It’s finally the end of the NCAA gymnastics season — and, for the first time in more than a decade, Florida fans did not get to watch their Gators compete for the team national title.
If you had asked anyone among the diehards of the fan base at the beginning of the season what would be the plan for the weekend of Nationals, it would most likely have had Florida in the “Four on the Floor” (We can’t just call this the Final Four, like in nearly every other sport, because…?) and contending for the NCAA team title.
Instead, most of the team stayed in Gainesville thanks to a stunning Regionals result, while the coaches and four individual athletes qualified to compete at nationals only as individuals.
Of course, Florida did manage to pack its Championships-bound contingent. This year, under the new Nationals format, eight teams qualified to compete as teams in the NCAA Championships. But individuals qualify, too, and the top all-around scorer and top scorer on each event at each of the four regionals qualified to nationals to compete as an individual on that event. At the Corvallis Regionals the Gators captured all of the individual qualification spots and were able to bring four (of a maximum possible five) athletes to nationals, Alicia Boren (all-around), Trinity Thomas (bars and floor), Savannah Schoenherr (vault), and Alyssa Baumann (beam). Only Thomas claiming the individual qualification spots on two events prevented Florida from sending the maximum number of individual gymnasts to Fort Worth.
And while that contingent didn’t make this NCAA Championships a totally unforgettable one, the rundown on how the season ended for Florida’s athletes in attendance still features a national championship.
Florida’s individuals — like all the individual qualifiers at Nationals — rotated with a specific qualified team in semi-finals, competing their routines at the end of the rotation and vying for individual event titles that are awarded after the two semi-final sessions that take place on Friday. The early session featured UCLA, Utah, LSU, and Michigan as teams, as well as individuals from Kentucky, Penn State, Missouri, Nebraska, Alabama and California. The evening session featured Oklahoma, Denver, Georgia, and Oregon State, along with the individuals from Florida, Auburn, Minnesota, Arizona State, and Arkansas.
And after the first semi-final, the bar was set high; the Gator individuals would need to be nearly perfect if they wanted to take home any titles to Gainesville, as the top scores on all of the events were 9.95s.
On vault, LSU’s Kennedi Edney and UCLA’s Kyla Ross topped the standings. On bars, to no one’s surprise, LSU’s star senior Sarah Finnegan had the highest score. On beam, Michigan’s freshman Natalie Wojcik was holding on to the top spot — a surprise to some who expected vault to be her most likely title, but well-deserved, as her beam routine was exceptional. On floor, once again, Ross had the highest mark. And in the all-around, Ross — who else? — set the top score with a 39.6625, a high score but one that was definitely beatable by other all-around stars like Oklahoma’s Maggie Nichols, Denver’s Maddie Karr, Minnesota’s Lexy Ramler, and even Florida’s Alicia Boren.
Boren rotated with Oregon State and started on floor. Thomas, Schoenherr, and Baumann rotated with Georgia who started on bars. Therefore, the first Gator routines were some of the most likely to get a championship title — Thomas on bars and Boren on floor.
After a nearly perfect warm-up routine, Thomas started her routine off very clean with perfect hit handstands, but she unfortunately missed her feet on her toe-on Shap ½ and had to recast and try it again. There was no problem on the second try, and she finished the routine with a stuck dismount, but due to her small error, she scored a 9.85 was left off of the podium.
Boren followed that routine on floor, where she was the very last routine in the rotation — and, as is usually the case, all of the other apparatus were finished competing for the rotation, leaving the entire arena’s eyes on her. This was, by some margin, one of the most spectacular moments of the championships — and Boren put on a show to remember.
She did what she does best, hitting her HUGE double layout with perfect control, securing a clean landing on her 1.5 to layout, and making a great landing on the double tuck as well. She scored a 9.95 — a unanimous score from all six judges assigned to the floor — to match Ross’s score from the first rotation and put herself in position to share a national title.
But Boren would have to wait for the next three rotations to finish to see if she would be on top of that podium, and had an all-around title to contend for in the interim.
In the second rotation, Boren moved with Oregon State to the vault, and the rest of the Florida individuals moved with Georgia to the beam where it was Baumann’s turn to shine. And this rotation was not as kind to the Gators: Boren had nice amplitude on her Yurchenko 1.5 but couldn’t stick the landing and had to take a couple of small steps, scoring a 9.8125 and making her road to all-around contention a rocky one, while Baumann started out perfect on the beam — her series was spot on — and then made a totally uncharacteristic mistake, needing a balance check and a break at the waist on her switch leap to switch half combination. The rest of the routine on the beam was excellent and she stuck her dismount with a little lean, but due to the balance check, Baumann — who led Florida with a 9.9375 on beam in the 2018 Super Six — had to settle for a disappointing 9.7625.
