After a subpar outing at their NCAA Regional a fortnight ago, the Florida Gators could have been in danger of missing out on the Super Six with another such performance in semifinal action at the NCAA Championship in Fort Worth on Friday.
Yeah, not so much.
The No. 2 Gators executed brilliantly on all four apparatuses, notching scores of 49.300 or better, to post a 197.4750 and win the afternoon semifinal over No. 3 LSU, which scored a 197.3375. Georgia will also join the Gators and Tigers in the Super Six, while Stanford, Auburn, and Minnesota all failed to advance.
Florida had to deal with the awkwardness of a rotation that began with a bye and proceeded from the draining floor exercise through to a finish on the terrifying balance beam, but did so with little issue, turning in no scores lower than a 9.6875 on the afternoon. They did their best work on the uneven bars, where they had to drop a duplicate 9.8625 and put up a 49.475 that was the best rotational score by any team of the session.
Senior Bridget Sloan was the biggest reason why, turning in maybe the best performance of her senior season. Despite stingy judging produced by the Championship's six-judge setup, Sloan put up a 9.90 or 9.95 in all four events, and holds at least a share of the lead for individual national titles in the all-around, uneven bars, and balance beam.
Sloan's 39.700 all-around score is 0.1675 better than any other gymnast put up in the afternoon, and the biggest threat to her in the evening session, Oklahoma's Chayse Capps, has only beaten that score once this year, and not since the first week of February.
Gators sophomores Alex McMurtry (fifth, 39.5250) and Kennedy Baker (seventh, 39.4875) also sit in the all-around top 10 after their semifinal showings. Both gymnasts are tied with Sloan and others for third on vault with 9.900s, and McMurtry's 9.8875 on beam earned her a tie with Alicia Boren and others. A 9.900 for Bridgette Caquatto on the bars was also good for a tie for third.
The win doesn't do all that much for the Gators, who are hunting for a fourth consecutive national title, and No. 1 Oklahoma still has the inside track to the coveted Olympic rotation — vault, bars, beam, and floor, in that order — for Saturday's Super Six round, though the Sooners still have to qualify for the round in a slightly more loaded evening semifinal.
But this was about as good as Florida has been away from the O'Connell Center all year, and bodes well for the Gators' chances of keeping up with the Sooners with a trophy on the line.