the uneven bars, the Sooners came out red hot, counting no scores below 9.8625 including three more 9.900s from Stefani Catour, defending uneven bars national champion Nicole Lehrman, and Maggie Nichols accounting for a huge 49.5250 for Oklahoma on that apparatus. Ending on balance beam, the Sooners best event, there was once again no scores counted below 9.8500, with a 9.900 from Catour, a 9.925 from Lehrman, and a massive 9.950 from Capps leading to a great balance beam lineup for a 49.500 for the defending national champions despite a shocking fall from Maggie Nichols in the fifth spot.

Nicole Lehrman Oklahoma Semifinal 2017.jpg

“We are very excited to be moving on," said Oklahoma head coach KJ Kindler. "It was tough out there for us. We started a little bit shaky on floor, lots of adrenaline and little extra steps. There were some uncharacteristic mistakes, but I think they were definitely working out some jitters that they had. We sort of settled in on vault and just got better as the day went on. We are really looking forward to tomorrow and having a chance to fight for a National Championship.”

Finishing second in this first semifinal here at the Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis was fifth-ranked UCLA, a team featuring two Olympic gold medalists, a first in collegiate gymnastics history. The Bruins, led by head coach Valorie Kondos Field, begun on their best event, the uneven bars, where no scores above 9.8250 were counted including big scores from Rio 2016 gold-medalist Madison Kocian with a 9.8750, London 2012 gold-medalist Kyla Ross with a huge 9.950, and senior Peng-Peng Lee posting a big 9.8875 for the six-time national champions UCLA. Peng-Peng Lee Uneven Bars Semifinals 2017.PNG

On the balance beam, another one of the Bruins’ best events, it was once again some big scores for UCLA, with Kocian scoring a very solid 9.8625, Ross putting up a huge score of 9.9625, and Katelyn Ohashi anchoring the beam lineup with a great score of 9.9125 despite taking out her triple series due to an ankle injury.

After a bye before floor exercise, Miss Val’s squad came out energized for their third apparatus, scoring a season-best score on the floor with no score below a 9.8750 including two 9.9250s from Angi Cipra and Hallie Mossett and a big 9.9375 from Kocian to wrap up a floor rotation which saw the Bruins post a massive 49.5375. Wrapping up their meet on the vault, UCLA showed its best vault rotation of the season with some solid Yurchenko fulls throughout and a debut Yurchenko one and a half from Napualani Hall, scoring a solid 9.8250, contributing to an improved 49.2375 for the Bruins. Madison Kocian Floor Semifinals 2017.PNG

For Utah, the Red Rocks, coached by Megan Marsden, begun their competition on vault, given the favorable Olympic order. The Utes underperformed slightly on vault, one of their best events, with only one score above 9.900 from MyKayla Skinner and two scores in the 9.700s to amass a sub-par 49.0875 to begin. After a bye before the uneven bars, the Red Rocks were again underwhelming on the bars, being forced to count a 9.7750 with no scores in the 9.900s for another low 49.0875.

With their backs against the wall much like in last year’s semifinal, the Red Rocks responded on the balance beam unlike in 2016, with big scores of 9.900 from Makenna Merrell and 9.9125 from Skinner contributing to a much needed 49.3875 for Utah. The Utes ended on the floor exercise, their best event, counting no scores below 9.8500 including three huge scores from Makenna Merrell with a 9.900, Baely Rowe with a 9.925, and Skinner posting a massive 9.9625 to wrap up a comeback performance from the Red Rocks for a high 49.4875 on the floor exercise.

"We were a little tight on vault and bars,” said Utah co-head coach Tom Farden. "I told the team after bars that we had 12 routines down and 12 still to go and to just relax and trust themselves."

"MyKayla Skinner competes with such confidence that it carries over to the rest of the team," praised Farden. "Credit needs to go as well to our co-captains Maddy Stover and Baely Rowe, who talked like leaders coming into the meet and then showed it tonight on the floor."

