The Florida Gators gymnastics team entered Friday’s NCAA Championships — more specifically, their second national semifinal session — with the hopes of once again making the Super Six and competing for a national title on Saturday.
They got that — and another national title, to boot.
Florida junior Alex McMurtry posted a career-high 39.8125 on all apparatuses to win the national championship in the all-around, which is decided during national semifinal competition.
McMurtry’s title is the fifth all-around crown for a Florida gymnast in the last six years, following five won by Kytra Hunter and Bridget Sloan, and her astonishing score — a full 0.3125 points higher than her previous best all-around mark, an incredible jump — broke the mark for a gymnast in the national semifinals set by legendary Georgia gymnast Courtney Kupets (39.800), a two-time Olympic medalist who became one of the greatest collegiate gymnasts in history, winning three all-around titles as a Gym Dog.
For McMurtry, it is the signature accomplishment on a superlative and singular junior season that had already seen her win all-around titles at the SEC Championships and in Florida’s NCAA Regional, and be named both the SEC Gymnast of the Year and Florida’s first-ever recipient of an Elite 90 Award from the NCAA, given to the competitor at each of the NCAA’s 90 championship sites with the highest grade point average.
McMurtry’s 4.0 GPA is just slightly more perfect than her routines on Friday. She recorded scores of 9.9375 or better on all four apparatuses, all the Gators’ best marks in those respective events, and earned first-team All-America honors in each event — becoming the second Gator in as many years to do so, after Sloan earned the same distinction while winning the all-around title in 2016.
McMurtry’s 9.95 on the uneven bars also gave her a share of a national title on that apparatus, her first event national title.
And McMurtry’s journey to this mountaintop, which featured an injury-reduced load during her first two seasons at Florida that kept her almost entirely out of the Gators’ floor exercise rotation until 2017, makes her individual achievement all the sweeter.
Now, she and the rest of the Gators face their toughest task this year: Vying to upset white-hot LSU and defending national champion Oklahoma for a national title in the Super Six.
Florida’s 197.8125 score was good for second in semifinal action on Friday, but it lagged well behind LSU’s record-smashing 198.275, both the second-best score in the nation this season — and best in almost two full months — and the best score in NCAA Championships competition ever, a full tenth of a point better than the extraordinary scores posted by Florida and Oklahoma in the 2014 Super Six to share the national championship.
To put that score in perspective: LSU’s lowest rotation score was a 49.4125 on the uneven bars, still the fourth-best mark of the 12 teams competing on Friday in the NCAA Championships — and its three other rotational scores were both the best on their respective apparatuses and better than any rotational scores posted by any other team, led by an insane 49.7125 on the floor that included four counted scores of 9.95 or better.
Florida’s semifinal score was better than any score posted at the 2016 NCAA Championships, and LSU, Florida, and Oklahoma all scored higher on Friday than Oklahoma did to win the national title in the 2016 Super Six. So there’s hope for a national title for a few programs.
But, put simply, Florida cannot beat LSU if the Tigers execute as well as they did on Friday to put up similarly explosive scores, and no other team in this Super Six looks capable of doing that at this point in the year. (Oklahoma owns the nation’s best mark all season, but posted it in February — and hasn’t scored 198.100 or better since February.)
To win its fourth national title on Saturday night, Florida will have to be flawless, or nearly so.
The Gators can look to McMurtry for an example.