Utah, Florida deny OU gymnastics' 3-peat bid

FORT WORTH, Texas — For the first time since 2012, the Oklahoma women’s gymnastics team will not be competing in the NCAA championship meet.

The two-time defending champion Sooners, who spent the entirety of the season ranked No. 1, did not advance to Saturday’s final after finishing third during Thursday’s second semifinal session at Dickies Arena.

The Sooners finished with a final score of 196.6625. Utah won the session with a score of 197.9375 followed by Florida (197.8750). They will be joined in Saturday’s championship by LSU (198.1125) and California (197.7125), who were victorious in the first semifinal Thursday.

The favorites to win their seventh NCAA championship, the Sooners got off to an uncharacteristic nervy start during their first rotation on vault as three gymnasts had major landing errors. Needing to count two of those scores (as the lowest score is dropped), Oklahoma recorded a 48.3250 — more than a full point below its average on the event this season and its lowest vault score since 2008.

The team entered the second rotation in a surprising fourth place — all but silencing its normally vocal fans in attendance — and, despite strong showings on bars and floor, never were able to fully close the deficit.

When the final scores flashed, confirming their reign at the top was officially over, the Sooners appeared sullen and wrapped their arms around one another as the Red Rocks and Gators jovially celebrated across the floor.

“It wasn’t as we scripted it, but we’ve taken great pride in winning and we’ll take great pride in losing,” Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler said on the broadcast moments later. “This was character-building for this team — they fought back hard — and it was emotional, and I give them all the credit for gutting it out through the whole end of it. It was tough.”

Florida junior Leanne Wong said she was aware of Oklahoma’s struggles throughout the competition but said the team did its best to tune it out.

“I did kind of hear the crowd and could tell that mistakes were happening, but [head coach] Jenny [Rowland] always tells us to control the controllable, so we stayed focused on the Gators and kept going until the end,” Wong told ESPN after the meet.

Despite the early exit, Oklahoma didn’t leave Fort Worth completely empty-handed. Faith Torrez and Audrey Davis earned conational champion honors on beam, with Davis also earning a share of the title on bars.

LSU’s Haleigh Bryant, who ended the regular season as the nation’s top-ranked all arounder, won the top individual prize with a final score of 39.7125.

Wong, a two-time world champion, and Olympic gold medalist Jade Carey (Oregon State) tied for second. Wong also shared the bars title with Davis.

Bryant’s LSU teammate Aleah Finnegan earned the title on floor and Stanford’s Anna Roberts won vault.

On Saturday, LSU, Utah, Florida and California will have the chance to make history for their respective programs. It would be the first team title for both LSU and California, while this marks the Golden Bears’ first trip to the championship.

The team had come close to reaching the milestone in 2023 but narrowly missed out finishing in third place in its semifinal session. Junior Mya Lauzon said that heartache had motivated them ever since.

“I think that really taking in everything that happened last year especially, and the growth from that moment, not looking at it as something negative and instead looking at that moment as an opportunity to analyze what we did well, what we loved about that moment, what we can learn from that moment,” Lauzon said Thursday. “And I felt like from then on, everything about what we’ve done to this point has been different.”

Florida is in search of its fourth national championship, and first since 2015. It would also be the first under Rowland.

Utah has the second-most NCAA titles in the sport’s history with nine but hasn’t won since 1995. The Red Rocks are in their first season with head coach Carly Dockendorf, who took over the program in November after former head coach Tom Farden stepped down following allegations of abuse.

Fifth-year senior Maile O’Keefe said she was excited for the challenge and knew all four teams have a legitimate chance to win.

“At this point it’s anybody’s race going into Saturday,” O’Keefe said Thursday. “Obviously it’s going to come down to little details like sticking landings, 180 [degree] splits and that kind of thing.”

The championship will be held at 4 p.m. ET at Dickies Arena.

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