 

Oklahoma, UCLA, and Utah will advance to Saturday’s Super Six Team Finals with the other three teams to be decided in semifinal two with LSU, Florida, Alabama, Michigan, Georgia, and Nebraska battling for the right to face the Sooners, Bruins, and Red Rocks for the National Championship here in St. Louis.

Germany’s Tabea Alt shines with second World Cup win in London as USA’s Victoria Nguyen finishes second

By: Thomas Cluck

04/08/2017

It was a second straight world cup title for Germany’s Tabea Alt, taking the lead in the FIG World Cup series after a win at home a few weeks back at the Stuttgart World Cup before taking home the gold here in London. Alt was joined on the podium by the USA’s Victoria Nguyen, competing in only her second international elite competition, finishing with a silver medal and Rio 2016 floor exercise bronze medalist Amy Tinkler of Great Britain in third in her first meet competing all-around since the Olympic Games in Brazil.

Coming in fourth was a surprise finisher as Spain’s Ana Perez took advantage of some inconsistencies from some of the other competitors to claim fourth with some very consistent, clean gymnastics for a 53.299 overall. Behind Perez in fifth was Russian Angelina Melnikova, with some stumbles on vault and floor and a fall on balance beam costing the Rio 2016 team silver medalist to score a 52.599 all-around.

For Alt, the German begun strongly, showcasing a clean double-twisting Yurchenko to score a solid 14.466 to put herself in second after rotation one. Leading after the vault was Britain’s Amy Tinkler, possessing more control on her double-twisting Yurchenko to score a very good 14.600, while The Netherland’s Tisha Volleman was in third with a 14.266.

On the uneven bars, it was German Alt who took the lead, posting a solid 13.833 with a beautiful piked Jaeger release move and stuck double layout dismount to seize first. 2015 World team bronze medalist Tinkler kept up her consistent day, falling down to second despite a solid bar routine scoring a 13.600 featuring her unique Markelov release move and a stuck full-in dismount. The USA’s Victoria Nguyen, training under Shawn Johnson and Gabby Douglas’ former coach Liang Chow, made up some ground on the bars as well, putting up another good score of 13.800 with a solid Gienger release and a slightly piked double layout dismount.

On the balance beam the competition really began to take shape, with Alt cementing her lead with a very difficult roundoff layout mount contributing to a competition high 6.0 difficulty score before putting her hands down on her double pike dismount to score a low 12.966, still good enough to maintain the lead.

Nguyen also kept her second place spot with another low score of 12.866 due to wobbles throughout on her back-handspring layout stepout series and on her switch leap to Onodi to sheep jump, finishing with a strong two and a half twist dismount. Spain’s Ana Perez kept up her great day, hitting with incredible consistency and great artistry, scoring the best beam score of the day with a 13.233 due to a clean routine throughout to send her into third going to the fourth and final rotation.

On the floor exercise it was the Olympic bronze medalist on this apparatus fighting back, showcasing some great tumbling with a full-twisting double layout, front handspring front full, and a double pike contributing to a clutch 13.233 to lock up the bronze medal to the delight of a packed crowd at the o2 Arena here in London. The USA’s Nguyen wrapped up a very successful world cup debut with a solid floor performance, scoring a 13.000 with some good tumbling, a tucked full-in, triple full, and a double tuck, to take the silver medal.

Claiming the gold and finishing off another beautiful World Cup performance was Alt, scoring around six tenths higher than needed to win the title here in London with a 13.333, another solid score contributed by some good tumbling on her tucked full-in and double pike to cap off a lovely routine.

After the competition, Rio 2016 floor exercise and 2015 World team bronze medalist Amy Tinkler said of competing in her home country in front of a boisterous London crowd, “It's amazing I'm so so happy. I've had some problems this year with my calf so coming into this I wasn't sure what to expect. My performance was better than I thought it would be, I think I fed of the atmosphere of the home crowd,” said the 17-year-old.

“I loved all the support, it was like Rio all over again but even better with it being in Britain. I've never heard so many kids shouting ‘Amy, Amy!’ that feels so special and for me I love the pressure and the buzz of competition so they definitely helped me today,” concluded a jubilant Tinkler after a successful return to the all-around with a bronze medal here in London.

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