In the third rotation, Thomas followed Georgia on the floor and Boren moved to the bars with Oregon State. Boren had a clean routine but had to take a small hop back on her dismount; she scored a 9.8375. Like Boren, as an individual Thomas was the last routine in the rotation and had the entire arena watching her and getting into the routine. Her double layout was excellent and she added a sissone out of her second pass, which she stuck cold. Her only mistake came on her last pass, as her double pike was a little bit short and she had to take a step forward. The rest of the routine was nearly perfect, and she scored a 9.925, but that step might have cost Thomas a share of a title — especially since Boren’s score had held up through three rotations.
In the last rotation, Schoenherr followed Georgia on the vault and Boren headed to the beam for the last routine of her career. Schoenherr had a very nice clean 1.5 on vault, but couldn’t find the landing that she has been able to find this season. With a small hop, she scored a 9.875. Boren’s beam routine was an emotional one; her front toss and her series were very strong, but, due to a balance check where she had to lift her leg up on her gainer layout stepout, she only scored a 9.775. She was in tears when she stuck her dismount and got a huge hug from Florida coach Jenny Rowland when she came off of the podium.
Then came the wait to see if Boren would win a national title. She entered that final rotation still tied for first with Ross, and only Denver’s Lynnzee Brown — who had joined the tie in the second rotation — and Oklahoma’s Brenna Dowell, who had just finished her routine, had been able to match it. But Oklahoma’s sensational freshman Olivia Trautman and superstar junior Maggie Nichols, as well as Arkansas individual Sophia Carter, were still to go on floor before Boren could claim the title.
Yet Trautman and Nichols ended up with “mere” 9.925s and Carter scored a 9.8375, so Boren’s 9.95 remained tied for the top score on the floor — meaning that Boren would be able to return to Gainesville with her first individual national championship, and do so for the final performance of a fantastic and fun routine that was regularly stiffed of its deserved 10.0 scores and denied its potential viral fame.
Even though all did not go according to plan at Regionals, and a lot of Florida’s individuals did not have their best routines — I can only imagine how hard it is to compete in a different part of the lineup without your team — the Gators were still able to go home with a NCAA individual national champion, extending the steak of Gator individual champions that started in 2011. Boren’s floor national title is also only Florida’s third in the event, following ones earned by Maria Anz in 1982 and Kytra Hunter in 2015.
In other results, Maggie Nichols won the all-around with a 39.7125, with Ramler and Ross tying for second at 39.6625. The four teams that qualified to the finals were Oklahoma, UCLA, LSU, and Denver, and the final team results only swapped two teams from the qualification order, with Oklahoma claiming its fourth national title since 2014 and being followed by LSU, UCLA, and Denver.
Postseason All-Americans were also awarded after the meet. Boren and Thomas received first team All-American honors on floor, Boren took second team All-American honors in the all-around, and Schoenherr earned second team All-American honors on vault.
And apart from Nationals, Florida’s team and coaches collected plenty of other honors in the past fortnight. Trinity Thomas was named the Southeastern Regional Gymnast of the Year, which is just the last honor of a first year for a star freshman with sky-high potential. Adrian Burde and Owen Field were named the Southeastern Assistant Coaches of the Year. The SEC also released their Academic Honor Roll, which included Sierra Alexander, Baumann, Maegan Chant, Amanda Cheney, Jazmyn Foberg, Rachel Gowey, Amelia Hundley, and Megan Skaggs.
And at Florida’s annual sports awards ceremony, the Florida Letterman Awards, Florida’s gymnasts cleaned up — though mostly for the 2018 calendar year, based on how Florida staggers the awards. Sophomore Baumann was named 2018 Female Rookie Athlete of the Year, which is a huge accomplishment for the two-time SEC beam champion. Each team also hands out a “The Florida Way” and “Goodwill Gator” award. Hundley was the gymnastics recipient of The Florida Way award for representing Florida in the highest manner. Senior Cheney won the gymnastics Goodwill Gator award for all of her work with the community.
Several gymnastics alumni also picked up scholarships and awards, with Grace McLaughlin winning a SEC Brad Davis Scholarship, Bridgette Caquatto and Rachel Slocum winning Kynes Scholarships, and Alex McMurtry winning a Boyd McWhorter Scholarship, Academic All-American Scholarship, and the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. And who won the biggest award of the night, 2018 Female Athlete of the Year? None other than McMurtry. (There are way too many things to say about McMurtry, but I sure miss seeing her compete in the O’Dome.)
Your required viewing for this week is the eight Gator championship routines — and, for a peek at the future, 2020 recruit Payton Richards on vault!